On Monday morning a great many volunteers are going to be on the street pushing copies of The Kansas City Star as part of a fundraiser for the Rotary Youth Camp Foundation. This local ritual gives the illusion of this town’s last, biggest, daily paper as an institution but in reality it’s just another struggling company on the brink of collapse during The Great Recession.
Recently, The CEO of McClatchy came into town and while, unfortunately, he didn’t fire columnist Mike “Golden Ghetto Liberal” Hendricks, I can’t imagine there was much good news he took home.
Like it or not, print media is dying because nobody wants to read a historical document that’s mostly compiled according to a milquetoast political agenda.
There are many problems looming for the Kansas City Star that are far more important than their elitist editorial slant, but today I want to focus on the most hypocritical elements of their publication. Check out the most blatant contradictions of this town’s paper of record:
1. Location, Location, Location – Dave Helling and Steve Kraske are two guys most people would agree are the Star’s most trusted newsmen. Both of them live in Johnson County. For the most part, the vast majority of higher ups at the Star are located outside of KC Proper City Limits. Some people don’t understand why this is a big deal but it represents a real absence of community involvement. In JoCo, the Sun captures the ethos of the community and the Star doesn’t seem to be close to the heart of the populace. Similarly, political insiders in KC Proper often lament that the best Star reporters aren’t really invested in the community for which their paper is named. And no, KCK doesn’t count because most of the writers don’t live there either.
2. The Star’s Fight For A Monopoly – Most people who extol the virtues of the daily paper don’t remember the historical circumstances that brought about a “one paper town” like Kansas City. At the newsper’s zenith . . . Before Radio and TV. There were a great number of papers representing all kind of wacko political views and mostly affiliated, endorsed and subsidized by political parties, unions and other factions. As competition grew, papers fell by the wayside, consolidated and were bought and sold. In the end, a daily paper juggernaut like the Star isn’t a result of a “flight to quality” but the last remnant of an old way of delivering news. In business, consolidation and monopoly is rarely a sign of a vibrant marketplace. Rather, the lack of competition is a signal that an industry is in decline.
3. Yael Abouhalkah’s comment moderation – Local Internet denizens know that the Star is running scared from this new breed of reader (user) feedback. Abouhalkah is still a great columnist but his resistance to comments and typical Internet feedback puts him at a disadvantage. To really succeed on the Internet takes a thicker skin and stronger nerve than most corporate journalists can reasonably be expected to possess. The old dead tree thinking put a value on ideas and words, while new media represents nothing more than a somewhat cynical and increased reliance on numbers and aggregation of content and people. Community journalism was once popular buzzword among publishing professionals. Now the top writers at the daily paper are more intent on shutting out the opinions of the very readers they need to survive.
4. The Internet Isn’t Going To Save The Star: On this point, I just want to link a collection of news stories that contradict the silly contentions of newspaper people regarding hope for their industry. First of all, let’s not just count the collapse of the newspaper as a slump. Dead Tree ad revenues of newspapers are nothing short of abysmal and they’re not getting better. This trend was starting well before the collapse of the U.S. banking and mortgage meltdown. To write off newspaper problems as a mere reflection of overall economic conditions is not only naive but also misleading. Tragically, online revenue isn’t going to save the newspaper given that this new digital age has more marketers seeking to bypass paying newspaper distribution online or off. The Internet gives the ability to for advertisers to take their message directly to consumers without an intermediary. As media becomes entirely Internet based expect this trend to continue. In conclusion, attacks on technology or an alternate hope for an online savior in the form of subscription based apps simply ignores the cold hard fact that digital media will not forever be thought of as “free” with users mostly unwilling to even pay the price of watching online advertisements.
5. Smart Star Employees Know The Future Of the Daily Newspaper Is Doomed But Don’t Want To Admit It – So far, I’ve yet to hear or read an argument extolling the virtues of history on dead trees delivered daily. Refusing to acknowledge the bleak fortunes of their own industry is a horrible contradiction of journalistic principles that strive to acknowledge reality no matter how cruel. Everyone knows the wasteful, environmentally unfriendly method of newspaper content distribution isn’t much longer for this world. In the absence of the physical dominance of The Daily Paper, the digital/online presence of the Star seems harder to defend. The Star is simply one, local, social networking site away from a real challenge to it’s role as Chief News Source Of Record. And let’s face it, more locals are tuned in to their Facebook presence far more than anything the daily paper reports. The Star is scooped daily by Television, radio and yes, blogs. I know people are mad loyal to brands, but in the end, nobody shops at Gimbels anymore.
The contradictions and so many more problems are facing the Star. While I don’t have the solutions to all of their problems, I can suggest that firing Mike Hendricks because of his many online embarrassments would undoubtedly help.