It’s time for the Kansas City Star to bring back Brian McTavish, one of the newspaper’s biggest, baddest, brightest and most prolific arts and entertainment writers ever.
McTavish got laid off three years back amidst the steepest, deepest cost-cutting slide of the newspaper’s history. Despite that he was the best writer in the features section. A journalist who could bat to any and all arts and entertainment reporting fields and who produced cutting edge videos and interviews for paper’s Web site.
Here’s the deal…
A ton of top reporters nationwide have bitten the dust the past few years as the print media business model has continued to suffer at the hands of the Internet and electronic media. The attrition in staff cuts and page counts at the Star and Pitch have been at times shocking and devastating as writers and editors have exited with few being replaced.
In addition to those drastic cuts and departures, the Star‘s arts and entertainment section has been crippled recently by a rash of career endangering illnesses.
No less than four dramatic, largely unexplained staff departures have taken a toll on FYI in recent months.
Starting with television and radio writer Aaron Barnhart.
Barnhart has been missing in action since late last year. He’d previously been diagnosed with cancer that was thought to be in remission. However, outside of reporting on the suicide of Fox 4’s Don Harman last November and a television year in review story on Christmas Day, Barnhart’s dropped completely from site with no explanation.
Another heavy hitter features writer who suffers from Tourette’s syndrome, Jim Fussell, saw extremely limited duty in 2011 and is now reportedly on the Family and Medical Leave Act which allows him "to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave."
Fussell’s last byline was December 9th last year.
Yet another features editor has been diagnosed with cancer although she continues to work part time. And most recently, the longtime features department head – who suffers from MS – stunned newsroomers by stepping down alongside the handful of staffers cut by the Star earlier this month.
Add to the above the countless number of features section layoffs and buyouts of recent years – including the elimination of performing arts music and dance critic Paul Horsley, fashion writer Jackie White, society editor Ann Spivak, the passing of restaurant critic Lauren Chapin, the axing of longtime film critic Robert Butler, books editor John Mark Eberhart and the demotions of art critic Alice Thorson and theater critic Robert Trussell to parttime status. That’s cutting way close to the proverbial bone.
Now take a gander at FYI’s grandest annual offering, Monday’s Academy Awards section.
It’s one of the ultra rare times of the year when the section goes "live," meaning it prints around midnight the night before rather than early in the afternoon.
Of the 11 Star staffers who gave themselves a pat on the back Monday for eating pizza and working late while watching the awards on TV Sunday night only two were described as "writers." The rest described themselves as editors with the exception of a "social media coordinator."
That’s nine editors to just two writers.
"It’s always been an editor’s newspaper," says one former staffer. "They’ve let some editors go in recent years, but it’s mostly been writers. And I’m sure they all bemoan the fact that they’re short handed in the writing department, but talk is cheap."
And now depending upon who rises to take the top slot in features, the writing ranks could thin even further.
The bottom line; it’s time to bring back McTavish.
KC Confidential sure can’t afford him.