Hearne: The Sad State of the Union @ The Kansas City Star

hendricks_cliche_newLate last year, I took some personal innovatory… 

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.

Fair enough.

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).

Joe PosanskiSo it’s been a while since last I cast my aspersions upon the Star as a whole.

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.”

Jeneé Osterheldt

Jeneé Osterheldt

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.”

300.paulblartmallcop.hames.kevin.lc.011409And after outsourcing the security guards several years back prior to my leaving, they’ve even cut back on the rental dudes who man the Star entrance.

“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.

20124519912-happy-chocolates_337_450That 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 PitchJimmy 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.


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10 Responses to Hearne: The Sad State of the Union @ The Kansas City Star

  1. the dude says:

    Coming soon to Der Stern; ALL HOOPZ ALL THE TIME
    Good, sweet baby jesus.

  2. harley says:

    I’VE SSAID IT BEFORE….America has allowed the major corpos to destroy this nation. Without a daily paper (which again was planned)we will never know
    the crooks who are ripping off the general public…the legislative deals that are cut
    that cost the taxpayers billions ofdollars…there will be no police to watch oer what
    this nation has built.
    we can argue about music…or guitars…or whatever wislun and I disagree over
    but we’re never going to be able to police nor make sure the laws of America
    are both enacted and enforced.
    I have always been a positive peoerson….I felt that in the end good people would
    do good things for the betterment of this nation.
    I’m lost.
    congress is too busy suing the president to pass effective legislation to enhance
    peoples lives. our cities are being decimated. Chicago had 60 shooting in
    one weekend…and as much as we want to forget these problems…we can’t
    they are headed here…we are the next Chicago/Detroit.
    We’ve given up…fallen asleep….forgotten that the builders of this nation were
    always on guard for the good of the people.
    For many of us we will not see the downfall of this nation. We’ve taken advantage
    of all the great things our parents built for us..
    it will take a massive movement to rebuilt America…I’m not sure americans have
    the time nor the internal fortititude to change our course.
    You can’t change it with loaded guns or divisive language that separates us
    with hate.
    We must realize our real enemy and take action quickly.
    We are now like the family reunion that leave their trash behind at the park hoping
    that someone else will clean it up for us eventually,
    we must change ….or the world with undue us slowly but surely!

  3. Rosco says:

    Couldn’t happen to a more deserving group of completely out of touch liberal ideologues. Seriously, Obama’s inner group probably has more conflicts than the editorial board of the Star.

  4. goose13 says:

    I use to be a carrier for the star. It is crazy that they would charge us $20 for a miss throw or if we throw to a house that was not suppose to get the paper. A lot of times these came when it was raining or snowing. The snow would cover up the paper, or the customer just did not want to get the paper, and ask for re-delivery. Even if the re-delivery driver saw the paper there, we would still get charged. Also, wet papers, how the hell are we suppose to prevent it from raining? Sprinklers, I can understand, you throw it on the driveway. The Star staff in the distribution warehouse does not care, since most of them are delivering papers on routes that no one wants. A lot of them have also quit. Downtown does not care. Supplies get stolen from the carriers in the warehouse, before the carrier even gets the supplies. The star still charges the carrier. Just messed up.

  5. tiad says:

    What’s a “personal innovatory”?

  6. Rainbow Man says:

    The Star had a bunch of talent and then hacked all of them. Then.. as they tried to move to the electronic side… they had no talent left for content to sell. Its real simple. The Star got rid of the only people that could save them and kept the only people that could destroy them.

  7. Homer says:

    Hey.. Steve Rose works there. Does he have his picture and commentary on the front page yet?

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