Return with me now to the dawn of alternative journalism in KC…
To those formative first years when I began running a record store rag known as the KC Pitch. A time when the alternative newsweekly that inspired me most was St. Louis’s Riverfront Times. That was the dream, the goal…to rise as closely as could be to the level of journalistic excellence publisher Ray Hartmann had attained.
It wouldn’t be easy, but if we could even come close…
The Pitch never made it, of course.
I never made it, nor did my successors Chuck Saults, Bruce Rodgers, C.J. Janovy and most recently Scott Wilson.
In no small part because even during it’s 100 page issues economic peak the Pitch never became truly profitable and with rare exception a force to be reckoned with journalistically. Not for lack of trying and not without scattered successes.
But not like the Riverfront Times.
It’s not like the St. Louis alt weekly didn’t endure the same jarring economic challenges the Pitch and the Kansas City Star have gone though and continue to suffer from.
As former RFT editor Chad Garrison wrote not long ago, “Part of me wishes I had worked at the paper during the Hartmann years — back before Craiglist and OkCupid (and dozens of other free online platforms) took away the paper’s once-lucrative classified ads. Instead, I spent much of my time at the RFT weathering budget cut after budget cut.”
That’s pretty much what new Pitch editor David Hudnall echoed in his debut column .
Night and day.
Unlike what’s left of the Pitch, RFT’s site is alive and kicking…relatively current even. Sans the four filler head shots of Pitch syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage and repeated ads for the Shady Lady strip club. Seriously? Do Pitch readers really worship at the altar of the Shady Lady?
On top of which you get the distinct feeling the RFT still matters.
For example, instead of a so-so column by a washed up Star editorial writer who never much mattered during her pre layoff peak, posing the unimaginative question, “What’s next for confirmed adulterer and accused blackmailer Eric Greitens?” – – – RFT’s insists that, “Eric Greitens Is in the Hot Seat. But We’re Wrong to Let a Spurned Ex Drive This Story.”
While the latter may be a bit of a stretch, it’s far more imaginative than the Pitch’s dull rehash of already reported details about the Missouri governor’s scandal, plus it came with a liberal dose of zesty writing.
Check it out:
“Yes, in this case, the reason we found out about this three-year-old personal matter between a politician and his paramour is because the governor’s girlfriend was married to an utter asshole — the kind of rat who not only secretly tapes her during the moment she confesses the affair, but tweets about his righteous anger in hopes someone will reach out and then, later, gives that tape to a TV news station. This peach of a man not only shared this intimate and incredibly sad moment with a reporter, but gave an interview in which his identity was carefully cloaked to opine about just how terrible the governor was.”
Hartmann on the other hand bests both pubs with an incredibly well written and thought out piece in his St Louis Magazine.
After succinctly laying out the basic facts, Hartmann cuts to the chase:
“1. Did the governor indeed photograph his mistress without her permission for the purpose of intimidating her into silence?
“2. If he did—and lied about it as recently as yesterday—is he fit to serve as governor?
“Before exploring these questions, let’s establish what this story is not, which is some form of ‘fake news,’ witch hunt, media circus, or political cheap shot. The allegations that Greitens’ spokesperson labeled ‘false’ were not made to the media or in any other public forum, and they were not made for any political reason…They were made by a tearfully despondent woman to her then-husband in a confession that she did not know was being taped.”
Then counter to the RFT story angle Hartmann adds:
“It’s awfully hard to ascribe cheap motives to the ex-husband of Greitens’ mistress. If he had an agenda, he most certainly could have come forward with the tape any time in 2016 for the purpose of derailing Greitens’ righteous quest to the Governor’s Mansion.
“Let’s be clear about this: The mistress is not publicly alleging anything about Greitens. The husband is merely revealing the allegations that she privately made to him. And the media isn’t the story here.”
Nor is Greitens’ story about a crime, Hartmann says.
“If a married woman goes to another man’s house for the purpose of having an affair and consents to be tied up in a compromising situation, it’s tough to prove that she didn’t consent to a photo, if one were taken, or that she has a reasonable expectation of privacy in such a situation.
“Also, while the alleged activity of Greitens is consistent with colloquial use of the word ‘blackmail,’ lawyers tell me that doesn’t mean it constitutes an actual felony. It might be subject to some statute involving intimidation, but again, it’s not easy or obvious criminal proof. And lying to the public is not a crime.”
The bottom line:
“This isn’t a story about sex and politics; it’s about character and integrity. At the end of the day, the most important question is whether Eric Greitens is fit to serve.
“On the face of it, I think not. But it will be interesting to see if some form of public inquiry gives us a more definitive answer. That said, Jefferson City being the swamp that it is, don’t hold your breath waiting for one.”
The $64 million question:
Can the battered and beleaguered Pitch suit up a first class team of writers and journalists anywhere near the level of Hartmann or the Riverfront Times at this delicate stage of its existence?
It certainly won’t be easy…