Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Slip slidin’ away

In ways big and small, The Star is not serving its readers well.

Let’s start with the big…

Health reporter Andy Marso must be one of the most frustrated reporters in America these days. He’s been onto a potentially big story for months, but he hasn’t had a shred of support from management to break the story open.

Andy Marso

Now, in the wake of his editors (and possibly McClatchy management) sitting on their hands, he’s in the unfortunate position of watching another paper, USA Today, break details of the story, even though it got to it long after Marso.

The gist of the story is that a 66-year-old Kingston, MO, man named Dale Farhner died as a result of an altercation last May with a VA Medical Center police officer.

Based on limited information, Marso has had two stories about this strange case, but neither story has run on the front page. They haven’t made the front page primarily because the VA has stonewalled The Star on records pertaining to the case, essentially tying Marso’s hands.

Marso got a tip about Farhner’s death the same month it happened, in May, and he has been hounding the VA to release records, including submitting a Freedom of Information Act request shortly after the incident occurred. The VA informed him it has 18 pages of written records, a video and an audio recording, but it has refused to turn over any information, citing the “open/pending status” of the case.

After several more denials during the intervening months, Marso had a story last Tuesday saying U.S. Senators Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt were seeking answers about Farhner’s death from VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

Recently, USA Today got in on the story, and on Saturday Marso was reduced to reporting that paper’s account of what happened last May 10.

According to USA Today, the altercation started after an unnamed VA officer spotted Farhner driving the wrong way on the medical center grounds on East Linwood Boulevard. An internal report that USA Today got ahold of said Farhner “began making inappropriate gestures and physically threatening motions with his arm.” After Farhner struggled, the officer took him to the ground and handcuffed him. In the struggle or when he went to the ground, Farhner apparently suffered bleeding around the brain. He was treated at the VA and then transferred to KU Hospital, presumably where he was declared dead.

A significant part of Marso’s Saturday story was dedicated to his concerted effort to get the VA to turn over some or all of its records pertaining to the case. You can feel his frustration just reading the story.

So, what should The Star — and McClatchy, by extension — have done to help him?

It’s simple….simple but costly, and that’s why it hasn’t happened. As soon as the VA refused to hand over the records, The Star should have sued. Its chances of getting those records would have jumped appreciably if they’d hired an attorney.

Filing a suit is what the paper would have done back when The Star was under more aggressive and determined ownership — back when ownership took seriously its mission to uncover the truth about troubling situations like the one that occurred May 10 on East Linwood.

But now The Star has a broken-down, corporate owner that is limping along and that would probably hire a lawyer only to get itself a property tax break — like it did in 2015 when it sought a tax-abatement extension on its $200 million printing plant. But hire an attorney to force a government agency to hand over documents that are clearly in the public interest? No way!

…I tell you, it makes me sick. And I’d bet anything Marso lies awake at night thinking about his paper doing nothing while USA Today belatedly scratches and claws to get to the bottom of what should have been his story.

**

Now let’s turn to a couple of smaller examples, although just as telling in some ways.

Example No. 1

On Saturday, The Star ran a story on page 2A about a 30-year-old man named Antoine W. Anderson being charged with several felonies after he and another man broke into the home of a woman they had bought a car from the day before. It was a terrifying incident in which the woman was robbed and sexually assaulted at rifle point and her purse was taken. Like a lot of other readers, I’m sure, I wanted to know where this occurred. But from reporters Tony Rizzo and Glenn E. Rice, each of whom has about 30 years experience with The Star, all we learned was this occurred in Kansas City.

At 319 square miles, Kansas City is one of the largest cities in the country, geographically, and just saying Antoine Anderson “is accused of forcing his way into a Kansas City home” isn’t good enough. Rizzo and Rice are excellent reporters, but that’s just laziness.

Granted, a Jackson County Prosecutor’s Office press release does not say where in Kansas City the crime took place, nor does a “probable cause” statement filed by the Prosecutor’s Office. It would have been easy enough, however, to call the Kansas City Police Media Office, like I did, and ask for the location of the crime.

For the record...it took place in the 5500 block of East Smart Avenue, which is in far northeastern Kansas City, east of I-435 and just south of Winner Road.

