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Archive for June, 2021

I always know when the Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded because a story pops up on The Star’s website saying Melinda Henneberger of the editorial page was once again a finalist.

And so it was today that Henneberger is, for the third year in a row, a PP finalist.

Now, this is a big deal for The Star and for Henneberger, and it’s too bad she’s been a bridesmaid three successive years. For the life of me, however, I don’t understand why The Star does these blinkers-on stories, year after year, without listing the actual winners of the Pulitzers.

That is a much bigger deal than The Star finishing second, and it reflects, once again, how parochial the hometown paper has become under Mike Fannin’s leadership and, more broadly, under the old and new McClatchy management.

It’s also a big reason why circulation has been in free fall and why the paper doesn’t have anything close to the influence it used to have over such things as civic projects, local elections and state and local government. It’s a shell of what it used to be.

I’m not going to harp on it any more because this has been unfolding before our eyes the last decade or so. But it’s worth noting, and I hope my constructive criticism will be noted somewhere down at 16th and McGee…at 16th and Mcgee until the end of the year, when the last of the paper’s employees there will be moving someplace else.

You wouldn’t know it from The Star, but the Pulitzer Prizes reflect the ongoing strength of traditional and non-traditional media nationwide. (Perhaps the most noteworthy non-traditional recipient of a Pulitzer this year was the publication Runner’s World.)

With that in mind, let’s move on to the Pulitzer Prize winners, who were announced announced today at a ceremony at Columbia University.

And I am pleased to report that we did have one local winner, Chris Haxel of KCUR, who contributed a podcast to the Guns & America national reporting project. Haxel was one of four NPR correspondents who shared the prize for Audio Reporting.

Here are the others…

Special Citation: Darnella Frazier, who was 17 when she recorded George Floyd being asphyxiated under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. She testified at Chauvin’s trial, and her video contradicted the initial police account of Floyd’s death.

Darnella Frazier

Breaking News Reporting: The staff of The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune for coverage of Floyd’s death and the reverberations that followed.

Investigative Reporting: Matt Rocheleau, Vernal Coleman, Laura Crimaldi, Evan Allen and Brendan McCarthy of The Boston Glove for reporting that uncovered state governments’ systematic failure to share information about dangerous truck drivers.

Explanatory Reporting: (Two sets of winners) Ed Yong of The Atlantic for a series of pieces on the COVID-19 pandemic, and Andrew Chung, Lawrence Hurley, Andrea Januta, Jaimi Dowdell and Jackie Botts of Reuters for an examination of the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity” and how it shields police who use excessive force from prosecution.

Local Reporting: Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi of the Tampa Bay Times for reporting that exposed how a powerful and politically connected sheriff built a secretive intelligence operation to earmark children who might “fall into a life of crime” based on factors like whether they’d been abused or received a failing grade in school.

Paul Tash, Chairman and CEO of the Times Publishing Company, left, Tampa Bay Times Executive Editor Mark Katches, reporters Kathleen McGrory and Neil Bedi, and former Deputy Editor of Investigations Adam Playford watch as McGrory and Bedi are announced as the winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting on Friday, June 11, 2021, for their groundbreaking series about a Pasco County law enforcement initiative that harassed local residents. (Photo by Douglas R. Clifford, Tampa Bay Times)

National Reporting: The staffs of The Marshall Project, Alabama Media Group, The Indianapolis Star and the Invisible Institute for a yearlong investigation of K-9 units and the damage that police dogs inflict on Americans.

International Reporting: Megha Rajagopalan, Alison Killing and Christo Buschek of BuzzFeed News for a series of stories that used satellite imagery, architectural expertise and interviews with two dozen former prisoners to identify a vast new infrastructure built by the Chinese government for the mass detention of Muslims.

Feature Writing: (Two winners) Nadja Drost, freelance contributor to The California Sunday Magazine (which went out of business last October) for an account of global migration documenting a group’s journey on foot through the Central American Darién Gap, one of the most dangerous migrant routes in the world, and Mitchell S. Jackson, freelance contributor to Runner’s World, for an account of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery that shed light on systemic racism in America.

Mitchell S. Jackson

Commentary: Michael Paul Williams of the Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch for columns that led Richmond, a former capital of the Confederacy, through the painful and complicated process of dismantling the city’s monuments to white supremacy. (In this category, Henneberger was a finalist for “tenacious and deeply reported columns on failures in the criminal justice system.” One of her columns column was about Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smiths failure to utter a word about George Floyd’s death for six days and then not naming him when he did talk about it.)

Criticism: Wesley Morris of The New York Times for criticism on the intersection of race and culture in America.

