Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Newsroom Armageddon" at the Kansas City Star...

Deep cuts being considered at the Kansas City Star -- as many as 67 in the newsroom -- have led to heated arguments among the management team, and have raised worries that the employees left behind will have trouble getting the newspaper published each day. Here is the story from Bottom Line Communications:
As if things have not been ugly enough at Kansas City's leading newspaper in the past, the word now is that on Monday (and possibly Tuesday) the latest newsroom layoffs at the Kansas City Star will be greater than the three previous news layoffs---combined.

The word is there have been very heated arguments in the newsroom involving Managing Editor Steve Shirk over who which journalists will be let go and which ones will be retained.

One source close to the situation reports about 67 people will be affected in the newsroom, which will impact the news product even more dramatically than previous cutbacks. There is even talk of the local and business sections being eliminated and incorporated into the "A" section.

In addition, a number of people will have their hours cut to 32, including some columnists. Two columnists already mentioned with reduced hours (and pay) include Mike Hendricks and Steve Penn.

"I don't think that the term 'newsroom armegeddon' is too strong of a term," said a source close to the situation. The source pointed out that the Star charging customers 25 cents for its TV guide (
link) and fining carriers $5 for missed deliveries (link) are just two indications of how grim things really are on Grand Blvd.

"...those things are bad, but having no staff to put together a paper is even worse. The reporters working there will need months of therapy when all of this is over."
On Monday publisher Mark Zieman said the KC Star will lay off about 150 employees.


Anonymous said...

The fact that they would choose to retain Hendricks and Penn at all are enough to know that the Star has no intent on remaining becoming a viable business. As long as they retain the race baiting crew of Hendricks, Penn, Whitlock, Sanchez, Duiguid and Abhouhalkah Allahu Ackbar, this company is going one direction...down.

Anonymous said...

Newspapers and thinking the unthinkable

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Seems pretty well informed to me. I bet that is why you don't like it. Is that you Mike? It sure sounds like what you would say.

Anonymous said...

FWIW, my experience (delivering McClatchy's N&O on a home route until last summer), a $5 'fine' for missing a Sunday delivery is not unusual. That's what the N&O charged. It was $2 for a daily miss. Often, the district managers went out to throw the misses.

Kevin Gregory said...

Earlier comment deleted for rule violation.

Anonymous said...

Should have left it up so everyone could see an example of an enlightened McClatchy columnist. ;-)

Anonymous said...

"Abhouhalkah Allahu Ackbar"


Anonymous said...

What is clear from the previous blood lettings is that the criteria for retention has nothing to do with usefulness to the organization.

Indeed, if the assault this time is on the business and local news there is little reason to even worry about publishing since what will be published will not be worth reading from a news standpoint.

The one thing a local newspaper has to offer that no other organization has is the actual gathering of local news. And yet this seems to be focus of the cuts.

John Shultz, Melodee Blobaum, Diane Carroll, all wonderful and productive reporters on the basic issues that affect our lives, education, crime, etc are gone.

The Johnson County bureau has been slashed so badly that it now fits into a closet at the Olathe Daily News, one of McClatchey's other minor properties in the area.

Legislative news has been cut in half and perhaps the most experienced reporter in the state on legislative issues, Jim Sullinger, no longer has the time to cover the legislature.

In the meantime, the editorial board, a function that could be replaced by any collection of left-wing basement dwellers in the area, has had only trivial cuts.

Managers also have been spared to the point that the place organizationally looks more like a diamond than a pyramid, with the waist of the diamond up around its neck.

McClatchy wisely dumped Art Brisbane when they took over from Knight-Ridder, but then they left The Star in the hands of the very gaggle of fools Brisbane had appointed as his underlings before he left.

The simple fact is that the organization is being run to protect that pack of parasites and cronies not to produce a newspaper.

They will milk it for a paycheck until its final days since clearly McClatchy hasn't the smarts (even after Rhonda's public humiliation of her husband) to change the leadership at the top.

As long as Zieman makes the decisions, he will never transform the decline of The Star into a rational process and it will remain instead a protective association for his and Brisbane's pack of 60's hippy dippy losers.

