Archive for January, 2023

On Wednesday, Steve Kraske had the nation’s foremost press and media critic on his “Up to Date” show.

In the 26-minute interview — she was not in the studio — Margaret Sullivan gave listeners a lot of insight into the state of the news media.

Sullivan is former editor of The Buffalo News, former public editor at The New York Times (she followed Arthur Brisbane in that role), and former media columnist at The Washington Post. She has also written two books: “Ghosting the News: Local Journalism and the Crisis of American Democracy” and, most recently, “Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) from an Ink-Stained Life.”

Following are excerpts — some edited for clarity and length — from the interview. (You can listen to the entire interview here.)

Question: Has the media lost its voice of authority and, if so, can it ever get it back?

Sullivan: Well, one thing that’s happened over the past 50 years or so is that the trust in the news media has really plummeted. At the time of the mid-‘70s, after Watergate and after the Pentagon Papers were published, trust in the news media was quite high — in the mid-70s percentile, 76 percentile. That has dropped precipitously year after year after year, and so it’s low now; it’s certainly well below 50 percent, and sometimes, depending on what you look at, it could be in the 30s. So I do think that the voice of authority from kind of big-establishment media has been diminished, and there’s lots and lots of reasons for that.

Question: Why has trust in the media plummeted?

Sullivan: Well, one of the things that’s happened is now we have 24/7 cable news, and we have the internet and we have all of this information — and sometimes misinformation or even disinformation — coming at us all the time. The other thing that’s happened (is that) local journalism is actually more trusted, but the business model has been so diminished and newsrooms have been so shrunken that there’s less content and less ability to go out and report those stories. And meanwhile, you know, Fox News and all the other hyper-partisan news media are doing their thing. I think that all contributes.

Question: Can the media ever get it back, or are those days gone for good?

Sullivan: I think it’s a tough thing. I think we in the media can do some things to help that along. One of the things we can do is to explain ourselves better to our readers and listeners and viewers and kind of take people behind the curtain and be more transparent. And I think another thing that needs to happen is local news needs to be shored up and helped along. Not just newspapers but the new digital-only sites, public radio, radio in general, TV. All of these things can be sustained better, and that will help with trust as well.

Margaret Sullivan

Question: What effect did Donald Trump have with his constant attacks on the media?

Sullivan: I think that former President Trump did a lot of damage, as he used the disparagement of the news media as a central part of his initial campaign and of his administration and afterwards. And, as he so often did, he said the quiet part out loud. So he actually said to Leslie Stahl of CBS News at one point, “You know why I do this, right? It’s so when you do a negative story about me, no one will believe it.” So he was pretty up front about what he was doing, but, at the same time and by the same token, it has worked.”

Question: How much responsibility does the media have at this moment, with our democracy under assault?

Sullivan: Well, you know, I think we always have to remember that we in the news media are very unusual in that we have a constitutionally protected role. There’s nothing else that has an amendment essentially devoted, at least in part, to protecting our role in the governance of our country. So, you know, we need to remember that. We have a job, which is to inform the public and to do it properly. And our our job is not to just get the most clicks, and it’s not to get the most corporate profits, but it is to inform citizens so that they can be self-governing. And I think we’ve kind of lost touch with that, to some extent, and some of that is because there are so many pressures – competitive pressures, financial pressures – on journalists and on the news leadership that we’ve kind of, I think…only in the back of our heads do we recognize, “Oh, yeah, we actually have a public mission here.” And that should be first and foremost.

Question: What effect has the proliferation of news outlets had on the way people consume news?

Sullivan: We are really in our echo chambers; there’s no question about that. And I think social media, whether Facebook or Twitter or whatever it may be, has really exacerbated that so that you want to tune out or un-follow or block people who don’t agree with you. And so you hear the things from your own cohort and you get even more entrenched.

Question: So news consumers have a responsibility to be somewhat discerning?

Sullivan: Absolutely, and it’s hard because we have this kind of fire hose of information just blasting at us all the time, often from our phones. And this is another part of the problem: it’s very — I guess the technical term for it would be disaggregated. It’s all in sort of the same form. So it’s not as if in the old days you would read the newspaper and you’d see, okay, this is the news section, and now this is the opinion section, these are the editorials. It’s all kind of one thing, and it’s not very well labeled, and it’s not very well differentiated. So it all seems like a big blob.

