Karash: Reflections on JoCo News Coverage

Reflections on JoCo News Coverage

Hearne Christopher’s Johnson County Sun on Death Row? column made me pause and reflect on how much the JoCo news coverage scene has changed over the past 20 years.

Sadly, it has not changed for the better, despite the best efforts of a small group of people who continue to toil in that vineyard of news. In the late 1980s, when I moved to this area, local media organizations were locked in a pitched battle over Johnson County news.

The Sun came out twice a week and the Kansas City Star and Times operated as separate, competing bureaus in fast-growing JoCo land.

The competitive mix also included the Olathe Daily News and other outlets. The Star and Times merged into the new Star in 1990 and put their rivalry aside, but the Battle of JoCo got hotter. The Star continued to beef up its Johnson County coverage, adding Neighborhood News sections and JoCo business news.

I and several of my fellow business journalists from the Star were stationed in the Star’s JoCo bureau office on College Boulevard in the late 90s and early 2000s. It was a bustling place and the downtown editors told us that our being there was crucial for the future viability of the newspaper.

It was even a fun place to work.

Those were the days before most journalists lived in daily fear of losing their jobs. Michael "OJ" Nelson, then head of the Star’s Kansas news operation, lined a wall of the JoCo office with several clocks that gave the time in Prairie Village, Olathe, Overland Park and other Johnson County cities. It was a joke! Imagine that: an editor and manager going to all that trouble to create a joke – on company time.

Meantime, the Sun pursued business news with its College Boulevard News and Johnson County Business Times. Everyone competed to see who could write the most column inches about the new Sprint Campus.

The stakes were raised even higher when the Star’s former parent company, Knight Ridder, bought the Olathe Daily News in 2000. But that was right about the time that Johnson County news coverage had reached its zenith and began to decline.

Today the Sun comes out only once a week and is losing its stalwart front page columnist, Steve Rose. The Olathe Daily News stopped being a daily, and what remains of it has been consolidated into the Star’s much-reduced presence in Johnson County.

The troops in the field – folks like Loren Stanton at the Sun and Rick Babson and his crew at the Star – continue to produce good journalism in JoCo land. But there’s only so much you can do with limited resources.

No matter how you look at, Johnson County news coverage will never again be what it was 20 years ago. Who will fill the void? I say the bloggers. You can argue all you want about what their role should be, but right now they’re the only ones willing to enter the fray.

But like steamy nights at the White Haven Motor Lodge, the days of powerhouse journalism in Johnson County are no but a bittersweet memory.

But my, what a time we had!

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2 Responses to Karash: Reflections on JoCo News Coverage

  1. Jim Fitzpatrick says:

    Center of Gravity
    Good column, Julius. I remember when The Star’s Joco push was at its height and O.J. would talk about the "C.O.G.” (center of gravity) changing from downtown KCMO to Johnson County. Being a dedicated urbanite, I never did buy that, but I was surprised at the level of the coverage build-up in Johnson County. Being suburban, it was dull, and the reorters and editors had to manufacture a lot of stories. (Population growth doesn’t necessarily produce interesting stories.) Still, the demise of The Star’s and The Sun’s suburban operations has been absolutely breathtaking. The pendulum has swung back to the tried and true — KCMO — with whiplash speed.

  2. John Altevogt says:

    Good to see you writing again
    You guys may just be getting close to producing a real newspaper online here. Too bad there’s no money in it yet for you.

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