Hearne: A Death in the Family @ 18th & Grand

Time_save_newspaperIt was the beginning of the end…

Late last summer I misplaced a credit card that paid my monthly subscription fee to the Kansas City Star. The net result being the gang at 18th and Grand cut me off. Poof, I was history.

No more predictable, dull  Jenée Osterheldt columns; no more Sunday snooze fest courtesy of cranky Charlie Gusewelle; and no more death watch columns from yours truly chronicling the downward spiral of a newspaper with more than 2,000 staffers a dozen years back to maybe 400 and change today.

Time to move on.

That’s basically what happened, because when the subscription people at the Star called repeatedly to try and get me back in the fold I was too busy to talk. Combined with the fact that I was taking the Lawrence Journal World and USA Today, it was all too easy to let things lapse – and lapse they did.

Suddenly, here I was living in Lawrence and working for BMW and Volkswagen in Topeka while sorting out the sad remnants of a failed marriage. The net result being that my awareness of all things Kansas City gradually began to fade and my writing output on local issues plummeted.

Perhaps you noticed!

maxresdefaultNext thing I knew the Star underwent a major redesign last fall and vowed to renew its commitment to better journalism – more investigative stories – in an attempt to win back the tens of thousands of readers that had left it for dead.

Dedicated readers like Craig Glazer and Bill Nigro – to name two – prominent locals who not only were smack dab in the middle of newspaper’s target demographic, they were news junkies to whom the printed word was the perfect storm.

Yet even they – almost unbelievably – fell by the wayside and allowed their subscriptions to lapse. In part because much of the local color had disappeared from the Star. My column in FYI for one, along with Jason Whitlock and Joe Posnanski in sports. On top of which the quote/unquote Metro columnists who’d mattered had bit the dust. Even business writer Kevin Collison bailed.

Thus not only had the Star’s color content all but disappeared, its news coverage was greatly diminished. And by all accounts, the remaining news staff’s morale was at lower levels than the approval ratings of congress. There was no meaningful leadership at the publisher and editor levels as the parent company McClatchy allowed the Star to drift aimlessly as it struggled mightily to keep its head above water.


Star music writer Tim Finn

Added to which, the newspaper’s redesign was an utter and abject failure.

It looks so u believably lame that it’s a wonder somebody at some level didn’t pull the plug and send things back to the drawing board. In addition to which the promised investigative pieces seem to be few and far between.

Then when I finally got my hands on this past Sunday’s newspaper I was stunned.

The Kansas City Star had turned into a retirement newsletter for oldsters.

Complete with a cavalcade of hearing aid ads – including a full pager featuring George Brett – tons of joint, knee, foot pain and retirement home ads, invitations for folks 70 and older to participate in research studies, cremation ads and more than three pages of paid obituaries.

Omigosh, had it come to this?

The entire content of the newspaper looked and read like a funeral parlor, waiting room handout.

So depressing – so unimaginative.

In short, subscribing to the Star would be the absolute last thing anybody halfway young with their focus on the future would want to immerse themselves into, let alone pay for.

It’s sports section is halfway ok, but hardly the bright spot it once was.

And the arts + culture section – man – who dialed the fun out of that part of the paper?

Instead of a column filled with newsy tidbits and edgy items about things going on around town from me – and splashes of fun, interesting arty items – the former A&E section has turned into a snoozefest, with front page stories about Parmesan cheese.

Music writer Tim Finn burned an entire page writing about an obscure part time deejay and musician from  Lawrence. Did you know Figaro was coming to the Lyric? There’s a giant obit about an obscure local filmmaker who died that Robert Butler wrote. And the photos and faces of the writers and editors on display in the section reinforce the fact that nobody under 50 – let alone 40 or 30 – would want to have much, if anything to do with the section.


Now former Star publisher Mi-Ai Parrish

It’s sad.

It’s a death march.

It’s a shame.

And it’s needless.

It’s like the Star doesn’t have the good sense to put people out to pasture and hire lower paid, vibrant, viable writers to take their place.

The Journal World doesn’t seem have this problem, nor the Platte County Landmark.

Seriously, how do you suppose the Royals and Chiefs would fare if Len Dawson and George Brett were still suiting up and everywhere you turned in the stadiums there were hearing aid, funeral home, retirement and cremation ads?

The bottom line: I’m coming back out of mothballs for you guys and was just about to re-up at the Star, but I’m not sure I can handle it.

It’s just too depressing.

So I’ll have to find another means of keeping abreast in KC to make the observations I’ve long made.

But seriously, what in the world is going on at 18th and Grand? Is anybody even minding the store? No wonder the Star’s relatively youthful and hottie publisher bolted for Arizona after a mere handful of years.

Who would want to work in that kind of atmosphere?

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30 Responses to Hearne: A Death in the Family @ 18th & Grand

  1. Nick says:

    Not for nuthin’, but doesn’t Tim Finn look suspiciously like the offspring of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Downey Jr?

    Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

  2. One Guy says:

    I’ll re-subscribe the day Yael Abouhalkah and Barbara Shelly are let go. Not before. They don’t have money for local stories but they have money for 2 columnists to write the same, predictable hate rants every day. There’s only so many Melissa Clicks in the metro to lap it up.

    • EnufAlreddy says:

      Yael’s one-man obsession with Sam B. gets very old indeed.

      • Lydia Lozano says:

        Have you no human compassion? No common decency? Yael is suffering from the worst case of Brownback Derangement Syndrome ever diagnosed. He is a victim (although still a bore.) It has ruined his career. His case has been written up in medical journals. There is a real danger that, one day soon, his head will explode, and then how will you feel? Take some pity on the poor man and understand that he cannot control himself and his droning on, nor can his editors control him.

  3. The Word says:

    “In short, subscribing to the Star would be the absolute last thing anybody halfway young with their focus on the future would want to immerse themselves into, let alone pay for.”

    I think trying to get young readers is a waste of time in this day and age. Millennials for the most part are the worst demographic to advertise too.

  4. CG says:

    I’ve said it before: losing you and Whitlock was a big blow. There is NO local color. No news on who matters in Kansas City anymore. Who are the men and women about town? Who matters? What business is hot and not? Almost nothing on this anymore and with mostly dated national news we can get online or tv Star is just not needed. It’s sad. I loved reading the paper everyday, now I don’t. I hate they let this happen. However it is a national trend like radio dying out…sad but true.

    If they wanted to get you out Hearne they could have replaced you with a young person doing something similar they didn’t. No clue as to why? Same with Jason and even Flannigan.

    • Jess says:

      Holy Crap I just read something of Glaze’s and totally agreed.

      This is the bottom line….why would I pay for a paper tomorrow to get the news that I am getting right now for free on twitter/facebook/whatever? I have honestly bought one copy of the KC star in 10 years and that was to use in my charcoal chimney. (BTW it really is not even good for that, just get the fire cubes). If you want me to buy something, by God entertain me!

    • the dude says:

      I nominate Crag Glayzer to be the local color dude at Der Star with harlinator as your editor. Bring a fedora with you with a little slip of paper that says “PRESS” you can put in your headband as you approach Der Star for your interview. Drag along the filming crew from your unreality show for laughs and giggles as they tape your interview.
      I should be a comedian.

    • balbonis moleskine says:

      I usually think CG is off but he is right on with this.

      Our paper used to be fun to read and gave a flavor of the city. It barely lets you know who got shot nowadays.

  5. let me reiterate hearne….we want the old interesting…fun….easy to read…lots
    of neat info hearne back from the star days. Then I looked forward to reading
    about people iknew and didn’t know. It wasfresh….talked about cool things…
    shows/concerts/people/new openings/etc….that was what this blog needs.
    And you could make money doing it….because there’s nothing like it in
    kc anywhere……..

    • admin says:

      That’s probably true, H Man, but….

      I’m not the only guy on earth who could do this; the Star could have easily assigned someone else to the task. Maybe they would have been better than me, who knows?

      And even with all the layoffs, they had – and still do have – enough bodies to spare one to resurrect my column.

      Seriously, it wasn’t an easy thing to so; I spent seven days and seven nights hard at it. And not many writers at the Star appeared to have much in the way of an edgy, humorous perspective, but there’s always somebody else.

      They just didn’t try.

      And now the newspaper looks so sad and aged that a column like mine would look and read so very different from anything else in the paper that it would almost be out of place. It’s like they’ve thrown in the towel and decided to become a retirement community newspaper, almost exclusively for oldsters.

      At this stage of the game, it almost looks too late. A few years ago, maybe – they still had a pulse, still could have been jump started.

      No wonder that Royals beat writer bailed.

  6. Yale Abba-dabba-doo’s columns read like they were written inside a funeral parlor. So maybe he’s the one responsible for bringing in all the ad business from the undertakers, crematoriums and gout remedies?

  7. Furioso says:

    I was reading the KC Star for free starting around 1996. Every day I would wonder if this was the day they’d block the site and try to charge me a subscription fee. That day really never came and now that Whitlock and Poz and Babb and Manley and McCullough are gone I don’t even try to read anything from the Star.

    Back in the 70’s I walk up the hill to our apartment clubhouse and I knew how to get a free paper out of the vending machine. I’d act like I was putting in a quarter just in case anyone was watching and pull the top towards me and it’d bypass the locking mechanism. The paper would sit around our house all day and everybody in my family would read at least the front page, Arts & Entertainment, and Sports.

    Anyway I left KC in mid 1983 and went to basic military training near San Antonio. They had 2 daily newspapers but they were strange, like Enquirer gossip papers with UFO sightings as the front lead. I actually missed the KC Star which was pulitzer material in comparison. As luck would have it I got stationed at nearby Whiteman Air Plane Patch and I was back to reading the Star and Times again for a few more years!

