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Kansas City Star Editor On Art Criticism, Statehouse News And Headline Scanners

Elle Moxley

Kansas City Star editor Mike Fannin makes decisions every day about what this community is going to know about itself, the region and even the world. In a changing news environment, with financial and staffing constraints, The Star, along with many news organizations, has been forced to examine its guiding principles and priorities.

Fannin joined KCUR's Central Standard for a discussion about the future direction of The Kansas City Star. He laid out some of the upcoming changes readers will encounter when a redesign rolls out in the Fall. He also addressed several concerns and criticisms.

Interview highlights

On printing a daily newspaper in a 24-hour news environment:

"The challenge with a once-a-day, printed newspaper is the world doesn’t stop on our schedule. … We’re an around-the-clock news operation. We have to stop and think, What is it we’re trying to give folks once a day when we stop and summarize for them what’s going on?”

On how The Kansas City Star will compare to other papers owned by McClatchy after the upcoming redesign:

“Every market will have choices to make. Our choices will not be the same as Sacramento’s choices, nor will Miami’s choices be the same as ours. There’s always been that individuality that the Star’s been known for throughout its history, and that spirit is alive and well.”

On what people tell him about changes to the paper:

“What I hear from readers a good bit is just the question, ‘Are you guys OK?’ I just don’t think anyone’s told our story very well, and we’re not great at telling our own story necessarily because that’s not something we’ve had in our DNA.”

On a downsized newsroom:

“We have fewer people than we had 10 years ago, but we still have the biggest, most robust newsroom in the city.”
“Any suggestion that our staff is a lesser version of some staffs in the past, it’s something that doesn’t go down easily. I don’t come in in the morning thinking about what I don’t have. I come in in the morning thinking about what I do have. It’s a great staff, and frankly, they’re doing more work and at a more challenging time than their predecessors did.”

On fewer statehouse reporters:

"You don't have to be at every meeting around town to develop sourcing. There are a lot of different ways to develop sourcing these days. ... Certainly we need to follow the social media of all the newsmakers in town. We need to be following their social media feeds. I agree that the information that comes out of there is of limited value, but occasionally, you get a gem of a story."
"We do think it's vitally important for the Star to have reporting talent at both statehouses. It's the blessing and the curse of being in a bistate area, right? Where other editors have to maybe focus on one statehouse, we've got two of everything. But again, that's good for us, that generates a lot of news, and frankly, both statehouses, there's a lot of interesting stuff going on in Jeff City and Topeka right now, and we're going to be right in the thick of it."

On readers who only scan headlines:

“I’m not particularly interested in offending readers who consider that to be reading. … We talk to people who are scanners, and they basically admitted, ‘Yeah, I don’t always read the stories.’ But in their world, if they read the headline, they’ve read the story. That’s their definition.”

On the discontinuation of the Sunday Star Magazine:

“We’re planning to revamp the Sunday A&E product and turn that into more of an arts and lifestyle product. Some of those pieces from Star Magazine will remain intact. We love the magazine ... This has been a section that has for years and years done a great job on the journalism side … but has struggled financially. In this era, sections and products need to be able to stand on their own.”

On the layoff of art critic Alice Thorson:

“That was a tough loss. We loved having Alice on staff, and we’re all sorry to see her go. What goes with her, perhaps, is the bulk of the art criticism that we did at the Star." “As newspapers have had to make tough decisions – forgive the analogy – look at what’s happened with movie reviewers. Every newspaper used to have its own movie reviewer, and now there’s maybe three left in the country.”
“I’m certainly not closing the door to the Star engaging in arts criticism ever again. We’re going to be looking for ways to bring some of that back into our pages. But it has to be with someone who’s qualified. Finding someone who’s objective, and who’s not connected, not conflicted, is harder than you think.”

People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.
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