Archive for January, 2022

It was about six years ago, as some of you might recall, that I swore off pro football, mainly because of the high incidence of concussions and the disproportionate rate of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.) among former pro football players.

In 2017, I vowed to also give up college football, meaning I stopped going to KU games to see the school’s outstanding marching band. (I would almost drive over there just to hear the band’s soul-settling rendition of “Home on the Range,” which it plays after every home game.)

In about 2018, though, when “Mahomes Magic” struck Kansas City in a big way, I began drifting back, plowing over my principles. By the time of the Super-Bowl-winning season, 2019-2020, I had abandoned all pretense of boycotting football. I cheered as loud as anybody and jumped as high out of my chair as anyone when Mahomes threw his 44-yard (57 in the air) “Wasp” pass to Tyreek Hill against the San Francisco 49ers.

I watched with anguish last year when we lost the heart-breaker to Tampa Bay and Tom Brady, and I was a nervous wreck on Sunday, alternately sitting on the edge of the couch and walking back and forth between kitchen and living room in an effort to fend off the nerves during the Bills game.

The last 13 seconds of regulation left me spellbound and disbelieving, and when overtime began, I was so addled and undone that I got in the car and delivered dinner prepared by Patty to our daughter Brooks in Waldo. I was in Brooks’ driveway, listening on the radio, when Mahomes threw the game-winner to Travis Kelce.

Only then did I start to breathe normally.

That’s a long way of getting to the gist of this post: How I could so easily abandon my commitment to principle and return to watching football regularly while little or nothing has changed on the concussion-C.T.E. front?

I kind of understood how I could do it, but I didn’t quite have the words for it. Then, in yesterday’s New York Times, a writer for the paper’s Opinion section spelled it out for me.

The writer, Jay Caspian Kang, had a story under the headline, “We Used to Care that Football Players Got Concussions.”


He started like this…

Of all the disappearing stories in the American consciousness, none has receded from the public eye quite like football concussions. It’s hard to remember now, but less than a decade ago, President Barack Obama said that if he had a son, he would have to think ‘long and hard’ before letting him play football.

He noted that many stories were published about parents pulling their children from youth and high school football and how “obituaries were written for the future of the sport.” He cited a study that found C.T.E. in 110 of 111 deceased N.F.L. players.

But, obviously, that burst of concern was short lived. What has evolved, Kang said, is a “concussion ritual” that occurs routinely:

A player is knocked out, the TV announcers say, “Well, you hate to see this”; the player gets carted away or staggers off to the designated blue medical tent; the sideline reporter tells the audience that the player will not be returning to action. All this is done in somber tones with the implicit understanding that the player will probably be back in a week or two.

That’s essentially what happened early in Sunday’s game after a Chiefs’ player inadvertently struck teammate Tyrann Mathieu in the head with his leg and knocked the star defensive back out of the game and into “concussion protocol.”

Kansas City Star photo

Like everyone else in Kansas City, I’m sure, I did not turn off the TV in disgust. Like everyone else, my next thought was, “Who’s going to replace him?” (For the record it was Daniel Sorensen.)

Back to Kang’s story…Moving toward his main point, Kang said the passage of time and fans’ resignation to the inevitability of head injuries in football had led us to where we are today in our acceptance of football’s health hazards.

Kang’s “kicker” paragraph summed it up perfectly…

The way we watch football today feels like a capitulation that’s interesting because of how common this kind of giving in has become in modern life. We, the concerned public, may flare up our indignation for a short period when faced with an obvious problem — from school shootings to Covid policy — but there’s no real sense that we can do anything about these issues that make us mad. This doesn’t mean we are unaware or even particularly apathetic — again, nine out of 10 sports fans believe concussions are a problem in football; it’s more that we have no faith that we can change our institutions and, with ample evidence and sound reason, have dropped the belief that we even should have any input into how they choose to do business. What usually remains are the empty displays of concern we see every Sunday: the collective wincing when the inevitable happens, the hope that the harmed will be OK and then the quick move to a different subject.

