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.
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.”
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?