There’s been an interesting move by the so-called paper-of-record online that signals an end of an era recently.
The Kansas City Star is scaling back their daily political coverage to an unprecedented degree.
The story of The Star’s "Prime Buzz" is a parable that spells out the doom of the dead tree media in the digital era.
Let’s take a look at their ongoing FAIL, shall we?
Long, long ago in Internet history (2007) The Star created The Buzz blog. It was a neat little site that did about a dozen posts a day regarding local politics. During the election, the popularity of the site grew and the management at The Star had the GRAND IDEA if people would pay for online content. So a popular blog with a nice following and a lively discussion board SHUT DOWN and went into hiding behind a pay wall.
And that’s how we got PRIME BUZZ.
These few months were a nice time for me because people would openly steal their content and sent it my way for me to take whatever I wanted. In the digital world NOBODY respects copyrights or the work of journalists or reporters, and the content is quickly and easily copied, edited and distributed without regard for ownership. Since the advent of the Internet this has been a fact of life that remains as such today. Don’t give me that crap about itunes because that only represents a tiny fraction of music shared online and it turns out few people like paying for music downloads anyway.
Back to politics – Prime Buzz inevitably gained popularity when it embarrassingly came back to the Internet free of charge.
Sure, the crew had their tail between their legs but they broke some pretty good stories and people even registered with their comment system in order to share in the fun.
Sadly, it always seemed like the ugly sister to the print version of the paper. In a public debate I participated in, a veteran reporter noted that journalists weren’t paid any extra to contribute to The Star’s blogging efforts and because we were in between KCMO elections the effort wasn’t as serious. Notably, after The Star fired City Hall reporter DeAnn Smith – a newsie always in the middle of a whirlwind of political activity. The quality of the site was noticeably impacted. City Hall veteran reporter Lynn Horsely stayed on but it is widely noted by Star staffers that she doesn’t know how to format a simple text link like this one I’m doing for my favorite old school hip-hop video.
So, now The Star’s daily political journal has moved again to a site called The Midwest Democracy Project. It should be noted that The Midwest Democracy project is actually a result of a nonprofit grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. They partnered with KU and there’s a $100k grant for that "project" which is essentially a non-profit work in progress.
My conclusion: The Star has determined that daily political coverage isn’t profitable.
I also don’t think it’s fair to the foundation that The Star is hosting ads on what is basically a non-profit site.
Furthermore, they really cracked down on comments. The new Prime Buzz notes: "In order to foster political discourse, MDP (an acronym that’s never gonna take) strongly encourages users to use their full name. In the site’s six months of operation, this has proven to be a huge success in bringing about smarter, more civil discussion."
Quickly, a reader responds: "Wow, I see you guys are “overwhelmed” with comments……….of course that was probably your objective (killing the voices of dissent) in the first place." I doubt it, for the most part they just seem like they’re bumbling around the Internet. Comments could still pick up but it’s troubling to watch a Kansas City institution struggle to maintain an online presence when so many other local news outlets are doing it right. For instance KMBC’s Mike Mahoney and Kris Ketz both seem to "get it" when it comes to simply putting something online that people might want to view.
It’s not rocket science.
Even worse, the RSS feed for The Star’s daily political web offering was really difficult for me to find and not listed on the front page. I contacted one of the companies listed as a designer and they basically disavowed their involvement. The techie wrote back: "I’m sorry for the confusion, but that’s not a site that we maintain. They use some of our data and programmatic offerings, but we don’t run it and consequently I’m unable to answer your question."
In these days of so many news sites, folks without an RSS feed or at least a Twitter page (which runs RSS) are off the web.
I see a few dedicated souls are hanging with Prime Buzz but in a few months I’m sure The Star will come up with another scheme. In the final analysis, it’s simply sad to note that The Star isn’t really competing when it comes to daily political coverage. It’s a rough and tumble world where nasty comments and posturing rule.
The Paper of record has just never been a meaningful player on this level and Newspaper blogs in St. Louis regularly put KC’s stuff to shame. So, bloggers without the backing of foundations and TV news bloggy efforts will continue to slug it out as Kansas City’s newspaper retreats to its print edition.
In the middle of an election, in a newspaper industry that’s quickly going the way of the Dodo…