Capitulation. Feeling hopeless about our ability to bring about meaningful change.

As Kang suggested, that’s where we are politically, for the most part:

What can we do about the “red” states that are intent on making it more difficult for big-city residents, particularly members of minority groups, to vote easily?

What can we do about the Missouri General Assembly’s drive to make it virtually impossible for a statewide initiative petition to succeed, by raising the threshold for approval from a simple majority vote to a two-thirds majority?

And that’s where we are in football — resigned to the fact that the N.F.L. owners and the commissioner aren’t going to make a serious attempt to reduce head injuries and we can’t do anything about it.

So, we keep watching. It’s entertaining, it’s exciting and, hell, it’s possibly our Kansas City Chiefs going to the Super Bowl for the third straight year!

It’s also likely that one or more of the Chiefs who are giving us those spine-tingling performances will end up half out of their minds later in life and come to a bitter end, like many other former players have.

But that’s 20 or so years from now. Not today. Today it’s still shock and awe about our guy having moved the ball 44 yards downfield in 10 seconds to set up the game-tying field goal.

That’s just the way it is and the way it’s going to be for a long time.

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For the first time in my life, I no longer have a newspaper coming to my front door or into my yard.

Several years ago we canceled home delivery of The Star, but we continued with a daily subscription to The New York Times. With The Star apparently no longer able or willing to hire enough carriers to guarantee consistent delivery, however, we decided last week to cancel.

So now, like most of the rest of the world, our news consumption is online and on TV and radio.

I’m not going to wring my hands over the situation, but with the passing of print, I wanted to tell you about some of the great newspaper terminology that is being consigned, little by little, to history.

Here are some of the terms we in the newspaper business became familiar with and embraced as our own coded, professional language.

Banner — A headline in large letters running across the entire width of the front page.

Beat — A reporter’s particular assignment, such as City Hall, County Courthouse, cops and courts.

Bold Face — Heavy or dark type.

Box — Border around a story. (When I was working at the Kentucky Post in Covington, KY, back in 1968-69, the granddaughter of a woman from whom I rented a room once registered her impression of one of my stories by telling her grandmother, “He had a box!”)

Broadsheet — A large-sized newspaper, as opposed to a Tabloid, which is more magazine size.

Budget — The lineup of news stories scheduled for the next day’s newspaper.

City Desk — The area of the newsroom responsible for covering local news. (Many papers, including The Star, no longer have newsrooms; they operate out of rented office space or, in The Star’s case — for now — a post office box.)

Clips — Articles that have been cut out of the newspaper. (The Star used to have a “library” that featured a comprehensive clip file, by both subject and reporters’ bylines. The clips were meticulously folded and stored in yellow envelopes, which were stored vertically in large, metal file cabinets.)

The Star library envelope containing my first “clips” as a Star (Kansas City Times) reporter.

Compose — To set type or design pages, as in “the composing room.”

Copy — All material for publication, whether written stories or pictures. (Until about the early 1970s, “copy boys” and “copy girls” would run pages of copy from reporters’ typewriters to editors on the City Desk as deadline approached.)

Copy Editor — A person who corrects or edits copy written by a reporter and writes the headlines. (The Star and its morning counterpart, The Kansas City Times, had phenomenal copy desks, which caught scores of would-be errors every week.)

Cutline — The information below a picture or graphic — the caption.

Dummy — A diagram or layout of a newspaper page, showing the placement of stories, headlines, pictures and ads.

Extra — A special edition of the newspaper, printed between regular editions, containing news too important to hold for the next regular edition.

Flag — The newspaper’s name, printed at the top of the front page.

Folio — The number of a newspaper page.

Four-color — When a color photo was needed, a slide was separated into the basic colors of red, yellow, blue and black.

Fourth Estate — A traditional name for the press, referring to a fourth social class, the others being the clergy, nobility and commoners.

Gutter — The margin between facing pages where the fold lies.

Hot Type — Old-style type made from molten lead.

Inverted Pyramid — A method of writing by placing parts of the story in descending order of importance.

