Hearne: Candy Store Closed @ 18th & Grand

11276_lgI don’t always answer my phone…

If I don’t recognize the caller or it’s from a toll free number. I just don’t have the time or the energy to have to politely explain to some stranger that I’m not interested in the latest  Harry & David offering – nothing personal.

I did roll the dice and answer yesterday on an 816 number I didn’t recognize.

Good thing, too, because as it turns out it was from the Kansas City Star.

My Subaru Mastercard was converted into a Rewards Visa a few months back and the bank finally got around to cutting off users of the old card. Which included my $27 and change monthly Star subscription.

A very nice, polite woman at the newspaper called to get my new credit card number and lo and behold, she was an actual a local newspaper employee. Not some farmed out, English as a second language person in the Philippines, like Jack Poessiger gets when he calls in to complain about not getting his newspaper.

Seems the Star has figured out that if they want to retain subscribers intending to cancel their subscriptions, they’d best field somebody with some skin in the local newspaper game.

Then a funny thing happened.

After the woman – with 20 plus years at the Star – explained the problem and got my new credit card number, she said:

“Did you use to work at the newspaper? I thought so!”

She went on to say she missed my column in the FYI Section and that in dealing with a number of newspaper canceling customers, they’d cited my departure as one of the reasons for bailing.

Flatterer.

stzrqicanrcjh4fzycwdWe chit chatted then about other high profile departures in recent years – Jason Whitlock, Joe Posnanski, Dan Margolies – and she lamented the state of affairs at 18th and Grand and said she was thankful to still have her job.

Trust me, she shouldn’t have any worries. I could tell from her bedside manner that she was the perfect person for her position in trying to retain subscribers and collecting past due money (I was a month behind).

So I complimented her and suggested that she probably had an excellent retention rate. Something along the lines of 90-10, maybe?

“I do pretty well,” she said, “but it’s closer to around half.”

That’s a telling number.

Only half the folks who get pissed and call in to cancel, or who don’t like whatever aspect of the Star that’s annoying them, stick with the paper?

And remember, we’re not talking about a bunch of spring chickens here. Far and away most newspaper readers are pushing 50, 60 or 70 and are what you might call core readers.

So losing half of them week in and week out is far from a good thing.

It got me thinking about why the Star’s readership is sinking so rapidly.

You know, beyond the obvious reasons of content cutbacks and price increases – turns out my $27 a month subscription rate is now around $31 –  or dated approaches to reporting day late news.

However in the one area the Star could and should have circleed its wagons – local content and columnists – they’ve failed miserably. With the exception to a lesser extent in the sports department. But good as Sam Mellinger is, he and that Vahe dude are no Jason Whitlock or Joe Posnanski.

When I spoke with then Star publisher Mark Zieman as I was leaving, he told me the newspaper had to defend the realm by focusing on the basic news – things  like city hall and police. And that the Star could no longer afford much in the way of frills.

cvr9781416903857_9781416903857_lgPut another way, if the newspaper was a restaurant that had to cut back, it might go from 20 entrees to 10, but it could no longer afford a dessert menu.

That made sense to Zieman and traditional newspaper editor’s dated thinking, but less so probably to readers. But because newspapers still enjoy monopolies in most markets, they thinks they can afford to think and do what they like.

Zieman’s always been old school, even though in comparison to other Star editors he was always considered to be quite young. He’s only 53 today – according to Bloomberg -and is taking down more than $1.5 million a year overseeing the Star and other McClatchy pubs.

I used to joke that Zieman was a 70 year-old trapped in the body of a 40 year-old.

Former editor and publisher Art Brisbane was far more forward thinking in this regard.

Brisbane knew that the Star needed younger voices, women’s voices and colorful columnists like Whitlock, Posnanski and me to keep readers titillated and hold their interest.

Unfortunately on Zieman’s watch the vast majority of the columnists many Star readers had grown accustomed to and appreciated were not retained.

Worse yet, in my case, not even replaced.

The editors easily could have assigned my column to another member of the staff and while I’d maybe like to think, come up a tad short, they would probably have grown into the role. We’re all replaceable, right?

Yet to this day, nothing – unless you count FYI writer Jeneé Osterheldt, who I’ve yet to hear anybody compare me to – they have not. I’d have called Jeneé in and told her the days of writing about her trusty Beetle and grrrlfriends were largely over.

It wasn’t an obvious fit, but there clearly was an obvious need and Jeneé was young enough and out on the town enough to grow into the position. BTW, they finally have redirected her and these days she writes more informational pieces about bars and restaurants in-between commenting on all things racial. Not real exciting, but it’s news people can use.

FYI writer Tim Engle could also have done my job and in part he has – at least in covering local media to a small but appreciated extent. However, Tim’s way too nice a guy to sink his fangs into some of the more prickly subjects that need a fang sinking.

Maybe he and Jeneé could have teamed? Like Brian McTavish and Bob Trussell in the Nighthawks entertainment column.

Unfortunately none of the above went down and what’s really missing in today’s Kansas City Star (in my humble opinion) is colorful content.

Man does not live on meat and potatoes alone.