My best wishes for the beat reporters who have tried their best to serve this community in spite of Brisbane and Zieman's bastardization of its journalistic goals.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

It's hard to imagine that I once thought The Star was my dream job. I had worked at a few privately owned, small-town papers and was ready for a major metro. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence .... until you jump on over and land in dog s**t.

After surviving the first two rounds of layoffs in 2008, I decided to jump ship. I second-guessed my decision for a couple of months. But now I'm glad I left when I did.

As I walked out the door, I told a colleague that I wouldn't be surprised if The Star ended up being based out of a strip mall, with only five or six people posting "news" on the Web. I had no idea how quickly it would come to pass.

Anonymous said...

Here's a story from the KC Pitch Magazine that discusses the way journalism works under Brisbane/Zieman.

From the Pitch.

The Washington Post catches the Star with its pants down -- and it ain't pretty.(payola)
K.C Pitch ^ | 03/03/05 | TONY ORTEGA

Posted on Thu Mar 3 14:50:00 2005 by Pikamax

Post Mortem The Washington Post catches the Star with its pants down -- and it ain't pretty. AS TOLD TO TONY ORTEGA

While the Strip was on a brief vacation, sunning its meaty goodness half a world away, loyal readers kept us abreast of the hometown news by e-mail.

That's how we first learned about one of the most embarrassing episodes for this town's major daily newspaper.

If you missed it, we don't blame you. The Kansas City Star didn't draw much attention to its gaffe.

Only an eagle-eyed reader might have noticed that there was anything unusual about political reporter Steve Kraske's February 15 article announcing that U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver would no longer be paying campaign funds to a local reporter, The Kansas City Call's Eric Wesson, for consulting work.

Since last summer, Cleaver has paid Wesson $2,500 for work, including writing scripts for Cleaver's phone canvassers in the runup to last year's election. Wesson continued to write about Cleaver for the Call, often in glowing terms, without revealing to readers that he was on the candidate's payroll.

It doesn't take a journalism degree to see that Wesson's actions weren't kosher.

Kraske's story reported that Cleaver had had second thoughts about his relationship with the reporter and would no longer employ him. Kraske then wrote this paragraph:

"Wesson did not return phone calls Monday. Last year he told The Kansas City Star that his newspaper work was separate from his consulting business."

Close Star watchers may have picked up Kraske's interesting clue that something was amiss -- last year, the Star had actually published nothing about the Wesson-Cleaver affair, even though its reporters wanted very much to do so.

Kraske's subtle hint was an interesting journalistic moment. The Star had lifted up its skirt just high enough to show how dirty its underwear was.

In order to fully explain how the Star soiled itself, this tenderloin wants to take the story back to its beginning.

Last summer, a woman named Gale Banks was unhappy with how the 5th District congressional campaign was going. An African-American and Democrat, Banks was no fan of Cleaver, the former Kansas City mayor who had won the Democratic primary after a nasty fight with newcomer Jamie Metzl.

Like any good gadfly, Banks searched through Cleaver's financial disclosures, and one day late in September she found an entry for a political consulting firm, One Goal Consultants, with an inner-city address. That was odd, she tells the Strip, because all of Cleaver's other consultants were the usual slick suburban pollsters hired by many other candidates.

When she looked up the business on the Missouri Secretary of State's Web site, she found that One Goal Consultants was 100 percent owned by Wesson, the reporter who does much of the writing for the Call, an African-American newspaper.

Banks knew immediately that the information was newsworthy. Cleaver's ethics had already been a major part of the campaign. What would voters think if they knew Cleaver had hired a reporter who covered him?

(A Cleaver spokesman, Phil Scaglia, told us last fall that the candidate didn't see anything wrong in the arrangement. Wesson, meanwhile, tells the Strip that he can't answer this meat patty's questions, referring us to his boss, publisher and managing editor Donna Stewart, who makes it a point not to return our phone calls.)

Knowing she had potentially explosive information, Banks says the first person she called was Steve Kraske.

She also shared the info with KCTV Channel 5's Dave Helling as well as another political gadfly, a man named David Hoech, who passed the information on to this flank steak.