Jump — To continue a story from one page to another. (A Double Truck is a story that jumps from the front page and took up two full, facing pages inside.)

Justify — To space out a line of type so that each line fits flush to the margin.

Kill — To strike out copy, remove type not to be printed or “kill” a story altogether. (Another way of saying a story was killed was to say it was Spiked, that is, the copy was impaled on an actual spike on an editor’s desk.)

Lede — Generally, the first sentence of a story. (One reporter would sometimes compliment another by saying, “Great lede.”)

Linotype — An old-style machine used to produce hot type, one line at a time.

Masthead — A box printed in every issue that states the title, owner and top managers on both the news and administrative sides of a paper.


Newsprint — The bare, machine-finished paper on which newspapers are printed. Newsprint comes in huge rolls.

Pagination — The computerized process by which a newspaper is laid out.

Plate — An aluminum sheet that the negative is transferred to so that it can be run on the press. (People who got written up in the paper sometimes would request that the paper provide them with the page plate, for posterity.)

Press Run — Total number of copies printed.

Proof — A page on which newly set copy is reproduced to review for possible errors.

Rewrite — To write a story again to improve it; to rearrange a story that appeared somewhere else; or to write a story from facts phoned in by a reporter. (As in, “Give me rewrite!”)

Scoop — A story obtained before other newspapers or media outlets report it. (Many a reporter, including me, has been dubbed “Scoop” by some non-newspaper types. Another moniker I picked up from one or two people was “Poison Pen.”)

Stringer — A part-time reporter or correspondent. (In my first few years at The Star, I sometimes took “dictation” from a stringer we had in West Plains, MO, at the southernmost part of the state.)

Syndicated Features — Material such as comics, advice columns, etc., supplied nationally to newspapers by news syndicates.

Typo — Short for “typographical error.”

Wire Services — Agencies like the Associated Press or The New York Times News Service that gather and distribute news to subscribing papers for a fee.


Most of those terms are passe, having been replaced by terms like bandwidth, memory, hard drive, hardware, browser and bytes. It’s all good — and I have embraced technology to the best of my ability — but for this former ink-stained wretch, the new terminology has no allure.


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Last week’s start of the 2022 Iowa legislative session saw some hand wringing and gnashing of teeth by some members of the media because of a change in media policy by the Republican-controlled Senate.

No longer would members of the media be allowed to watch, record and take notes from a “press bench” on the Senate floor. By order of the Senate leadership, the media was consigned to the public galleries in the Senate balcony.

You might think I’d be outraged by this, but, no, it’s just part of a trend going back at least 25 years to inject space between legislators at various levels of government and the dreaded “press.”

Caleb Hunter, a spokesman for Iowa Senate Republicans, had a valid point when he explained his party’s reasoning…

“The principal dilemma faced by the Senate is the evolving nature and definition of media. As non-traditional media outlets proliferate, it creates an increasingly difficult scenario for the Senate, as a governmental entity, to define the criteria of a media outlet.”

I’m a blogger…So, does that make me a member of the media? I tend to think not, but who can say with any assurance? Suppose, in past years, a blogger would have demanded to be allowed onto the hallowed “press bench” (and maybe that happened). Would he or she have a right to be admitted? Tough call.

There are a lot of other non-traditional “media” types now who fancy themselves as “press,” complicating elected officials’ role of trying to determine who and what is media and the privileges they should be accorded.

I’m not going to spend any time thumb-sucking on this issue…For purposes of today’s post, I just want to tell you how it used to be, back when it was quite clear who and what qualified as media and when many public officials and members of the press were, if not joined at the hip, pretty darn close.

When I started covering the Jackson County Courthouse for The Star in 1971, reporters had free run of the place. I was at the courthouse six, seven or eight hours every day; I knew people in every department: I knew all the elected officials and could walk into just about every office and usually be greeted with a smile from a secretary and allowed to go back to the inner sanctums.

