Dimming Star: Things just get less and less bright at the city's shrinking daily paper 

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The next day, Fannin called Dillon to his office. He was furious.

"A special project that two reporters had worked on for a year had been published that Sunday and Monday," Dillon says. "Fannin actually told me that the favorable reaction he had expected from the series was being overtaken by the Hunger Games controversy."

Fannin pounded on his desk and demanded to know if Dillon had been the one who called Christopher. Then he reprimanded her for responding to Romenesko.

"I asked him what he expected me to do and was met with a stony silence," Dillon says. "I told him that I had been put in the situation unwillingly. I said I wouldn't lie to Romenesko or anyone, and I thought it was cowardly to respond with a 'no comment.' I told him I gave Romenesko the most innocuous quote I could think of."

Fannin dismissed Dillon from his office. The next day, Star publisher Mi-Ai Parrish sent out an employee memo with a less-than-plausible denial of the reports.

"The Star has tried to make voluntary options available on many occasions when it has been necessary to make reductions in our workplace, in order to lessen the impact of involuntary eliminations," Parrish wrote. "For this particular severance program, for any group of two or more employees in which a reduction is to occur we did offer the voluntary option. However, if there are no volunteers, as is our practice, the employee with the least tenure will be included in the reduction."

Got that?

Ten months later, when Farmer again informed Dillon that her position was being eliminated, he began the meeting by pointing out that she was in the room alone this time around — "an obviously sarcastic reference to the previous fiasco," Dillon says. She believes she was targeted for this second layoff as punishment for the answer she had given to Romenesko. (Neither Farmer nor Fannin would comment on Dillon's termination.)

In February, Dillon landed at KSHB Channel 41. Last month, she led a multi-part investigation for the station into Kansas law enforcement's restrictive open-records laws, drawing national attention to the issue.

Dillon, who was the only full-time reporter at the Star dedicated to covering government in Johnson County, has been replaced by freelancers who contribute occasional pieces to the paper's 913 section. The Star, headquartered two miles east of the Kansas-Missouri state line, has just one full-time government reporter covering the state of Kansas: Brad Cooper, who covers the Statehouse, 60 miles away in Topeka. Count only metro-area reporters, and the number is zero.


There are several reasons that KC's daily paper does not document the metro as comprehensively as it once did. "Because the Internet" is the short answer.

A more detailed explanation would note the emergence of Craigslist (which, by letting users post ads for free, effectively caused newspapers' classified-ad revenue to evaporate) and the foolish decision, made in the 1990s by just about every newspaper on the planet, to devalue itself by giving away its editions for free online (which taught readers to avoid paying for subscriptions).

Even before the Internet came along and disrupted the newspaper business model, though, the quality of many dailies was already suffering as a result of increased corporate ownership. As recently as 15 years ago, newspapers enjoyed luxurious operating margins — sometimes as high as 30 percent. Wall Street liked the looks of it: big dough, lots of market share, not much pressure to innovate. Before long, what once were hometown-owned organizations with vested interests in the communities they served became budget line items for billion-dollar conglomerates.

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