We still remember Hoech telling us that Kraske knew all about the story. Normally, that might give us pause, because it can be tough to get something into our weekly pages before the daily Star can. But we told Hoech we were confident that the Star wouldn't touch the story with a 10-foot-pole. You see, we'd noticed that the Star seemed squeamish about stories taking minorities to task for things the paper wouldn't think twice of reporting about white folks in this town. Even if there were clear evidence that a candidate and reporter had entered into an unholy relationship, the fact that both were black was enough to keep the Star from writing something about it, we speculated.

Well, our hunch was correct. Kraske didn't write about it. Neither did Star reporter Dan Margolies, whom Hoech says he also contacted when it became clear Kraske wasn't going to publish anything. Hoech says Margolies e-mailed him expressing his frustration that editors weren't letting Star reporters write the story.

(We only later realized, by the way, that Helling had ended up beating us to the punch. Normally we keep an eye on the hard-charging Channel 5, but we missed Helling's excellent October 20 story on Wesson. Our Backwash piece showed up on October 28, and we were blissfully unaware that we were in second place.)

Despite numerous other questions about his ethics during the campaign, however, Cleaver won the November election and was sworn into office in January.

But Hoech wasn't finished pushing the story. In January, payola for journalists became a national issue; it was revealed, for example, that President Bush's Department of Education had paid conservative columnist Armstrong Williams $241,000 to speak glowingly of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Hoech contacted Washington Post media columnist Howard Kurtz and pointed out that a similar situation was happening in Kansas City -- but between a liberal politician and a liberal columnist.

Kurtz led his February 14 Post column noting that "pundit payola" wasn't "limited to inside the Beltway." He also mentioned that the Pitch had written about the Wesson-Cleaver controversy last fall.

Now, the Strip may be the sirloin of local media, and Helling packs his own wallop, but there's nothing like the glaring spotlight of a national organization such as The Washington Post to make folks jump to attention.

The same day Kurtz's column appeared, Cleaver announced that he would stop paying Wesson and would no longer use him as a consultant.

And the next day, February 15, the Star finally printed its first story about a scandal it had known about for more than four months.

One staffer at the Star laughed when we mentioned that his paper had taken so long to do the piece. "Every day is Groundhog Day down here as far as people of color are concerned. The paper is terrified to see its own shadow and offend minority readers."

That's what we figured. But we wondered if Star editors had another reason to keep a lid on the story last fall. Had they been trying to protect Cleaver's candidacy? The Star had endorsed the former mayor in both the primary and general elections.

We e-mailed Kraske last week, asking him if he wanted to talk about things, and at first, he seemed interested. But soon, we received an e-mail from his boss, managing editor Steve Shirk.

Shirk explained why the Star had decided not to write about the Wesson-Cleaver affair last year: "We decided the payment, made with private campaign funds, was primarily an ethical issue for the Call." He also wrote that "the Call has always been an advocate for Cleaver's candidacy and thus Wesson's conflict seemed to have little bearing on the campaign." The Star had finally written something on February 15, Shirk added, "because the practice was continuing."

Little bearing on the campaign? We imagine Jeanne Patterson might have liked to know whether a Star story really would have had little effect on the race she eventually lost to Cleaver. And we're certain that other Kansas City businesses and institutions will now be thrilled to know about the Star's hands-off approach to ethics questions. We're sure they'll be counting on the same treatment from now on.

But come on. That last one was a real howler. It's not hard to see that the Star finally let Kraske write the story because the Post had made the paper look so bad.

Was it possible that the Star really thought this wasn't a story last fall, when it mattered most? We asked Kurtz what he thought about it.

"If I were a local reporter, it's hard to imagine that I wouldn't be interested in writing about a case in which the area's congressional candidate had put a journalist on the campaign payroll," Kurtz told us. "That may or may not create an ethical problem, but it certainly sounds like news that should be reported."

Well, of course it is. And Kurtz was right -- reporters at the Star naturally saw it the same way. From our discussion with Banks and Hoech, it was clear to us that Kraske and Margolies were convinced this was an important story and wanted to publish something but were hamstrung by Star management.

And while reporting this column, the Strip kept hearing that this wasn't the only time.

