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Like me, I’m sure many of you were startled to hear Gov. Sam Brownback’s acknowledgment that he and other state and local officials are exploring the possibility of constructing an airport in Johnson County to rival KCI.

Not that this was the first mention of that prospect because Steve Rose wrote in The Star back in December about the prospect of Johnson County capitalizing on Kansas City’s foot-dragging.

But Sunday’s top-of-the-front-page story by Steve Vockrodt marked the first time anyone in official capacity in Kansas, much less the governor, has officially said, in so many words, “We want in the game.”

Now, this could be a Brownback trick to divert people’s attention from the state’s spectacular fiscal problems — which Brownback and the Kansas Legislature triggered in 2012 by reducing income tax rates for all Kansans and eliminating the income tax for 330,000 LLCs. But even if that’s all it is, it has to be jarring to many Kansas Citians, who may have thought they had all the time in the world to decide on a new terminal at KCI.

Brownback’s latest declaration of “Border War!” is, by far, his most serious, and I hope it gets the attention of the hand-wringing, whining crowd that continually splutters, “But KCI is sooo convenient.”

As I’ve said for two or three years now (I wish you could see the blue hue my face has taken on), Kansas Citians need to get over their rhapsodic enchantment with KCI’s curb-to-bullpen-to-gate fixation. They need to rip the blinders off and consider the importance of Kansas City joining most of the nation’s other major cities in having a first-class airport.

KCI is uncomfortable, ugly, antiquated and falling apart. Just look at the mountain of deteriorating concrete that is Terminal A, which has been closed a couple of years.

I’m hoping Brownback’s foray will add new urgency to the KCI issue for Kansas City residents, who would have to vote to approve a new KCI terminal before revenue bonds could be issued and work could start.

If a close friend’s reaction is any barometer, Brownback just might have snapped some Kansas Citians out of their soporific state. My friend told me today that for him, the matter of a new single terminal had jumped from “back, back burner” to top priority.

**

Before we go too far, let’s take a closer look at some details about this idea of a big, new Johnson County airport.

Neither Vockrodt nor the officials he quoted in his story offered any hints as to possible sites. The fact is, starting from scratch would probably be cost prohibitive. A new terminal — a terminal on the scale of what Kansas City has been discussing — could cost $1 billion or more. Then, of course, you need runways. The minimum length needed for runways that can accommodate large aircraft is about 8,000 feet. Such runways cost well over $1 billion each.

(In doing research for this story, I came across an account of a military runway that was rebuilt on the cheap: It started showing serious damage almost immediately upon reopening and soon had to be torn out and replaced. The problem? The winning concrete contractor had plenty of experience with concrete…but most of it was in pouring home patios.)

Given the costs cited above, there is only one logical site for a “new” Johnson County airport, and that is the old Olathe Naval Air Station, 167th Street and I-35, near Gardner. Johnson County acquired the air station in 1973 and renamed it Johnson County Industrial Airport. The name was changed to New Century AirCenter in 1994, and all Navy activities ceased two years later.

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New Century AirCenter

NewCentury’s biggest advantage is it has two existing runways — one 5,130 feet long and the other 7,339 feet. I suppose those could be upgraded and lengthened, but the cost would be significant.

One of the squawking points related to a new, single KCI terminal is its estimated $1 billion price tag. But even with two existing runways, converting NewCentury into a first-class airport rivaling KCI would probably cost at least $2 billion or $3 billion…And for the record, KCI has no runway problems. It has three — two that are 9,500 feet long and one that is 10,801 feet long.

Another consideration is raw space. KCI sits on a plot of more than 10,000 acres. New Century stands on 2,500.

**

Despite the significant advantages Kansas City has in this nascent border aviation war, history has shown what can happen when one governmental entity fails to move expeditiously and decisively in regard to airport construction.

The history of Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport offers what should be a disturbing scenario for Kansas Citians. (I trust you’ve gathered already, from the airport’s name, that this isn’t a happy story for Cincinnati.)

Back in the ’20s and ’30s, the main Cincinnati airport, Lunken, was located in Cincinnati. It was subject to frequent fogging because of its location, however, and then the 1937 Ohio River flood completely submerged the runways and two-story terminal building.