Editorial Writing: Robert Greene of the Los Angeles Times for editorials on policing, bail reform, prisons and mental health in Los Angeles.

Breaking News Photography: The staff of The Associated Press for a collection of photographs from multiple U.S. cities capturing the country’s response to Floyd’s death.

Feature photography: Emilio Morenatti of The Associated Press for a series of photographs that took viewers into the lives of elderly people in Spain struggling during the pandemic.

Emilio Morenatti

Audio Reporting: Chris Haxel, Lisa Hagen, Graham Smith and Robert Little of NPR for an investigative series on no-compromise gun rights activists that illuminated the deepening schism between American conservatives.

Public Service reporting: The New York Times for sweeping coverage of the coronavirus pandemic that exposed racial and economic inequities, government failures in the U.S. and beyond, and filled a data vacuum that helped local governments, health care providers, businesses and individuals to be better prepared and protected.

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Kansas City’s Black elected officials — U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver and those on the City Council — are determined to make the 18th and Vine Jazz District succeed as a tourist attraction.

Back in 2016, the City Council approved $7 million for a new round of improvements, and if there was any doubt about Black elected officials’ determination to go even bigger, it was erased this week when $6 million was included in the U.S. House of Representatives’ surface transportation bill.

Eighteenth and Vine is one of five projects totaling more than $18 million Cleaver was able to get included in the INVEST in America Act, which the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has begun to consider.

The transportation bill, which comes up every five years, marks the the return of Congressional “earmarks,” in which senators and representatives are able to direct funds to specific projects in their states and districts.

Earmarks went away a decade ago after they became synonymous with corruption, but now they are back with a fresh start and a chance to create projects that will give cities and states a lift.

If this particular earmark would put 18th and Vine on the map again, as more than an East Side attraction, it would be a great thing for Kansas City. As we’ve all seen, redevelopment at the legendary jazz district has proceeded in fits and starts. It’s still a long way from becoming a reliably strong tourist area, where people of all races converge to have fun, but the new project could be a big step forward.

It provides for creation of a “pedestrian plaza,” which would involve closing 18th Street to vehicles along a two-block stretch, from the Paseo to Highland Avenue. Here’s the area in question.

Supporters of the plaza envision farmers markets, festivals, outdoor concerts and more along the plaza.

Cleaver, brandishing his usual optimism, said, “The plaza area is going to be one of the most beautiful spots in Kansas City.”

Who can say for sure it won’t be? Several outstanding attractions are there now, headed by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and the area is ripe with possibilities.

The district will never go big-time, however, unless people feel safe going there. A big setback on the safety front took place April 25 when a 34-year-old personal trainer named Gary Taylor was killed in a bout of gunfire.

Twenty-nine-year-old Jerronn Anderson has been charged with first-degree murder in the case.

It was just the kind of incident that is all too common on Kansas City’s East Side streets. Court documents say Taylor was walking south on Vine Street with two of his friends. As the group approached 19th Street, Taylor stopped and turned toward the north. Anderson approached the three from that direction, and as Taylor turned away, Anderson brought out a handgun and fired. As Taylor fell to the ground, his two companions pulled out guns and fired toward Anderson, who later showed up wounded at an area hospital.

Now, that’s not a prescription for success, but that’s not to say the problem can’t be brought under control. It’s easy to say, “It’ll never happen,” but stranger things have happened, and millions of dollars of investment have produced some impressive results so far.

To me, the pedestrian plaza idea is worth a try. If that area could one day be something akin to Westport, it would be a remarkable feat. If that happened, as you traveled around the country, you’d hear a lot more people in other cities singing Wilbert Harrison’s immortal words, “Goin’ to Kansas City, Kansas City here I come.

**

Besides 18th and Vine, here are the other Cleaver-sponsored projects that made it into the surface transportation bill…

:: $6 million for the KCATA to purchase zero-fare electric buses. (Kansas Rep. Sharice Davids filed a separate request for an additional $4.5 million.)

:: $2.16 million for improvements to Cliff Drive Scenic Byway in northeast Kansas City.

:: $3.1 million to replace a bridge in Lawson.

:: $900,000 for infrastructure improvements in downtown Odessa.

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Time for another news digest, bringing you up to speed on what’s going on in KC and the region.

:: Once again, our governor, “Farmer” Mike Parson, has shown how much he detests Kansas City. (Same for St. Louis, he just hasn’t exhibited that in a while.)

There’s been story after story about wrongly convicted Kevin Strickland, the Kansas City man who has been imprisoned for more than 40 years for a 1978 triple homicide that prosecutors are now convinced he did not commit.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker’s hands are tied until a new law takes effect in August, when she and other prosecutors will be able to start asking judges to overturn convictions in cases of erroneous convictions. But Farmer Mike’s hands are not tied; he has the power to pardon. This week he pardoned 36 people, but he passed over Strickland, whose case he knows about.

