Hearne: The Star Needs to Hire Brian McTavish Now

Enough already…

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.

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15 Responses to Hearne: The Star Needs to Hire Brian McTavish Now

  1. chuck says:

    Did the Star re locate to the
    Bannister Federal Complex??

    Why does everyone keep having that pesky cancer problem?

    The employees should hire Erin Brockovich and the Star should get Shook Hardy on the phone.

  2. chuck says:

    Chemosabi and Tonto
    should blow thru the Star’s new digs with a geiger counter and find out where the disgruntled employees left the plutonium.

    I am guessing they should start by Jason Whitlock’s old desk.

    Are they serving Yellow Cake during farewell ceremonies for ex employees?

  3. Smartman says:

    Pardon Mi-Ah
    I’ve got ten grand that says it won’t happen anytime soon. Anybody want the other side of that bet at 2 to1?

  4. Bob Loblaw says:

    By far the must read Star writer
    And through all of this, Jene

  5. Fcats says:

    I am sure when the Star reads this that they will hire Brian instantly, you know….. with the all the clout hearne has down there

  6. Craig Glazer says:

    Brian Is Needed
    The Star has really no local flavor on people that do anything in KC. Brian along with Hearne filled that void in many ways. The FYI is just so damn thin. Other than a review of a band or a film there is nothing about anyone that matters or does anything much in KC. If aren’t arrested or dead(metro) it didn’t happen. Brian could come in and do this work at a price, they sure could use that, but with the Star being tight, very tight with a buck, its a long shot. Brian is a great guy.

  7. Mark X says:

    Why …
    … the STAR is dead. PERIOD.

    The only people I know that subscribe & read it is my 84 year old mother & her neighbors in Garden Villa….
    … and do you REALLY think THEY care about arts and entertainment ?

    PRINT IS DEAD…. and Hearne, YOU should know better … move on …

  8. Hearne says:

    It ain’t dead online…
    An in the final analogy, that’s where it will live on. With a tiny fraction of the staffing, that is.

  9. Hot Carl says:

    Brian might be a great guy and all but his concert reviews sucked. Like Butler, there were far too many times when he didn’t even seem like enjoyed his job and it showed in their writing. The Star either needs some new blood or none at all.

  10. Hot Carl says:

    Wow, my post reads like a Glazer article but you get the drift.

  11. Hearne says:

    I respectfully disagree…
    Did you read some of Brian’s reviews on KCC?

    OMG, Google them. Alice Cooper, his review of a New Theatre play. Kick ass stuff!

    Here’s the deal, as guys like McTavish and Tim Finn get older they lose some of their cutting edge mojo when it comes to truly appreciating a lot of the newer music. Just like most rock artists peak at a certain age and fall off the map in their later years.

    Brian and Tim are the same age, like 52 or 53. And Tim does a better job than Brian at keeping up with new music – but he has to if he wants to hang onto his job. Tim doesn’t hold a candle to Brian as a writer so his options at the Star are far fewer.

    McTavish can do interviews, movie and theater reviews, fine arts, features stories – you name it.

    With all due respect, Tim doesn’t come close to having those kinda writing chops and he knows it. Brian threw in the towel on doing rock reviews, effectively handing the baton to Tim, a former copy editor. But Tim has to hang on to the music job if he wants the next round of layoffs.

    However, it’s painfully clear that many of his reviews of newer bands read more like reports than reviews.

    Anybody in their 50s can diss younger music and become instantly irrelevant. So when Tim knows a band is popular like Gaslight Anthem, he writes around whether he liked the show as he did two years ago.

    McTavish didn’t have to worry about losing his job so he totally laid down a hard hitting review criticizing the band.

    Google both reviews and compare.

    Tim also writes a ton of stuff about local bands to keep his youth cred up. But frankly, how many Star readers or Kansas Citians in general really care about in depth story after in depth story about band after local bar band?

  12. RickM says:

    Disagree w/your disagreement
    If BT is so insightful how come another media outlet outside KC hasn’t picked him up? [I honestly don’t know, but admit to not searching for his byline.] Is he freelancing anywhere? Does he have a blog or a website that keeps him in the game?

    His Star writing was always competent, but never contained much depth and frankly he sounded burned out by the late 80s.

    Yes, the Star needs to beef up its A&E staff, but the answer isn’t to go back to him.

  13. RickM says:

    Wrong initials
    should’ve been BMc

  14. Hearne says:

    I’m gonna kinda lay it out here for you guys
    I met Brian in his alt rock music hey days at the Star in the 80s.

    And I think it’s fair to say that his interest and passion in new music began to wane by the early 90s. That’s why he passed the baton and the Star promoted Tim Finn into the music reviewing gig.

    He also went through a tough divorce and I think that drained him.

    But that’s all history and he didn’t drop out he just widened his scope and began covering a wider array of arts and entertainment stories instead of just trucking out to concert after concert.

    Meanwhile, his writing chops NEVER diminished.

    Google him, as I have suggested above, and read some of the stories and reviews he wrote on KC Confidential.

    Kickass stuff.

    As for writing gigs, what writing gigs? If you haven’t noticed about 90-plus percent of the vast number of writers that have been laid off all over the country are out driving limos, painting houses and preparing for their future as WalMart greeters.

  15. RickM says:

    You contradicted yourself.
    If Brian was really the “biggest, baddest, brightest,” etc. then he wouldn’t be in the 90 percent who become Walmart greeters.

    Good writers, like cream, rise to the top. Determined writers find a way as you did.

    I’ll never understand why the Star doesn’t bring Bill Brownlee on staff. He has the passion *and* the writing chops. Yes, he freelances there from time to time, but his real talent shines on his blog(s). It shows the difference between being a critic and a mere reviewer.

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