A Wikipedia entry relates what unfolded:

“While federal officials wanted an airfield site that would not be prone to flooding, Cincinnati officials hoped to build Lunken into the premier airport of the region. A coalition of officials from Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties in Kentucky took advantage of Cincinnati’s short-sightedness and lobbied Congress to build an airfield there. Boone County officials offered a suitable site on the provision that Kenton County paid the acquisition cost. In October 1942, Congress provided $2 million to construct four runways. The field officially opened August 12, 1944…”

And that is why, today, the Greater Cincinnati airport is in northern Kentucky.

Gulp…

 

Yesterday, I published Part I of the story of Jennifer and David Beaird, a Warrenton couple whose two children were killed when the Beairds’ car was struck from behind by a drunk driver — James Leroy Green — in eastern Jackson County last Labor Day. The story concludes today with a look at the Beairds’ financial situation and their tentative plans for the future. Two weeks ago today they welcomed me into their home and talked openly and courageously about their tragedy. Their children were son Gavin, 13, and daughter Chloe, 7. In addition, David’s spinal cord was severed, and he is paralyzed from the chest down and adjusting to life in a wheelchair.  

**

While not dire, the Beairds’ financial situation is uncertain. They will be facing numerous extraordinary expenses in the months and years ahead, including medical equipment for David, household adaptations to accommodate his limitations and very likely a vehicle with hand controls.

Looking ahead, Jennifer may well be the main and only bread winner. She currently heads the H&R Block tax preparation office in Warrenton and, on the side, handles the payroll for a company her brother has in New York City.

Very fortuitously, as it turned out, the couple decided last year that David should buy short-term disability insurance through his employer, a contracting firm affiliated with the St. Louis-based electric and natural gas company Ameren.

“We don’t usually buy anything extra,” Jennifer said, “but I urged him to do it. I said, ‘Let’s get that just in case.’ ”

With the short-term disability, David has been getting about 60 percent of his regular salary. That ends in March, by which time the Beairds are hoping David will have been approved for Social Security disability.

Another blessing was a windfall from a Go Fund Me account that a friend established. The account, which remains active, has raised $35,000 toward a goal of $50,000. The Beairds are setting aside that money for future needs. In addition, they are hoping to get some insurance money from a relatively small auto liability policy Green had.

A plan takes shape

Upon entering the Beairds’ home, I saw scraps of new carpet standing in the living room and new carpet of the same style affixed to the floor.

“We just had new carpet put down this week,” said Kathy Gordon, Jennifer’s mother, who has lived with the Beairds the last three and a half years.

I was immediately puzzled because the carpet loops were loose and variegated, not flat and tight, as one would expect in the home of a wheelchair-bound person.

“Isn’t it going to be difficult for David to push the wheelchair over that?” I asked.

“Oh, they’re getting the house ready to sell,” Gordon said. “We’re going to be moving.”

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The Beairds’ home in Warrenton

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Their subdivision

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although David and Jennifer are adjusting as best they can to a “new normal,” they feel they will do better away from Warrenton and outside of Missouri. Jennifer, who does her best not to dwell on the tragedy and relive it, said awkward occasions sometimes occur. For example, she now often avoids the grocery she used to patronize in Warrenton, going instead to Wentzville, 16 miles to the east. It is difficult for her, she said, when she feels the glances of people who know her and imagines them saying, “Oh, she’s the lady who lost her kids.”

Jennifer admits, without compunction or shame, “I’m running away.”

p1070006-1They hope to sell their home in the spring and move to upstate New York, the area that was home to Jennifer’s family for many years. Jennifer has no other relatives in Missouri, and David’s brother, sister and parents do not live in Warrenton or the St. Louis area.

During my visit with them two weeks ago today, discussion of the pending move precipitated a light-hearted digression from the otherwise difficult conversation. Referring to his newly deepened dependence on Jennifer and Kathy, David said, “I go wherever they go because I have to.”

Jennifer, who was returning to the kitchen table with a beverage, smiled and said, “Oh, thanks!” and then added, “I think he still loves me, too.”

“Mmhmm,” David said. “I do.”

“Maybe a future”

Upright on the living-room floor, propped against a small wooden case, are two large, framed photos – one of Gavin and one of Chloe. On white matting bordering the photos are messages written by friends, teachers and others.

A message to Gavin from a classmate named Tori said, “You were a great friend, an(d) I’ll always remember you!”

On Chloe’s picture, a boy named Dennis wrote these touching words: “I miss you Chloe. You used to smile at me.”

As Jennifer and David prepare for their new life in New York, they will take with them the beautiful smiles of their children and happy memories from those lives cut maddeningly and senselessly short.