Parson’s failure to act prompted Tricia Rojo Bushnell, director of the Midwest Innocence Project to say: “It’s hard to imagine how everyone can know someone’s innocent and he’s still there. At this point, no one with power has done the things to let him out.”

Farmer Mike doesn’t seem to care. His police board is going to war, legally, with Kansas City over the City Council’s decision to redirect $42 million that is part of the Police Department’s budget. That and Strickland’s plight are just two instances of how Parson and his Republican cohorts — most of them hailing from towns of 10,000 or less — like to hold the largest city in the state hostage to their whims and biases.

For the record, Parson, when he’s not in Jefferson City, lives in Bolivar, a town of about 10,500.

:: The new McClatchy Company, now owned by a New Jersey-based hedge fund, didn’t fight a unionization effort by the approximately 40, non-management editorial employees at The Star. This week, McClatchy said it would voluntarily recognize the Kansas City News Guild, which formed last month under the leadership of longtime columnist and reporter Mike Hendricks.

I suppose the reason McClatchy didn’t fight it was twofold: First, it would make the company look even more shark-like than it already is, and, second, McClatchy recognized fighting the movement would be a losing effort because the vast majority of eligible employees were on board.

You won’t see any more reporters hired as a result of this development — or more substantial coverage of local news — but at least those remaining employees will have some leverage with management.

The Star union will become a unit of the NewsGuild-CWA, the nation’s largest union for journalists and other news industry employees. The News Guild is a sector of the Communication Workers of America, representing about 24,000 journalists.

:: In the interests of linking downtown “islands” with downtown proper, several U.S. cities have removed, or are removing, some of parts of downtown interstate loops. One city that has done so with great success is Rochester, NY, which, in 2013, won a nearly $18 million grant from the Obama administration that enabled it it to remove a segment of its inner loop. In an exhaustive report about loop extractions, The New York Times said…

“People have already moved into townhouse-style apartments where the highway once stood. Scooters and bicycles share space with cars along the new Union Street corridor, a once unlikely sight. Several cross-streets cut off by the highway have been reconnected, encouraging more walking in the area. And the big fear of removing a highway — terrible traffic — hasn’t materialized.”

Could it happen here in Kansas City? Sure, and I hope it does. Kevin Collison, who for several years has written and published the website CityScene KC, reported this week that the Washington D.C.-based Congress for The New Urbanism (CNU) had published a report that advocated removal of part or all of Kansas City’s North Loop, which separates downtown from the River Market and the Columbus Park neighborhood.

As envisioned, the approach to the Heart of America Bridge, also known as the Missouri 9 bridge, would be lowered to grade, reuniting the River Market and Columbus Park neighborhoods and establishing easy access to Independence Boulevard.

A related idea is to fill in and cover up to four blocks of the South Loop with a downtown park. That would establish a seamless connection between Downtown and the Crossroads district.

Both ideas are just in the conceptual stage, but sooner or later one or both of those hideous loops will be going away, replaced by multi-lane roads that move traffic but allow easy access to the downtown, the River Market and the Crossroads.

For people like me, who are always looking for ways to avoid freeways, it will be a godsend.

:: The final step toward resolving the honoring of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will take place this weekend as city Public Works crews will place Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard signs along Volker Boulevard and sections of Swope Parkway and Blue Parkway. A KCMO news release said the project will involve switching out of 37 standard street-name signs, as well as five traffic signal signs equipped with LED lighting at Volker and Oak, Swope Parkway and Prospect and Blue Parkway and Eastwood Trafficway.

If, like me, you are a supporter of the legacy of businessman and philanthropist William Volker, don’t worry: A nonresidential section of Oak Street between 45th Street (the Nelson Gallery) and 52nd Street (near UMKC) will be renamed Volker Boulevard.

:: Last but not least, we finally have a new trial date for 83-year-old David Jungerman, who is charged with murdering Kansas City lawyer Thomas Pickert outside Pickert’s Brookside home on Oct. 25, 2017. Jackson County Circuit Judge John Torrence recently scheduled jury selection to start on Monday, Dec. 13, with the trial beginning immediately after a jury has been sworn in.

Even though Jungerman, a mean and hateful man, has been safely off the streets for more than three years now, it will be good to see him finally brought into court and facing the assistant prosecutors and police investigators who have worked so hard to bring him to justice.

Dec. 13 will be a gratifying day for many people, assuming Jungerman doesn’t die in the Jackson County jail before then.

Here’s a photo of him from 2019.

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