Having written numerous stories about the Kansas City Star since my departure in late 2008 as one of the hundreds and hundreds that have been laid off since the dramatic downturn in both the economy and the fortunes of newspapers, some readers assumed I did so simply because I was an embittered former employee.
My rationale for doing so – and I gave it considerable thought before embarking on that path – was that I’d critiqued other media (as well as the Star when I was running The Pitch) and because this was a historic period of epic change in the newspaper industry, based on mg experience, contacts and overview, I was uniquely qualified in many ways to report on it and try and put things in perspective.
Don’t forget, the Star tried to hire me back right away to freelance my column for what would have amounted to maybe 40 or 50 cents on the dollar. However, because I’d elected to take my severance pay in 2009 instead of 2008, they were not allowed by parent company McClatchy to do so for a one year period.
At which point I had to wait it out – and presumably behave – and the newspaper could have brought me back in January 2009 instead of January 2008 as they’d wanted.
There were just too many killer, colorful stories to be told as the massive layoffs and cutbacks continued. I couldn’t resist, unwise as that decision was for me personally.
Remember when then columnist Mike Hendricks went on Facebook, trashed the newspaper and his editors and then solicited job offerings from his “friends?” Or the time he applied for a PR job in Topeka, explaining to the woman doing the hiring that he was actually better suited for the job over the position he was applying for. At which point she told him that that was her job. Then she wrote the whole mess up for a PR website, with Hendricks as the star character, as a lesson in “How not to apply for a PR job.”
All of that said, at year’s end I looked inward and determined that to an extent I’d probably been kidding myself that in part my motivation wasn’t sour grapes over losing the best job I ever had. At which point I decided to limit my critiques to stories that truly cried out for the telling. I also reached out to some people at the Star and shared my introspection, to the point of apologizing to one (and no, it wasn’t Hendricks, those stories were legit and too good to pass up).
And with – to my knowledge – zero layoffs this year, there hasn’t been a ton to report. However, in writing yesterday’s story about local media departures and changes I had a chance to speak with some staffers at the newspaper and get a bit of an update to pass along.
The state of the newsroom mindset today?
“The Star is just, ugh, please,” says one. “Kevin Collison left. Richard Espinoza left – he was the North Kansas City and Johnson County editor – he’s going to work at Sprint. He and his wife have two young boys and when you think about it, for someone in their 40s, there’s really no opportunity to move anywhere here. You’re just stuck in that beat-yourself-up-everyday job.
“There’ve been no layoffs this year, but there’s been lots of meetings lately, so we don’t know if there’s going to be anymore cuts. They say there won’t be anymore furloughs this year, but they’re still not filling any jobs and they’re not giving any cost-of-living increases. Did you see how thin today’s paper was?”
Another coming soon bit of fallout from all the cuts:
“Because we’re so thin, the people who didn’t have to rotate in on working on weekends, now they’re going to be rotating everybody in to cover the newsroom because they’re so thin. They haven’t started yet, but the word is they’re about to.”
Most of the heavy hitters of six years ago have departed or are missing in action.
Jason Whitlock, Joe Posnanski, myself, Dan Margolies, Jeff Flanagan, Bob Butler, Steve Kraske both metro columnists and now Kevin Collison.
Who’s next, Jeneé Osterheldt or Mary Sanchez?
“I think Jeneé will stay as long as they will have her. And I’m guessing that Mary Sanchez will throw her hat in the ring to take Ricard Espinoza’s spot.”
The end game at 18th and Grand for the hanger’s on from past, better days?
“Well, you know I had a conversation with someone here about circulation, and we’re constantly getting calls from people canceling their subscriptions. And the carriers are dropping right and left because the Star is putting more and more pressure on them. Like when it comes to who gets the extra comics section or the TV book and who doesn’t, they put that on the carriers backs.”
“So guess who’s sitting in security for half a day every day? Kim Rosley, who used to be in marketing and was working in Grand Communications. She’s basically working as a receptionist and doing security.”
None of this is by choice, but these are dark days for newspapers with readership in the printed product – from where the vast majority of its revenues are derived – continuing to shrink. The online biz is growing but it’s the far less profitable and online readership at a turning point now that they are charging readers.
At some point the worm will turn and the Star and other news publications will find a balance between minimal staffing and maximum news output.
That remains years away though and it continues to be a very un-fun place to work for all but the very youngest, newer, entry level reporters who work cheap and eventually hope to rise through the ranks as the dinosaurs of today continue to get laid off or head for retirement pastures in the coming years.
Trust me, you won’t be getting the bulk of your news from The Pitch, Jimmy C Says, KC Confidential or Tony’s Kansas City – or for that matter the local TV news stations.
That doesn’t mean somebody else couldn’t or won’t come into the market. But for the time being, we’re all going to have to weather the storm along with beleaguered Star staffers and learn to live with the credo “less is more” – more than nothing but fires, murders, Plaza kiddies busts and “awesome tipsters,” anyway.