New boss same as the old boss?
Critics of The Kansas City Star — a label I attach to myself at times — probably greeted the announcement that editor Mark Zieman had ascended to publisher and president with a collective yawn. Those critics, who fall on both ends of the political spectrum, have had over 15 years of Zieman’s editorial approach, first as managing editor then later becoming editor beginning in 1997.
Still, Zieman deserves to be congratulated. The Kansas City Star is the 900-pound gorilla in the city, scorned and enticed by orbiting forces, and running such an enterprise is no easy task.
Reporters and editors at the Star know the Zeiman method to news coverage. That won’t change. In many ways it’s right out of J-school — tight, uncomplicated writing with a careful measurement of details so not to overwhelm the reader. Big stories get a committee treatment and noticeable doses of objectivity. In reporting, the Star offers predictable approaches. It’s only on the opinion page are surprises occasionally found.
To be a Star reporter means adapting to the prevailing gestalt, something crucial for long-term security. Those that resisted either left journalism all together or moved to another publication.
Some prevailed. They operated within the bunker but breached it with their devotion to the profession, their talent and personality. Yet when the retirement option appeared after years of bucking editors and dealing with banishment to lesser assignment desks, they readily took it. Good journalists such as James Fitzpatrick and Bill Norton come to mind.
The Kansas City Star is a middle-of-the-road newspaper not apt to offend other powerful institutions in the city. Zieman won’t change that and likely neither will the editor that takes his place.
What Zieman will do is continue the tentacle reach of the Star to increase the bottom line. Any further FCC rulings loosing cross-ownership regulations will readily be taken advantage of. The co-branding with other news outlets, including public television and radio, will continue and probably intensify. Certain Star journalists will remain TV or radio talking heads. Zieman will look hard to step up online marketing for more revenues and the likely expand the video capacities online.
The Star will continue to do its part to make
Kansas Citians, like much of America, the best entertained though
not necessarily the best informed people of the region. The Star
is part of a corporate empire with its reason for being to make money.
That always conflicted with good journalism and always will so long
as newsgathering entities remain married to certain profit margins.
But there are pockets of good journalism in Kansas City. KKFI is home to an eclectic group of radio show hosts. The locals include Vicki Walker, KC Media Watch Dogs, Tom Klammer, Tell Somebody, Barbara Crist, 12 BC and Judy Ancel, Heartland Labor Forum. These shows approach topics and have invited guests not always found in the Star.
Over in Johnson County, Jack Miles is dedicated editor of note. His Sun newspapers’ coverage of Kansas’ politics often exceeds the Star’s. David Martin at The Pitch has a perspective on KCMO politics absent from the Star’s reporting. Host Nick Haines on KCPT’s Week in Review can at times draw out of a visiting journalist an opinion not expressed in the news organization that employs him or her.
The news outlets that let these journalists exercise their talents broadcast such non-corporate national news and commentary shows as Bill Moyer’s Journal, Now, Front Line, Charlie Rose, Democracy Now, Counterspin, Radio Nation and at this website, an AlterNet rss feed.
To get a broader perspective on the news of the world and even your own city block takes work. Unfortunately, most big city newspapers make that task a reality for citizens.
The question back to publisher Mark Zieman is whether he wants to make the Star a better newspaper or a more profitable one. He’ll say he can do both.
We wouldn’t expect him to say anything else, would we?
Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at publisher_editeKC@kcactive.com.
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