We heard from two former members of Metzl's campaign, for example, that Kraske had complained to them directly about former publisher Art Brisbane interfering with coverage of the campaign. They say it was Kraske who told them something the Strip had also heard, but from another source: that Brisbane had overruled the Star's editorial board, which wanted to endorse Metzl, not Cleaver, in the primary.

We first heard that tale last fall and sent e-mails to all of the Star's editorial board members. We heard back from only two -- Brisbane and Lewis Diuguid -- who both denied that the story was true.

Was it Brisbane who ordered Kraske and Margolies not to write about the potentially embarrassing news that Cleaver was paying a local reporter?

Now a senior vice president at Knight Ridder's offices in San Jose, California, Brisbane declined to comment.

The Call, meanwhile, seems to be having a difficult time understanding the concept of conflict of interest.

Kurtz followed up his first Post column with another last week about Wesson's other ethical problem: He's a convicted felon who covers the same prosecutor's office that put him in prison.

Kurtz revealed that Michael Sanders, the Jackson County prosecutor, complained to publisher Donna Stewart that the Call reporter was writing stories about the same office that prosecuted him in 1991, resulting in Wesson's 10-year prison term.

Stewart, however, responded to Sanders' complaint not by pulling Wesson off the beat but by writing a letter to Sanders telling him that his complaint was motivated by racism.

Gale Banks, the gadfly who started all of this, says she's dismayed to see the Call resorting to name-calling when its shortcomings are pointed out.

"It's unfortunate that the race card is played at opportunistic times," she says. "It sets us back. It sets our culture, our society back whenever someone plays the race card for political purposes. How sad for the history of the Call newspaper and for other minority-owned newspapers. Its historical value is diminished."

But even if Stewart figures out one of these days what a conflict of interest is and cleans up the Call's practices, no one would expect the paper not to push an agenda. There's nothing wrong with the Call being an "advocacy" paper and choosing sides in an election.

The Star is a different matter. It can endorse whom it likes on the editorial page, but it's supposed to avoid bias in its political news coverage. Star managing editor Shirk didn't respond to our follow-up questions, so we doubt we'll hear any answers about management's interference.

But perhaps callers to Kraske's daily 11 a.m. radio show on KCUR 89.3 will have better luck. The studio line is 816-235-2888.

Anonymous said...

Whew, I have always said, there is more new in what the KC Star doesn't print than what it does. This goes a step further and proves that you can fill volumes with what they don't tell you.

Anonymous said...

--Here's a story from the KC Pitch Magazine --

And by posting it in its entirety you show your ignorance of blogging and of copyright laws.

Anonymous said...

And by posting it in its entirety you show your ignorance of blogging and of copyright laws.

And by posting this you show your ignorance period. You have no idea who posted this, you just spout off at the mouth like you know what you are talking about. You must work for McClatchy.

Anonymous said...

Actually, he/she/it does know who posted it. I signed my name, but I got the article, in its entirety, from another blog. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the actual link from the Pitch, but I'll be glad to reimburse them all the money I make off of posting an article that appeared in their free newspaper.

Anonymous said...

--but I'll be glad to reimburse them all the money I make off of posting an article that appeared in their free --

Ah yes, the copyright violators refuge. Next you'll whine on about fair use.

I wonder John, if you would be willing to pay the 150K statutory penalty for willful copyright infringement?
You have truly no understanding of intellectual property,

Anonymous said...

I could have signed you name to John, (or a reasonable facsimile) he had no way of knowing one way or another. He just wanted to babble. That is what McClatchy plagiarists do to take the heat off themselves.

Anonymous said...

I have something better. I know how much lawyers cost and I know much blood they'd get out of this turnip.

What's interesting though is that I also understand logic and all of this whining about intellectual property doesn't refute one comment I've made about The Star, it's useless management team, or any other substantive point either I, or The Pitch made.

And finally, I know that I had the balls to sign my name and you didn't.

Anonymous said...

You cite "Newsroom Armageddon" but 150 released will cover all sorts of areas just like it did at the FWST. There will be fewer sales reps, pressman, maintenance, IT staff, accounting/billing/cash/collection, ad design, coordinators, schedulers, customer service type people, marketing, circ financial and production staff.......and with each reduction the support help will go down, down, down (or outsourced/overseas).

