It’s way too easy writing about the difficult life and times of the Kansas City Star…
After reading the Star for something approaching a lifetime, writing about it while running the Pitch for several years and finally working at it for 16 years, I pretty much know the players and where the bodies are buried at 18th and Grand. Trust me.
Covering the Pitch however is a different beast. It’s been 20 years since I darkened its door as an employee, its staff is far smaller and the turnover has been great given all the regime changes.
That said, the Pitch is as far up you-know-what creek as the Star and any number of other print publications around the country.
Which is unfortunate, because in a perfect world, Kansas City deserves to field a first class alt weekly. Unfortunately, that’s seldom, if ever, been the case.
Prior to my beginning to take the reins in the mid-late ’80s it was little more than a record store rag. When I left, taking most of its key staff including editor C.J. Janovy, it ran mostly rudderless under a succession of editors and experts as its owner battled to keep it alive until it was sold to a company that became Village Voice Media in the late 90s for beaucoup bucks.
Janovy was brought back, but was unable to evolve the Pitch into anything even close to St. Louis’s Riverfront Times or Denver’s Westword. She just didn’t have the horses or the vision. Oh, the Pitch improved – how could it not? – but despite the contribution of several good writers remained largely a long-in-the-tooth hippie rag.
Opening the door for the Star‘s Ink to come in three years ago and eat what was left of the Pitch‘s lunch. Not journalistically, mind you. Ink is little more than what blogger Tony Bottello referred to as "an ad rag."
Earlier this year after years of trying to unload the Pitch, Village Voice finally did so to a Nashville publisher.
Janovy had already seen the handwriting on the wall and bailed to KU Med last year. Followed by top writing gun Nadia Pflaum who fled the biz as the sale was being going down. Interim puppet editor Joe Tone opted to stick with the Mother Ship (Village Voice).
And one by one since, the dearly have departed.
including art director Sarah Norwood (who left for Riverfront Times), calendar editor Crystal Wiebe (last seen hawking promotional products for Staples and blogging about lost dogs), music editor Elke Mermis (now a copy editor at VML) and staff writer Peter Rugg (the dude who flung a drink at me in a drunken fit two years back at Lew’s in Waldo). Now even David Martin, the Pitch‘s new managing editor and most credible remaining writer, is joining Janovy at KU Med.
That’s a lot to lose for a small, freebie pub like the Pitch. Giving the impression the rats are either leaving (or being let go from) the sinking ship.
Raising a really scary question for Kansas Citians who care about local pop culture and edgy news…
Is it possible KC’s only thinking person altnerative weekly could bite the dust?
You know, just go away like the 50-plus year old Johnson County Sun did this past summer?
Not many people would have thought the Sun‘s setting possible as recently as even two years ago. After all, its owner NPG only bought it five years earlier for a reported $20 million. That’s a lot to walk away from.
Can the Pitch even survive? Good question.
But outside of its blogs and online action – which likely yield little in the way of meaningful ad revenue – there’s not a whole lot left to love. The average issue of late only having a single cover feature, maybe a news short and Charles Ferruzza‘s food column before breaking into a column or two, the calendar and classifieds.
Content-wise and otherwise, times are clearly tough for the Pitch.
Its big guns are gone and it’s gripped by the toughest of times. It won’t be easy and anything could happen. It all hiinges on how deep the pockets are of new owner SouthComm and whether the Nashville publisher can keep it all together until if and when better times return.
Unfortunately the jury is clearly out on both those counts…