Last week, Kevin Gregory, a former Sacramento Bee employee who writes a blog called "cancelthebee" or alternatively, "McClatchy Watch," asked, "Isn't it time for publisher Mark Zieman to end the 'sweetheart deal' the Kansas City Star has with his wife, Rhonda Chriss Lokeman?" He said at first that he couldn't find any other paper that was carrying Lokeman's column. Later, he was told of seven.The number of newspapers who carry Lokeman's column is a mystery because Lokeman won't say, and neither will her syndicator. I asked Lokeman by email how many newspapers carry her column but she didn't respond. Her syndicator told me they don't release that information. Seems to me Star readers are entitled to know how many other papers carry her column because that would help them measure whether Lokeman is really in demand. (And by the way, I'm not a former Bee employee. Not even a current Bee employee.)
Asked to respond on Monday, Lokeman told Journal-isms, "I have always had a strong sense of ethics, that's the very basis of my journalism."Talk about answering an allegation that hasn't been made. The charge of a shady deal goes to her husband, publisher Mark Zieman, who approved the deal. However Lokeman is not being transparent about how many newspapers carry her column. And it is an important question, because it goes to the issue of whether or not she is really a "nationally syndicated" columnist.
She continued, for the record:
"After 28 years with The Star, I resigned in April after my husband was promoted from editor to publisher. I did so as a matter of ethics. The announcement of my resignation was posted on the board in the Star newsroom which I left without fanfare.
"I had been a nationally syndicated columnist with Creators and had been writing two columns weekly (locally for The Star and nationally for Creators).
"Leaving The Star left me to write exclusively for Creators, which picked me up in 2006 for syndication and released my column in 2007 shortly after Molly Ivins died.
"When I left The Star, the editorial page editor moved my national column to the broadsheet. I still have a loyal following in Kansas City and many were pleased to be able to keep reading me after I left the newspaper staff.
"There are still some readers and critics of mine who believe I am still on The Star payroll. I correct them, of course. Some of these people are also likely to believe that Obama is a Muslim and non-citizen. Reality and truth escape them. The Star is no different from any of the other papers across the country that purchase my column from Creators for their newspapers. As a nationally syndicated columnist, I am no different than others whose columns are sold through syndicates which then are paid.
None of this goes to the nepotism issue. We already know the Star began paying her as a syndicated columnist earlier in 2008 when her husband became publisher. I don't know why she spent several paragraphs explaining the process because it is irrelevant to whether she gets special treatment due to being married to the big boss. Lokeman doesn't understand she is in a much different position from other syndicated columnists. The editorial page editor at the KS Star can drop other syndicated columnists based on objective evaluation. That can't be done with Lokeman because her husband signs the paycheck of the point person who decides if her columns stays or goes.
Case in point: a small newspaper in Texas did just that -- they dropped Lokeman after a brief stint and starting running another columnist. You can read why the Texas paper made their move here. Tell me which Star employee will make the decision to drop the column written by the big boss' wife.
"I am not paid by The Star.This is the dumbest thing Lokeman could have said; of course Lokeman is paid by the Star. The Star writes a check to the syndicator, who in turn writes a check to Lokeman. Pretending the Star doesn't compensate her makes it look like she's trying to hide something. The arrangement meets the letter of the nepotism standards but not the spirit. As the expression goes, there is none so blind. Hat tip: Archer05
- Isn't it time for publisher Mark Zieman to end the "sweetheart deal" the Kansas City Star has with his wife, Rhonda Chriss Lokeman?