publisher's note
July 3, 2008



Be patriotic — read a newspaper
by Bruce Rodgers

Political speeches near the 4th of July are like mud on a pig — part of the patriotic wallow. Barack Obama wasn’t immune. Earlier this week he was in Independence, briefly treading through Harry’s backyard to deliver a rebuttal to questions about his patriotism.

It was typical Obama speechmaking — inspiring, thoughtful, insightful and reassuring. No doubt about Obama’s oratory gifts.

He spoke about how dissent and disagreement with one’s government can be signs of patriotism, and that change for the better in a democracy very much begins with those who actively take a dissenting role and rebel against injustice. It was the kind of rhetoric Americans like to hear.

But dissent — particularly as a reaction to an elected official’s views or legislative voting — isn’t really welcomed by politicians. Obama is no exception though to his campaign’s credit, his supporters are free to voice their objections on his campaign website to Obama’s recently voiced opinions on rulings by the Supreme Court on the Second Amendment and the death penalty for child rapists, his support of warrantless surveillance and his call to expand President Bush’s faith-based initiatives for delivering social services.

Yet in Obama’s Independence speech in praise of dissent and through it an expression of patriotism, no mention was given to how others may know about another citizen’s dissent. This “communication,” so to speak, comes about mainly through the media — print, TV, radio and the web. And the troubles journalism is experiencing now, mainly newspapers, wasn’t part of Obama’s speech on patriotism.

But, truthfully, when was the last time you heard a politician standing up for journalism, or reporters, or the Fourth Estate status of the hometown daily newspaper? Doesn’t happen often, and if it does, be wary because it could be a sign that the media has too cozy a relationship with that public servant.

But outside of specifics, embracing the notion of dissent, as a sign of patriotism, should have locals wondering about the main vehicle needed for that dissent to become known.

The Kansas City Star, part of the McClatchy newspaper chain, has cut its workforce. In mid-June, the chain announced a 10 percent workforce reduction or the jettison of 1,400 jobs. The Star will or has cut 120 positions or 10 percent of its workforce. In addition, the newspaper will decrease circulation, mostly to areas outside the metropolitan area.

McClatchy, the number three newspaper chain in the country, publishes 30 daily newspapers. In June, the company reported a 15.4 percent decline in advertising revenues in the first five months of 2008. Most of those losses have come from Florida and California where the home mortgage crisis has been acute.

Two years ago McClatchy bought the Knight Ridder chain, becoming saddled with heavy debt from the $4.6 billion purchase. With that McClatchy stock has fallen 50 percent this year. Last month Editor & Publisher reported that Moody’s Investor Service “was nudging McClatchy’s corporate debt rating to the edge of junk bond territory.” Currently, McClatchy is carrying an estimated $2.5 billion debt load.

McClatchy isn’t alone. Jobs have been eliminated at the Tribune Co., including a recently announced 150 news slots at the Los Angeles Times. Cox Newspapers, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Journal Sentinel Inc. and Media General Inc. have or will be laying off workers. The Plain Dealer of Cleveland is reducing pages and cutting sections.

Just as scary to journalists and what also should be a matter of concern to the public is outsourcing. Newspapers from the MediaNews Group have outsourced their advertising design and special supplement production to Express KCS, an Indian company located in Gurgaon outside of New Delhi. Express KCS pays its workers $400 to $1,000 a month, which can mean a savings of “30 to 50 percent a year” in advertising production, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.

American newspapers — the Orange County (CA) Register for one — are beginning to outsource copyediting work. Which could mean the last set of eyes to see a story before it goes to print or posted to a web site comes from outside the United States. The issue then becomes familiarity with the hometown product and the increased chance of inaccuracy in a story.

Ironically, as American newspapers struggle, overseas newspaper readership continues to climb. Peter Preston, writing for Britain’s The Guardian, says it isn’t so much the fear of the death of journalism, but talk “about the death of American journalism.”

Preston, as with many American critics of the press, blame media consolidation and with it the need to improve stock value as the culprit causing convulsion in the newspaper business.

“The crucial element in its distress is just plain, old-fashioned ineptitude,” writes Preston. “Too many companies paid too high a price to gobble up competitors in the fat years and now can’t service their debt mountain as times grow thinner.”

So, The Kansas City Star suffers, and with it the community it serves, because some financial genius somewhere convinced McClatchy’s executive brains to get the company deep in debt.

Gone from pages of the Star are some familiar names: Paul Wenske, Joe Lambe, Steve Rock and Paul Horsley. The Kansas City Ballet is so incensed at losing Horsley, the former dance and classical music critic, that the organization has started an online campaign to bring him back. (Go to or call 816-931-2232 for more information.)

But letting go seasoned reporters with institutional memory of newspaper and town isn’t the only way the Star reacts to helping pare the parent company’s debt. Free lance budgets are practically nonexistent, zone editions are taking submissions and press releases on stories that likely would have been written by reporters and, of course, it doesn’t help news staff morale when rumors circulate that sports columnist Jason Whitlock makes $350,000 a year.

Still, The Kansas City Star and investigative reporter Mike McGraw, need to be congratulated for their ongoing work on the 1988 firefighters’ case where it appears innocent people were convicted of the crime.

Hopefully, such a superb story won’t be the newspaper’s last hurrah when it comes to investigative reporting.

Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at


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