(Fox4 TV has reported that Antoine Anderson’s brother, Antonio Anderson, has also been charged.)

Example No. 2

On Sunday and Monday, The Star ran on its front pages a two-part investigative story about widespread sex abuse in fundamentalist Baptist churches across the country. It’s a big story and well worth the space dedicated to it.

But, but, but…get this: The name of the main reporter on each story is Sarah Smith, and under her byline is her email address — ssmith@star-telegram.com.

I wonder, how many KC Star readers know where the Star-Telegram is?

And, I wonder, how many readers thought that with the word “star” in the email address The Kansas City Star was somehow involved?

Not a word in either story indicates the paper is in Fort Worth, TX. Like The Star, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram is a McClatchy paper. That, too, is not indicated at the beginning or end of either story.

I would bet that if 100 Star subscribers were called at random and asked where a paper called “the Star-Telegram” is located, fewer than 15 would be able to give the correct answer.

…It would have been so simple — and so helpful to readers — to include a sentence at the top or bottom of each story, saying something like: “This report was prepared by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which, like The Star, is owned by the McClatchy Co.”

But when a newspaper is in decline, this is the kind of stuff you see. Big and small tell the same story.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

In a recent court filing, Jackson County prosecutors have set out a definitive line of argument they intend to use at trial against David Jungerman.

At the request of prosecutors, Judge David Michael Byrn swept aside the strenuous and persistent objections of Jungerman’s lead defense attorney and given the state the right to secure testimony from officials at two banks, UMB and Blue Ridge Bank and Trust, where Jungerman apparently keeps millions of dollars in assets.

It has been clear from the beginning of this case that prosecutors cannot physically place Jungerman near the Brookside front yard of lawyer Thomas Pickert, who was gunned down Oct. 25,, 2017, while talking on his cellphone after walking his two young sons to school.

Prosecutors do have, however, a mountain of circumstantial evidence — some of it created by Jungerman as he shuffled assets in an attempt to shield them after Pickert won a $5.75 million civil judgment against him while representing a trespasser Jungerman shot in 2012.

As a result of the shooting, the trespasser, Jeffery Harris, had to have a leg amputated.

David Jungerman at a court hearing last May

Within days of the July 2017 civil verdict, Jungerman began moving money held in his name and that of his business, Baby Tenda, which produces baby high-chairs.

Specifically, prosecutors said in the recent filing, “He began opening and closing accounts, creating purported ‘irrevocable’ trusts, and transferring money and real property to his daughter, Angelia Buesing, his ex-wife Sandra Jungerman, and to other third parties.”

For decades, Jungerman, a gun nut, has lived by the conviction that he can take matters into his own hands whenever he feels someone represents a threat against him, his property or his money. He has shot at least three trespassers outside his Baby Tenda business in northeast Kansas City since 2012, and decades ago he detained at gunpoint a group of teenagers who were trespassing on property he owns in Raytown.

A hallmark of Jungerman is his off-the-charts recklessness in deed and word. That recklessness has not abated since he was jailed last March. Recently, prosecutors divulged that they had assembled 122 pages of notes from phone calls Jungerman made from the Jackson County Detention Center.

At the beginning of every call, a recording warns that inmate calls are monitored. That didn’t deter Jungerman from making scores of calls concerning the movement of money and property among various individuals, trusts and accounts.

This from the state’s recent filing…

The vast majority or all of the accounts and all of the persons listed in the subpoenas are discussed repeatedly by the Defendant himself on his jail calls. The Defendant discussed his interests at UMB as recently as May 29, 2018, and at Blue Ridge Bank as recently as November 2, 2018. He repeatedly referenced transfers to his daughter Angelia Buesing, and her daughter, Julianne Kiene, and to his ex-wife, Sandra Jungerman.

The State believes that this evidence strengthens the State’s motive evidence by showing how obsessed the Defendant is with his money, and the abnormally extensive lengths to which the Defendant will go to protect his money even in the face of legal judgments.

**

As I’ve said before, Jungerman got very lucky the day Pickert was shot with a rifle by someone sitting in a van parked across the street his home. No one can positively put Jungerman at the scene. But…

Two people said they saw an older, gray-haired man and a white van in the area…Jungerman has gray/white hair and a white van.

