Without question, things are looking up at the Kansas City Star heading into the holidays….
New publisher Mi-Ai Parrish has been all over the newsroom and able to weather the bad financial numbers from corporate without going the layoffs route. In part because of the recent wave of optimism on the economy and advertiser’s anticipation of better holiday sales.
That’s a good thing.
However, sources say the atmosphere among the 700 or so Star survivors (there were more than 2,000 prior to the dot com recession of the early 2000s) is still grim.
"It used to be full of life here, now it’s just empty," says one Star staffer. "Now it’s devoid of life."
In no small part because of the vast sea of empty desks that serve of as constant reminders of better times.
"I think people are still sad for what was and they know it’s not coming back," the staffer says. "And we have no idea what the future holds – no idea."
The Star’s ghost town effect may be cured if plans to consolidate sports and FYI into the main newsroom bear fruit.
For those familiar with the Star‘s office layout prior to the past three years, it’s hard to imagine the entire third and fourth floor FYI area and the sports section evacuating their longtime homes. However the ranks are so thinned they’ll likely fit right into the half-empty main newsroom which should improve morale.
How bad are things?
"You should see the place at night," the source says. "It was always somewhat busy at night but now it’s empty – maybe four or five people. There’s so much empty space in the second floor newsroom and up in features too, you could play ball up there and never hit anybody."
Depressing as that is, people’s work spirits are strong.
"Actually, yes," the source says. "They still believe in what they do and they still do it. That’s one of the things the Star has going for it. And they’re happy that they still have a job."
The flip side of that equation:
"If you look at the paper every day you still see a lot of errors. For a paper that had so much pride in accuracy and used to have verification workshops – which you went to once – it’s a major fall from grace. Or let’s say, a come down. The typos online can be fixed in five minutes but not the ones in print."
Why then so few corrections? Is it because the readers rep’s wearing four hats?
"Well, for one thing there are a lot less stories in then paper, so there’s less chance of making errors. Think about that. There are fewer reporters, fewer stories, fewer errors but less news."
And – knock on wood – less layoffs.