Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

My $891.23-per-month McClatchy pension appears to be hanging by something between a thread and three-pound-test fishing line.

I’ve been predicting for months that the company, which owns 29 daily papers, including The Star, has nowhere to go but down and out.

The company finally admitted as much yesterday when it announced its third-quarter financial results.

The single biggest piece of news was not that the company lost $305 million between July 1 and September 30 (that was deceiving because it consisted mostly of a  required markdown of assets) but that its pension plan was underfunded by $535 million.

Of pressing concern, a $120 million pension funding payment is due in the spring.

Under the heading “pension matters and potential restructuring,” McClatchy ominously said in a news release, “The company and its advisors are exploring all available options to address these liquidity pressures.”

The steps the company has recently taken include hiring financial and legal advisers to explore options. The Poynter Institute for Media Studies quickly published a story saying such language typically means one thing: The company is “exploring the possibility of a sale.”

McClatchy has more than 24,000 pensioners, and it is begun discussions with the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) and its largest debt holder, a hedge fund called Chatham Asset Management, regarding a possible “restructuring.”

“Should the PBGC and the company reach such a solution,” the McClatchy release said, “the assets and obligations of the qualified plan would be assumed by the PBGC, which would continue to pay the company’s pensioners their benefits. The company believes, under current regulations, such a solution would not have an adverse impact on qualified pension benefits for substantially all of its retirees.”

That’s the rosiest outlook. On the other hand…

“There can be no assurance that the ongoing discussions with PBGC, its debt holder, and other parties will result in any restructuring transaction, that the company will obtain any required stakeholder consent to consummate a restructuring transaction, or that the restructuring transaction will occur on a timely basis or at all.”

Or at all.

The likeliest scenario, according to the Poynter story, is that Chatham, McClatchy’s largest stockholder as well as its biggest lender, will move in and take over the company. Chatham already has a controlling interest in a large Canadian chain, and it is the parent company of the National Enquirer. (The fact that McClatchy and The Star are in the grip of the company that employs that greaseball David Pecker is hard to swallow.)

**

My hope is that if Chatham becomes the owner of McClatchy, whose stock is publicly traded, it will consider selling off at least some of the 29 papers to local owners. I’ve had my fingers crossed for a couple of years that might happen with The Star, but the fact is it’s unlikely, because most of the hedge funds that have moved in on newspaper chains have done so to suck out the revenue and invest it in other, non-newspaper assets that earn significant returns.

That strategy, as I’ve said before, is euphemistically called “harvesting market position.” (When I hear that term, I can’t help think of a thresher crawling through a field and churning up newspapers.)

A lot of harvesting is taking place in the newspaper business these days. Only a handful of major metropolitan dailies are doing well, and two of them, The New York Times and The Washington Post, have converted themselves into national newspapers. The Times, by far the most successful paper in the country, has been working at that conversion for at least two decades; The Post has made great strides in that direction since Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, purchased it in 2013.

**

Back to my pension…I worked at The Star for 36 years, and I’ve drawn that $891.23 a month since retiring in June 2006. While it’s a fairly piddling amount considering the number of years I put in, I’ve always been proud and pleased to get that automatic-deposit notification at the end of each month.

You can buy a lot of lunches on $891 a month, and I guess I might have to cut back if the pension goes away or is significantly reduced. One of the groups I lunch with periodically includes former Star reporters Julius Karash and Mike Rice and our politically conservative buddy John Altevogt. (Like Julius says, “It’s always good to know what the other side is thinking.”)

Last night, Altevogt sent the three of us an email in which he said, “Looks like we may have to pick up the tab for Fitz next time around, until he can get a gig as a Walmart greeter.”

The only problem is Walmart is getting rid of its greeters faster than newspaper chains are getting rid of reporters, photographers and editors.

Ah, well, on we go…onward and upward.

Read Full Post »

I know a lot about Emanuel Cleaver.