In addition, KCMO detectives have been able to piece together video from “traffic cameras, businesses, residences and two ATA buses” indicating Jungerman’s van was driven from Raytown to the Brookside area an hour before the shooting and driven back to Raytown after the shooting…Jungerman told police the van was on his Raytown property that morning and went nowhere. 

The evidentiary coup de grace, though, is a recording police obtained of Jungerman confessing to the crime while talking to one of his employees.

That was another instance of his recklessness: He had inadvertently left an audio recorder running after having turned it on earlier to record part of a court hearing in an unrelated criminal case, which was later dropped.

The way I see it, assuming the prosecution makes no fatal legal missteps, David Jungerman is going to spend the rest of his life behind bars. In addition, that $5.75 million judgment will be paid, and Thomas Pickert’s survivors will probably win millions in their wrongful-death civil suit.

The murder trial is scheduled to start Feb. 25.

Read Full Post »

Boston and environs

Patty and I spent last weekend in the Boston area, where we were visiting my last living aunt, Nanette Eckert.

At one time, I had six sets of aunts and uncles — two on my mother’s side and four on my father’s. Back in my 30s and 40s, I couldn’t imagine the day when it would be down to a single aunt or uncle. But, alas, the day arrived.

Nanette, my late father’s sister, is 88 — a healthy and active 88, luckily. Her husband, Jim, died Oct. 27. They are originally from Louisville, where all my family is from. Nanette and Jim moved to the Boston area more than 40 years ago when he was transferred by his career-long employer, General Electric.

We had three days with Nanette, who lives in a retirement complex in Needham, and on Sunday evening we went to another suburb, Acton, to spend a night and part of Monday with a longtime friend, Ellen Oak, who lived and worked in Kansas City decades ago.

The time with Nanette and Ellen was gratifying. While they were the focal points of our visit, we also were able to go to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and twice we made it to Boston’s North End, the city’s oldest residential area and home to numerous, fine Italian restaurants. We had one lunch at a cramped and quirky place called The Daily Catch, which features seafood and pasta. Another day we ate at La Famiglia Giorgio’s, a more spacious and traditional restaurant.

I didn’t get as many photos as I would have liked, but I got enough for a decent representation.

I hope you like them…

Nanette and I, next to a beautifully outfitted tree/woman at the Museum of Fine Arts

The MFA lobby

Salem Street — one of two streets, along with Hanover Court, that comprise the heart of the North End

TD Garden, which about 20 years ago replaced the legendary Boston Garden, where such Boston Celtic stars as Bill Russell and Bob Cousy played.

This is a retail operation at Volante Farms in Needham. The “farmstand” features, among, other things, a gourmet deli, a butcher shop, homemade pastries and locally roasted coffee.

Some of the goodies in the bakery

Finally, here’s something that warmed my heart: A full, four-section, daily paper. In 2013, Boston Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry bought the paper for $70 million. As of Sept. 30, The Globe had nearly 100,000 digital subscribers — more than 10 times as many as The Kansas City Star.

 

Read Full Post »

Thursday afternoon’s news that Tribune Publishing’s board of directors had rejected a purchase offer by the McClatchy Co. has to come as a relief to most readers and employees of McClatchy’s 29 daily papers, including The Star.

McClatchy has been trying to cut its way to profitability since it purchased the Knight Ridder chain for $4.5 billion in 2006, and its print-to-digital effort has not gone well. And so, the prospect of McClatchy — some $800 million in debt — acquiring a significantly larger newspaper company just didn’t make sense.

Somehow, though, the company managed to put together what some reports called “a fully financed offer” that included $15 a share in cash and the rest in stock. Tribune’s shares closed slightly down Thursday, at $13.58, while McClatchy shares rose 6.5 percent to $8. (It was about $50 a share when it purchased Knight Ridder.)

The company obviously was able to tap into a funding source — perhaps a hedge fund — but I think it lost its edge after Patrick Soon-Shiong, who holds a 25 percent share in Tribune decided against throwing in with McClatchy. Earlier this year, Soon-Shiong, a surgeon, entrepreneur and philanthropist, purchased the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune from Tribune for $500 million.