I would stroll into the County Prosecutor’s Office on the seventh floor mezzanine, past the front desk, and make a loop among the desks of the various assistant prosecutors, stopping to talk to whoever was there about what cases they had and how they were coming along. I remember one longtime assistant prosecutor who used to ask for positive coverage in a nasally voice, saying, “Hey, scoop, give me some B & W?” B & W was black and white…the only colors newspapers offered back then.

I would also spend a good deal of time talking to the secretaries in every department, and that paid off in the form of numerous dates.

When I would go in to see County Executive George Lehr, whose office was on the second floor (where Frank White’s is now), he would usually shoo away whoever he was talking to and say, “Let me talk to Fitz now.”

Of course, this wasn’t because Lehr thought I had a swell personality. It was because he wanted “good press” and knew he had a good chance to get it if he gave me ready access. Lehr, who died of a brain tumor in 1988, had me wrapped around the tip of his finger. Stupidly, naively (I never had any formal journalism schooling or training other than on the job), I let him compromise me in ways that would have made journalistic ethicists gasp even back then, when things were a lot looser than they are now.

For example, those were the days when the Chiefs were coming off their 1970 Super Bowl win and tickets were hard to come by. Lehr had two tickets on about the 20 yard line in the lower level. Several times he offered me those seats at face value. And I took him up on them. Even though I was paying for them, this was out of bounds because I wouldn’t have been able to get tickets like those on my own.


When I went to City Hall in 1985, the City Council offices on the 24th floor were wide open to me. I would greet the front desk person and walk on into the labyrinth of individual council offices. Almost all the council members kept their doors open, and I’d just appear at the door and ask if I could come in. The answer was almost always, “Sure.”

One time when I was in the council offices, outside and a few steps away from the office of Councilman Bobby Hernandez, I heard him make a phone call in which he asked a retailer for a favor. What I overheard was him say went something like this: “Hi, this is Councilman Bobby Hernandez. When I was in your place a few months ago, you were kind enough to give me a 20 percent discount, and I was wondering if you’d extend me that courtesy again.”

After a few seconds, he said, “Well, thanks, I really appreciate it; I’ll be around in a few days.”

At council meetings, held in the council chambers on the 26th floor, there were one or two press tables that were a few feet from the mayor’s podium. We had full access to the 12 council members, even during meetings. We could get up from the table, kneel beside a council member’s desk and question him or her about the proceedings.

The City Council Chambers on the 26th floor of City Hall

We also had access to an anteroom behind the council chamber where council members would sometimes hang out before meetings or where they would go to take a break, duck a vote or make a phone call.

The only official at City Hall who was difficult to get in to see was Mayor Richard Berkley, who was mayor from 1979 to 1991. His door was always closed and access to him was strictly controlled by an aide named Kristi Smith Wyatt. Reporters would ask Kristi to arrange an interview, and she usually came through, but it almost always involved a wait of half an hour or more.

I remember the reporter who preceded me at City Hall, John Dvorak, saying, “If I had a nickel for every minute Dick Berkley has kept me waiting, I’d be a rich man.”

The first sign of real change in media access at City Hall came soon after former Councilman (now U.S. Rep.) Emanuel Cleaver became mayor. In short order, he moved the press room from the 29th floor, where the mayor’s office was (and still is), to the 26th floor, which is kind of a wasteland, except for the city council chambers.

The 29th floor was the nerve center. We in the press room could sometimes tell something big was going on by who was coming and going. I remember one time, during the days Missouri was on the verge of getting casino gambling, when a riverboat operator from St. Louis was in the building and meeting with the mayor. I wanted an interview. This guy didn’t want to be interviewed. But I waited by the guard’s desk until I saw him emerge, along with some aides, and he headed straight down a set of stairs. The guard let me through, and I hustled down the stairs after them and got a stairwell interview.

At some point before I left City Hall in 1995, reporters’ easy access to the council offices on the 24th floor was shut off. After that, reporters had to tell the front desk person which council member they wished to see, and the front desk person would ring the council person’s aide, who would then check with the council person — if that council person was in.