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Just a quick post today (well, pretty quick) to point out a feature at the new Kansas City International Airport that I think will be a big hit with travelers from here and elsewhere.

Many times when you’re traveling and land at an airport, there aren’t a lot of distinguishing features from one city to the next. Although it’s usually not as bad as, “Where am I,” you’re not really paying much attention to exactly where you are. So, I’ve always appreciated good and proud signage that lets travelers know where they are and, in some cases, what’s special about this particular place.

We’ll have to see how Kansas City’s special features are advertised and promoted at KCI, but I was very pleased — and a bit surprised — to learn that people pulling up at the departure level will be greeted by two large LED signs that simply say, “KANSAS CITY.”

Justin Meyer, deputy aviation director for Kansas City, told me the colorful, vertical signs will be inside “both stair towers of the parking garage…facing the departure-level curb.”

I think that is fantastic. We should all be proud of our city and proud that, after all these years, we’re finally getting a modern terminal. It is appropriate that we put the name of our city in large letters and do a little chest thumping.

This first came to my attention when The Kansas City Beacon published a story a few weeks ago about progress on the new terminal.

The photo that caught my eye in that story was taken by Christopher Smith, who is either a staff photographer for The Beacon or a freelancer.

I sent an email to Jennifer Hack Wolf, interim publisher of The Beacon, asking for permission to use Smith’s photo in my blog, assuring her I would credit the photographer and the publication. Jennifer graciously obliged, and here it is…

It looks like this photo was taken shortly before dusk, which gives the letters a warm glow. Nice, eh?

Before getting The Beacon’s permission to run that photo, I asked Justin Meyer if he would take a photo of the sign for me.

He did, and here’s what he sent…

You can see that in full daylight the sign is not as prominent, but it is still very impressive.


I first learned that an airport sign could be magical more than 50 years ago, when I would fly in and out of my hometown of Louisville.

At the time, the airport was named Standiford Field. (Years later, it was greatly expanded and renamed Louisville International Airport. Now it’s Muhammad Ali Louisville International Airport. But, as is traditional with airports, regardless of rebuilds and renovations, it retained its call letters, SDF.)

Back in those days, there were no jetways — the portable bridge-like tunnels all major airlines us to get passengers on and off the planes. Portable stairs were placed against the airplane door at the arrival area, and passengers would use them to get on or off right in the gate area.

At Standiford, when arriving planes pulled up to the gate area, passengers would see a red — or maybe pink — neon sign that said “LOUISVILLE.”

I loved that sign, partly because it announced that I was home.

When the airport was being expanded — many years after I had moved to Kansas City — I was very concerned that that sign would disappear…and it did. I have no idea what happened to it — whether it is is still around somewhere or if it was destroyed. I suspect the latter.

But now, more than a half century later, there’s a new sign, right here in Kansas City, that I expect will warm my heart when I see it at the airport. I think there’s a good chance that sign will become iconic, just like that one in Louisville.

Here’s that sign, behind an Eastern Air Lines plane. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a color version. But you get the idea…

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As recently as four or five years ago, The Kansas City Star had an either seven- or eight-member editorial board, headed by then-Publisher Tony Berg.

The talented journalists on the board included Pulitzer-Prize winner Colleen McCain Nelson, editorial page editor; Melinda Henneberger; Mary Sanchez; and Dave Helling.

Today, that editorial board consists of two people: opinion writer Toriano Porter and “Letters to the Editor” overseer Derek Donovan.

The opinion page has suffered three big losses recently. Michael Lindenberger, who was appointed opinion page editor last July, died in December at age 51 after a mysterious illness. Dave Helling retired at year’s end. And today The Star reported that Mary Rose Williams, who joined the editorial board less than two years ago, has been promoted to assistant managing editor for race and equity issues.

Michael Lindenberger, after being announced as a Pulitzer Prize winner last May at the Houston Chronicle.

…It’s a rule of thumb that in Kansas City the Royals are always rebuilding, and now The Star’s editorial page will be rebuilding.

And McClatchy, The Star’s owner, is actually acknowledging that. The company’s advertisement for a new opinion page editor starts like this…

McClatchy is seeking a visionary opinion editor – driven by a clarity of purpose and commitment to community – to lead the Editorial Board of The Kansas City Star. The person in this role will be tasked with rebuilding and energizing one of the strongest local Editorial Boards in America, a Pulitzer Prize-winning team that creates deeply reported opinion journalism and convenes conversation that inspires change.

