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Why I quit the Kansas City Star

My wife showed me the latest subscription notice for the Kansas City Star. I told her was going to have to think about renewing my tenure with the paper. I have been a loyal customer of the paper for 25 years. I love taking the dog out to the end of the drive every day to retrieve it. When I get out of bed in the morning, that dog is standing by the front door, tail wagging, waiting to take up her responsibility to bring the paper in the house.

startBut the paper just made my decision to end my subscription easy. The daily has been getting so thin that I have now long battled with myself over whether to keep taking it. I once depended on the daily to give me a view of the world that was far different than the one I could glean out of the noise and clatter of the internet. Sure, someone or multiple somebodies decided what they would reveal about our town, state, and nation. That’s the job of editors. At least, with the Star as a starting point, I placed myself in the world. I could go from there.

Not that the daily’s news coverage was every comprehensive or extraordinary. It was, after all, a mainstream news corporation with a mainstream view of things. I used to write for the weekly here in Kansas City. I would often start my stories by asking myself, what is the Star missing? There was never a shortage of material they didn’t approach. With the Star in one hand and knowledge of what they were missing, I comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable, including the daily itself. Many of the stories I started with the weekly, the Star would pick up because the writers and editors decided, hey, here’s news.

Since I turned my career toward academics and writing, I have eschewed the weekly. After I left the paper, it removed itself from in-depth and investigative news reporting and moved into show business. They were overly concerned with personality and the titillating. That left me with just the Star, which, on its own, was a flawed instrument.

(Fortunately, the weekly has changed hands and they’re doing a better job these days.)

It didn’t matter whether the paper presented me news I wanted, as many of the television stations bill themselves as producing. The paper gave me news I sometimes didn’t want. It was the whole that mattered. I read all the articles and op/eds. I felt informed. I knew I could make decisions based on information. I felt the highest service of the free press was informing the democracy. They didn’t do it well but they did it.

At least, I could count on getting some facts and information about the place I live. Years ago, the paper’s effectiveness began to decrease. The publisher reduced the number of pages in the paper. They eliminated the metro section, which was devoted solely to local news. The local and the national melted into the sheets of newsprint. Soon, I was left with a paltry selection of news.

The Star of a few years ago had several hundred employees and an expansive newsroom. After years of cuts, that newsroom must be a place full of tumbleweeds and dust. The journalists have scattered to the winds. Some of them went into PR, which I could never do. Being a shill for a concern, no matter how humanitarian, is a sin beyond sins for the journalist in me. Some have found homes on the internet. You can find them at the public radio station and other smaller news outlets. Many have turned to freelance work.

In other words, the Star and the McClatchy Corporation flushed all institutional and historical memory from the building. Now, the people who are supposed to inform us have little to inform themselves.

A while ago, the paper made a big deal about a reformat. Ever since I first subscribed to the paper, a reformat meant a reduction in the space devoted to actual articles. At first, the size of the paper the daily was printed on shrunk. Then, they added more air, which meant fewer articles. They got rid of sections of the paper over time. The last reformat reduced the front page, which included all the local and national news they sought fit to print.

That is, not much.

Besides the declining usefulness and relevance of the paper, the new paper management decided in the last year to get rid of the editorial board. Many have complained over time that the paper leaned to the left. If it did, I didn’t notice. But then, I am a real leftist, a socialist, a New Dealer who wouldn’t have quite fit with New Dealers. No paper in this town will ever be left enough for me.

If anything, I always found the paper’s editorial position to be milquetoasty, shooting for the middle of the road. Editors backed alleged civic leaders to the detriment of people and institutions that had little power. The editors pissed me off all the time with their choices and directon. At least, I could count on Lee Judge’s cartoons for a good dig at established wealth and power.

I did look forward to meaty editorials from Steve Paul, Yael Abouhalkah, and Lewis Diuguid. I opened the paper to the editorial section after reading the front page. I did this for 25 years. Then, earlier this year, Paul took a buyout and I don’t blame him. The plane had crashed into the building. Who can blame a guy for getting when the getting was good.

This week, the paper’s management went too far for me. They sacked Abouhalkah. I didn’t agree with him all the time. He was too middle of the road, too much the guy who asked everyone to keep their heads when they should be losing them. I hated the way he split infinitives with judgmental adverb—especially, “properly,” a word he seemed to love deeply. He seemed deeply afraid to stomp on someone to harshly. I could depend on him, though. His columns often included news that the paper didn’t cover, and that’s what an editorial should do—report news as well as opinion.

Then, today, the local public radio station reported today that Lewis Diuguid was stepping down Oct. 7. I have been reading Diuguid’s work for as long as I kept the paper. I became acquainted with him and found him to be a humane presence in an otherwise cutthroat world. His columns often offered a viewpoint from the disadvantaged and outcast. He reported on issues regarding race, race politics, and racism. He was steadfast in his opinions.

I just received word that Diuguid may not be retiring as the radio station reported. It’s up in the air whether he will quit on Oct. 7.

Writing this piece, however, has made up my mind. My newspaper subscription was up September 25. I tried to quit the paper just now but there was no one to call. The automated system, which I called at 4:15, told me the office was closed. I suppose I will go the way that most people who quit taking the paper will. I just won’t pay for it anymore.

Poof. No fireworks. No one to give an opinion to. No one who will hear my ire. They just don’t care the way they used to. I think they will get by without me.

Without the substance I once craved and now the departure of a good editorial board, my dog and I will have to find some other daily duty to sate her need for a job. The paper won’t be there.

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