VW NEW BEETLE.A0314Here’s my theory:

I think many more former (or soon to be former) readers could probably live with less news content. The Star still puts out more than enough important matter. And what people don’t read about, they likely won’t miss.

However, extracting colorful, high profile columnists and reporters without replacing them is very noticeable.

There’s a clear sense of loss there. Just as there would be if they dared (and they won’t) to take out the black and white comics section or crossword puzzle.

Silly as that may seem, there is a heightened awareness that those sections of the newspaper are indispensable. Those two parts of the print Star will be the last ones standing (along with obits) when and if the final battle is fought.

It was old school newspaper thinking that allowed those changes to go down.

And look where it’s got them – and they still don’t see it.

A woman who goes by “KC” in the customer retention department sees it though.

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9 Responses to Hearne: Candy Store Closed @ 18th & Grand

  1. D3 says:

    So… Did you just put your writing on the same level as Whitlock and JoPa? How delusional are you? You are correct. They were a loss. Your column was not missed. Glad the sales department could flatter you but don’t think the rest of us will.

    • admin says:

      Let’s review D3, shall we?

      Highest read column in the Star for the better part of 16 years and nobody misses it?

      My writing was totally different that Whitlock and Posnanski.

      They were writing mostly opinion and I was mostly reporting news and views.

      They were limited to sports and I batted to all fields – sports, politics, music, entertainment, the arts, real estate, local and national celebrities – you name it.

      Must have been entertaining enough for you to still be reading me here six years after the fact.

  2. paulwilsonkck says:

    Actually, D3, you couldn’t be more wrong. And before I ‘asplain some things to you, you need to know I don’t see eye to eye with Hearne on several things and we’ve gone toe to toe on a few. All said, to explain I don’t and don’t need to blow smoke up his ass on anything for any reason.
    Where you’re wrong is his FYI column was far more powerful than you think, likely because you weren’t part of his target demo. At that columns height, Hearne had a bit of KC’s Oprah Touch with local business. David Naster is a friend of mine and for a while was dating a joint friend who I helped get a very cool, quirky design and furniture store off the ground. Naster had contacted Hearne about dropping by, taking a look and mentioning it in his piece. The lady was clamoring for days on end, keeping the place ultra ready, resetting the showroom floor almost daily, in case THIS was the day he dropped in!
    It was a powerful column that got the attention of a lot of KC’s society set, movers and shakers. If you didn’t see the merit, you were most likely OUTside looking in and didn’t get it. When the Star started it’s decline, I only read it for FYI, the homes section and that was it.
    Sorry you weren’t part of the Cool Kids Club; it was a great column.

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      Admin, why is it adding letters to my name?

    • 'rhahhararley says:

      Wilson…sorry…you don’t represent the “movers and shakers” of this
      town.
      Hardly. Give me a break. Without the few stories on kcc you’d still
      be the “mover” but never the shaker.
      The Africa story…uh…hello!
      besides that you make furniture and write for the 10 people who
      read kcc.
      If you want to meet a mover and shaker in this town…come to meet
      glaze and Harley. Or the blocks or VT or the morgans or the
      helzbergs…..we are people on the move…making the changes that
      others like you sit around and criticize.
      Who do you take on? A small guy in the ghetto..Alonzo…who’s
      trying to change that world. A big man you are…no movers and shakers
      would waste their time there…they’re too busy doing the real work here.
      We’re action people…know everyone and know how to get things
      done.
      We’re not full of b.s….and every time you try to say that I offer a 10K
      bet.
      The truth comes out.
      some people talk a good stick…others work it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. paulwilsonkck says:

    ^^^^^Dont touch the poop.

  4. Radio dude says:

    The Star is in a vicious cycle that can only end ( it’s only a matter of time) with the demise of the printed paper.
    The internet and immediate information to consumers started this cycle
    Circulation decreases
    Advertisers cut back or stop advertising
    Expense savings by eliminating staff
    Content suffers
    Further decrease in circulation
    Further Exodus by advertisers
    More budget cuts by staff elimination
    Content goes from bad to worse
    And on and on and on.
    Where and when will it end?
    With KCstar.com as the Stars only source of income.
    Sad…..but true.

    • admin says:

      That’s a pretty concise sum up, Radio Dude.

      I do think at some point – when most of the oldsters are out to pasture – and new management brings new ideas instead of clinging to most of the old ones as they are now – that things will level out.

      Read the comment from the unnamed news editor a couple columns back predicting an all Internet Star that only nets a handful of hundred thousand dollars a year in profits.

      That’s far too extreme, me thinks.

      However, they have a long way to go to pare down the news staff and the body count in other areas. And the next generation of reporters and columnists will have to work far harder and more efficiently than most of the people in the current news ranks.

      To a man, most surviving members of the Star over the past seven years think they have had to work incredibly hard. But as KCTV news director Don North and I used to joke, that’s mainly because they had it so easy all these years.

      Probably the hardest working reporter at the Star remaining that I know is Joyce Smith in the Business section…oops…what business section – in Business.

      I’m sure there are now others, but they’ll need far more and across the board.

      But it easily can be done…once the current bloodletting is complete AND an all new leadership at the top enters the fray.

      And that will be a biggie

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