As The Star’s City Hall reporter from 1985 to 1995, I covered him as a City Councilman for six years, and I covered him during his first term as mayor from 1991 to 1995.

I know the good, the bad and the ugly about Emanuel Cleaver, who has been Missouri’s 5th District U.S. representative since 2005.

You probably have heard or read by now about Cleaver’s ridiculous TV attack on members of the Save The Paseo group, which pulled off a huge win at the polls last week, leading the charge for reinstating The Paseo to its rightful and historic place in the city’s fabulous parkways and boulevards system.

On an MSNBC show hosted by Al Sharpton, Cleaver chided the Save The Paseo folks who had interrupted a pre-election rally by saying, “Even the Klan never marched into a church.”

He went on to say “people are embarrassed here in Kansas City” — referring to the removal of King’s name from one of the city’s most prominent boulevards.

…Before I go any further, let me put stakes in the hearts of those two assertions.

First, the Save The Paseo people were wrong to interrupt the pro-Martin-Luther-King-Jr.-Boulevard rally. In politics, you respect your opponents’ right to hold events and wage their campaign, and you respond appropriately. Nevertheless, comparing them with the KKK was outrageous. Cleaver uttered those words for one reason — shock value.

Second, I don’t know what Cleaver was smoking before he said “people are embarrassed” about the election outcome because 70 percent of those who went to the polls voted to change the name boulevard’s back to The Paseo. To say the general populace is embarrassed is downright laughable.

Now, here’s the most important thing you need to know about Cleaver: First and foremost, he loves the spotlight. Oh, sure, he likes to play the humble-preacher role, and he likes to talk about the need for civility in politics. But more than anything, he likes the arc lights, the microphones and center stage. An experienced preacher, he can turn a phrase and command a crowd.

So, when he got a chance to go on national TV and feign outrage and misrepresent the situation in Kansas City simply because he thought he could ignite a political firestorm, he didn’t hesitate.

Didn’t hesitate even though he knew damn good and well that the vote was in no way a dismissal of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy but, rather, a stiff arm to a City Council that rammed the King name through to satisfy the political group Freedom Inc. and a blusterous group of black ministers who are accustomed to getting their way at City Hall.

As The Star said in an editorial today, “Cleaver did not tell Sharpton there was a lot more to it…Or that ‘us’ in this us-versus-them scenario was not a monolith.”

(By the way, I’m proud of The Star for slapping Cleaver down on this, especially after kowtowing to the black ministers and advocating for the King Boulevard designation.)

What Cleaver did on Sharpton’s show — and again Monday at a community meeting in south Kansas City — was throw his city under the bus…the city he proudly led and praised and boasted about for eight years when he was mayor.

It was a cheap shot — the cheapest of shots — and he should pay for it.

Problem is he won’t. He’s essentially got a lifetime job. He’s a popular Democrat running in a strongly Democratic district. No Democrat with any sense challenges Cleaver for the Democratic nomination every two years, and Republicans are beating their heads against a wall when they try to take him on.

That’s another reason he could blow smoke like he did on Sharpton’s show; it was a free blow.

Nevertheless, here in Kansas City, we know where the real embarrassment was on this issue. It was on Cleaver. Head to toe, he is draped, painted and embroidered in embarrassment.

Read Full Post »

One redeeming feature of a heartbreaking sports loss is that it presents a golden opportunity for great, emotional writing.

While a thrilling victory lends itself to descriptive and elevated prose, it doesn’t hold the same capacity for capturing the depth of the feelings and range of emotions that linger after a devastating loss.

That’s because the thrill of victory tends to be one-dimensional: It lifts one straight up, dispersing undiluted joy in all directions. A stunning loss, however, leaves one wallowing in a raw stew of emotions, including dismay, second guessing, anger, despair.

It is extremely challenging for a writer to wade through that stew in a way that helps the reader sort through his or her feelings and make the swallowing a bit easier.

But The Star’s Vahe Gregorian accomplished it in today’s column about the Kansas City Chiefs’ jaw-dropping, 35-32 loss to the Tennessee Titans yesterday.