They will also take with them total uncertainty.

Jennifer mused, “Maybe we might still have a future, because we don’t have a future now.”

**

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James Leroy Green

Meanwhile, Green, the driver and defendant in the case, sits in the Jackson County Regional Correction Center contemplating a future behind bars. The prosecutor’s office was able to charge him with two counts of second-degree murder because of the aggravating circumstance of intoxication. Absent intoxication, he probably would have been charged with manslaughter.

If convicted, Green could be sentenced to 30 years to life on each murder count, and the judge would decide whether the sentences would run concurrently or consecutively.

A little after 7 p.m. on Labor Day, Missouri Highway Patrol Trooper B.W. Montgomery interviewed Green in the emergency room at Centerpoint Medical Center, where Green was being treated for minor injuries.

In the “probable cause statement” accompanying the charges, Trooper Montgomery said that upon entering the emergency treatment room, “I immediately detected a strong odor of intoxicants coming from him.”

Green told the trooper he had drunk three beers about an hour before the crash.

Regarding what had occurred on the highway, Montgomery quoted Green as saying:

“I had cruise control on. I was on my way home. I looked down at my phone to swipe to change the song. I did not look up. I was still looking down when the impact happened.”

Green agreed to two blood tests an hour apart to determine his blood alcohol content (BCA). The results have not been made public.

Green has three previous DUI convictions spanning 25 years. He was convicted in Jackson County in 1991 and 2009. The other conviction was in Camden County, in the Ozarks, in 1997.

In a phone conversation I had with David Beaird before meeting with him and Jennifer in Warrenton, David reflected on the devastation that Green had dealt on Labor Day evening:

“He ruined lots of lives, just ruined them. He took so much away – our future…So many people’s future just taken away.”

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At the bottom of a cul de sac in Warrenton, 190 miles east of Kansas City, stands a modest, pale-yellow house where Jennifer and David Beaird have lived the last 10 years. Jennifer’s mother Kathy Gordon lives with them.

Until last Labor Day, Sept. 5, the house was also home to the Beairds’ two children, 13-year-old Gavin and 7-year-old Chloe.

…Labor Day, 2016. A day the Beairds will never forget. Their personal day of infamy.

About 6 p.m., a 61-year-old drunk and distracted driver – a three-time-DUI loser whose license had been suspended — slammed into the back of the Beairds’ Hyundai Elantra in his Cadillac Escalade as the Beairds were stuck in traffic on eastbound I-70 in Blue Springs, just west of Adams Dairy Parkway.

It was a horrendous crash. James Leroy Green of Odessa had his big SUV on cruise control and wasn’t looking at the road. Instead, he was, by his own admission, looking down at his phone, thumbing through song titles.

The Beairds (pronounced Beard) were headed back to Warrenton after a trip to Nebraska. They were in the left lane. So was Green. As the SUV hurtled toward the Hyundai, Jennifer, seated in the front passenger seat, looked at the side mirror and saw the SUV bearing down.

“Dave,” Jennifer said, “I don’t think this guy’s going to stop.”

David glanced up into the rearview mirror. All he remembers is seeing “a grey blob.”

After the shattered glass had settled and metal and plastic from a total of five vehicles had exploded and come to rest…and after help had arrived, Gavin and Chloe, who had been in the back seat, were dead. David was paralyzed from the chest down. He wasn’t aware of that in those awful, hazy minutes, but he knew this much, “I’m in trouble.”

Other than a severely bruised right arm, Jennifer was uninjured.

“I was very aware of what was going on around me,” she said quietly. “And I just sat there.”

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David and Jennifer Beaird

On Saturday, Jan. 28, nearly five months after the event that grotesquely changed their lives, David, Jennifer and Jennifer’s mother Kathy sat around the kitchen table in that pale-yellow house and talked to me for more than two hours. They talked, courageously and openly, about what they had been through; about what they are going through; about coping with an almost unimaginable tragedy; and about feeling their way into a dark and formless future.

Understandably, it is not the least bit salving to them that Green, who is tentatively scheduled to go to trial in June, has been in the Jackson County Detention Center on $200,000 bond since the crash. And it does not ease the pain that he is facing six felony charges, including two counts of vehicular, intoxicated second-degree murder. And it does not give them much satisfaction that he may well spend his remaining years in jail.

“It doesn’t ever bring the kids back, and that’s all that matters to me,” Jennifer said.

