Hearne: The Skinny on The Star’s Crowd Count Policy & How Steve Everly Effed Up

Here we go again…

It’s that time of year, Thanksgiving. And you know what that means. The Plaza Lighting Ceremony – broadcast live this year on KSHB TV – will bring hundreds of thousands of people to the Country Club Plaza. Maybe millions.

And since the Plaza and Kansas City Police are on record as never having made an actual count – nor having any training or methodology to make one, there or anywhere – why not shoot for the moon?

Big numbers make it funner, easier to sell advertising and sponsorships and to convince merchants and townspeople that the folks in charge are doing a good job. A darn good job.

Just one problem.

When I reported a carefully mapped out crowd count of 34,000 and change at the 2003 lighting ceremony the Plaza and KCPL immediately backed off the 250,000 to 300,000 people estimates they’d been hawking and sheepishly admitted they had no idea how many people were down there.

That report – featured on the front page of the Kansas City Star – noted that past reported crowd “estimates” had grown from 28,000 in 1967 to 30,000 in 1973, 125,000 in 1980, 235,000 in 1991 and more than 300,000 in 2000.

Imagine that.

After doing a followup count in 2010, those very early counts may have been spot on.

Now let’s backtrack for a minute to my recent column about WaterFire, chastising the Star‘s Steve Everly for taking the bait and reporting an “expected” crowd of 30,000 to 35,000.

Comments section dude Gerald Bostock stated that, “Reporters are told to get a crowd estimate from an ‘official’ source, but the flaw in that thinking is that people like police chiefs and fire chiefs have no idea how to estimate a crowd and couldn’t care less. When they are asked, they do a quick scan of the area, pause for maybe three seconds to work through some secret algorithm, and announce, ‘50,000’ or ‘1 million.’ Edison would be inspired to see this scientific method in action…The desire to inflate the crowd size(s) is another examples of KC’s need to exaggerate its importance and accomplishments..the reality of the situation is you have editors back at the office far removed from actual reporting and fretting about a deadline; they demand a number and don’t care if it’s accurate, only that is comes from a defensible source so that the newspaper/tv station can CYA.”

Bostock – himself a fictional character created by the band Jethro Tull – has the right idea except for the part about Star‘s editors falling over themselves to report crowd numbers.

Trust me, they’re not.

I’ve told you guys before that former editor Mark Zeiman told editors to rein in the crowd counts in 2003 after the newspaper was embarrassed at a Plaza peace rally by the Pitch.

Here’s editor Steve Shirk‘s (he still there btw) email on the subject and I quote:

Crowd Policy

“The Star will not publish crowd estimates of outdoor events, except where the police make special arrangements to issue an official estimate. Currently those events are the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and the Plaza Lighting Ceremony.”

Hold it right there…

I know Steve Shirk. I’ve been edited by Steve Shirk. Steve Shirk is a friend of mine (sound familiar?). And this I have to tell you this was written  eight months before my Plaza crowd count column and Kansas City Police officials going on record as never conducting official crowd counts.

Indoor events where the seating capacity is known can be reported only if the reporter counts the crowd twice, Shirk continued.

“When it’s impossible to do a count the reporter should acknowledge the crowd in general terms,” Shirk said. “Time of the count must also be included.”

And that’s where Everly fucked up nine years later at a Star that’s arguably severely understaffed.

“Crowd estimates from event organizers should never be used as the only estimate in a story…” Shirk concluded. “Any deviation from this policy will require the approval of the managing editor.”

Get it, gang?

Clearly the Star was in “won’t get fooled again” mode and didn’t want reporters tossing around potentially trumped up numbers by motive-driven promoters.

Which is exactly what “hot fuel” eager beaver Everly did.

Uh, case closed.



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13 Responses to Hearne: The Skinny on The Star’s Crowd Count Policy & How Steve Everly Effed Up

  1. BS says:

    Again with the crowd counting? Really?

  2. tiad says:

    Yeah, I’ve read about 1.227 million of these articles from Jr. before.

  3. Spike Van Houten says:

    So you call out The Star for errors in crowd estimates, but meanwhile you can’t be bothered to spell the editor’s name correctly.

    The in-your-face website that hits with bullsh*t force, indeed.