Let me skirt you through this excellent, emotionally satisfying read…

Gregorian

Gregorian, who has been with The Star six and a half years, started off by neatly summing up the game as a “diabolical fiasco,” thus setting the overall tone and aptly signaling the enormity of this defeat.

Then, he quickly set up a two-phase approach, first describing how most Chiefs’ fans were safe to assume victory was theirs with less than two minutes to go but then proceeding to chronicle the numbing, nightmarish unraveling.

Gregorian quotes Chiefs’ defensive end Frank Clark on how a “gritty victory” seemed assured…

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, that’s a ‘W’. But it’s that 1 percent, you know, where it went in the other’s favor.”

All that was left for Chiefs to do, Gregorian said, was close out the game. But in a sentence that all long-suffering Chiefs’ fans can relate to, Gregorian noted that closing is “a simple-sounding concept that seems to elude them more often than it should.”

From there he segued into the horrifying details of the unraveling — the failed third-down play that forced an attempted field goal and then the jarring miscommunication between center and place kicker that resulted in a premature snap and holder Dustin Colquitt’s ensuing desperate (and illegal) attempt to pass the ball for a first down.

Explaining the miscommunication, probably the foremost mystery to Chiefs’ fans, Gregorian said long-snapper James Winchester misinterpreted Colquitt’s glance up at kicker Harrison Butker as the cue to snap.

Quoting Winchester: “I looked back, Dustin was looking forward. Then I started to see him look back. But I had already started the snap.”

Almost equally improbable was how the Titans were able to block Butker’s desperate, last-second field goal attempt. Again Gregorian was there with a logical explanation…

“Tennessee’s Josh Kalu zoomed in from Butker’s right with a running jump having read Colquitt’s cadence pattern.”

Wrapping up the column, Gregorian circled back to Frank Clark’s assessment that 99-percent of the time this would have been a victory.

Ultimately, Gregorian wrote, the game was lost because the offense fell short on the third-down play and because the defense couldn’t stop the Titans.

Then, going from micro to macro, Gregorian concluded “it’s still hard to ever exhale with this team or know what it’s really about…99 percent chance of winning or not.”

Not being able “to ever exhale.” Doesn’t that say it all about the Chiefs?

…Congratulations then to Vahe on a penetrating and satisfying analysis of a game that left Chiefs’ fans stomachs and minds churning.

**

Note: For all the beauty of this column, The Star managed, in all-too-typical fashion, to screw it up.

The online version was fine, but in the print edition, an editor cut the last four paragraphs of the column for space reasons. That left the print-edition column ending with a resounding thud and eliminating Gregorian’s facile return to the pivotal 99-percent theme.

A good editor could have nipped and spliced elsewhere in the column and saved the full-circle ending. But, no, this editor just picked up a cleaver and chopped from the bottom.

What a disservice to both Gregorian and the readers…In the journalistic sense you could call it a “diabolical fiasco.”

Read Full Post »

Ouch!

KC voters are giving Mayor Quinton Lucas, the City Council and Kansas City’s black ministers a good spanking…Well deserved, too.

With 99 percent of the votes in, the count on Question 5 was 31,274 “yes” (got back to The Paseo) and 13,909 “no.” That’s a percentage difference of 69 to 31.

The roots of this go back to 2018, when the black ministers began insisting on changing the name of The Paseo, one of our most beloved boulevards, to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

A committee subsequently appointed by then-Mayor Sly James wasn’t too keen on the idea; the Kansas City Parks Department and the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners didn’t like it; and, most important, the vast majority of city residents who testified before the committee didn’t want it.

With the issue stalled, the ministers threatened to gather enough signatures to force the Council to put the issue on an election ballot. In the face of that threat — and with municipal elections on the horizon — the Council capitulated, and in January, the council approved the name change on an 8-4 vote.

But today it was the citizens who got the last word.