Back in 2018, The Star may have had “one of the strongest local Editorial Boards in America,” but it’s a long way from that now.

The Star is also advertising for an additional opinion writer, which, after those two jobs have been filled, will leave the paper with four editorial board members.

The executive editor’s job is also vacant in the wake of Mike Fannin’s resignation last year, and it is widely expected that Interim Executive Editor Greg Farmer will get that job, which McClatchy is also advertising. Assuming he is named, he would oversee the editorial board, like Fannin and Berg did before him, as well as The Star’s news operation.

The Star, like many major metropolitan newspapers, has been struggling to find its way the last 15 years or so, and it’s very hard to build readership and loyalty when staffs continually change shapes like sand castles on a windy beach.

I wrote the other day about how The Star is now running a lot of goofy stories on its website with the naked aim of generating computer “clicks,” instead of publishing responsibly and strategically. The stories on the website now literally shift before readers’ eyes, like sand castles on a sunless beach.

It’s a difficult situation, and I don’t envy anyone working down at those rented offices in a Crown Center building.

Making things worse is that The Star’s former landmark headquarters at 1729 Grand, which proudly housed The Star for more than 100 years, appears equally adrift. Developer Vince Bryant took control of it several years ago, talking a big game and promising a mix of commercial and retail. But today it looks just as forlorn as it did the day The Star “left the building.”

This is most painful to us journalists who were at The Star when it was proud and powerful operation, and there’s not a thing we can do about it except stand on the shore and watch the winds of change take their toll.

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Judging from the websites of The Kansas City Star and a few other McClatchy newspapers, the McClatchy chain has gone into desperation mode.

I noticed a distinct change in approach on The Star’s website about a month ago, and I checked out a few other McClatchy paper websites to see if they had adopted the same changes. They had.

Before the change, The Star and other McClatchy papers focused primarily on local stories but repeated them several times as you scrolled down the front page of the site. (The repitition is because the chain’s staffs are so depleted that they simply can’t produce enough stories to present a website that appears substantive.)

Throughout the day, fresher stories would replace older ones, but stories continued to be repeated down the front page.

Now, not as many stories are being repeated, and I have noticed two other significant changes…

  • The featured stories change automatically every time a reader clicks on a story and subsequently returns to the home page. During the few seconds the page is refreshing, the reader sees a blurring of the boxes containing the featured stories. Then the page settles with new featured stories.
  • Many stories being featured now are absolute schlock.

Let me give you an example…

This afternoon, the lead story on the website featured a photo of four tacos, with the headline, “There are many ways to have the perfect taco at this Kansas City, Kansas, market.”

Below that were six boxes — three rows side by side — with the other featured stories.

The top row consisted of two local stories. The headline on one said, “Black baby rhino born at the Kansas City Zoo.”

The headline on the other was, “Chiefs rookie WR Skyy Moore won’t play in finale vs. Raiders.”

The second row featured one story under the “Entertainment” banner and another under the heading “MLB.”

The headline on the MLB story was, “Royals free agent pitching targets Johnny Cueto.”

The headline on the entertainment story read, “Holly Madison says Kendra Wilkinson, Bridget Marquardt had it easier in the Playboy mansion.”

Hef and friends

The third and final row consisted of a national story and a business story. The headline on the business story was, “Mark Cuban warns of potential new crypto scandal and fraud.”

The national story headline was, “Dark, slithering creature seen by boat captain near NC coast stirs debate. What is it?”

This photo accompanied the headline.

Now, if you ask me, the dark, slithering creature is not in North Carolina; it is in New Jersey, where Chatham Asset Management, the hedge fund that owns the McClatchy chain, is based. So, put your minds to rest, readers; there’s no need to return to The Star’s website tomorrow looking for a follow-up on the “dark, slithering creature” story. The mystery has been solved.

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I didn’t have a New Year’s resolution when I went to bed about 12:30 a.m. this morning, but before I got out of bed about 9 a.m., I had one.

The first thing I do almost every morning — while lying in bed — is check NYT’s “The Morning,” a daily feature that focuses on the biggest piece of news or, on special occasions, timely subjects about one thing or another.

Today’s piece was titled “A happier new year.”