  4. Rick Nichols says:

    That would be Z-i-e-m-a-n and not Z-e-i-m-a-n, which is in keeping with the old “i” before “e” except after “c” rule. But I’ll have you know I’m not keeping a running count of spelling errors this evening. Because if I did I’d have to get the police chief or someone else in a position of authority to verify my count before sending my “story” on to the Composition Room or whatever it is they call it these days. Now given a choice between a story with a crowd count and no quotes from regular people in the crowd – Names! Names! Names! – or a story without a crowd count but a few neat quotes from the attendees, I would much rather read the latter. I would have to go back and see if the story that ran in The Star in the fall of 1975 following KU’s upset victory over Oklahoma included a Lawrence crowd count, but it did include a good quote my brother and I were able to get and have tacked on to the end of the story the paper’s “missing” correspondent eventually filed. “If they can beat Oklahoma,” the celebrant said, “They can walk on water.” When up against a deadline, reporters have enough things to worry about without also having to do a head count. But if a good head count is a reasonable possibility, then go for it, I say.

  5. Paulwilsonkc says:

    I say they need to hire a prognosticator, someone who can accurately predict the size of these crowds, with bullet force, then show up on event day and proclaim from the mic, “THERE ARE 357,000 of you ANGRY, WHITE LOSERS here today! That’s EXACTLY how many I said would BE HERE 6 months before they even announced they would HAVE this loser event! That’s right, I’m 100% right 100% of the time. That means ALWAYS right all the time for you broke dick losers in Raytown! I was right on the election, I was right when I predicted Noah would take two of each animal and I’m 100% right that I will make 127 more prediction. I’d tell you what they will be but you’re too STUPID to understand!”

    • harley says:

      Hey dude…why can’t you ever say anything substantial besides trying to
      discredit me. Seriously…all your morning rants are just trying to downplay
      me. You have nothing substantial or informative to say excpet when
      you tried to buy some bar in midtown (which i can tell worked out so well for
      So maybe give us some information or data like the rest of the people
      on here. Your old school buddy!
      Oh…and look at what i said about k state and baylor game. Not bad
      for someone who really does not predict football.
      Harley was right again.
      thanks..appreciate the mention.

  6. chuck says:

    All the guys in that picture have bow ties on, don’t they?

  7. Rick Nichols says:

    Hearne, I can live with The Star’s occasional “eff ups” in the area of crowd counts, as annoying as they are, but one thing that’s really troubling me these days is the manner in which the paper has dealt with this Gusewelle incident. Since Kathleen Callahan’s letter to the editor was published on October 26, we have seen one letter to the editor in defense of Mr. Gusewelle, it from former Star employee Charles Hammer, and today we have a letter to the editor in praise of Mr. Gusewelle’s writing abilities, it from Jim Green of Olathe, who may very well be the same Jim Green who was once the mayor of Olathe. But what we didn’t see on October 26 was any kind of an Editor’s Note following Ms. Callahan’s letter, nor have we seen Mr. Gusewelle address the accusations made against him in any of the three columns he has penned since that date. What gives? Why the silence? In a reply to an e-mail I sent her, Star publisher Mi-Ai Parrish indicated that the content of Ms. Callahan’s letter had been disclosed to Mr. Gusewelle in advance of publication but that because he technically wasn’t a Star employee he wasn’t subject to McClatchy’s disciplinary policy nor, for that matter, was the paper in a position to tell him what he should be writing about in his columns (and yet one would certainly think that he might want to publicly deal with the matter as soon as possible if only for the sake of the paper’s reputation in the community, let alone his own). Yes, he’s a good writer, and yes, he’s done a lot of wonderful things over the years, but that still doesn’t excuse the behavior he apparently engaged in sometime in October. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, armed with a series of offensive signs, showed up just across the street from my church on October 7, but not a single member of our congregation crossed the street to confront them, flip them off or verbally abuse them in any way. We were on our best behavior during the relatively brief time in which our “visitors” were present. Mr. Gusewelle, widely recognized as a Star columnist, should have been on his best behavior as well despite his philosophical differences with the Romney-Ryan supporters close at hand.

    • Mullah Omar says:

      What happened for crying out loud?


    • admin says:

      Hey Rick,
      Forward me the publisher’s email if you don’t mind and I’ll dig into it. He may not be a paid employee, but they can still discipline him in one manner or another. If nothing else they could write (report) on what did or didn’t happen. They could require him to clarify – or even apologize – if warranted.

      And they can always choose whether to accept his submissions (or not) and edit whatever he submits. Or include an editor’s note in a subsequent column.

      My email address is hearne@kcconfidential.com

      You can block out your real name if need be when you forward it. Funny, was talking to Art Brisbane the other day and he asked me about the incident.

  8. Hot Carl says:

    Enough with crowd counting…what the hell is going on with Jardine’s?

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