Hats off to the determined Save The Paseo group, which went out and got enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot and, with a fierce wind of voter discontentment at its back, charged to victory.

Look out for this group. They organized effectively, and, having proved to themselves that grassroots activism works, they might mobilize on other issues. You can check out their Facebook page here.

While voters and the Save The Paseo group are the big winners, the road is littered with big losers. Start with Lucas, who, in his first big issue election out of the box, suffered a humiliating defeat.

Move to the black ministers, who have too often gotten their way in Kansas City by screaming and howling.

Throw in the black political group Freedom Inc., which was reduced to milquetoast without the benefit of big bucks from candidates or special interest groups.

Finally, toss in The Kansas City Star editorial board, which lined up with the ministers mainly because, well, that’s where the board thought was the politically correct place to be.

…I could tell, and predicted in yesterday’s post, that this was going to be a big win for advocates of saving The Paseo. It was in the air, and the comments on my blog post foretold the outcome.

Wisely, for once, I wasn’t going to be left behind: I voted”yes” too.

Hey, hey, hey!

Read Full Post »

When I first heard, early last year, about the black ministers’ push to do away with the name The Paseo and rename it Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, I took it almost as a personal offense.

As I wrote in a column last April, The Paseo has had a special place in my heart since I arrived here from Louisville, KY, 50 years ago and spent my first night as a Kansas Citian at the Admiral Motel (now a Rodeway Inn) at Independence Boulevard and The Paseo.

I’d never heard of a name like that; I’d never seen a divided boulevard that wide; and over the decades I never forgot where I’d spent that first night.

During the long period of uncertainty over what was going to happen to The Paseo — would it be renamed or would it remain the same? — my opposition to a name change gradually softened, and by the time the City Council voted in January to approve the change, I was resigned to The Paseo being consigned to history as far as KC was concerned.

But then the Save The Paseo group came along and got enough signatures to force a public vote on the issue — a vote the Council should have authorized on its own — and the issue is back on the table. Tomorrow, at the polls, voters will decide once and for all whether the name The Paseo should be restored or abandoned forever.

And you know something funny? I remain ambivalent about the possible reprieve…I haven’t even decided how I’m going to vote.

JimmyCsays photo

On one hand, I think a majority of African-Americans in Kansas City prefer the MLK designation, and if that’s what they want, who am I to try to impose my nostalgic memory on them?

On the other hand, when I think about how we voters were deprived of a significant voice on the matter (until now) and the black ministers were able to shriek and beg until they finally got what they wanted, I’m tempted to vote “yes,” that is, to vote to return the name to The Paseo.

I’m also tempted to vote “yes” to spite The Star, which, I feel, is strongly pushing to retain the MLK designation mainly because the editorial board wants to be able to tell the black ministers, “We were with you.”

The Star is also making a mountain of a molehill on this. A Sunday editorial said, in part: “Taking King’s name off the street…would be (a) self-inflicted wound for this city, telegraphing to the rest of the nation that Kansas City doesn’t value King’s memory or his message.”

Balderdash.

However the vote goes, I doubt the story will get picked up anywhere else. This is strictly a parochial issue that doesn’t send any kind of message anywhere outside the city boundaries. If if goes down to defeat, it will be because former Mayor Sly James washed his hands of it and allowed it to dissolve into mush.

…Even though I’m not sure how I’m going to vote, I do have a prediction. I think the number of “yes” votes (to revert to The Paseo) will far outnumber the “no” votes.

The main reason I feel that way is many residents are still pissed off about the bait-and-switch-financial deal on the airport and are still itching to vent their frustration on something.

I think there’s also a general feeling, in our urban, Democratic area, of dissatisfaction with government at the national level, and that could trickle down to the local level. In other words: “Thanks for not consulting us on The Paseo, City Council…Up yours!”

And at a practical level, if this were a normal election, the black political group Freedom Inc. would be able to flex its muscle and turn out a large number of voters. At a normal election, Freedom’s leaders would be getting a boatload of money from candidates and from supporters or opponents of major issues. Freedom would use some of that money to produce yard signs and staff polling places.