Meeting and becoming a couple

David, 40, and Jennifer, who will turn 38 this month, met at Missouri State University in Springfield, MO. He was raised in Sikeston, in Missouri’s Bootheel. She had been living with her mother and four younger brothers in upstate New York and was preparing to follow a boyfriend to Missouri State. But they broke up, and instead of cancelling her plans, she headed west anyway, ready for a new adventure.

“Mom and my brothers came out here and dropped me off,” Jennifer said with a smile. “I’ve never been afraid of life. I just grab the bull by the horns and go and do.”

Jennifer was living in a dorm, David in an apartment, and each had a roommate. Their respective roommates were dating – which led to Jennifer and David meeting.

Never keen on academics, Jennifer dropped out of Missouri State and worked at a variety of jobs. David persevered with his education and, in 2000, got a degree in fisheries and wildlife management. His first post-college job was with the Missouri Conservation Department’s wildlife division in St. Charles County, just west of St. Louis.

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Gavin

David and Jennifer married in April 2001. On March 1, 2003, Gavin was born.

A few years later, they were doing well enough to build a home in the Warrenton subdivision — new at the time — where they have lived ever since. It’s a modest, two-story home, with a relatively big kitchen that flows into a family room with a large window and lots of natural light.

When Chloe was born, on Feb. 9, 2009, Jennifer had a good job, working in accounting and human resources for a Holiday Inn in Wentzville, 16 miles east of Warrenton. She lost that job because of the Great Recession, however, and was without work for a while before an opportunity presented itself in Warrenton.

To many people, waiting tables at Denny’s wouldn’t look like much of an opportunity, but it was a godsend to Jennifer. “I was so grateful for that job,” she said, “because we were struggling.”

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Chloe

Six years ago, David got a job with a contracting company affiliated with Ameren, the St. Louis-based electrical and natural gas company. It was another outdoor job – the kind he loves – that involved scouting and patrolling power lines in three St. Louis area counties — St. Louis, St. Charles and Franklin.

With time, Jennifer found better-paying work. Five years ago, she went to work as a tax preparer in the H&R Block office in Warrenton, and three years ago she was promoted to leader of the office’s eight-member team. She also handles the payroll for a hotel-refurbishing company one of her brothers has in New York City.

Quality of life improves 

By 2016, life was no longer a huge struggle. The family wasn’t living from paycheck to paycheck. Gavin was changing from boy to young man, and Chloe was in elementary school. The family loved to do things together – from camping, hiking, walking and picking fruit and berries at a nearby orchard to going to Walt Disney World in Orlando, which they did earlier last summer.

Life was good, and, as David said, “So many things were going right.”

On Labor Day, everything instantly turned wrong on I-70 in eastern Jackson County.

Now, David and Jennifer are dealing with the tragedy in sharply contrasting ways.

Stuck in a wheelchair, David is prone to ruminating. He has replayed the fateful moments in his mind countless times, wondering why he and his family had to be in that particular place at that particular time. He asks himself why he was in the left lane that evening, when he almost always drives in the right lane. Or why he didn’t have ice cream, like the other family members did, at a convenience-store stop about an hour earlier. Maybe that would have delayed their departure a couple of minutes, long enough to put them out of harm’s way near the Adams Dairy Parkway exit.

For a long time he was in the deepest hole he had ever been in and saw no way out. Although he never contemplated suicide, he would ask himself, “How can I speed this life up…and get this over with?”

Over time, he stopped second-guessing himself so much and gradually began to see some progress, albeit progress registered in millimeters.

“I want to say I’m doing a little better,” he said in a phone conversation a few days before the Warrenton meeting. “I think every day it’s easier to get up. I’m kind of getting used to my new body – not that I want to…I’ve found that trying to stay active helps a lot.”

He’s not back to driving, doesn’t know if he will work again and, really, has no idea what the future holds.

Unlike David, Jennifer has resisted, for the most part, replaying the awful loop in her mind. She tries to be as positive as possible. She likes to say positivism is just as infectious as negativity. She also has the advantage of being able to get out and move around and keep working, which serves as a blessed distraction.

She’s still leading the H&R Block office and still doing her brother’s payroll. Not that staying busy can replace the void left by the loss of the children or block out the pain of seeing her husband struggling to adjust to his more limited mobility.

