The Kansas City Star announces expanded editorial board

Colleen McCain Nelson, editorial page vice president at The Kansas City Star.
Colleen McCain Nelson, editorial page vice president at The Kansas City Star.

The Kansas City Star announced its expanded editorial board Wednesday, creating a mix of new voices and familiar local writers.

The Star hired Melinda Henneberger, a columnist at USA Today, and tapped three veterans at the newspaper — Dave Helling, Mary Sanchez and Steve Kraske — to write editorials and opinion columns on key issues nationally and locally.

Derek Donovan, the newspaper’s public editor, will also join the board and will focus on community engagement.

They join Colleen McCain Nelson, vice president and editorial page editor, and Tony Berg, The Star’s president and publisher. The Star intends to add one more member to complete the editorial board.

Staff-written editorials are set to resume Jan. 22, joining the syndicated columnists and cartoonists, readers’ letters and other voices from the Kansas City area.

“People are quick to characterize the editorial pages as too liberal or too conservative,” said Nelson, who has received a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. “Our pages will be tougher to so easily characterize.”

Nelson joined The Star in December after covering the U.S. presidential campaign for The Wall Street Journal. She assembled the board in consultation with Berg.

“Kansas City is going to have its fair share of issues that are going to require deep conversations,” Berg said. “Colleen has put together an all-star team of people that knows Kansas City well and people who will bring a different perspective to Kansas City.”

Henneberger has written for USA Today since August and previously for Bloomberg Politics. Her career includes a decade at The New York Times. As a reporter and editor, Henneberger has worked for Roll Call, Bloomberg Politics, the Dallas Morning News, the Washington Post and The New York Times, where she served as a Washington correspondent and bureau chief in Rome.

Henneberger will end her role as a visiting fellow at the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America, which is in Washington, D.C.

For her, the move to Kansas City is a welcome change after 20 years in the nation’s capital.

“I’ve thought about moving back to America for years,” Henneberger joked.

She is a Midwesterner, born and raised in southern Illinois, and fondly recalls many family trips to St. Louis to see her Chicago Cubs play the St. Louis Cardinals.

Kansas City also is where her husband, Bill Turque, began his own journalism career as a reporter for The Star. The couple has considered a move here before, Henneberger said, even to the point of looking at houses. They decided to stay put because their children still were in high school.

Henneberger said she looks forward to joining the newly assembled board and working with Nelson and others “to build something from scratch.”

Nelson noted Henneberger’s “Midwestern roots and sensibility” but also the geographic breadth of her journalism career that will bring different experiences and “fresh eyes” to Kansas City.

Henneberger is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, and she earned a graduate degree in European studies from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. She also has been a fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

Nelson said the addition of the four local writers gives the board great sources and political insights as well as close local ties and engagements.

“We want to make smart, well-informed arguments, and if you don’t agree with something you read on one page you will find other points of view on other pages,” Nelson said. “We hope to be a constructive voice. I think it’s an interesting and important time to moderate civil public discourse.”

She said the eighth member of the board will be an opinion writer with reporting expertise and analytical skills.

Helling and Kraske, fixtures in political reporting, are trading in their reporter’s analytical commentary to share their opinions with readers and to recommend courses of action on the issues of the day.

“It’s a really cool opportunity,” Helling said. “I want to ‘connect the dots’ for readers in a way that is fair, analytical and surprising. I’ve covered politics and government for a long time. I’m excited about turning that work into something readers can think about, and use.”

Helling has been a political reporter at The Star since 2005. His career includes more than 20 years in radio and television, including two stints as a broadcast news anchor in the Kansas City market.

A Texas native, Helling grew up in Overland Park and began his radio career in Nebraska. His journalism awards include three Emmy nominations, and he received the Freedom of the Press Award from the ACLU of Western Missouri.

Kraske joined The Star in 1986, first as a police reporter and then covering the Missouri and Kansas statehouses. He became The Star’s chief political correspondent in the mid-1990s.

In his career, Kraske has covered 11 national political conventions. He will continue “Up to Date,” his daily public affairs radio program on KCUR, and teaching at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Sanchez, a Kansas City native, joined the newspaper as a reporter in 1985. Her work as a columnist earned her the National Clarion Award in 2007.

She will continue to write her nationally syndicated column that specializes in Latin American issues, immigration, race, politics and culture. She has traveled extensively in Central America and lived in Mexico.

Donovan joined The Star in 1995, working overnight to coordinate electronic archiving of the newspaper’s content. He added newsroom research duties in 1998 and became the publication’s readers’ representative in 2004.

As the newspaper’s public editor in an increasingly digital era, Donovan’s duties expanded to include oversight of The Star’s primary social media accounts. He will end his role as the newspaper’s public editor. His regular column in that job will give way to an occasional opinion piece, and Donovan also will bring community voices to the opinion pages.

Mark Davis: 816-234-4372, @mdkcstar