But this isn’t a normal election. The Paseo is the only interesting issue on the ballot, and Freedom is on its own. All it’s got is word of mouth.

The Save The Paseo group, on the other hand, has scraped enough money together to put out a mailing to frequent voters last week. Along with general voter disgruntlement, that should be more than good enough to return The Paseo to good standing.

Read Full Post »

After several years of seemingly trying to drive people away from the print edition, The Star’s upper managers appear to be starting to see some wisdom in not alienating that loyal group of subscribers.

At least two tangible signs of catering to print subscribers are clearly on display. One has been evident for months; the other is more recent.

The longer-running improvement is the significant increase in the amount of national and international news being run in the print edition. If you’ll recall, The Star was on a “local, local, local” binge up until several months ago, ramming almost nothing but local news down the throats of readers. Embarrassingly, they would run a few paragraphs of national news on Page 2A or 3A.

That was really dumb, for two reasons. It made the paper look insular and parochial, as if management was saying, “There’s nothing going on outside the metro area, dear reader, you need to concern yourself with.” In addition, many print subscribers are elderly and rely on their local paper for the vast majority of their news. Many don’t get their news online, and I’m sure they were frustrated that their local paper wasn’t giving them news about the world outside Kansas City, Independence, Overland Park and other area cities.

The second, more specific, improvement I have noticed is the addition of the “What’s your KCQ?” feature on the fyi Preview page on Thursdays. (I almost called it the fyi section, but, of course, the section is long gone.)

KCQ tackles reader questions about the city’s past, present an future. Often the subject is about the past, which, of course, appeals to older readers, who, again, comprise the vast majority of print subscribers.

The feature works well in other ways, too: The Kansas City Public Library provides the content, and the library benefits because it gets free publicity.

This week’s KCQ feature was about the history of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church and the rather unusual Episcopal priest, Rev. Henry D. Jardine, who was appointed rector in 1879. Father Jardine was said to be popular with the ladies, and during one young woman’s confession he was reported to have been caught spanking her “in a state of undress with a slipper as a form of penance.”

I tell ya, that’s the kind of stuff that keeps readers engaged!

The story and an accompanying photo took up the better part of two pages, which is more good news for The Star because long pieces like that free the ultra-lean editorial staff to fill the rest of the news hole with more timely stories.

**

For the last several years, the McClatchy Co. chain’s entire philosophy has been built around the “transition to digital.” McClatchy managers have paid less and less attention to their 29 daily papers’ print editions, as they point toward eliminating those editions over the next few years. The chain’s transition to digital has been disappointingly slow, however, and maybe some managers out in the Sacramento, where the company has its headquarters, are starting to realize it’s too soon to throw in the towel on print.

Or maybe it’s just here in Kansas City that top managers — either the recently departed publisher, Tony Berg, or his newly installed replacement, Star president Mike Fannin — have realized the mistake of putting all the marbles in the digital basket.

Newspapers have always been notorious for their herd mentality. When one chain starts something new or comes up with a strategy that sounds good, the other chains rush to follow suit.

“Transition to digital” sounds so smooth and easy: Just push a button and people will fling their papers in the air and charge to their computers to sign up for digital subscriptions.

McClatchy has been paying a steep price, in revenue and circulation losses, for heeding the siren song of the “digital transformation,” and it’s probably too late to undo the damage. Nevertheless, I applaud The Star for getting part of its head out its digital obsession and making a modest attempt to give print subscribers their money’s worth.

The paper is certainly not worth the $80, $90 or $100 a month the “audience development” department is asking of long-term subscribers, but the more enlightened approach could at least cut the pace of circulation losses.

Read Full Post »

I made a trip down to the Jackson County Courthouse this snowy afternoon to see what’s new in the David Jungerman and Kylr Yust cases.