Patrick Soon-Shiong (left) walking through the Los Angeles Times newsroom

In the heady weeks after that purchase, he reportedly was interested in teaming up with McClatchy to buy Tribune largely because of McClatchy’s string of California papers. The New York Post reported late last month, however, that Soon-Shiong had cooled to that prospect because of a declining print and digital audience in LA. In other words, he got a taste of the new reality that McClatchy has been dealing with since 2006.

With McClatchy out of the picture, the odds-on favorite to purchase Tribune is the combined team of the Donerail Group, headed by former hedge fund Will Wyatt, and AIM Media, a fast-rising company that owns papers in Texas, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia.

AIM is headed by Jeremy Halbreich, former president of the Dallas Morning News and former chairman of the Chicago Sun-Times.

When I asked a local investment banker a couple of months ago what he thought was going on with McClatchy’s seemingly low-percentage attempt to buy Tribune, he said, “It’s a way to reorganize without going through bankruptcy.”

To me, this looked a lot like a Hail Mary pass. A desperate attempt to make some waves and start over with something resembling a clean canvas.

But now, with the pass falling short and given the depressing way things have been going, bankruptcy appears all the more likely for McClatchy.

As far as I know, no other chain is up for sale, and it would be difficult, anyway, to simply switch streams and reach out for another chain. Should McClatchy file for bankruptcy, it could either be purchased wholly or broken up, with its papers sold individually or in smaller groupings.

A break-up is the scenario I’m hoping for because it would offer the best chance of a deep-pocketed “angel” swooping in, buying it and attempting to restore it to its former status as a key element in the Kansas City fabric.

**

Reaction to Thursday’s development on the Kansas City Star Bylines Facebook page was not sympathetic.

Duncan Moore, a former Star reporter who now lives and works in Chicago posted this:

“Lucky for us here in Chicago. All we need is another absentee corporate owner that’s going down the tubes!”

And Les Weatherford, a good friend who worked on The Star’s copy desk for many years before being laid off after the McClatchy purchase, wrote, “Boo hoo hoo.”

No, McClatchy hasn’t won many fans here in Kansas City — nor, I would imagine, in any of the other cities that had Knight Ridder papers.

Not that being owned by Knight Ridder was a bowl of cherries, but I don’t believe there were any layoffs during the years KR owned The Star.

And in the end, Knight Ridder got lucky: Its board decided to sell after a major, disgruntled stockholder agitated for it, complaining that Knight Ridder stock was not performing as well it should have.

In the sale to McClatchy, Tony Ridder, Art Brisbane and other top KR executives made millions and walked away contentedly. At The Star (and the other KR papers) we didn’t realize it at the time, but the misery was just starting.

Read Full Post »

Kansas City Star employees and readers should be watching closely the next few days or weeks to see what happens with regard to its corporate owner, the McClatchy Co.

Common sense says there’s no way McClatchy, which owns 29 daily papers, could buy the larger (in financial terms) Tribune Publishing Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune and several other papers, and yet I keep seeing reports that McClatchy is in the hunt.

Just yesterday, Keith J. Kelly of the New York Post reported that McClatchy executives were “visiting some of the papers involved in a potential sale.”

Kelly quoted an anonymous source as saying “if it (a deal) doesn’t happen this week, it may not happen at all.”

…I tell you, those of you who still have two good knees (not me) should get down on them and pray that McClatchy doesn’t get control of Tribune.

McClatchy is a certifiable disaster as a journalistic enterprise and has been since it paid $4.5 BILLION for the Knight Ridder chain in 2006. That was at the precise time the newspaper industry was starting down what has turned out to be an amazingly steep slope.

I’d like to call on Congress — before it goes on Christmas break — to quickly pass a bill prohibiting any company with an $800 million debt from buying another company.

Not just that…McClatchy also has cut thousands of jobs at its papers and has reduced its print editions to shells of what they used to be.

And yet, if Keith Kelly is correct, this dolphin of a newspaper chain has its little jaws open and is chasing another whale.

It’s not clear if a wealthy individual or a hedge fund — or some other entity – is backing McClatchy’s bid, but it certainly can’t swing such a deal on its own. To me, it’s far-fetched from every possible vantage point.