Well, who’s not interested in that? So I dived right in. The theme of the piece was simple and obvious, and the answer to having a happier new year was right there in the first paragraph…

“For over 80 years, researchers at Harvard have studied what makes for a good life. They found one surefire, scientifically proven predictor of happiness: Developing warmer relationships.”

The piece went on to quote Jancee Dunn, a member of The Times’ “Well” desk, as saying…

“If you’re going to make one single decision that would ensure your own health and happiness, the science tells us that it should be to cultivate warm relationships of all kinds. It’s not just about having a partner. It’s in every realm of your life.”

Dunn had a few specific examples of how to cultivate more and warmer relationships, including by:

  • Thinking of someone you’re grateful to (either a current friend or relative or a person from your past) and tell them why you’re grateful for them. Dunn did that by contacting her fourth-grade teacher, who had changed the course of her life by telling her she was a good writer, and it led to the teacher becoming “my substitute grandmother.”
  • Striking up conversations with strangers…We’ve all experienced that. You know, you’re going about your business — maybe irritated about something or compulsively trying to accomplish a task — when somebody smiles at you and makes a casual observation or gives you a friendly greeting and immediately lifts you out of your preoccupation.


To personalize this, it struck me that lying right next to me in the bed, still asleep, was a person who fully understands the importance of strong and warm relationships and who is always reaching out to form new ones. Patty’s circle of friends is incredibly wide and forever growing, and it’s due to the fact that she is naturally gregarious and effuses an aura of kindness that is almost impossible to resist.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

:: At our church, Country Club Christian, I frequently oversee the offering collection and the distribution of communion at the 11 a.m. service. That involves leading other volunteers and orchestrating the goings-on from the back of the church, an area called the narthex. For years, a big, burly guy named Rick has sat in the back row, left side, on the aisle. His wife Nancy sings in the choir. Rick doesn’t usually say much to the people next to him, and while he would occasionally say hello, he seemed a bit unapproachable. So I made no effort to break the ice. Then, a few months ago Patty went on a church mission trip to Ecuador, and two of the people on it were Rick and Nancy. On that trip, which lasted a week, Patty and Rick — and Nancy to a lesser extent — struck up a friendship. The first Sunday after that trip, Rick gave me a big smile from his customary seat and said, “Is Patty coming today?” Then he told he how much he had enjoyed being around her and getting to know her in Ecuador. Now, every time we see them, Patty gets a big hug from Rick and I, by extension, have a developing relationship with a man and woman I never expected to get to know very well.

:: During Christmas week, when our son Charlie was in town, the four of us — including daughter Brooks — went to an annual party held by longtime friends who have children about Brooks’ and Charlie’s ages. A lot of the people at that party have known each other since our children went to Visitation School together in the 1990s. It’s always an eclectic group, however, because the host and hostess tend to “adopt” people who are new to town or are just in need of more human connections. A young woman at the party was one such adoptee — having come from Alabama a couple of years ago to work at the same company as our host. We met the young woman and one of us noted at some point that she had lost most of her southern accent. “If you want to hear a deep southern accent,” she said, “talk to my father.” She pointed to a gray-haired man seated nearby wearing silver-framed glasses. Beside him was his wife, a woman with long black hair and black-framed glasses. After a while, Patty noticed that the couple was not talking with anyone and said, “Come on. Let’s go talk to them.” We approached them and introduced ourselves, and in short order we were deep in conversation about them and the South, particularly their hometown, Montgomery, which we have become somewhat familiar with as we’ve traveled to and from Florida in recent winters. We talked with them for at least half an hour, after which the man — I believe his name was Jeff — thanked us profusely for coming up and talking to them. A while later, as they were about to walk out the front door, I hustled over to tell them goodbye. Once again Jeff thanked me for us having approached him and his wife…It was clear we had given them a good Midwestern welcome and had put them at ease, and it was all because of Patty’s gesture of goodwill.

…So, my New Year’s resolution is straightforward: Be more like Patty so I too can cultivate more and warmer relationships.


I urge you readers to do the same: Follow the lead of someone you know who’s like Patty, or just strike out on your own. You’re almost guaranteed to at least meet some interesting people, and chances are you’ll make new friends.

At the end, when we’re lying under the sheet, toes up, there will be be few things more important than how many friends we have made and how good our relationships have been.

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