Retiring Kansas City Star Journalists Reflect On A Changing Media Landscape
A little more than a week after 10 longtime journalists took their leave from the Kansas City Star in what was seen by some people as a blow to local journalism, former police and courts reporter Tony Rizzo was enjoying his new-found free time.
"So far I haven't missed it at all, actually," he said. After years on the breaking-news cycle, "it just felt like I didn't have time to stop and catch my breath."
On Friday, three of those retirees — Rizzo, Lynn Horsley and Mark Davis — shared some microphone time with Steve Kraske, another reporter who retired from the Star but not from KCUR, where he's also been the longtime host of Up To Date.
Between them, the journalists have decades of experience reporting stories in Kansas City.
In some ways, those stories are getting a different treatment than they once were. But other features of the media landscape harken back to an era when Kansas City's two daily papers, the morning Times and the afternoon Star, competed for stories under the same ownership.
"The competition back then between the two sides of the room was incredibly intense," said Kraske, who had been at the paper for 32 years, most recently as a member of the editorial board.
Social media and a 24-hour news cycle have revived that competition, but the pressure now comes from other news organizations, not from within.
"We're kind of now back into that era where, if you know something you need to move on it, and you need to move on it quickly," said Davis, who'd been with the Star since 1987, "because others can break that news too."
The increased competition, though, belies the fact that communities surrounding Kansas City, Missouri, are perpetually under-covered.
Lynn Horsley's career at the Star included many years at City Hall in Kansas City, Missouri, but she was working a beat in Johnson County, Kansas, when she accepted a buyout offer.
"We had neglected (Johnson County) for a number of years, and what I discovered when I went out there to cover stories was there's a huge appetite," she said. "But that's true of Platte County, Clay County, many communities that we really just don't focus in on anymore."
Wyandotte County, too, suffers from a lack of consistent coverage.
"People who live over there feel like they're not covered adequately by the media, and I think it's true," said Rizzo.
Instead of counting newsprint subscribers, papers are now counting website clicks, which has also eroded some of the community coverage, said Horsley.
"It's been revealing to me what readers will hone in on," she said. "If it's a grievance or outrage or conflict, or celebrities or sports, or men behaving badly or men behaving badly in sports, or politicians saying stupid things, those stories go viral. But the more positive news, or news about solutions, doesn't go as far."
Those observations seem counter-intuitive, Kraske said, especially when so many readers express a desire to see more good news.
The latest round of buyout offers made sense financially, said Davis, who covered business and economics.
"It make sense for (Kansas City Star owner McClatchy Co.) because their payroll is smaller in number, but it's also younger and it's by definition cheaper," he said. "But cheaper doesn't mean (lower) quality."
Rizzo and Horsley agreed, but said they worried about the quantity of basic community news, which Horsley said is essential to a flourishing democracy.
"I think, with the combination of so many great journalists working in this city, we're going to get the big stories," said Rizzo. "Where we might suffer is finding those interesting little stories in the weeds somewhere."
Mark Davis, Lynn Horsley and Tony Rizzo spoke with Steve Kraske on a recent episode of KCUR's Up To Date. Listen to the entire conversation here.
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