Steve Shirk, a Kansas City native and the managing editor of The Kansas City Star for 18 years, is retiring.
Shirk, 64, has spent 42 years, in a variety of editing posts, shaping news coverage from the second-story newsroom of The Star and The Kansas City Times.
At the newspaper, Shirk became a “guidepost for what is right and just and fair,” president and publisher Mi-Ai Parrish said. “If you want the straight truth, you ask Steve. Calm, well mannered and professional, he never shies from challenging situations.”
Without realizing it, readers have seen the results of Shirk’s work managing The Star’s coverage of breaking news and investigative reports. He frequently was the editor who commanded The Star’s resources at odd hours — for example, when JJ’s Restaurant exploded late in the day and one Sunday last April after the shootings at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom.
“He had a big hand in the best journalism done here over the last four decades,” said Mike Fannin, the newspaper’s editor and vice president. “And as solid as his journalism was, his character was even stronger.”
Fannin characterized Shirk as “an ally to reporters and a mentor to many editors, including myself.”
In a newsroom gathering Thursday attended by about 100 current and former Star employees, Shirk was praised as reliable, ethical, solid, accountable, wise, steady, fair, judicious and a host of other accolades contributed by staff members.
Shirk routinely saw to it that the newspaper had reporters and photographers where it needed them and that their work generated the information readers would want and need to know. He worked to ensure that print, online and mobile reports all had the journalistic standards that he guarded for decades.
“You have to look at stories from 20 different directions as all of it is coming in,” Shirk said. “A lot of the job is about reacting. Hopefully, more of the job is about planning.”
Readers periodically have seen Shirk’s name in the paper, usually explaining why The Star did what it did or didn’t do what some might have expected.
For example, in a 1982 account by The Times’ ombudsman, Shirk said he notified police that a fugitive had called the newspaper and was on the phone with a reporter. But he refused a police request to help set a trap to catch the fugitive. In addition to protecting the safety of the reporter, Shirk said he refused because journalists can’t become “agents of the police” without jeopardizing “our flow of information.”
Shirk’s role as a steadying influence in the newsroom was honored Thursday by a gift from the company — a “Man of Steel” sculpture created by former Star artist Dave Eames — that was fabricated from parts of the old newspaper presses.
He also received a traditional parting gift for reporters and editors — mock newspaper pages that recount events from his career and comments from co-workers.
Shirk was born on Christmas Eve in 1950 and graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. After a short stint at the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith, Ark., Shirk returned to Kansas City as a copy editor on the morning Times in February 1973. Within five years, The Times named Shirk its news editor. He was 27.
Shirk’s career in Kansas City has included stints as makeup editor, night assistant managing editor, national editor and Mid-America editor.
When The Times and The Star merged in 1990, Shirk shared deputy managing editor duties, overseeing the combined papers’ metropolitan, Mid-America, national and business desks. He became The Star’s managing editor in 1997.
“It all sounds corny when you say it, but it has been a privilege,” Shirk said.
In remarks to those gathered in the newsroom, Shirk spoke briefly of the evolution from print to digital and concluded, “Content will still be king, and credibility will still be the coin of the realm.”
Looking ahead, he told the staff, “I’ll be reading. I’ll be clicking. But most of all, I’ll be cheering.”