Star Search: Does The Sunday Star Pack Enough Punch?

In the achy breaky world of newspaper publishing Sunday is payday…

That’s the day that pays the bills. And in Kansas City, the Sunday Star is far and away the most important day of the week. Which explains why susbscribers have been inundated in recent months with pleadings and discount deals to buy extra copies. Get one for the wife and maybe one for the kids. That’s also why both Star Groupon deals have zeroed-in on discount deals to bump the Sunday circulation.

That’s also why the Star cut a deal a few years back with local rival the Indpendence Examiner.

"Receive a Sunday Kansas City Star with your Examiner home delivery subscription," reads the come-on at the Examiner‘s Web site. Subscribers to both the Olathe News and Lee’s Summit Journal get free Sunday Star’s as well.

And with between 70 and 80 percent of newspaper revenues coming from advertising, those fat, chocked full of pullout ad Sunday Star‘s are where the action totally is.

How important is the Sunday Star?

When I interviewed former Star publisher Art Brisbane two years back he characterized the Sunday Star "as the single most profitable part of the paper…it’s overwhelmingly the most profitable part of the paper."

Of late, the Star has been touting stories in its Sunday edition in its weekday papers, trying to elevate it to the status of the New York Times Sunday edition.

Fat chance, on closer examination the Sunday Star has a long way to go to attain that status.

Yesterday’s Star, for example, had only two stories on its front page.

One about flooding in Elwood, Kansas last summer, the other questioning whether news coverage hurts the economy.

Not exactly must reads….

Meanwhile, in the Local section, a Charles Gusewelle column hearkened back to a childhood friendship in the 1930s. That was 80 years ago. Add to that a massive photo of a children’s Halloween parade, a short about "foreign policy (being) discussed in Kansas City," the winning lottery numbers, a puff piece about a breast cancer run in Platte Coiunty, some filler stories from syndicated news sources like the Associated Press, the obituaries and a shitload of ads.

In other words, nothing really compelling that you couldn’t get elsewhere or live without.

Now I’m going to let you in on a secret and tip off the Star on how it might elevate its Sunday paper to can’t miss status:

Put some boots on the ground on Saturday and try and come up with more actual news stories besides a handful of shorts and a grain elevator explosion in Atchison.  And here’s why.

Because for years the Star has fielded an increasingly skeleton weekend news staff. It’s a ghost town down there.

Try getting a live body on Saturday or Sunday and you’ll see what I mean. The weekend shifts are assembled largely on a lottery system and as often as not you end up with a reporter from news, business or FYI being sent out to cover something mundane like a charity race, barbecue contest, etc.

Filler stories, essentially.

Many sections are printed days in advance of Sunday. Sports is the one place where actual news content can be found. But inspite of what KU and Chiefs fans may think, it’s actually one of the lower read sections in most newspapers.

A Readership Institute survey of 37,000 consumers placed overall sports readership at 44 percent, just ahead of education at 43 and well behind obituaries at 64 and "Government, war, politics, international" at 53 percent.

For the record, the highest read columns in the Star – until three years ago more often than not were mine and/or that of Jason Whitlock. And those were generally in the low 30s. As in a third of Star readers read our columns.

So here’s my advice to the Star:

Stop beating around the news bush and field a legitimate team of reporters and editors on weekends.

You know, pretend news happens seven days a week,instead of just five. After all, the readers are paying for seven. And if you’re going to try and showcase investigative and/or major feature stories, try and make sure they matter.

What happened in Elwood last summer and a massive, front-page pic of a too cute baby chick in an old-fashioned reporter’s hat, staring at a giant egg doesn’t cut it.

Then again, maybe it’s just me..
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12 Responses to Star Search: Does The Sunday Star Pack Enough Punch?

  1. xxMillerTimexx says:

    It is a shame
    I can remember when the Sunday paper was it. Besides my Grandparents I really do not know anyone that has gotten the paper. But everyone made the trip to QT on Sunday to get a coffee and the Sunday paper. But that has stopped too, it is not worth the (I think $2) now to buy it.

  2. Johnny says:

    Does The Sunday Star Pack Enough Punch?

    No, it does not.

    In the old days, up until 5 years ago, I bought the Sunday paper EVERY week, without fail. It had what I wanted, and then the Star starting hacking and trimming…and stopped giving me what I wanted… and that was that… I stopped buying it. I cant remember the last time I bought the Sunday paper, and it is sad too.

    Newspaper can blame a lot of things, but newspapers kiled themselves, on purpose, it is part of a larger plan. I wont go all conspiracy theory here, but follow the money…..

  3. harley says:

    I never read the sunday star…
    used to read it for the sports and the arts section. It was essential. To many people it still is important as I think
    they still have 400,000 readers on sunday and even the stands in the convenience stores and groceries seem to
    sell out as the day progresses.
    Probably because people have the time to read it on sunday. The other days are so jammed pack with stuff from
    wakeup to sleep time that who’s got time to read it anyway.
    But it still delivers ads…thats what its always been about. Only there are so few rretailers now than back in
    90’s….circuit city…all the independent retailers…mom and pops…the department stores ran mutlitple pages…
    huge ads….the movies filled up the movie pages with ads…sports always had big ads…and automotive needed
    3 sections on saturdays with all the ads.
    We need this paper…the last vestige of local reporting…without it we’d nevefr know whats going on in
    leawood…op…we’d never have some investigations….but with the internet we can get national stuff but
    there’s no local media to make up for the loss of a major newspaper.
    Hopefully things work out for the star…and we see a rebirth of the local papers…
    especially in johonson county where there’s no coverage of whats going on anywhere.
    The sunday star is weak…but thats a sign of the times….but maybe the pendulum will swing
    back and the print media will be revived. I doubt it but there’s alway s a chance.

  4. Mark X says:

    …. who knows?
    … I haven’t read the Sunday STAR (nor any other day’s STAR) in at least the last 10 years.

    However, my mother-in-law (age 85) occasionally gives me coupons from the paper that SHE believes I need. And as soon as I leave her nursing home, I promptly pitch.

  5. Alvy Singer says:

    simply wrong
    Here is another Woody Allen – Marshall McLuhan- Annie Hall moment, where I pull Art Brisbane, Mike Waller, or even Steve Penn from the sidelines to hear them say, “I’ve been listening to what you’ve been saying about how the Star (or any other newspaper) should be staffed on Saturdays, and it’s clear that you know nothing about staffing or news flow or how articles are generated for the Sunday paper.” Really, Hearne, you think that adding more workers on Saturday will beef up the Sunday Star? Check back 30 years ago, when the Star was three times or more as thick and you will find the same bare-bones staff. The lion’s share of the locally produced journalism that gave the Sunday Star its weight, literal and otherwise, was produced days or weeks or months ahead of time–those are the enterprise stories that are not being done because of skeleton staffing–not things falling through the cracks on weekends. I know this is the point where you’ll bring up the Plaza troubles, but if those same events happened in 1982, the Star would have had maybe two reporters on duty. If it happened on a Sunday night, the Times may have had one reporter on duty. If big news broke on a weekend, editors had to ask (or beg or threaten) reporters to come in and help. You can argue that more people should be on duty just in case, but it has nothing to do with the present plight of the Sunday paper.

  6. Hearne Christopher says:

    Easy there, Alvy. Stop putting words in other people’s mouths. However, I suppose if that’s your game, citing a disgraced and fired Star reporter is as good a way to (not) make your point as any.

    First of all, you’re wrong. There are far fewer people staffing the newsroom on weekends than there were even five or seven years ago. Second, I already pointed out the weaknesses of what you call the “enterprise” or feature stories.

    But the body count being down is no excuse. There’s no reason whatsoever that a staff as large as the Star’s can’t deliver the goods each and every Sunday if they have the right people in place with the right attitude.

    Stop making excuses, it’s the most important day of the week.

    Here’s the problem; too many reporters that were incubated in the era of 2,000 employees now that the staff is down to 700 and still shrinking. Those people have to step up, but they’re not. Not enough of em, anyway.

    Too many of what former Star editor and publisher Brisbane used to refer to as “low burning fires.”

    Local TV news directors shake their heads at how inefficient the Star newsroom is with its still relatively huge staffing.

    I always worked weekends and was in and out of the Star on Saturdays and Sundays. If it fielded a lighter team of reporters and editors whose five day work week included Sat and Sun, they’d find a ton of stuff to write about and report. Just because the Star doesn’t have anybody listening for it, doesn’t mean the trees aren’t falling.

    Instead, as you say, even when big news hits they have to “beg” reporters to come in.

    I remember an intern in FYI several years back that was kicking butt and taking names. Think she went to the Wash Post or NYT. And I recall Brian McTavish joking about how she was making everybody else in the section look bad because she was so productive.

    Trust me, once the low burning fires have been extinguished, their replacements will be far more productive.

  7. alvy singer says:

    Not the LA Tribune
    The plural of anecdote is not data. I’m sure you’re confident in your perception that when you were working every weekend there were lots of city desk reporters working, but it’s not true. There may have been a lot of people — copy editors, desk editors, sports reporters and editors, printers, etc. — but there were not a lot of reporters. Three-quarters or more of the staff-generated copy was written and edited before folks left on Friday. (Not to mention all the feature sections, which I am sure you know were already printed by the time people left on Friday). Those reporters who did work on weekends most often were assigned to soft features (neighborhood festivals, minor notables giving a speech) that would never be granted valuable news space on a weekday. Those were the items covered on a weekend, even with a skeleton crew, because nothing else was going on, and editors figured the reporters were there so they had to be assigned to do *something*. The staff probably is even more bare-bones nowadays on weekend, but citing that as a reason for the decline in the Sunday Star is a red herring. How about — no separate Opinion section, no standalone Metro section, no TV guide or full comics without a surcharge, no books section, no fashion section?

    Your belief that reporters hit the streets Saturdays and dug up hard-hitting news that appeared in the Sunday paper is most likely based on a “Lou Grant” episode you’re remembering. That Rossi was quite a reporter.

  8. Hearne Christopher says:

    Again, wrong. My perception was that very few people worked on weekends outside of sports. Just as very few reporters work nights. And those numbers grew fewer by the year. What’s more, it was a very loose goose – a token effort if you will.

    Of course I know that my section was printed on Wednesdays. And like noon the day before on weekdays. Jane Amari’s first pledge to features was to take the section live and print at night to make it more timely. Never happened. Not even with the fancy new, state-of-the-art presses.

    Never watched Mary Tyler Moore, sorry dude. I don’t know if you’ve ever done much reporting but there’s news happening every single day and night of the week. It may not be the easy stuff reporters can mail in by calling a source during office hours or attending some kind of staged event, but I don’t think you really know, because you’ve never tried.

    And that’s one reason Brisbane and Jim Hale hired me. Because I wasn’t married to the way things had been done for 30 years. I hit the streets, went places, talked to people day and night and was inspired by ideas and learned things reporters don’t learn sitting around waiting for their phones to ring or shooting ducks in a barrel by calling someone on their beat.

    I’ve never even heard of Rossi – whoever that was – because you know what? I was out going places and doing things day and night, not curled up on a pit group watching TV and waiting for someone to fix dinner or some game to start.

    The Opinion section is not, as I suspect you know, very highly read. Hence it’s shrinkage. Besides, the syndicated writers can be read a day or days earlier online and the local eds are not exactly cutting edge. The Metro is now Local, and if they can save a few bucks by combining sections, more power to ’em.

    But where’s the content? Quality content.

    TV books are for blue hairs. Sorry if I hurt your feelings but I think you know better. Ditto for comics. It’s time to move forward and target younger readers as well.

    You’re on to something with books, fashion – and you left out – travel. But I wonder in today’s world if those are really so important to younger readers. I think what the Star needs to do is provide news, information and entertainment you can’t get anywhere else. They have the resources, but not the vision and/or will.

    Book reviews are like movies, readers didn’t need Bob Butler to tell them about Puss in Boots when there are hundreds of Bob Butler’s out there. Many of whom may arguably be more to someone’s liking. Ditto for book reviews by local freelancers. Fashion could work if they got somebody halfway cutting edge.

    That was hardly the case when Jacki left.

    You keep telling me how things are and have been done forever, while longing for the past and things that are gone. The Internet requires that we evolve, advance and do things differently. Think differently.

    That’s what I’m suggesting. No excuses, just do it.

  9. Your best friend says:

    Lou Grant was an excellent show
    I’m too young to have watched “Lou Grant,’ the Mary Tyler Moore spinoff where Lou Grant moves to LA and works for the fictional Los Angeles Tribune, while it was on TV in the late 70s and early 80s. But I found it on Hulu. Love that show. i do think it is unrealistic in the way a pair of reporters – Rossi and Billie – file in-depth investigative pieces in no time flat, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. Here’s hoping the resources the Star has are put to better use. I’ve been thinking about doing a content analysis of the paper, to see how many reporters file how many stories per week. That would give a good indication on the type of staffing vs. productivity the Star has.

  10. Hearne Christopher says:

    The problem at the Star is systemic, I think. Writers have beats. They’re used to having very little competition (outside of sports) from within or outside of the newspaper.

    In the late 1980s /early mid 1990s, the Star business section hated being scooped by the KC Business Journal. But that pretty much went away in time, in part because the BJ’s circulation and readership was so paltry. Nowadays they could care less and that’s been the case for sometime – well over 10 years.

    When I first started at the Star my editors had complaints from other section editors that I was infringing on their beats. I was scooping them in the FYI section and thus broaching journalistic etiquette. However, new editor Brisbane disagreed and felt that the competition was healthy. Still some – perhaps many – didn’t like it a bit. Joyce Smith being one.

    Now that the Star’s body count is down, many staffers feel like they’re being worked half to death. They’re not. Oh, I imagine there are a few who are, but it’s really more a matter of them just being used to the slacker’s pace of the past when they had 2,000, not 700 staffers.

    Allow me to give a shout out here to Joyce Smith for not being one of the slackers. She’s a total go-getter, the likes of which the Star could use far more. Now she’s far from perfect, more than a little heavy handed when dealing with sources and a hop, skip and a jump away from totally losing it on any given day. Still, she’s a hard worker with a nose for news.

    I’m afraid the Star is going to have to outlive the Baby Boomer Generation of journalists before it can truly turn the corner and find its relevancy (mostly online) in the coming years.

    In other words, it’s in the same need of new blood that the booze soaked, cigarette smoking generation before was – the Gusewelles and James Fishers. It’s tuff attracting those people though because the pay’s so low and the future so uncertain.

  11. Dave says:

    I told myself I wasn’t going to look at this crap anymore ..
    But Hearne, for godsake, stop pretending you were ever a journalist. You always were, still are, and will forever be a gossip columnist.

    Just because you creepily lurked inside the KC Star building for way too long, generating corrections like a well-tuned mistake factory, doesn’t mean you actually understand what real journalists do.

    Whoever this Alvy Singer is, he (or she … I’m not going to make assumptions, other than assuming it’s not really Woody Allen) is correct about the current and former state of the Sunday paper, and why it is what it is. You are, not at all surprisingly, totally wrong.

    Real journalists respect accuracy and deadlines. You could never grasp either concept.

    I’m probably wasting my time, because you invariably delete any post containing these magic words:

    “Buck Buchanan”

    Yes … I know … “your source gave you bad information.” … How were you to POSSIBLY know the guy had been dead for years, before you declared him to be the landscaper for a local condominium ? (Hell, I don’t know … Look it up? Ask somebody?)

    Lazy hacks, in particular, should be extra-vigilant in double-checking their facts, if they’re going to try to re-invent themselves as paragons of journalism.

    My advice to you: Stick to your specialty: Random speculation. Don’t pretend to have any sort of insight regarding the newspaper industry. You really don’t.

    — Sincerely,
    Somebody who finds you to be really, really icky.

  12. Eddie Root says:

    “He jests at scars which never fell a wound”.

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