She looked tired the day we talked. Her expressive, hazel eyes projected gentleness and softness, but little life. She had been awake for a time during the night, thinking about the children. Long working hours were taking an added toll. As the four of us talked, tears frequently filled Jennifer’s eyes, and at one point, while talking about her determination to try to remain positive, her words trailed off in a cracking voice:

“I’m just continuing on with life and trying to look forward and go on…because it really hurts…so bad.”

The last two words were barely audible.

A moment later, however, she was trying to will herself back up, saying: “I don’t like to be sad; I don’t like to be hurt; I don’t want to live in that sadness. It’s exhausting.”

Tomorrow: Jennifer and David plan for a future away from Missouri

One of The Star’s best reporters, Rick Montgmery, latched onto an excellent, running story several days ago, and the four stories he has written about the plight of a Somali family’s stop-and-start journey to resettlement in Kansas City have flowed like chapters of a book that’s hard to put down.

Montgomery has brought the readers through a range of emotions: first hope — hope that the family would be allowed to come despite President Trump’s executive order; then distress — because it looked like they might be turned back and would not get the rental home volunteers were readying for them in the Northland; and finally relief and gratification, as the family made it to Kansas City Wednesday evening and headed for their new home.

The family consists of nine members — four girls, four boys and their mother — who were temporarily stranded in Nairobi, Kenya, because of Trump’s travel ban on refugees and residents of seven Muslim-majority nations, including Somalia.

Della Lamb Community Services is sponsoring the family, and several volunteers were helping get the home ready. Some of those volunteers are members of Country Club Christian Church, which I attend and is three blocks from my home. Video from one of The Star’s stories featured volunteer Nancy Lear, who was quoted as saying she was “disgusted” at Trump’s order.

“It just blows my mind,” she said, “that people who are good people have gotten so afraid of something they shouldn’t be afraid of.”

Her words echoed a common refrain that people attending Country Club Christian have heard the last 14 years from senior pastor Glen Miles, who gave his last sermon there Sunday before heading to Columbus, Ohio, for a new post. One of Miles’ favorite subjects is the insidious nature of fear and how it is first cousin to hatred.

Clearly, fear and hatred are the entangled emotions at the root of refugee paranoia. It is ironic that the vast majority of the people fleeing their homelands because they fear for their lives and their futures are encountering reciprocal fear when they arrive — if they’re lucky to arrive — in their new countries.

The fear they are being greeted with is, in most cases, totally unwarranted. The people I saw photographed arriving at KCI last night hardly looked like “bad dudes” or “bad hombres.”  They looked like average people who were glad to be someplace safe.

Greeting them were several area residents holding hand-written signs of encouragement. One sign said: “Welcome to Kansas City — You Matter.” In another photo, some of the family members were trying on brand-new winter coats that volunteers were pulling out of plastic wrapping.

It was a heart-warming sight — a sight standing in sharp contrast to the fearsome images that Trump and his narrow-minded minions are trying to plant in people’s heads.

…During the two years I have been attending Country Club Christian, I had never heard Glen Miles utter a politically tinged statement in any of his sermons. It is generally an affluent congregation, including many members from across the state line in the Johnson County suburbs, including Mission Hills. I would guess at least half the membership is Republican.

As a result, Miles always tread carefully. On Sunday, however, in his get-away sermon, he gave just an inkling of how he felt about Trump’s order.

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Rev. Glen Miles

The church, which holds about 1,000 people, was packed, and I was sitting in the front row because I didn’t want to miss a word. At one point, Miles was talking about the courage of Moses and how he went to Pharaoh and demanded, “Let my people go.” Eyes burning, Miles leaned forward in the pulpit and repeated, this time with a hard edge in his voice, “Let…my…people…go!”

And then, straightening up and preparing to take the sermon in a different direction, he glancingly and softly added, “Today he might be saying, ‘Let my people in.’ “

It took a second or two for that to register with me; it was so subtly done. But there it was…The pastor had cast Trump ignominiously in the long shadow of Moses. And it smacked of truth to me.

I was rooting around in the attic this morning, looking for some electrical adapters for an upcoming trip, when I came across some yellowed Kansas City Star editions I had filed away long ago.

The first thing that struck me was how narrow the paper has become — from 13 1/2 inches in 1993 to 11 inches now. It brought back memories of the pain we editorial employees experienced when the paper started to shrink — and kept on shrinking.

The second thing I noticed was a commentary written on Feb. 26, 1993, by then-Editor Art Brisbane.

