Thursday, November 13, 2008

The real reason behind the Star layoffs

Posted By on Thu, Nov 13, 2008 at 5:25 PM

By JUSTIN KENDALL

Finally, we know the real reason for the Kansas City Star's decline.

The Star's financial woes apparently aren't due to the bad economy, much less the industry-wide loss of revenue as advertisers migrated to the Internet over the last two decades, or the changing habits of readers who get more of their news online. Instead, the Star's dying from good ol' liberal bias, according to Kansas' new "fair and factual" news site.

Monday's purge of 50 Star employees was just the latest round of layoffs. It led to a Kansas Liberty story boldly proclaiming, "It may also be the last year in Star history if [publisher Mark] Zieman is unsuccessful in turning around the failing newspaper."

For months, Kansas Liberty has written critical stories of the Star, the Wichita Eagle and parent company McClatchy. The stories always cite unnamed critics who claim the papers' problems are due to their liberal bent. None of the stories run with bylines.

However,

08_06_pilcher_cook.jpg
papers filed with the Kansas Secretary of State's Office reveal that newly elected Kansas state Sen. Mary Pilcher Cook owns a 42.5 percent interest in the publication, which appears to have launched around March 2008. The ownership of the remaining 57.5 percent is unclear. Phone calls to Pilcher Cook and Kansas Liberty's offices were not returned.

The site claims that Kansas Liberty "can be your trusted source for information."

"Best of all, the news you’ll get here is missing only one thing –- the bias that traditional media are bringing to just about every major news story in and around Kansas," Kansas Liberty's welcome page boasts. "Our fresh information comes from exclusive interviews and sources that the mainstream media either won’t touch or doesn’t have access to."

Which must be true, because Kansas Liberty appears to know more about the Star than the Star knows about itself.

On October 23, Kansas Liberty ran a story titled "Star publisher takes yet another hit," recapping a decline in ad revenues. Then this paragraph inexplicably appears:

One of the few exciting developments for the Star has been the reaction to the paper's recent assertion that anyone who calls Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama's a "socialist" is a racist. Last week, Obama promised to "spread the wealth around."

Another story, "KC Star cuts more jobs," made its way into the October edition of Metro Voice, a local Christian newspaper.

The story mirrors a September 16 Kansas Liberty article titled "Eagle, KC Star publisher hammered again" on the McClatchy-wide layoffs.

Many critics say the papers have alienated at least half their potential readership because of their strident partisan tone and their failure to connect with the concerns of Midwestern readers. Many conservative Republicans now consider the Eagle and the Star to be adversaries and wish the papers ill. News commentators have noted that the vice-presidential campaign of Sarah Palin seems to gather momentum every time the press attempts to ridicule her.

Unnamed critics also appear in an August 20 Kansas Liberty story, "Wichita Eagle, KC Star publisher stumbles again."

Critics say the editorial stance and the news coverage at the Star and Eagle are also out of touch and extremist, alienating many readers and advertisers by blindly supporting liberal causes and candidates.

And this, in a June 29 story titled "Kansas City Star publisher's stock hits all-time low."

Some conservatives have noted that as the Star's editorials have grown increasingly shrill, the paper has lost thousands of readers. Once, the paper reached more than a quarter-million people in the metro area. Now its circulation is down to just over 150,000. The paper recently announced it was cutting its delivery area, so further circulation declines are expected.

A March 3 opinion might provide a clue as to who some of those unnamed critics might be. The piece did have a byline. Denis Boyles, author of Superior, Nebraska -- a conservative's answer to Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? -- highlighted a Zogby poll saying a majority of Americans get their news online and laments the quality of journalism. The piece is titled "A Dying Star":

The new business of the Star and other papers is to provide reassurance to its community of mostly liberal readers who share the paper’s assumptions about the world and how it works. No wonder most people think it's out of touch. Like all mainstream American newspapers, from The New York Times on down to the Wichita Eagle, the Star has decided to create a product of huge interest to a shrinking market but of no interest at all to a growing one.

All of which was news to us.

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