by Murrel Bland
Colleen McCain Nelson said she came back to the Midwest because she missed the connection with the community.
Nelson, who recently was named a vice president and the editorial page editor for The Kansas City Star, spoke at the monthly luncheon meeting of the Congressional Forum last Friday, Aug. 18, at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.
About 50 persons, mostly members of the Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce, attended.
Nelson comes from Washington, D.C., where she covered The White House and presidential politics for The Wall Street Journal. She also worked for the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, The Wichita Eagle and The Dallas Morning News where she won a Pulitzer Prize for editorials. The award praised the editorials for “depicting the stark social and economic disparity between the city’s better-off northern half and distressed southern half.” Nelson grew up in Salina, Kan.
Nelson explained that The Star’s editorial writing staff, which deals with informed opinion, is independent of its news coverage staff. She said that she was pleased that she was able to choose an excellent staff including Dave Helling, Steve Kraske, Mary Sanchez and Derek Donovan, who were existing columnists at The Star, and a newcomer, Melinda Henneberger, who was with The New York Times, The Dallas Morning News and USA Today.
Nelson said she appreciated being asked to talk to the Congressional Forum. One of her goals is to reach out to the community to get a better understanding about local issues. She said she has had conversations with Kansas City, Kansas, Mayor Mark Holland about the need to eliminate blight.
One member of the audience complained that The Star has fewer and fewer pages with little or no coverage about Wyandotte County. Nelson blamed the rise of the internet that is taking away advertising dollars from traditional print newspapers. She said that although The Star has an electronic edition, most of its revenue comes from print.
A couple of other audience members challenged Nelson about the “town hall” meeting The Star’s editorial staff writers will sponsor for U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder Aug. 22. Rep. Yoder has held several telephone conference calls to reach voters during his tenure in Congress. The complaint was that this meeting, promoted by a four-color ad in The Star and on its website, showed favoritism to Rep. Yoder. Nelson justified the effort as a way to connect an elected representative with the community.
Things certainly have changed at The Star since the days some 50 years ago when I worked there. In the mid-1960s, more than 1,500 employees worked at the headquarters building at 1729 Grand Ave., in Kansas City, Mo. The newspaper had multiple editions in the morning and afternoon. The Kansas City, Kansas, office had more than 20 employees at 827 Minnesota Ave. (now a printing company). Today there is one edition a day and only an estimated 250 employees work at the newspaper’s headquarters.
One of the things I do for Business West is visit local units of government in Wyandotte County, urging elected officials to hold the line on property taxes. (I have yet to meet anyone who believes he or she is not paying enough in property taxes.) These local units of government have budgets that total more than $1 billion.
In attending these meetings during the past few weeks, I saw a reporter from The Star only once. That was at a meeting of the Board of Trustees of Kansas City Kansas Community College. The reporter was there only to report about the controversy concerning the placing of Doris Givens, the president of the college, on administrative leave.
I read in The Kansas City Business Journal that The Star is considering the sale of its buildings, including its historical headquarters location. The estimated value of these buildings is $40 million. The plan would be to move news, advertising and editorial offices to its press building near Grand Avenue and Truman Road, according to The Business Journal.
The Star is owned by The McClatchy Company which has struggled financially for the past several years. Its stock closed last Friday at $6.17 a share. That is an improvement, however. The last time I checked on its stock several months ago, it was worth about $1 a share.
Nelson is married to Eric Nelson, The Star’s assistant managing editor-digital. Both are graduates of the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is executive director of Business West.