Locke: Have you noticed? Everybody’s leaving The Star

These are the times that try men’s souls…

When Star corporate owner McClatchy announced its first wave of layoffs – a 10 percent company-wide reduction in June of 2008 – its vice-president of news, Howard Weaver (since retired) wrote, “We need the 90% of employees who aren’t in the downsizing to focus on the work at hand with confidence, not be looking over their shoulders for another round of layoffs.”

Four years and waves of layoffs and unpaid weeks off later, there are a lot of sore necks at The Star and not much confidence.

And now, behind the news of Tuesday’s exodus, another problem for the higher-ups at 18th and Grand has become obvious.

“See ya! Wouldn’t want to BE ya.” – every Star employee who found a new job

On top of the three newsroom people whose departures were announced on The Star’s Tragic Tuesday, you can add these people to the 2012 list: sports columnist Kent Babb, sports copy editor Alan Burchardt, two – count ‘em – internet/web developers, web editor Jay Williams, editorial writer Matt Schofield and FYI boss Mary Lou Nolan.

Some you’ve heard of, some you probably haven’t. 

Add them up and what have you got?

A brain drain.

And if the newspaper is not careful, the trickle of smart, knowledgeable people from the newsroom will quickly turn into a torrent – if it hasn’t already started to.

The above Star staffers only had to wait out the recession for hiring to pick up.

Yet now that it has, anyone in The Star newsroom with marketable skills is out pitching resumes. And if they’re not, they should be, because judging by yesterday’s revolving door, the people who are out looking are finding new jobs.

After all, if you’re standing on the deck of the Titanic and the Carpathia comes along, don’t you get on? Of course you do.

The Star is stuck between two icebergs on this one.

How does it retain the people it needs to keep the website and printed product running? Does it attempt to do it with two percent raises and two weeks of furlough a year, which is equal to a 3.8 percent loss in salary?

Clearly that won’t get it.

Undoubtedly, a lot is riding on the loyalty of employees, people loyal to the profession of journalism. If anyone notices how employees are treated in the rest of the world, though, it’ll be sheet cake every Friday at The Star.

Because in case anyone at The Star hasn’t noticed, many modern employers offer a long list of amenities these days, from free soda to office health centers and matching 401(k) contributions, things The Star is unable or unwilling to offer.

Little things like that matter.

Employees at The Star still pay to park in company-owned lots. That’s a fabulous perk.

And while there seems to be a semblance of a future at The Star (note how carefully couched that statement is in probabilities), on its website, and in a newspaper that’s not printed seven days a week, there’s a good chance that future doesn’t involve a lot of the people that are there today.

There are some people though that The Star needs to keep, but how?

Alas, I raise more questions than I answer. On the other hand, maybe an exodus is a good thing. Maybe hiring some new college grads will energize the newsroom and bring in new ideas. A little fresh blood who would be more than willing to cram into their tiny cubes and bring home a paycheck that will never, ever, go up.

Meanwhile, the institutional knowledge of the city, its people, its streets, beats and personalities, is forever lost.

It makes The Star a little more bland and a little less unique. When that happens to the city’s largest news gatherer, everybody loses.

http://www.mb-kc.com/
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32 Responses to Locke: Have you noticed? Everybody’s leaving The Star

  1. Craig Glazer says:

    Just so damn sad for those of us who grew up reading this paper. It was always an honor to have a ‘decent’ story in the paper. Everyone saw it, everyone mentioned it….now from personal experience, when there is a ‘good’ story in the paper about you, your biz, etc….you wonder who read it….it’s almost like being on radio or TV with a lower rated station, you wonder ‘did anyone hear or see that?’

    I know, ‘everyone’ is on the internet, but ‘everyone’ isn’t on there for news…there is little local news on the net….mostly national events…not saying you can’t find things about what is happening in our area, but less do..a ton less than had read our local paper, the KC Star…..I find it all very tragic and it makes us all less involved with each other and each others lives….its a colder and colder world out there today.

  2. Rick Nichols says:

    FYI – those “tiny cubes” in the News Room are being phased out and, in fact, may already be gone by now. Mr. Gusewelle wrote a column about that a few months ago. Good move, this attempt to return to the way things were in “the good old days” when ideas and information could be openly exchanged at and around the City Desk and other key work hubs. But that’s just one thing. I’d also get rid of most of the paper’s wannabe columnists and reassign them to a beat in the field somewhere. They could be contributing real news to the finished product as opposed to what amounts to chit-chat more often than not. Mike Hendricks, who was NOT one of those wannabe columnists, has returned to his roots as a reporter and continues to do excellent work in the field for the paper. And there are others like him who certainly shine as reporters. The turnover within the profession is much higher than it used to be, so, yes, the preservation of institutional knowledge is a real issue. “New blood” may infuse some much-needed energy into the operation of the paper, but it’s hardly a long-term solution to the deeper, underlying problems within the industry. Yes, you raise more questions than you answer, but at least you’re attempting to generate some discussion of the matter, which is rather important. Because as you say, when The Star suffers we all suffer in some way or another whether we realize it or not.