It was a column about my most ignominious and embarrassing experience as a reporter — an incident that ended up being referred to in the newsroom as “Asphaltgate.” And, unfortunately, I was the one who opened the gate and let the shit come cascading down on myself.

It was so bad that my screw-up led directly to the appointment of a newsroom committee that was charged with writing a new KC Star ethics policy.

Fortunately, I survived Asphaltgate and went on, as I’ve recounted several times before, to tack my way to a conventional retirement with the most treasured send-off in journalism — the pizza and sheet-cake party.

But let me tell you about Asphaltgate, which very few people out there have been around long enough to remember.

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I was covering City Hall at the time, and Tuesday, Feb. 23, 1993, was my eighth wedding anniversary. My editor got a call that morning from a guy who owned a gas station at about 59th and Swope Parkway. The station operator said a Kansas City Public Works Department crew had come around earlier offering to sell cold-mix asphalt for $30 so station employees could fix several potholes on the station grounds. Clearly out of line, the public works crew was using publicly paid for asphalt mix to do pick up side money, all while on the city clock, of course.

The station owner told them to come back later and then called The Star. The editor sent me and a photographer out to the station to see if the crew returned and, if they did, to document and report it.

When I went out there, I planted myself just behind the office area. The photographer, Jim McTaggart, positioned himself a half block or so away with his camera and a long lens. Pretty soon, the city crew pulled slowly into the station. At that critical juncture, the station owner turned to me and said something like, “Do you have $30,” or, “Will you pay the $35?”

I as caught totally off guard. I hadn’t given a thought to the money for the transaction. But I had cashed a check that morning because Patty and I were going to dinner that night to celebrate our anniversary. So I reached for my wallet and gave the station owner $35. Immediately, it didn’t feel right, but I was caught up in the moment and, well, the money was now walking out to the crew.

The crew dropped a large pile of asphalt and left a rake and shovel for station employees to use to move the material around later.

At that point, I left the station, jumped in the photographer’s car, and we followed the crew to a public works maintenance site off Blue Parkway. There I confronted the crew leader, who had little to say. What could he say? He’d been caught red handed.

Turned out, though, I was in almost as much trouble as the crew was. Immediately after confronting the crew leader, I went to a pay phone, called my editor, told him what had unfolded and said, “I want you to know, I paid the $30 for the asphalt.”

The editor said, “Ooohh,” his voice trailing off, which confirmed my gut feeling that I had made a big mistake.

By the time I got back to the office, the in-house wheels were spinning. But instead of the editors being interested in a story about a city crew cheating the taxpayers, they were completely focused on me having paid for a story. I hadn’t really thought about it in that context — buying a story — but there was no denying that’s what it amounted to.

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Art Brisbane, as pictured in a 1995 column

The first decision the editors made was not to run the story. It was getting late by then, and I went home. As I recall, had a pretty nervous anniversary night. First thing the next day, Metro Editor Randy Smith escorted me to a meeting with Brisbane and Managing Editor Mark Zieman. The meeting was in the spacious, wood-paneled conference room, which featured a long, cherry table with a polished glass top. I remember that neither Brisbane nor Zieman offered any greeting. They were quietly conversing when I came in, and Brisbane turned toward me and started talking straightaway about the incident.

I had no idea what was going to happen, but I figured I wasn’t going to get fired. I had had a couple of close calls earlier in my career and had always avoided the ax, partly because I also had a history of turning out big stories that tended to offset my face-down spills in the mud.

This time, I was also lucky because the ethics policy was outdated and did not address the issue of “buying stories.” Had the policy specifically prohibited that, I think I would have been gone.

I didn’t get suspended, either. However, Brisbane told me he intended to write a column apologizing to the readers for the paper’s — for my — ethical failure. Sparing me the ultimate indignity, he said he wouldn’t name me; in print, I would be the anonymous reporter who dropped the turd in the punch bowl.

Brisbane didn’t say this, but I am sure he had consulted with Publisher Robert Woodworth and that it had been a joint decision to handle the matter with a public apology.

The column appeared two days later. Perhaps the most ignominious part was that I had to help write the column because, of course, I was more familiar with the circumstances than anyone.

The column appeared under the headline, “When paper manipulates the news, it’s time to back off.”

Besides recounting the facts of the incident, Brisbane made had two key points:

:: “In our eagerness to report the news, we stepped over the line of journalistic propriety.”

