Media criticism is a hard way to go. Not because it’s difficult finding fault – real or imagined – that’s the easy part. Anybody can play that game.
No, the trouble is, everyone hates you once you’ve done it. Which is why otherwise edgy bloggers like Tony mostly kiss up to local media hacks. That’s how you get Pitch cover stories and radio appearances. Trust me, Mr. T knows where his bread is buttered.
Show no mercy and you’ll get none.
And while most everybody in the media can dish it out, few can take it. Having worked at the Kansas City Star for 16 years, trust me when I tell you that newspaper editors are among the worst. Star editors (and some reporters) have some of the thinnest skin in the game.
Ditto for much of the Pitch.
The worst part about CJ’s sensitivity issues was her desire to exact retribution when criticized. Take the time she sicced Joe Miller on me under the guise of him doing an even handed profile piece but with the expressed purpose of doing it to deliver a hatchet job. Nice.
Miller and I more or less hit it off – despite me having been critical of a piece he did on then Channel 5 anchor Dave Helling – and the story went away.
Some theorize that the reason I critique the Star and Pitch is because I have it in for them. The Star because I was fired (I wasn’t) and the Pitch because I’m jealous, having built it from a record store rag to an alt weekly and run it for several years.
For some of you, there’s probably nothing I can say or do to convince you otherwise, but it’s really not about any of that.
When I ran the Pitch, we were all over the Star, way more than the Pitch is today. That’s what alt weeklies do, as former Star editor and publisher Art Brisbane conceded when hiring me. It was a highly unpopular move among reporters like Tom Jackman (now with the Washington Post) and others who’d felt the sting of the Pitch‘s cat o’ nine tails.
When I switched to the Star and began critiquing the Pitch, predictably the criticism was I had a bone to pick my former colleagues.
One could only wonder at my motives in covering TV and radio since there were no seemingly obvious smoking guns.
Now I’ll let you guys in on a secret:
I do media criticism because it’s interesting and it matters. Somebody’s got to try and help hold local media’s feet to the fire and frankly I’ve had quite a bit of practice over the years.
Which is a long and winding way of prefacing the quite positive critique of the Pitch I’m about to unleash.
Two years ago I rankled new Pitch editor Scott Wilson by going after the alt weekly’s past its prime, contrived and shoddily conducted “Best Of” issue concept. Wilson knows that I’m familiar with how and why that game is played – after all, I’, the one who started it at the Pitch – so he wasn’t about to attempt to defend how loosely the winners are arrived at.
Instead he shot me an email saying, “Whenever you feel like putting together your own best-of Kansas City publication, do it any way you like. Good luck.”
Since then I’ve examined the Pitch‘s flagging fortunes and leveled the odd critique here and there. I’m sure Wilson’s found it a bit annoying.
However, as I gaze upon the current issue of the Pitch with an excellent cover feature by new staff writer Steve Vockrodt about a largely unchecked attempt by the Tutera Group to erect a massive senior center in Prairie Village, I’ve got to tip my hat to Wilson.
Under Wilson’s leadership the alt weekly has been getting better and better.
No small task that.
Taking over an alt weekly that had lost its two main editors back-to-back in a relatively short period of time, plus all three of its staff writers – David Martin, Nadia Pflaum and Peter Rugg – while struggling mightily through a serious recession and the disappearance of profits in print publishing for freebie weeklies can’t have been easy.
The Pitch Wilson inherited was a shadow of its past self. Its page count having plummeted, I hammered the mag for its paltry print content. There was scarcely any news, the ad count was down and Wilson even had to choke out most of the movie reviews by his lonesome.
In short, the weekly was in a sad, sorry state of affairs.
That was then.
Even as the Pitch still struggles on the financial front, putting out a meager 40 pages, somehow Wilson has breathed life into those few pages. Big time life.
Take this week’s 40-pager…
For starters, I don’t know how the Pitch lured Vockrodt away from the Kansas City Business Journal but he’s a sorely needed gunslinger who knows how to do investigative journalism. For all practical purposes, he’s the new David Martin. The true test will be if Vockrodt can broaden his scope a bit and cover a wider variety of hard hitting stories, including entertainment and sports.
And two thumbs up for the Pitch Questionaire.
It’s kind of a trendier variation on the one-page profiles we did in the early Pitch. It’s also a great way to combat INK without stooping to INK’s level by introducing readers to interesting, influence locals. One of the first ones we did in the old Pitch was when Mike Warren interviewed a newcomer by the name of Roy Williams.
Don’t ask me how, but Wilson even manages to squeeze in a couple pages of much-needed news shorts via the columns Wire Tap and Radio Free.
The calendar section is lean but it’s clean and it’s good. There’s a theater column now, three pages of food and restaurant info, a music feature, reviews and concert recs, along the usual calendar filler, the now perfunctory sex column along with the sex ads and classifieds.
The Pitch isn’t doing itself any favors by trafficking in the sex stuff – including the controversial “back page,” but drowning men grasp at straws and there are bills to be paid, paychecks to be written.
And lest you wonder, the reason I point to the print edition of the Pitch is because that’s where the revenues are. It may be the least hip delivery mechanism imaginable today, but without it, there would be no Pitch.
Hang in there, dudes!