Today: Looking Back (And Ahead) at Monday’s Star Layoffs

I was traveling yesterday and unable to weigh in on the Kansas City Star layoffs first reported here April 11th. Upwards of two dozen staffers were released into the wild, according to publisher Mark Zieman.

Here’s what I was told by insiders.

First and foremost on the hit list was movie critic Robert Butler. Not a big surprise. Butler’s been on death row for more than two years since then Johnson County Sun columnist Steve Rose fingered him in 2008 as journalistically extinct.

Face it, people who like to watch movies for free, write about them and get paid to do so are an increasingly endangered species.

"In-house movie criticism has been deemed expendable by a number of cash-strapped newspaper publishers," the Pitch‘s David Martin chimed in on Butler’s demise.

Funny. When the very media conglomerate that hired Martin purchased the Pitch in 1999, one of its first moves was to jettison the entire cadre of local movie critics (inlcuding Dan Lybarger and Loey Lockerby). So nothing new here.

Veteran Star news reporter Michael Mansur also took a bullet.

Mansur, you may recall, teamed with former Star heavy hitter Jeff Spivak in 2007 to design a light rail system for KC.

Sources say Ink columnist Monica Watrous was among the fallen. As were copy editor Kevin Catalano, photographers Chris Oberholtz and Garvey Scott.

Now a quick flashback…

In 2009 I reported the Star dinged movie critic Butler, theater critic Robert Trussell and art critic Alice Thorson for 25 percent pay cuts and benefit trims. Leaving unscathed music and TV critics Tim Finn and Aaron Barnhart.

Finn said then that ill feelings were expressed by dinged arts siblings to the un-dinged. And now that Butler’s been jettisoned altogether, those choices remain head scratchers.

The $64 million question: Will the Star’s second quarter financials enable it to dodge the next series of quarterly cuts?

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12 Responses to Today: Looking Back (And Ahead) at Monday’s Star Layoffs

  1. Inquiring Mind says:

    We need photo captions, who is that woman?
    Cmon, Herne–
    Iehter learn how to do photo captions, or mention in the copy who the hell you are showing. Is that Monica? Chris? Alice? This insider baseball is crappy journalism. Do your job, man.

  2. Hearne Christopher says:

    Thanks, Tracy!

  3. Chris Ochsner says:

    I’m still here.

    Fortunately you are wrong about my employment status unless of course your reporting on my untimely demise is not necessarily meant to be factual. I’m still employed by The Star. Thanks for shocking my friends and relatives.

    Chris Ochsner

  4. Hearne Christopher says:

    Your very welcome. And sorry, my source confused you with Star photographer Chris Overholtz. Nice spelling of my name, speaking of attention to detail.

  5. PB says:

    …I liked reading Butler’s reviews.

  6. Hearne says:

    Keep the faith…
    My hunch is they’ll make Bob an offer he can’t refuse. And that is allow him to freelance for the Star – similar to the offer FYI made to me shortly after my layoff.

    But it probably won’t be for nearly as much money. An educated guesstimate by former Star higher ups had Butler making around $80,000 plus benefits and vacation (around a month per year). Before, that is, taking the 25 percent pay hit and benefits loss two years ago.

    In any case, trust me, Bob’s not going to want to lose his free movie ticket for two, so one way or another he’ll show up somewhere. At age 62 or 63 though, chances are he’s gonna want some sort of paycheck. So maybe he can get a of Lee Judge kinda deal.

    Judge got laid off with me in November 2008 but managed to scmooze back in on some parttime basis (he either didn’t take the payoff money or took in in 2008).

    However since Bob already took the parttime and benefits hit in 2009, how much more does the Star want to squeeze him?

    All that said, one way or another, the betting money is he’ll get his reviews out somewhere. If nothing else in blog land.

  7. chuck says:

    Bob and Jack—Siskel and Ebert on

    Not very original, but kinda cool.

  8. Hearne Christopher says:

    Bob would be more than welcome to post his reviews here on KCC but again, I don’t think the Star is gonna let him slip away. Just as they tried not to let me get totally away. And they now have Lee Judge doing cartoons for a handful of cents on the dollar.

    My sense is that Bob wants/needs a paycheck and just as the Star coerced Bob, Alice Thorson, Robert Trussell, Mike Hendricks and Steve Penn to pony up for a lot less money. The sad thing is that this is the second whacking for Bob, when some of his equally replaceable peers have yet to endure the first.

  9. smartman says:

    Follow The Money
    Lot’s of sales folks still knockin’ down six figures at the Star. Word is they postponed a restructuring of the salary and bonus program in order not to lose some of the top salespeople. Guess they were gonna make it harder to make plan and achieve bonus. Sounds stupid. Where the fuck are they gonna go? The Pitch? Not like selling ads in the Star requires any sort of special skill or special training. You only have to be slightly smarter than the idiots that think advertising in the Star gives you some measurable ROI. Seems to me they could reduce that headcount and payroll substantially to save some REAL NEWS JOBS.

  10. Roy Inman says:

    Freelancing questioned…
    I have been told by several people who were fired from the Star that they could come back on a freelance basis, but only after a six month waiting period. Hearne, did they tell you something else?

  11. Mad Keith Beyond Geezerdome says:

    How long has this been going on?
    Herne, (you deserve that from your wrecked ’em comment re: Ochsner)

    The only thing you’re good for is a list of who got canned at the Star, and you can’t even do that right without snarks and errors.


  12. John Altevogt says:

    Three cheers to Kevin Catalano
    He was one of my highly respected copy editors when i wrote my independent column for The Star. Every one of my copy editors was a talented gem and made my work far more readable and precise. I owe each of them immensely for their integrity and skill.

    Kudos also to Steve Winn (who by rights should have been editorial page editor when that weasel Brisbane (you remember, shine boy down at the River Club when he wasn’t pretending to be publisher) inappropriately fired Rich Hood (a man whose boots Brisbane was not worthy of licking) and appointed useless idiot, Miriam Pepper instead.

    Once again, quality personnel have been let go whilst affirmative action babies like Miriam Pepper (does she do anything?), Lewis Diuguid (anyone want to guess what he’ll be writing about next week?), Barb Shelly (handmaiden to corruption) and Yael Abouhalkah (leading hatemonger) continue to receive undeserved paychecks. Indeed, The Star is not so much a newspaper anymore than it is an extension of the welfare office.

    Take a look at this and then go back and read some of my stuff from my days at The Star and you’ll see just how good Kevin was. Good luck, Kevin, hope you land on your feet.

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