They are the defendants, of course, in arguably the two biggest murder cases pending in Jackson County — the killings of lawyer Thomas Pickert (Jungerman) and those of Jessica Runions and Kara Kopetsky (Yust).

When I last reported on the cases, in early September, Jungerman had hired a second lawyer, and a judge had ordered a mental examination for Yust at the request of his public defenders.

Here are the updates…

Jungerman

Jungerman’s newest attorney, David S. Bell of the Wyrsch, Hobbs & Mirakian firm, has filed a motion for a “change of venue,” that is, that the trial be moved to another county primarily because of the extensive publicity the case has drawn.

The trial is scheduled to start Jan. 20, but a change of venue could prompt a delay.

After laying out the circumstances of Pickert’s murder — shot down in his front yard after having walked his two young sons to school — Bell wrote…

This nightmare is forever burned into the hearts and minds of persons living in the metropoitan area as local and national media outlets repeatedly described the scene, the family’s storty and the hunt for the killer…The ongoing and often inflammatory media coverage has irreparably harmed Mr. Jungerman’s ability to receive a fair trial with a Jackson County jury. The inhabitants of Jackson County are so prejudiced against Mr. Jungerman that he cannot receive a fair trial with jurors from Jackson County.

Bell’s motion said the defense had financed a survey of 546 Jackson County residents and that 35 percent of the respondents recall the crime “and virtually 100 percent of the individuals hold an opinion that Mr. Jungerman is ‘probably guilty’ to ‘definitely guilty.’ ”

The decision on a change of venue will be made by Jackson County Judge John Torrence. If he were to grant the defense motion, I believe the trial would have to go to a county approximately the size of Jackson County, which would mean, very likely, St. Louis County or maybe St. Louis City, which has its own court system.

In my opinion, there’s about a 50-50 chance that Torrence will grant a change of venue. The case has drawn a lot of publicity overall but not as much from The Star as the case would have received before The Star began significantly shrinking its coverage area and laying off employees in 2008.

Bell

Ross

Another interesting facet of the case is that Bell has clearly moved into the lead lawyer position, displacing Daniel Ross, whom Jungerman has threatened to fire twice. The most recent time was Aug. 1, when Jungerman filed notice with the court that Ross was no longer his attorney. That same day, Bell filed his “entry of appearance” on behalf of Jungerman. On Aug. 2, however, Ross filed notice that he was still representing Jungerman. The filing bore Jungerman’s signature. Ross’ name has not appeared on any court filing since then.

Yust

In early September, at the request of Yust’s attorneys, Cass County Judge William B. Collins ordered a mental evaluation of Yust by state psychologists. In their Oct. 10 report, two psychologists concluded that Yust was “competent to proceed” to trial, despite the fact that he had “mood-altering symptoms, including anxiety, depression and suicidal gestures.”

The psychologists said Yust’s symptoms had “increased in severity since the discontinuation of his prescribed medications,” and they said medical treatment was “probably necessary.”

In response, Yust’s attorneys filed a motion objecting to the state psychologists’ conclusion that their client was fit to stand trial and asked Judge Collins to order an additional examination “by a doctor of the defendant’s choosing and at his own expense.”

Collins immediately granted that motion.

This will be the second mental examination initiated by the defense. Earlier, the defense had hired a St. Louis psychiatrist named Jose Mathews to examine Yust. Mathews determined that Yust “lacks capacity to understand the proceedings against him or to assist in his own defense and…is mentally unfit at this time to proceed.”

…So now it’s a battle of the psychologists and psychiatrists. If Judge Collins should ultimately determine that Yust is not competent to stand trial, he would order the defendant to be held in a state mental institution, where Yust would undoubtedly be confined for many years. That, of course, would be an unsatisfying development for the many people interested in seeing Yust get his just desserts.

As I said in my last post about this case, there is no doubt that, colloquially speaking at least, Yust is one crazy mother fucker. I hope the doctors get the guy on some good meds and that we see him stand trial relatively early next year.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »