Public Editor

Would you publish a guest column about abortion from an anonymous author?

Coverage of KC visits by Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz was equivalent almost down to the centimeter in The Star’s print edition.
Coverage of KC visits by Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz was equivalent almost down to the centimeter in The Star’s print edition.

I have fielded a lot of excellent questions and quibbles from readers over the past few weeks. Let’s look at some of the most interesting.

▪ A caller last week wanted to share her thoughts on one of the most contentious topics I know: abortion. She had a novel take, she said, but was afraid of repercussions from readers who disagreed with her.

Could she submit a piece under a pseudonymous byline, or have it run anonymously?

This one is a great big “no.” Italicized and underlined. The Kansas City Star’s code of ethics has a long section on confidentiality and anonymity, which contains a line that I can recite from memory:

“When you grant someone confidentiality, you are putting your word and The Star’s reputation on the line.”

It continues:

“Generally, confidentiality only should be granted to protect someone who is relatively powerless or who might be harmed should his or her identity be revealed. In addition, the story should be of overriding public importance.”

In my 20-plus years at The Star, I am unaware of any time anonymity was granted to an author of an opinion piece. I worked closely with the letters editor for many years, and I remember a handful of times when we discovered a writer was using a pseudonym — another no-no. In those cases, the writers were banned from further publication unless they agreed to ‘fess up to their identities (and one did).

I’m sure some letter-writers still do use spoof names. It isn’t too hard to set up a dummy phone number, especially in the cell phone and Google Voice era. But The Star does hand verify submitters’ contact info as well as possible. I wish bad actors didn’t game the admittedly imperfect system.

▪ “How come when Bernie (Sanders) was in Kansas City, you had a full front page (story and photo) about it, (but) when Hillary (Clinton) wins big in South Carolina … one little bottom article is all?”

I understand this emailer’s passion, and I’m extremely sensitive to readers’ subjective judgments of how the presidential candidates’ campaigns are played proportionally, both in the print edition and on KansasCity.com. They demand, and deserve, editors’ fullest efforts to make coverage as equal and proportionate as possible.

That being said, this particular comparison is apples and oranges. The Star is a regional paper, and events happening in and close to Kansas City almost always take priority over national or international events. Sanders in KC is simply a more local story.

This email does point out a precedent that Sanders’ visit set: Readers should expect any other first visits by candidates to receive equivalent play. And indeed, when Ted Cruz came to town on March 2, the story and photo on Page 1A the next day were almost exactly the same size and design as those for Sanders on Feb. 25. Good choice.

▪ “If you don’t print the latest line in your Daily Data, I’m dropping my 35-year subscription.” At least 20 others noticed the same.

If you’re a gambler, you have come to expect that information regularly in The Star. If you don’t place bets, it’s difficult to explain, and isn’t really germane to anything besides bookmaking.

(And yes, I do understand those who have questioned why a newspaper serving two states where sports betting is illegal even runs the stats. But they’re very important to those who follow them.)

Its absence was human error — but then it happened again the next day. Not good. It’s been back ever since.

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