    • Spike Van Houten says:

      well, the “new” newsroom looks pretty much like a call center. another huge morale booster.

  3. mike says:

    It is sort of a “Catch 22″. Is you lose the good writers, the readership will diminish. If you lose the readership, you will have to lay off the good writers.
    What is the future of the Star? Is it going to go to mostly an internet publication? Is it going to rely on stories from free lance writers?
    One huge problem is the diminished ad revenue. The Star used to have vastly more full page ads than it does now. The classified section was so big that it was it’s own section of the paper. Now, it is lucky to be two pages on the back end of the sports section.
    The other problem I see is that not only is the readership dropping off, the ones who still are gettting the paper are aging rapidly. Nearly everybody I know that still gets the paper is over 60 years old. Their customer base will die off if something isn’t done to attract younger readers. They might look at the internet site but there is more competition in that medium.
    I hope the Star and other printed media can be around for years to come but I am not hopeful.

  4. the dude says:

    THEY DON’T CARE, they will still make fistfulls of dollars off ads. They should be renamed the Honey Badger Star ’cause they don’t care about journalism, they only care that the money stays green. All they need is people to typeset the ads and run the presses; they can leave the “news” to crack junior high reporters and the AP.

    • mike says:

      Of course if the paper gets too bad, nobody will read it. If nobody reads it, nobody will see the ads. If nobody sees the ads, people will quit advertising. If people quit advertising, the paper will not make money. If the paper does not make money, it will no longer be printed.
      In other words, the content does matter.

      • the dude says:

        Sorry Mike, you are wrong here. They have a built in readership that still likes to read the printed word on newspaper and subscribes for the Sunday paper and the ads are a big part of it. They will still make money even if what is left of the real writers leave.

        • George Wilson says:

          No, Mike is correct. According to the Mcclatchy year end financial statements advertising revenue across the entire company is down $187 million over the past two years. To compensate for that Mcclatchy reduced their wage bill by $125 million.

          You can’t continue to cut bodies forever in an effort to make up for lost dvertising revenue. Besides that, Star circulation has continued to fall, losing 15% of weekday circulation and 8% of Sunday circulation in the last three years. Add on top of all that the well documented advertiser migration from newspapers to web sites, and it is no wonder Mcclatchy’s stock price has dropped from $20 five years ago to $1.65 today.

          It’s fair to say that the financial data represented is for all of Mcclatchy and that the Star may be doing better. But I think anyone who believes that the newspaper business, including the Star, is making reams of money or has a bright future is dreaming. There are few on Wall Street or within the newspaper industry who believe that to be the case.

  5. chuck says:

    Romantically agonizing over the demise of traditional journalistic vehicles in 2012 must be an aquired taste, and certainly a waste of time.

    Speaking for that “over 60″ demographic, I take exception to the premise that the public will suffer from the reduction of reporter sinecure that accompanies “Institutional Knowledge” and ‘tenured’ position. That the quality of reporting is diminished by the pressure of the internet. That relationships forged between the 4th Estate and kleptocrats will have no outlet. That the actual dissemination of the news is bifurcated between two mutually exclusive entites which in turn negates the value of the information from either entity.

    In our freshly remembered past, all those newsworthy pearls that were fit to print (or view) were cast into the proletarian abyss by a small cadre of journalistic swine deemed worthy by way of education, experience and politics, with politics, in my opinion, being paramount. I love bacon as much as the next guy, but if I wanna get dirty reading the news, I want to pick my own pigs.

    The irony of mostly liberal institutions bemoaning the rise of the most egalitarian invention in history is as usual with those same institutions, recorded accurately and reported inaccurately in terms of effect.

    Like today, here, on this page.

    The history of news in recorded history, is the history of the vetted news in recorded history. The Rosetta Stone was vetted to make Ptolemy look good and collect taxes. The journalistic plutocrats who have for millenia controlled the content of the news shuffling their mortal coil. No Cassandra’s here, just petulance and fear. Our information is not only safe, it is abundant, and I personally, have faith in us blue collar folks to parse it with alacrity and an open mind.