:: “By participating in this story, we have compromised ourselves. We regret very much that we have let our readers down in this case. We pledge to maintain the highest ethical standards in the future so that we may earn and keep your trust.”

**

After the column was published, several reporters sympathetic to me said they thought Brisbane had used the column as a back-door way of reporting a story he had decided would not be published.

Personally, I thought the matter should have been handled internally, but, on the other hand, city officials were aware of what had taken place and could have pointed quietly to The Star having conveniently overlooked an error in judgment by one of its reporters.

A couple of other factors were at play, too. For one thing, both Brisbane and Woodworth had ascended to their respective posts the previous year, 1992, and were undoubtedly eager to establish their bona fides. Woodworth had succeeded legendary publisher James H. Hale, and Brisbane had succeeded another KC Star legend, Joe McGuff.

Perhaps an even bigger factor, though, was that journalism had very recently been caught with its pants down. Just two weeks earlier, NBC had publicly apologized for a “Dateline NBC” program in which the network had staged a fiery test crash of a General Motors pickup truck. The network made it look like the crash was spontaneous, but it was rigged. Not only did NBC apologize but it also agreed to settle a defamation suit filed by GM. It was one of the biggest scandals in modern-day journalism.

Fresh on the heels of that blockbuster journalistic embarrassment, along came JimmyC reaching in his pocket and forking over $30 for cold-mix asphalt.

For many months after that, I was extremely pissed off at Brisbane and once spoke very critically about the paper at an intimate meeting among him, my editor and one or two other City Hall reporters. To Brisbane’s credit, he held his tongue. He could have unloaded on me then and there, or he could have bided his time and had me demoted. He didn’t do that, either. In fact, two years later I got promoted to assignment editor and took charge of the Wyandotte-Leavenworth bureau.

After the meeting, I asked fellow City Hall reporter Kevin Murphy for his impression of my performance. He replied, “Oh, I just figured you were still hot about asphalt.”

Yes, I was. Yes, I was. But I got over it. It only took a couple of years.

Oh…and those public works crew members? They were fired. Also, a week or so later, I turned in a phony mileage expense voucher for the $30 I had handed over. I even told my editor exactly what I was doing. He hesitated, then quickly scrawled his signature on the expense voucher and turned away with a grimace.

Just like paid advertising, circulation is continuing to drop at The Kansas City Star.

According to the Alliance for Audited Media, a nonprofit organization consisting of newspaper and periodical publishers, The Star’s average Sunday circulation for the quarter ending last September was 182,780.

Two years earlier, average Sunday circulation was 242,583. That’s a drop of almost 25 percent.

It was even worse for average Monday-Saturday circulation. For the quarter ending September 2014, that figure was 164,053. Over the ensuing two years, it plummeted to 117,734 — a 28 percent drop.

Those numbers include print and digital subscriptions, so it’s clear that The Star’s push to increase digital circulation is not offsetting the ongoing decline of print subscribers.

The Star, of course, is not alone in this cascade. Other major metropolitan dailies have seen double-digit-percentage circulation losses in recent years. For example, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s average Monday-Saturday circulation fell nearly 33 percent between September 2014 and September 2016. The raw numbers were 169,252 (2014) and 113,990 (2016).

The P-D’s Sunday circulation didn’t tumble as severely as The Star’s: It was down just 16 percent — from 459,072 in 2014 to 385,690 in 2016.

What does this mean for the future of The Star, the Post-Dispatch and other major metropolitan dailies?

Despite appearances, it’s very hard to say, and indications are it is way too early to consign print papers to history.

The prevailing view of many publishers is, “We’ve gotta move people over to digital so we can increase advertising revenue there.” A contrary school of thought, however, holds that print will not easily be unseated as the go-to medium for a majority of news consumers.

 

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An article last year in the Columbia Journalism Review said although the number of people who read print newspapers has dropped 50  percent in the last 20 years, the Pew Research Center reported that print-only is still the most common way of reading news, with more than half of readers in 2015 opting for the print product over digital.

The author of the article, Michael Rosenwald, a reporter at the Washington Post, cited the work of a University of Texas researcher who had found in a survey of news readers 18 to 24 years old that 20 percent had read the print edition of a newspaper during the week they were surveyed, while less than 8 percent read it digitally.

In two other hopeful signs for print products, Rosenwald said the sale of printed books has risen every year since 2013, and surveys have shown that university students prefer printed textbooks over electronic ones.