More likely, from my way of thinking, is that Tribune ends up in the hands of a team of two men who have teamed up on a competing bid.

Heading that team are Will Wyatt, a former hedge fund manager, and Jeremy Halbreich, chairman of a fast-growing, private company that owns papers in Texas, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia. Halbreich’s main claim to fame is resuscitating the Chicago Sun-Times several years ago.

Keith Kelly reported a couple of weeks ago that the Wyatt-Halbreich team had the financial backing of Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot. If that’s the case, Wyatt and Halbreich would seem to be holding a very strong hand.

According to Kelly’s New York Post story of Tuesday, Wyatt and Halbreich would be employing a “buy to bust it up” strategy, that is, selling off most of Tribune’s papers but keeping the Chicago Tribune as flagship.

On the other hand, I assume McClatchy would be buying with an eye to hold onto the new properties.

**

From The Star’s standpoint, not much good can come out of this particular deal, however it turns out.

If Wyatt and Halbreich emerge the winners, McClatchy regroups and continues trying to cut its way to profitability.

If McClatchy somehow pulls the deal off, it extends its failing print-to-digital strategy to another dozen or so papers.

Either way, it continues stumbling and fumbling along.

The best scenario, in my view, is bankruptcy, with a “bust up” that frees 29 daily papers from the grasp of company that has been tanking for a dozen years.

It’s hard to imagine how any other course could be worse than continued ownership by McClatchy. So I say, death to McClatchy, liberty to its newspapers.

Read Full Post »

A couple of weeks ago, one of my old Louisville buddies, John Blakeney, who now lives in Florida, posted a comment asking about the “status or progress of the new airport in Kansas City.”

“You were so wound up about it a few years ago,” John wrote. “Your comments now would be interesting to me, and probably a lot of your readers.”

Because the comment was unrelated to the post at hand, I moved it to the trash. But his prodding stuck with me because what he said was true: I lobbied hard for council and voter approval of a new airport, and I haven’t written about it in several months, despite a series of mostly troubling developments.

So today, it’s back to the airport, although, frankly and unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of insight to give you. Instead, it’s mostly opinion and frustration. But come along, anyway…

At this writing, the estimated cost of a new, single terminal has risen from $964 million to $1.64 billion since 2015. As The Star said recently, much of the price increase has been due to “expanding gates and holding rooms.”

That’s a 70 percent jump. SEVENTY PERCENT!

Here, then, are my main thoughts, which I’ll explain individually.

:: This has all the appearances of a bait-and-switch deal.

:: Nevertheless, because of the path Mayor Sly James and the rest of the City Council chose to go, there’s very little we, the public, can do at this point. Our hands are tied, and the Council has limited flexibility.

:: My biggest concern now is not cost, which is largely out of our control, but what the airport is going to look like and how it will function. Again because of the path the Council embarked on, we and the Council will have limited input into design and functionality.

Let’s take a closer look at each of those points.

Bait and switch

As we all know, it took several years for the single-terminal idea to come into focus. Because they will pay for it, the airlines were intimately involved from the outset. That means there was no shortage of planning time.

The original plan called for 35 gates, four more than the city currently leases to airlines at KCI. At the time, 35 struck some people as surprisingly low. Passenger traffic has been going up steadily for years, the metro area continues to grow, and people have grown accustomed to paying the much higher fares that have come with airline deregulation.

It wasn’t until April, five months after voters overwhelmingly approved construction of a new airport, that the airlines came forward and said, oh, we miscalculated…traffic has been going up faster than we realized and we need more gates. Now it’s up to 39, with the ability to expand to 42.

A KC Star story in April said this: “Officials said the expanded plans took shape over the last two months…As initial design work started, the city, Edgemoor (the winning contractor) and the airlines said they re-examined original assumptions to make sure they were sound.”

You don’t have to be Ebenezer Scrooge to scoff at the assertion that the “original assumptions” changed within a couple of months. The hard-to-avoid suspicion is that some city officials and the major airlines floated a very conservative number to induce a “yes” vote from the public.

If that was the intention, it worked. But it has cost the city, Edgemoor and the airlines a lot of credibility. I don’t know how they go about regaining significant credibility at this point, but it would certainly help if the three parties were to resolve the current problems in short order and get the show on the road.

The chosen path

I have said from the beginning — and I testified to this effect before the City Council’s Aviation Committee in 2017, well before the public vote — that the city should have gone about this process the tried-and-true way. That is, the city should have solicited proposals for a comprehensive design, approved a design and then advertised for construction bids based on the design. That way the city — the owner of the airport — would have been clearly and unequivocally in charge of the project.

Not to mention that the public would know what the hell the building would look like!

But, no. Desperate to get off dead center, Sly and two other council members — Jolie Justus and Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner (both of whom are mayoral candidates now) — jumped at a seductive but overpriced proposal from local company Burns & McDonnell to build the airport on a no-bid contract.

From there, The Star’s editorial board pushed hard to allow other companies to submit proposals, and that’s what happened. What the editorial board should have done, however, was call for the Council to throw up the stop sign and go back and adopt the traditional design-first, build-second process.

This flawed process is now so far down the line it’s almost impossible to reel it back. And it’s a mess. So far, Sly has not been able or willing to exert sufficient pressure to push the airlines to hammer out a deal. Even more problematic, once the airlines decide how to apportion expenses among themselves and the start of construction nears, the balance of power will shift to Edgemoor. Because the city threw the project out to contractors like a piece of red meat, Edgemoor essentially will be able to dictate construction terms and run the tab up for the inevitable “change orders” that accompany all major construction projects.

Design

Never did I expect anything as singular and spectacular as the white “tents” — mimicking snow-capped peaks — above the terminal at Denver International Airport. But with the backassward way the city has gone about this, I’m just hoping we will end up with something that isn’t visually awful.

Instead of being the first consideration, design is bringing up the rear. Edgemoor’s primary consideration will be budget. It won’t be building to a city-specified design; it’ll be building to an agreed-upon price. That means the design will probably be pretty simplistic. I’ll be extremely surprised if it’s anything above plain-jane-mundane. I hope it will be at least functional, with plenty of natural light.

What we have seen so far from Edgemoor, in the way of design, is so rudimentary it’s laughable. There’s the rendition of the main building with a curving roof, but the focus is on a big airplane parked at a gate. (How unique!) Then, there’s a rendition of the interior with people walking about under ribbon-like ceiling panels interspersed with views of the sky. (We can only hope the interior approximates the blend of cover and natural light.)

**

The gist of all this is that Edgemoor managing partner Geoff Stricker is in the cockpit, and the rest of us — including the City Council, the Aviation Department and the airlines — are along for the ride.

Keep your seatbelts fastened, everybody; it’s going to be a long ride, with lots of turbulence.

Geoff Stricker

Read Full Post »

Journalism attracts and produces some quirky personalities, and one such person was Giles Fowler, who spent 24 years at The Star before heading off into to a second lengthy career in academia.

He taught journalism for one year at Kansas State University and then moved on to Iowa State, where he spent more than 20 years before retiring in 2002.

Giles Fowler

I had heard earlier this month that Giles had died in Ames, IA, and his obituary finally appeared in The Star today. (The timing of an obit is strictly up to the family.)

The obit was as quirky and singular as Giles and perfectly befitting a colorful journalist. It began like this…

Giles Merrill Fowler, father, husband, journalist, author, teacher and cheerful troublemaker, died riding a deep and emphatically requested morphine wave Nov. 3 at Israel Family Hospice House in Ames. He spent most of 84 years indulging his appetites for life’s finer pleasures, particularly stimulating company and a bottle or four of the good stuff, with infectious verve and vigor. He fought the indignities of aging with a witty, vinegary constitution. The cause of his demise was a tooth infection that led to respiratory and cardiac complications.

Giles was married and divorced twice. His first wife, Jane Pecinovsky Fowler, lives in Overland Park. She also worked at The Star.

Richard B. Fowler

Fowler was a journalistic blue blood. His father, Richard B. Fowler, spent his career at The Star, ultimately rising to editor and president. I never met Richard Fowler; he retired in 1968, the year before I arrived in Kansas City. In retirement, Richard spent much of each year in Mexico but continued to contribute stories to The Star on the politics and economics of Mexico. While visiting Morelia, Mexico, he was killed in an automobile accident on August 19, 1978, at the age of 76.

The writer of Giles’ obit said, “Giles was doomed to follow his father into that disreputable but joyous trade.”

**

At The Star, Giles worked as a reporter, film and theater critic and, finally, as editor of the Sunday magazine, which for decades was a substantive and excellent publication.

I was never close with Giles, but he was one of those newsroom personalities who stood out. He was a relatively short man, wore tinted glasses, talked fast and moved around quickly — sort of like Groucho without the forward tilt.

The only significant interaction I ever had with Giles occurred in about 1979, a year after I had left the Jackson County Courthouse beat and had moved to the features section on the morning Kansas City Times. Over a period of a few years, I had written two or three freelance stories for the Sunday magazine (before Giles became its editor), and when a magazine writing position opened up, I was very interested. I applied, and Giles invited me for an interview at the magazine office, which was across 18th Street in what we used to call the Topsy building.

Going into the interview, I thought I was a virtual lock for the job. I couldn’t imagine who at the paper might beat me out.

I sat across the desk from Giles, and he leaned back casually and smoked a cigar as we chatted. Picking up on his demeanor, I got pretty casual myself. In fact, I had a cigar with me and pulled it out and lit it up…There we were, sitting across from each other, smoking cigars and chatting idly about who would fill a relatively important position that was up for grabs.

My feeling of self-content and confidence soon began to ebb, however, when Giles started talking about another reporter who had applied for the job. He didn’t name the other reporter but said something like, “He’s a very sensitive writer.”

I couldn’t imagine who he was talking about, but as he went on about that reporter, my cigar started losing its lustrous aroma. By the time I left, I knew I had just lost out on the first internal promotion I had applied for.

Word came out a week or so later that the winning applicant was a Star-side reporter (we had both The Times and The Star until 1990) named James Kindall.

I knew Kindall as a quiet sort of person who let his writing do his talking. He was outstanding — and far better qualified than me for a feature-writing, magazine position.

I clearly remember one story he wrote, although I don’t remember if it was for the magazine or the newspaper itself. It was about Sam Walton and Kindall’s exhaustive effort to find him and interview him. The story was titled something like “On the hunt for Sam Walton.”

James Kindall

Kindall went to Bentonville, Wal-Mart’s headquarters, determined to talk with Walton. He first went to his office but was told Walton didn’t give interviews. Kindall then started talking to Bentonville residents, who assured him Walton was always out and about and that Kindall would certainly come across him somewhere. One place Walton frequented, Kindall learned, was the coffee shop at the local Holiday Inn. Kindall went there a couple of mornings but had no luck.

Then, early one morning, about 5 a.m., Kindall went back to Wal-Mart and pulled in the parking lot, outside the executive offices. Soon, an older-model car pulled up in the darkness, and a man got out of the car and started walking toward the door. Kindall jumped out of his car and intercepted the man as he reached the door and said, “Mr. Walton?”

At last, he had homed in on his target. Walton invited Kindall into the office and told him he was impressed with his perseverance but that, nonetheless, he would not give him an on-the-record interview. They chatted a while, and Kindall left, returning to Kansas City with an intriguing story about Walton.

**

Within a year or two of hiring Kindall, Giles Fowler left the paper for a one-year teaching post at Kansas State, and then he went on to Iowa State.

Kindall stayed on the magazine a few years and then went to Long Island Newsday, where he worked for nine years. For about the last 20 years, from what I can determine, he has been a freelancer, writing under the handle “Have Pen Will Travel.” He still lives on Long Island.

I continued writing features for The Kansas City Times until I returned to my political reporting roots. I got the City Hall “beat” in 1985 and stayed there 10 years, before becoming an assignment editor, the post I retired from in 2006.

Several years back, I would see Giles occasionally at Laura Hockaday’s annual KC Star reunion at the Kansas City Country Club. But now Laura’s gone, Giles is gone, and, I believe, the reunion is gone. I will never forget that day, though, I sat in Giles’ office, smugly smoking that cigar, convinced I was on the cusp of becoming a magazine writer.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »