It’s not easy dying a thousand deaths, sleeping off the killer summer cold Jack Poessiger just gave me…
Over a lunch date with zero spit swapped, no less. But, as I inch back to life, and read today’s Kansas City Star like thousands of you, I learn that columnist Mike Hendricks is o-u-t and a new wave of "local’ section columnists are on their way. Oh joy.
But wait, are they really? Let’s take a look.
The moves signal the end of a very long, unstoried era. Shortly before I came to the Star, the newspaper fielded a lineup of Art Brisbane, Jim Fisher and Charles Gusewelle. Brisbane transversed the town laying down pithy columns about the people, places and things that were Kansas City at the time. Describing publisher Tom Leathers as "a Johnson County pundit who weekly squires his readers into a snake pit of stunning personalities and typographical errors"
And blowing the lid off of a controversial decision by Overland Park "that citadel of good taste and expert city planning" to not just welcome the area’s first Hooters at 106th and Metcalf, but to change the center’s name from the Overland Station Shops to the Hooters Plaza.
"It’s true, and Mike Burdick, one of Hooters’ owners, is pretty proud of it," Brisbane wrote. "Troy LaPorte, who owns the Chartroose Caboose restaurant inside Hooters Plaza, was less thrilled.
" ‘We heard at first it was going to be called Hooterville,’ he said. ‘We were really worried then.’
"The same taste-conscious city that wouldn’t let White Castle open a restaurant without toning down its shiny white exterior?" Brisbane continued. "The city that won’t allow Dick Clark to put a big guitar on top of his American Bandstand Grill because it wouldn’t be, sniff, suitable? The city that is having qualms about Price Chopper putting up a large, bright red sign?
"The very same burg. In Overland Park, it seems, a big guitar is tasteless but a shopping center named after female body parts is no problem."
Quality stuff, right?
Meanwhile, Fisher and Gusewelle were essentially the Geezer Squad. Gueswelle wrote stories about hunting dogs, cats, caring for his lawn and his wife, and the odd, dated outlook on life and current events. Fisher combed outlying areas in faded jeans celebrating the nuances of small town life, midwestern history and farmabilia. That’s how I recall his writing, anyway.
They gave me Fisher’s desk when I started, so I had the pleasure of cleaning it out and boxing it up for him. Not sure how often he actually stopped by the newspaper, but this was in the pre email era, so who knows how he filed his columns as he roamed the region. Carrier pigeon, maybe.
Brisbane was named editor and a gent named George Gurley joined Gusewelle and Fisher in the Metro section.
From that time forward, the Local or Metro columnists have remained the Achillles Heels of the Star.
Stepping down today, columnist Mike Hendricks did some excellent reporting and writing leading up to his appointment. But he never took his column anywhere near the level of Brisbane’s writing and reporting. Remember, I told you a couple years into it, Hendricks called me one night to cry on my shoulder about being put on column probabtion.
Steve Penn‘s firing I recently covered. Nothing more need be said there.
Mary Sanchez is another matter. On any given day, I, like probably most Star readers, allot little more than a cursory glance to her columns. She’s shown some signs of writing about somewhat interesting topics of late. A local, hijab-wearing Muslim jogger, the demise of the Post Office. Unlike Penn, Mary can write, but her choice of topics tends to be too scholarly and boring. However, I know Mary totally likes to party. So why not get out a bit more and cover the pop culture beat like Brisbane did?
When Art became editor in the ’90s, columnist after unsuccessful columnist came and went in the Metro section. Gurley, Jennifer Howe, Betty Cuniberti, Barb Shelly, Chris Lester, Miriam Pepper. One by one they either fled, were dispatched or promoted to positions that didn’t require them attract and entertain large volumes of readers.
Which brings us to today…
And the headline, "New Voices On Local News," announcing that no less than seven new columnists will effectively replace Hendricks and Penn.
If that sounds dramatic, trust me, it isn’t.
Gueswelle, Sanchez and politico Steve Kraske remain in place on Sunday, Monday and Thursday and Saturday.
The Magnificent Seven will takes turns writing on Wednesdays and Fridays in some manner or another.
Which at first blush, seems more than a little weird. Actually, it looks like a cost cutting measure. Because all seven currently cover reporting beats and will apparently alternate column writing in their areas of expertise.
James Hart, the Star‘s Crime Scene KC blogger will alternate on Wednesdays with health reporter Alan Bavley, education writer Mara Williams and Joe Robertson. And reporters Christine Vendel, Mark Morris and Glenn Rice will take turns writing "public safety news" on Fridays.
How dull does that sound? Oh well, cross your fingers.
In short, what may have amounted to $150,000 in columnist paychecks appears to have been reduced to zero. Unfortunately, while making it painfully clear that they are not being replaced with other actual columnists.