    The choke hold that the Kansas City Star, Chicago Tribune, LA Times and The New York Times (And all media) had on our information, but more importatnly how we viewed that information is now as they say, consigned to the trash heap of history.

    An example. It is a categorical fact that the MSM censors the ethnicity of perps if they are African American.

    http://www.wnd.com/2012/07/the-msms-unabashed-censorship/

    This is one of hundreds of examples.

    Now many would say, that this effort, is to reduce polarization, ease the pain of murder, assault, rape, et al on the community and keep the peace.

    Others would say that this is a complete abdication of journalistic responsibilty and in fact, inures cittizens into a false sense of safety and inhibits any efforts to confront and solve the problem by seeing the truth as it actually is. That silence is sanction, and this makes the situation even more dangerous for those readers of said publications.

    Your choice.

    One thing NOT in dispute. You are NOT getting the truth in what is a serious concern for all citizens in this nation.

    This is exactly how the MSM, left and right have operated in the past.

    Local and international news IS available 24/7 and the idea that it is not is preposterous.

    Local newspapers ARE and will be viable organizations, who, just like the rest of us, will have to adjust to a changing marketplace.

    Full disclosure. I am as human as the next guy, I wanna know if, when Tom Cruise takes off his tin foil hat, he ends up in bed with Chaz Bono sucking his thumb.

    I wanna hear it all without the smug patronization that so many news organizations are guilty of.

    I can handle it, and so can you.

    • Looney Tuney says:

      Ooh, World Net Daily. The same website that predicts gay rights advocates will cause the next holocaust? The website that claims Obama is at war with God? The same website whose editor, Joseph Farah, claims God sent earthquakes to punish America for its Moral Lawlessness?

      Good source Chuck.

      (no. horrible source.)

    • Looney Tuney says:

      I still remember WND’s six part series on how soybeans cause homosexuality.

      World Nut Daily.

      • chuck says:

        Read the article, if you have problems with the facts stated in the article, then state those facts.

        Attacks on any publication, New York Times, WND, Kansas City Star without addressing specifics of the article in those same publications, is lazy, disingenuous and speaks to your politics, not the facts.

      • chuck says:

        Many of us remember that back in 1975, the Kansas City Star ran a number of articles which quoted experts who said the next Ice Age was imminent.

        I believe that the Kansas City Red Star has a biased agenda.

        That in no way negates the raw information reported, when I substaniate it with other news outlets.

        This is exaclty my point.

        The amount of info available, lets us make up our minds about the facts, not buy into the publication’s opinion of the facts, based on that same publication’s politics.

        • McMuffin says:

          “The Red Star.” Honestly. Are there COMMIES under your bed, too?

          Hey chuck. 1959 called. They said “C’mon back.”

          • chuck says:

            It’s just my opinion.

            I do believe that the Kansas City Red Star is so far to the left of center, that it represents a select group of like thinking folks such as yourself.

            If you feel the need to insult me, then it is my opinion again, that the truth hurts.

            The Star vettes and filters the news in it’s efforts to promote liberal politics.

            I am totally ok with that.

            What I dissagree with, is the presumption in the marketplace that that same news is unbiased.

            Once again, this is exactly what I am speaking of when I say that the dissemination of the news by myriad outlets, is a good thing.

            The Star, and many of not most MSM outlets, are indeed promoting and sponsoring a liberal agenda under the guise of unbaised reporting.

            Its a lie. I gotta go to work.

            Have a nice day.

        • Super Dave says:

          Damn Chuck, I remember those chilling Ice Age stories, we sure had some good laughs around the station about those.

    • mike says:

      I don’t disagree with you that undistilled information is easier to attain than it has ever been. It is to our benefit to be able to get the news from various sources as it negates the power of the few people who control the presses to run a propaganda machine. Our entry into WW1 was largely because of the propoganda of the newspapers changing public opinon.

      All that being said, I still enjoy looking at newspapers and would hate to see them go. I hope all of the competition makes them better.

    • admin says:

      Interesting points, Chuck. Clearly, as former Star publisher Art Brisbane pointed out in his farewell column a week ago in the New York Times, there is a liberal group think that’s pervasive in the print media.

      Comes with decades of having local news monopolies and the hiring, in most cases, of like-minded thinking people.

      I found this out the hard way coming into the Star but managed to navigate the heavy handed editorial controls fairly well, albeit with notable exceptions.

      One of the first being the early 90s when I wrote a column about the black crime problems Westport was facing and even had quotes from the KC Police marveling at how it was being covered up by local media.

      FYI editor Jeanne Meyer killed my story but I managed to lobby for it and get a slightly watered down version of it in the newspaper.

