As 2013 fades away, we can look back and see a lot of good things from media in Kansas City, from solid investigative work to the use of valuable news partnerships and more. But for all the good, it was the bad that really rose to the top in examining the top media stories of the year. From big-name departures to the ever-present circulation issues facing area newspapers and threats to the institutional norm, this year has set the stage for big challenges facing the industry in 2014.
10) Star leads the way on Redskins controversy
The movement for the Washington Redskins to change their name hit a fever pitch this year, with more and more people and organizations calling for the team to ditch a nickname they say is racist. News organizations across the country (Slate, Washington City Paper, San Francisco Chronicle, and more) decided to stop referring to the club as “Redskins.” But that’s been The Star’s policy for years, establishing it as a forward-leaning leader in this matter.
9) Chaos at the Lawrence Journal-World
I have a soft spot in my heart for the Lawrence Journal-World, having started my career there and enjoyed, all told, three years at the paper. But after Mark Potts took the helm of the paper in Sept. 2012, a steady drumbeat of staffing departures decimated the newsroom, as weekday circulation dropped by 14 percent and the paper announced it was shuttering its presses, outsourcing printing to The Kansas City Star. Potts abruptly resigned in October after nine of 15 news staffers left, and the paper has yet to fill his position.
8) Star reporting reignites Maryville sexual assault prosecution
Star reporter Dugan Arnett’s nine-month investigation of an alleged sexual assault in Maryville brought a national spotlight to the town, uncovering questions about the district attorney’s efforts in examining the case and resulting in a call for a special prosecutor to investigate. The blockbuster story and its follow-ups showed the paper can still hit a home run and reminded readers of the importance of newspaper reporting.
7) Jabulani Lefall’s epic, bizarre KCUR exit
“Central Standard” host Jabulani Lefall was a competent interviewer and a good host on KCUR, but then he quit on air. “The revolution will be televised,” he said on the radio. “The revolution is live.” Nearly a month later, he told the Pitch his decision had to do with aliens, eavesdropping and KCUR treating him like a “black slave.” He said he thought KCUR executives were eavesdropping on him, and that he made the decision to quit about a minute before his Jan. 16 show ended.
6) Kansas City Star staffers’ exodus
The Star entered 2013 coming off the widely reported Thunderdome incident. In 2013 it would see the resignations of Chiefs writer Adam Teicher, features editor Laurie Mansfield, editorial board member E. Thomas McClanahan (who retired), Royals beat writer Bob Dutton, political columnist Steve Kraske (who left full-time duty to teach at UMKC) and religion editor Helen Gray, who retired after 47 years at the paper.
5) Media watcher John Landsberg peaces out
BottomLine Communications’ John Landsberg was many things to many people, but whatever you thought of him, he covered Kansas City media pretty well with a critical eye, though not without his own bias. Landsberg’s departure to South Carolina left a void in media coverage, which is left to a handful of local hacks and out-of-town bloggers.
4) KSHB’s investigative prowess
Aggressive reporting by KSHB uncovered possible misuse of city funds by a city council member Michael Brooks, who allegedly sent dirty photos to a woman, and dissected the deadly explosion at JJ’s in an national award-winning fashion. It’s this kind of essential reporting that keeps the corrupt and incompetent on their toes.
3) Big names sign off: Walt Bodine dies, Larry Moore retires, Elizabeth Alex and Kim Noble leave
KCUR’s Walt Bodine died in March at age 92, leaving an unmatched legacy among local newscasters.
KMBC’s Larry Moore transitioned to an “emeritus” role this month, inching closer to hanging up the mic after 40 years at the station. Another longtime TV stable, KSHB’s Elizabeth Alex left the station after 16 years. And KCUR’s British siren Kim Noble hosted her final broadcast earlier this month.
2) Of paywalls and circulation
Area newspapers continued to lose readers (the Topeka Capital-Journal’s 22-percent loss led the way). The Star first saw big gains in circulation, only to fall again in the latest reporting period from the Alliance of Audited Media. The Star’s parent company, McClatchy, is banking on the financial success of its paywall which has net 31,000 subscribers so far. Even as print circulation shrinks, big money’s tied up in ads. But how long can print hold out without innovation?
1) KU professor’s anti-NRA tweet lands him in hot water
When KU journalism professor David Guth lashed out after the Navy Yard shooting in September, he drew nationwide criticism for tweeting “blood is on the hands of the #NRA,” adding “Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.” KU suspended Guth, who later apologized. He said he’d gotten death threats because of his tweet. The issue contributed to a conversation on First Amendment rights, HR policies regarding the use of Twitter and professional standards, as Guth teaches journalism and PR.