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A nod to our proud past while we look ahead

On this day in 1880, William Rockhill Nelson launched The Kansas City Star and a new standard for journalism in our nation’s heartland.

Nelson called The Star a “Paper for the People,” laboring “in especial zeal and earnestness” on behalf of all measures advancing the interests of Kansas City. For the next 125 years, the fortunes of this newspaper and this community have been inseparable.

Many of you may remember when The Star reached the century mark 25 years ago. I was fortunate enough to be a part of this newspaper back in 1980 when we celebrated our centennial, an event that featured its own special section and illustrious parties.

Today’s anniversary also includes a commemorative edition. But it’s actually the beginning of a months-long celebration that culminates next May with the opening of our new production facility.

Between now and then, we’ll celebrate our anniversary daily with several short features in the paper, including 125 “Why I love Kansas City” items written by readers and community leaders. Our readers also participated in today’s special sections. Several weeks ago we reached out and asked you for the events and stories that you felt were most meaningful in the life of our community, our nation and our world.

Many readers commented that just reading through and selecting from the hundreds of stories on the survey itself was fascinating. Now this section brings those stories and moments back to life as we relive a sampling of the major events that we’ve covered over the past one-and-one-quarter century.

You’ll notice throughout this commemorative edition that a daily newspaper is a chronicle of the life and times of a community. But it’s more than just a recorder of the news or a reflection of the city; in many respects it represents the soul and basic fabric of a community.

Like our founder, we believe that a newspaper should be a champion of the community it serves. That’s not the same as a cheerleader. A champion will celebrate the successes and point out the failures of a community. There are people who wish we wouldn’t publish bad or negative news or at least print less of it. But we firmly believe that an informed reader is an empowered citizen. People make better decisions when they are aware of all sides of an issue. If we recognize bad things are occurring, we can change them. Together, we can make our community better.

We want our editorial pages to be a platform for different voices, ideas and opinions. I know we have done our job when a readers says “my newspaper” when referring to The Kansas City Star. My father, who was in the newspaper business most of his life, once told me that “everyone who paid their quarter for the paper thinks they’re the publisher.”

He may have been joking, but I actually thought that was a great statement. In 1880 and today, our goal is to make The Star your newspaper. We want it to speak to the issues that you think are important. Whether it is the schools your children attend, the taxes that you pay, the companies you work for, the roads that you drive on or the safety of your neighborhoods, the pages of this newspaper should speak to things that interest you.

We are attempting to reach out and engage our readers as never before. We’ve added a reader advisory panel to our editorial board to gain new perspectives and insight as we shape and formulate our opinions. We’re polling hundreds of other readers on a “list serv” as other issues arise. We are adding additional reader panels for other sections of our newspaper, and are building a variety of interactive features on our Web site, KansasCity.com. Just one such feature, our “Community Faces” photo albums of area events and celebrations, is entirely volunteer-generated and attracts more than 200,000 page views each month.

More than a million readers read The Star each week and almost a quarter million visit Kansascity.com. As the largest news gathering organization in several surrounding states, our “permanency is not a matter for question,” as Nelson boasted 125 years ago.

Yet our world has changed. You now have a miraculous array of options for consuming news and information, from newspapers to text messaging to pod casts to high-speed Internet over your cell phones. The digital future is now, and it’s very exciting.

Anyone who has been downtown lately would have a hard time missing a major part of The Star’s future — and a bold addition to the Kansas City landscape. Our new production facility, called the Information Pavilion, is the blue glass and green copper-sided building that has captured the imagination of so many people visiting the downtown area.

I’m proud to say that The Star has practiced what it has preached by investing in downtown Kansas City with a $200,000,000 state-of-the-art printing and distribution facility. Clearly, The Star could have saved a lot of money by locating our plant in a rural area. We have never done so. We celebrate the success of our thriving suburbs and strive to cover them more thoroughly than any other news source. But we also realize that a vibrant downtown defines the economic vitality of our entire community.

From 1880 through today, the financial health of The Star has been directly tied to the health of our community. Jim Hale, a predecessor of mine, said in The Star’s Centennial edition: “I know of no good newspapers that are broke and no broke ones that are any good.”

So enjoy this history of The Star. But it’s really the history of Kansas City. I am proud to call Kansas City my home. Our 1,600 employees are proud to work here, live here and raise their families here. All of us our proud to be stewards of “the Paper for the People” — your newspaper.

Thank you, and enjoy our birthday!

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