Over the years, elected officials at almost every level have made it more difficult to get access to them. I can’t say that I blame them. So, nobody should be surprised that the Iowa Senate has banished the press to the public galleries. You can still see and hear what’s going on from the galleries (assuming your hearing is good). It’s just not nearly as much fun as being up close and personal.

We’ve seen a tremendous amount of change the last 25 years, both within the media and how media members (however they’re defined) interact with government and public officials.

I mean, who would have predicted in 1995, that in 2022 The Kansas City Star would be operating out of a post office box?

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For The Kansas City Star, it’s been a hiccuping start to 2022.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Jan. 3, 4 and 5, I didn’t get my New York Times, which, like the Wall Street Journal and some other papers, is delivered by contractors who deliver The Star.

The first day, I thought it was just an aberration, but the second day I realized it was probably a significantly broader problem because my neighbors weren’t getting their papers either.

So I called my carrier, and he told me that his contract and those of about 25 other carriers had expired at the end of the year. (He delivered a couple of days beyond the 31st.) My carrier said he didn’t like the new contract he was offered and decided to call it quits, after more than 20 years of delivering The Star.

Then, I called my former carrier — a guy I got to know pretty well over the years — and he opened the conversation by saying, “You’re not getting your paper, are you?”

He said the distributor he had worked for (the carriers now work for distributors, not McClatchy or The Star) had offered him a contract to resume his old routes, including the one we live on. But the contract he was offered was essentially for the same amount of money he’d been earning in 2018.

“No thanks” — understandably — was his answer.

I heard nothing from The Star about delivery problems until this morning, when I got an email under the heading “important delivery update.”

It said in part: “Due to carrier shortages, there is a possibility that upcoming editions of The Kansas City Star will be delayed in some areas. While we continue to recruit carriers, the area manager is delivering multiple routes each morning and is working hard to ensure all routes are completed as quickly as possible.”

Then, whoever wrote that email, tried to divert our attention to the bright side, reminding us that, on our digital versions of The Star, we were getting “more than 60 pages of bonus content each day; subscriber-exclusive features on politics, sports and entertainment; (and) a customizable reader experience.”

Well now…that sure must have eased the frustration of the elderly readers who don’t read the paper online and count on having the print edition with their morning coffee.

But then, as I read on, I came across something very interesting. At the very bottom of the email, in small print, The Star’s address was listed as “4741 Central Street, Ste. 541, Kansas City, MO 64112.”

Hmmm, I mused, so The Star has rented space on the Plaza??

When last I wrote about The Star, it did not have a physical location, having sold both the former headquarters at 1729 Grand and the printing plant at 1601 McGee. Under a lease agreement with the new owner, some employees remained at the printing plant until late last year.

I had heard that The Star would be leasing space somewhere in the Crown Center area, so I was a bit surprised to see the 4741 Central address.

I quickly Google-mapped it, and what popped up was an image of a UPS store. That confused me, and when I showed it to Patty, she said, “That’s the old Halls store.”

Now, I knew damn well the old Halls building didn’t have five stories, so I wondered where the heck Suite 541 could be in that building.

So, this afternoon I drove down there and confirmed with my own eyes that it’s a three-story building, with a few retail businesses, including UPS and an Apple store, on the first floor, and parking on the top two floors.

Still mightily puzzled, I went into the UPS storefront. Two employees were behind the counter, and I said, “Say, do you know where Suite 541 might be?”

One of the employees directed my attention to a bank of rental mail boxes across from the counter.

“There’s Suite 541,” he said, pointing at this…

And sure enough, surrounded by “suites” 537, 538 and 542 was The Kansas City Star’s new address and– let’s hope temporary — home.

My immediate thought was that Suite 541 was a hell of a descent from the ornate building on Grand Boulevard and the stunning print plant with its angled face pointing toward the heart of downtown and T-Mobile Arena.

Before leaving the area, I took a couple of other photos, which help put The Star’s new address in perspective.

Suite 541 is in the first column of large boxes at lower right.
Like 1729 Grand, The Star’s new location has an ornate facade; it’s just not as impressive.

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