Hearne: Pay Up or Shut Up; Star Turns Back on Dead People

tvs2979_lThat’s cold…

Quietly, after more than five years of “giving back” to the hands that fed it, the Kansas City Star has made the unkindest cutback of all.

Starting last June the newspaper put the kibosh on former publisher Mac Tully‘s “Tributes” feature in the obituaries section.

“It just slipped away,” says former Star editor Jim Fitzpatrick. “Kind of like Jason Whitlock.”

Under Tully and thereafter, the Star solicited tribute candidates from readers and plunked their stories down free-of-charge amongst the paid obituaries.

“Suggest a tribute – short news story – about a recently deceased friend, relative or colleague,” the Star‘s website still reads. tributes

The tributes were written by reporters and contributors about average Joes as well as notables like Kansas City nightclub nabob Victor Fontana. Notables who didn’t quite warrant full blown news coverage but deserved something. In the absence of the Tributes section Fontana’s passing in September went unreported at 18th and Grand.

“It was popular,” Fitzpatrick says of the feature. “I would hear people talk about the tributes. They thought it was a really good feature and a service to honor someone who wasn’t well known but nevertheless had lived an interesting life.

“Obviously the Star decided not to dedicate their slim resources to that anymore. They’re going to focus their remaining resources on the news, the basics.”

That said, “I hate to think where the Star would be right now if they were not charging for the obits,” Fitzpatrick says. “People were pissed off when they started charging for them but they adjusted and now it’s just part of the price of dying.”

On a good week, the newspaper is festooned with 15 or more pages of paid obituary ads.

“And here it was, a free piece in the middle of all those paid obituaries,” Fitzpatrick says. “It kind of took the mercenary element out of the section because the Star was paying for it.”serviss_1

The problem being that going forward the deaths of notables like Ollie Gates and Kay Barnes are all but certain to be reported. But what about Ed “Gomer” Moody and Joe Serviss?

If a tree falls in Kansas City’s forest and nobody hears of it, did it really fall?




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3 Responses to Hearne: Pay Up or Shut Up; Star Turns Back on Dead People

  1. chuck says:

    Is Ed “Gomer” Moody sick??

    I like that guy. 🙁

    Hearne, ya gotta get Larry Sells to write an article once a month or so on the Kennedy Assasination. I have heard him speak about it from a distance throught some folks and his espertise and experience is local and should be taken advantage of.

    Just sayin… the subject is, to me, endlessly fascinating.

    The new Swagger book (Fiction), “The Third Bullet” reminded me of his (Sells) interest.



    • HC says:

      Not that I know of. Just trying to cite a couple of examples of interesting Kansas Citians worthy of giving a sendoff to that might otherwise not get one.

      Like Fontana.

  2. Rick Nichols says:

    I submitted a Tribute obituary in the Tribute style to The Star early last March and was promptly informed that the newspaper only ran pieces that had been written by either one of its reporters or an approved freelance contributor (I was not). And yet I had known my subject, a woman my age who was born with cerebral palsy, for 30 years and was a good friend of the woman who knew her even better. Now to the newspaper’s credit it did go ahead and follow up on my suggestion (in the form of a finished Tribute obituary) that the deceased be honored with a Tribute obituary, but I still maintain that my proposed Tribute was superior to the one that appeared in The Star. Many of these Tributes were written by approved freelance contributors, and it was the expense incurred in this arrangement that ultimately led the newspaper to drop this feature (or so I was told by a Star reporter last summer when the newspaper was getting ready to bring the Tribute era to an end). There is also the possibility that if a reporter was asked to produce a Tribute obituary, he/she received some additional pay, thus adding to the overall cost. At any rate, the Tribute obituary represented a popular focal point in the “death section” and undoubtedly is missed by many. May it rest in peace as a reminder of what were better days (well, at least a little better) at The Star.

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