The vast majority of newspapers’ revenue still comes from their print publications, partly because online ad revenue is significantly diluted by Google and ad auction companies taking their piece of sales.

A British paper, The Guardian, bought ads on its own website to see how much money it netted after the middle men got their share, and it was 30 cents on the dollar!

Rosenwald also pointed to an intrinsic, self-evident advantage that print newspapers have over online news sites:

“In recent years, a flurry of studies has shown that the reading experience online is less immersive and enjoyable than print, which has implications for how we consume and retain information. Studies show that readers tend to skim and jump around online more than they do in print—not just within individual stories, but from page to page and site to site. Print provides a more linear, less distracting way of reading, which in turn increases comprehension.”

That reminded me of something The Star’s new editorial board vice president, Colleen McCain Nelson, said last month at her first public appearance since starting work in December.

Talking about her preference to read news in print rather than online, she said: “There’s a certain order to it; it makes sense.”

While these big circulation dips are alarming, then, to those of us — the many of us — who treasure our print newspapers, it may be a long time before we have to start thinking about the print product getting the Last Rites.

To tweak a famous Sherlock Holmes phrase, “The game is still afoot, Watson!”

So far, The Kansas City Star’s factual coverage of the Yordano Ventura tragedy is wanting.

Sure, columnist Vahe Gregorian, whom The Star dispatched to the Dominican Republic, did a good job of tracking the lead-up to the funeral and related events, and photographer John Sleezer, who’s also there, has been delivering good photos and video.

It was a good idea to send those two, but The Star screwed up, in my opinion, by not sending one other person — an experienced reporter.

And I don’t mean a sports reporter, I mean a news reporter.

Instead, The Star has had Royals’ beat writer Rustin Dodd sitting at his desk here in Kansas City trying to sort out what happened in the early hours of Sunday morning in the Dominican Republic.

As we all know, there are plenty of questions about what happened, including:

:: Was Ventura alive when people first got to him after his Jeep went off the road and flipped onto its side?

:: Was he robbed of cash and perhaps his World Series ring while he was dying or after he died?

:: And what the heck was he doing leaving a party about 4 a.m. or after and embarking on a relatively long drive, on mountain roads, in the fog?

I’m not asking for perfect answers right now to all those questions; the answers to at least a couple should unfold in due time. But having an actual reporter on the scene — preferably one who speaks Spanish — would help get to the answers, and perhaps unearth new ones.

In addition, there is one important question that we should have had the answer to by now, but haven’t for want of good  basic reporting:

:: Exactly where was Ventura going and how long should it have taken him to get to his destination?

On that key point, Rustin Dodd’s reporting has been muddled and perhaps inaccurate. He reported in Tuesday’s paper that Ventura was intending to travel “about 80 miles” — from the province of San Jose de Ocoa “toward Cibao.”

I went to Google maps today to try to get an idea of his possible route.

el-cibao

 

If Ventura was going from San Jose de Ocoa (bottom right on the map) to the city of El Cibao (upper right), the trip would have been 122 miles. Google pegs the duration of that trip at 3 hours, 43 minutes. If, on the other hand,  he was headed somewhere in the El Cibao Valley, the trip might have been closer to the 80 miles Dodd reported.

What we know for sure is that Ventura was an hour and 15 minutes (29 miles, according to Google) into his trip when he crashed in the town of Juan Adrian, which is not shown on the map. (And, by the way, as far as I can tell, The Star has yet to publish a map — a major omission.)

Exactly where Ventura was headed is very important because it means he might have embarked on a nearly four-hour trip, at or about 4 a.m., after being at a party that ran into the wee hours.

It would have been bad enough had he left at 4 a.m. on an 80-mile trip on mountain roads and in fog. But if, indeed, it was a 122-mile, nearly four-hour trip, it casts even  more serious question on Ventura’s judgment. (Not to mention the fact he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.)

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In any event, The Star would have better served its readers if management had sent an experienced news reporter to the Dominican Republic Sunday. We look to sports writers to tell us things like how fast Ventura could throw a baseball and how he gets along with his teammates. But we don’t look to them to sort out the facts of a news story with many tentacles.

If Star editors made a decision not to send a news reporter, they made a mistake. If they did propose sending a reporter but were rebuffed by upper management because of the cost, upper management made a mistake.

To paraphrase the late Chicago Cubs announcer Harry Caray, it could have been…it should have been….a home run! But, alas, the ball came down at the warning track.