      What Locke is saying though is that many of the reporters have experience, history if you will, sources and a feel for their beats and when they get laid off or quit and a rookie from out of town comes in, that knowledge and those connections are lost.

      At least for a while.

  6. mike says:

    Where is Hearne? I would like to see his take on this article since he is an expert on this topic.

    HC: Here I am and I made a comment above. But overall I think it is a valid, interesting perspective from inside the Star looking out.

    Knowing what I know however, it’s high time for a changing of the guard and while much of the experience many reporters have will be lost and go missing while the new kids on the block learn their beats, in the long run it will be an improvement.

    As for attracting young people to the biz, print journalism has long been a very low-paying nerd job for the most part and as long as there are nerds willing to work on the cheap, the industry will soldier on.

    However, Locke is also correct in stating that far fewer people will make the cut in the trimmed down future landscape. So there’ll be fewer reporters and (way) fewer middle management editors – the Star’s always been top heavy there.

    And they’ll have to work a lot harder than they have. Until the last few years it’s been a fairly low key, leisurely job writing for the Star. Fewer people means more and harder work from those who survive.

    But they’ll get there. Somebody has to deliver the day to day local news and you’re sure not going to get that from Channel 9, the Pitch, Tony or KC Confidential for that matter!

  7. harley says:

    HEARNE’S A VULTURE. HE’S MITT’S MINI ME….

    I could see hearne sitting in the parking lot of Bob Jones shoes watching to see
    who walks out of the Star building with a pink slip. It’s like hearne has a fixation.
    A morbid need to see his former employer go down. To watch all the employees,
    many who gave decades to the company, get laid off. It’s actually sick. No doubt.
    Since losing his messenger and no longer having a built in audience of 200-400k
    his only fun has been to sit and watch the layoffs and the other star employees
    losing thier positions. He’s never missed a chance to toot their downfall
    and relish that the star is pushing people out the door.
    It’s ironic…because without the stars huge circulation noone would have heard
    of hearne. He’s a silver spoon guy. Like Mitt Romney. Mitt said “I like to fire
    people”…hearne says “I like to watch people get fired”.
    Regardless of the pain Star employees suffer losing their paychecks , some losing
    their health insurance, some having kids that suffer when their parent gets
    laid off, or even when they lose their home. Hearne takes delight in watching this
    tragedy unfold.
    Of course hearne never worked in his life. Kind of Like Mitt. Both could choose
    their lifestyle and their work without regard to whether it paid the bills
    or not…it was easy sailing for them.
    But i’ve pointed out to hearne that it’s almost ghoulish to wish people personal
    tragedy. If he was in their shoes…he would know how it felt. Good for
    hearne that he can sit and write story after story about bad things happening
    to good people.
    I believe in karma.

    • mike says:

      Give me a @#$%^%* break, Harley. They were reporting a story. The Star laying off people is news. The Star having financial problems is news. I read nothing on here about Hearne wishing personal tragedy on people. He was just giving an honest, well informed opinion about the problems the Star is having and what would help them in the future. Laying off people is sometimes a reality when business is slow. The alternative is going under and everybody losing their jobs. You should know that if you are the sucessful businessman you claim to be.

      I also find it ironic how you just seethe with jealousy at Hearne. You claim he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and never worked a day in his life. I know for a fact he has worked for the Star. That is a job. As far as how much money his family has, I couldn’t care less. It doesn’t hurt you, me or anyone else. He is not on here saying he never worked for anyone in his life. He is not calling working people wage slaves and losers. He is not making fun of other people’s houses while bragging about his.

      Like I have said before, I don’t always agree with him either. That does not mean I personally have any problems with him and you shouldn’t either.

      • paulwilsonkc says:

        Mike, ease up. Harley only hates 3 kinds of people; Those who MADE IT, those who HAVENT made it and all the OTHERS. He’s in his own world with his own rules and his own reality. But, Im sure he’d love to have a beer with ME….. depending on the day and how much of the mediciation is still in his blood stream. If you catch him between the high-highs and the low-lows, hes good!

      • harley says:

        i have lots of respect for hearne. But his continued rants against
        the star and his almost out of control delight in seeing
        peoples live and careers destroyed is beyond anything i’ve
        seen.
        It’s been going on for a long time now.
        as for wilson…where have you been buddy?
        missed you and that constant chip on your shoulder attitude.
        Hope the street sales are going well and that business is
        thriving.
        it’s not been the same without you although the conversations
        have been much nicer and less nasty since you’ve been gone.
        anyway…hope everything is well…and calm down…everything will be
        okay! Have a cigar on me at the cigar box…tell johnny to
        give you a good one and stick it on harley’s bill…

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