When it is all over, those left will be exhausted from trying to "do it all and keep the paper going"........those that have been left behind in some areas are already there. Some departments have been losing positions by attrition for years and those spots have NOT been counted in these layoffs!

Now they are all sad, sad, sad days..!

Anonymous said...

It's just plain ignorance. A five-second search:

Anonymous said...

Thank you. And now that we've established that you're a better librarian than I am perhaps we can get back to the substantive issues that Zieman and his lackeys would like to avoid.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, this Newspaper was nicknamed the "Kansas City Scar" for good reason. It rots on the shelves now because of it's rotten egg bias for Obama and it LOVES to defame character of people. This newspaper isn't worthy to replace my Northern toilet paper in the outhouse.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of my flaws, my punctuation really sucks. Perhaps one of the copy editors Zieman thinks he doesn't need could help me when they have a little more time on their hands. No rush, I can wait.

Anonymous said...

I don't like John Altevogt's conservative politics, but as a former Star staffer I applaud him for these posts. He is absolutely correct on how these newsroom layoffs have been targeted at rank-and-file reporters and low-level editors. And he is right about how these cuts are causing the demise of this paper.
Brisbane and Zieman are not assholes because of their liberal politics, it's because they are arrogant know-it-alls who think they are God's gift to journalism.

Thank you, John, for your thoughtful posts about The Star.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I'll try and live up to those standards.

And I agree that there is no correlation between political ideology and the ability to commit quality acts of journalism.

Both the editor and the journalist who covered me at The Kansan when I was chair of the party in WYCO were registered Democrats. Today Roy Teicher is a Democratic campaign consultant and he was one of the finest journalists I've ever known. I usually visit him at least once a year to this day.

When I came to WYCO I got a crash course by using my pathetic library skills to look up everything I could find written by Rick Alm. Awesome writer.

Then Art decided that we were too stupid to be entrusted with negative information and that was the end of that. And, as frustrated as I get with Mark Weibe, I also know that he is neither idiot, nor fool and his skill set could provide far more given the freedom to do so.

Even after they shipped Rick back to the big house and stuck him somewhere where they could keep an eye on him he wrote 3 stories for one issue of the Business section alone that should have been page one features on The WYCO section, if not page 1 itself. Buried they were in never-never land. Great journalist.

I believe that one of the biggest problems in this country today is that we read only views that reflect our own views with the end result that we have become so polarized that we can no longer communicate with one another.

There is nothing more valuable than quality journalism written without bias by a good reporter who is allowed to write about what they see in front of them.

The biggest problem I have with The Star is that it has taken some of the finest journalistic talent available and constrained them to mediocrity at what appears to me to be nothing more than the publisher's desire to have friendly conversations with his luncheon companions at The River Club. (Incidentally, has that gone bye-bye? I'm betting you could pay a reporter a year's wages for what it costs for the membership to that wonderful establishment.)

I love investigative reporting and we live in a community that George Magazine claimed was in the top 10 corrupt cities in the country. You have no idea how bad I would love to walk out to my drive way every morning and pick up a hard copy newspaper that addressed that corruption head on.

Again, thanks for the compliment and my best wishes for the folks in the newsroom tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

I was employed at The Star and fell in the first round of layoffs last year. I had the choice to stay. Only a certain number in a particular group could stay. The rest had to go. After I left I wondered if I did the right thing. This 4th layoff in less than one year shows I did make the right decision and am very thankful I did. I found another job that actually pays more than The Star with better benefits so it all worked out. I feel very bad for those still at The Star.

Anonymous said...

Maybe some of the reporters who have been getting by years writing three to five stories a week can pick up the slack.

In just about any other industry the output of your average large daily newspaper reporter would be completely unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

The "work" load some people have at large daily newspapers is a joke. Making more than $50K a year for writing four stories/columns a week is not very efficient.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to nominate Jenee Osterheldt for dismissal. if I wanted to read poorly written, dull updates of a 20-something's social life, I'd just look at Facebook.
If the rumors of what money she makes are true, it's insane to keep her.