  8. Mysterious J says:

    Jenée Osterheldt: you have been Hearne’d.

    • chuck says:

      Hearne should be careful. His apt and on target criticism of Osterheldt, is no doubt just more grist for the Race Hustling Mill, known as the K.C. Star. Osterheldt’s only club in the bag, is the metronomic, incessant insistence that all white people should “check their privilege” while collectively and individually taking responsibility for the living, real time Hieronymus Bosch painting that is the Hip-Hop-Holocaust African American Sub Culture. Her sophomoric contributions to the Star, reached a level of absurdity during the George Zimmerman trial, when she declared her fears, that the neighborhood where she lives in Overland Park was too dangerous for her black husband to run in the mornings. Her fears, were that white people were laying in wait to shoot her husband as he jogged on the streets. The testimony given by Rachel Jeantel must have struck a chord. Hey Black People, “Stay off the moors” in Overland Park, the KKK and cops with German Shepherds and hoses are out there waiting for you.

      Having a locally high profile with the temerity to sport opinions or criticisms of K.C. Star agenda “journalists” could lead Herne into a Left Wing Star Chamber where, guilty until proven innocent, he will be forced to defend himself against accusations of “Rayyyyccism”.

      Osterheldt’s sophomoric columns are the manifestation of a lowered bar and evidence of the Star’s embarrassing mediocrity.

      Up next, Lewis Diuguid’s latest tribute to Emmett Till. Excoriating Caucasians pays pretty well at the K.C. Star.

  9. CFPCowboy says:

    I just paid the Stars $115 for a short form obit, the Independence paper $114 for the long form, and the local rag, the Pleasant Hill Times $40. Pleasant Hill was the only rag to send a copy of the obit, nicely printed. There were even indications that Stomper was no longer perusing the obits, not that he would have recognized my prose or the subject matter. What I can say is that it was a learning experience. I can also say that when affairs of the heart meet probate, Hello breaks loose. For a long time, newspapers have been dying. The New York Times building sold in New York, and the purchaser, for the last two years, has been trying to get me to put client assets into a real estate venture where the renter is just a smidgen away from bankruptcy. So be it. Welcome back Hearne. I am happy to see that the demise of an industry has not taken you with it. Yes, life has banged you up a bit, but we are happy to have you back.

  10. Rosco says:

    The sports page was the only reason I continued the Star. And now that has degraded to drivel.

    In what universe would a business for profit ever descend into the current day paper? The Barb, Yael, Mary, Louis fab four offers readers the same tired watered-down house cocktail served with a snarl that contains diminishing amounts of substance. When vision is defined as a slow street car and progress is trumpeted as the never ending (or completed) redevelopment of -pick your area (18th & Vine, Troost, 39th St Greenbelt, $1 homes), you know you are in trouble. When every Mizzou alum I knew was disgusted with the spoiled kids instigating at the school, the Star predictably played the race card and agreed with the grievances. If there were just more understanding, communication, and safe spaces…

    Two questions remains that perhaps a career journalist like yourself could answer: What sort of indoctrination takes place at journalism school that turns out the liberals that dominate our Fourth Estate?
    And why in the world would anyone take the USA today, the only periodical that might make one long for the Star?

  11. kb in kc says:

    Sincerely sorry to hear about the marriage.

  12. CG says:

    I think the strongest point you make Hearne is the ‘aging’ of readers and stories, even ads. In defense of the Star, that’s their audience today, as are most papers and print. Readers tend to be much older. Why? We grew up with ‘reading papers and magazines’ todays young people are ‘online’ and their phones for updates and todays b.s. Network and cable tv look for ‘youth’ oriented shows. Yet the majority of viewers want ‘Criminal Minds’ and ‘Law and Order’ type shows…the ones they grew up with style…’Matlock’ why young people don’t have time for the tube these days…well YOUTUBE, hah. We will see more and more ‘tube’ shows aimed at viewers over 45…the young audience grows smaller. Most ‘youth’ oriented cable shows have less than a few hundred thousand viewers a show! Nationally. Wow. Just a couple years back a network show that had less than 4 or 5 million was dumped, today its a hit.

    It’s a new world. There is a huge divide between the boomers,Gen X and the new guys…we are the enemy and in ‘their way’ that includes the newspaper. You could be on the front page and the only calls you get are from Mom or Dad or Uncle Bill…saw your ‘little story’ in the paper. Your kids and their friends would say …who, huh, what, front page, what do you mean? Where? Oh I never read the paper.

    That’s the issue. It may be too late to get younger readers…how’s INK and THE PITCH doing with that?

  13. Hearne….stop editing my comments….put them up………this is my first amendment

    • paulwilsonkc says:

      You have NO first amendment right on a private site. And when your comments show up five per story, saying the same uninventive stuff, no one wants to read it more than once. Hell, most don’t want to read it the first time!!
      When you write your big national publication article, make sure and tell us where we can find it, OK? That should be priceless.

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