The Chiefs weren’t the only heavy hitters in town doing a bit of holiday chest thumping this past weekend…
In a rare, non sky-is-falling cameo, Kansas City Star publisher Mark Zieman used the excuse of raising a few pesos for Harvesters to toot the newspaper’s horn. Majorly, on the front page under a columnist-style pic.
"This is what your newspaper is for," Zieman said of the newspaper’s fundraising.
Then he (somewhat oddly) decreed that "The Kansas City Spirit" had "officially" been born in 1951, following the flood of that year. Upon which he contradicted himself by noting that "spirit" had been exhibited before in 1869 and 1900 and on numerous other occasions.
Uh, so when exactly was it born?
And while Zieman’s Christmas Day epistle was ostensibly a sendup to KC’s "entrepreneurial drive and benevolence," it was also an excuse to blow a bit of smoke up the you-know-what’s of slow-thinkers among the readership.
Example: Star founder William Rockhill Nelson "made it clear that this newspaper would not be a cheerleader," Zieman writes.
Yet not only is the Star of today a cheerleader – as it’s often been over the years – it has the political and economic pom-poms to prove it. Take its booster columns and editorials about the taxpayer draining Power & Light District. Or the Sprint Center. Or the pro Mark Funkhouser for mayor columns of four years back. Or the smoking ban at restaurants and bars.
Those are just four I observed at close range while working at the Star. Fact is the Star cheers for whomever and whatever whenever it wants to.
Even Secret Santa, for crying out loud, one of the worst kept secrets in Kansas City.
(I’ll fill you in on the behind the scenes about Secret Santa later this week.)
The flip side of the Star‘s cheerleading coin: It’s not adverse to shutting down voices within its ranks when they conflict with the editors or publisher’s cheerleading.
Like when it banished my critical reporting about the Sprint Center a month before a public vote to approve it. That while allowing other reporters and columnists to toss out unsubstantiated superlatives on how Kansas City would be get an NBA or NHL team and other cock and bull benefits.
Zieman also delighted in recounting an urban legend about an unnamed, angry mayor "storming" Nelson’s office and knocking him down but failed to mention the far more timely – if less dramatic – storming of Art Brisbane’s office by an UMB banker R. Crosby Kemper Jr.
"Today, we try to avoid throwing mayors down our stairs," Zieman joked.
That’s not to say Zieman and the Star are adverse to throwing them under the bus.
When mayor Funkhouser took umbrage at the Star‘s characterizing of his wife’s volunteer efforts at City Hall as nepotism, Funk fired back. That was two years ago and Funkhouser pointed out that Zieman’s wife Rhonda working at the Star while Zieman was the top dog was a far clearer case of nepotism.
Funk took his case to the airwaves on KCMO 710 AM’s Chris Stigall show, and Stigall hammered it repeatedly.
At the time I was in the second year of a deal to do thrice-weekly on-air chats with Stigall about my column in the Star and other news. But after Stigall’s criticism of Zieman and his wife newly appointed Star editor Mike Fannin asked me to quit the show because of Zieman’s unhappiness over the criticism.
Not wanting to quit – it was a highly listened to show and great way to promote the newspaper and the column – I tap danced and in a short time the topic more-or-less went away.
Or so I thought.
A month later, after I failed to quit the show, I found myself on the Star layoff list. Despite that I had one of (if not the) highest read columns in the paper. Then something a bit odd went down when I met with Zieman to appeal my layoff.
Out of the blue he asked if I’d read an editorial the Star had just run rescinding its two year-old endorsement of Funkhouser for mayor. With a big, shit-eating grin on his face, Zieman rejoiced at how clever it was of the newspaper to take back its endorsement. Nevermmind that it was two years after the fact and perhaps not a laughing matter to readers who had followed the Star’s advice and perhaps wished they’d voted differently.
Back to Zieman’s Christmas column…
"Bloggers and pundits advocate boycotting or even shutting down media companies they don’t agree with," Zieman writes.
While that’s undoubtedly true in the odd instance, most bloggers I’m aquainted with are far less concerned with shutting down or boycotting major media than they are providing additional information, opinions and critiques. There’s a difference.
In the old media world from which the Star still derives its financial life blood, it took beaucoup bucks to get something as basic as the early Pitch out to present the public with differing news and views.
The issue today (and public benefit) isn’t that Tony or Fitzpatrick want to bring down the Star. They simply recognize that it’s high time for the newspaper to be held publically accountable and for other voices and news sources to have their day in court.
It’s pretty simple really.
Zieman rants about the Star not scaring easily (actually when it comes to race, sex and big advertisers it scares plenty easy), how reality TV shows are sometimes fake (duh), how opinion "frequently masquerades for news" (anybody got a mirror Zieman can borrow?) and how comedians and talk show hosts pretend to be journalists.
Translation: It’s an information jungle out there and thank god newspaper’s shit doesn’t stink.
The reality is that it does often stink. Writers are people, too.
Over the course of the last century daily newspapers grew into information and advertising monopolies. Monoplies that became out-of-town, corporate-owned entities able to dicate to a large extent what was considered to be news and to spin it as they pleased.
Those days are still with us but the Web – and this new age of information – have chipped away at that monopoly. Newspapers probably will go away, but rich and powerful news organizations like the Star will continue to exist. Count on that.
As for how it all sorts out, we’ll have to wait and see.
Zieman’s thin-skinned, defensive tome aside, it’s a healthy thing that other voices now have a podium from which be heard. That Zieman doesn’t seem to get that – prefering instead to likening the Star to Roman town criers – is evidence he’s still having difficulty letting go of the monopolistic past and embracing a more open future.
Oh yeah, Merry Christmas and best wishes for the new year…