Public Editor

Farewell for now, readers — but not for good

He’s not Pavarotti, but Derek Donovan is waving goodbye for a while.
He’s not Pavarotti, but Derek Donovan is waving goodbye for a while. AP

Can you believe I’ve been talking to you in this space for nearly a dozen years? It’s true: I wrote my first column, then under the title of readers’ representative, in August 2004.

At that time, you might say things were a bit different on the media landscape. YouTube didn’t exist. A site called TheFacebook.com was open only to students of a small cadre of Ivy League schools. The fundamentally flawed and corrupt Wikipedia hadn’t yet convinced the masses to accept anonymous sourcing as “good enough” — because, hey, it’s free.

During my tenure — an exceptionally long one in this industry — I’ve talked to thousands of people who cared enough about The Kansas City Star to make their voices heard.

But today, it’s time to take a step back for just awhile.

Until early November, I will be detached from my normal job duties in the newsroom to work on a project for The Star’s parent, the McClatchy Company, along with a team of three other Star staffers. Our charge is too nascent to detail here, but it will ultimately result in a product significantly divorced from my usual work.

While I’m away from the newsroom, longtime sports correspondent Randy Covitz is returning to The Star to take your calls and emails about accuracy and fairness in news coverage. Contact him at readerrep@kcstar.com or weekday mornings at 816-234-4123.

My new professional challenge is exciting, but it does come with a bittersweet edge. Put simply, I’m going to miss you people.

For more than half of my 20-plus years at The Star, I’ve been taking your phone calls and emails. In recent years, that’s been increasingly happening in the social media landscape. That’s why my job transitioned to what’s now known as public editor several years ago, allowing me to meet you where you’re engaging with The Star’s content online most often.

While I’ve always insisted that it’s not my role to be a media critic, it seems natural to reflect on the fairly enormous changes that have befallen the news industry worldwide over the past decade or so.

In 2004, The Star’s website KansasCity.com was well-established and in its eighth year. But its overall importance to the company’s future wasn’t yet as clear as it is today.

Now we know that while The Star’s reach in print is still wide, the company’s content is read by far more people on the Internet — and about half of them aren’t even in the Kansas City area geographically.

However, the traffic at my phone lines and email inbox continues to be disproportionately about the newsprint Star. It no longer surprises me in the least that readers who follow the paper edition have a deeper connection to what they read than those who primarily consume their news online. For many people, there’s something ineffably temporary and even less significant about information consumed in the digital space.

I’m well aware that the timing of my temporary absence coincides with the upcoming presidential election. My feelings about that coincidence are the definition of mixed.

On one hand, I’ve had some of my most memorable conversations with readers about fairness and equitability (they’re different, but related) in regards to news coverage in past election cycles.

But not relating your concerns about coverage of the presumptive candidates almost seems like a cop-out. It’s not biased for journalists to note that Donald Trump is taking real steps to thwart the media’s access to him and his campaign.

This is a fundamental First Amendment issue, and it far outweighs concerns about email servers or science-fiction border walls. Trump demands scrupulously fair coverage — but his record is built on far more objective falsehoods than any other candidate in modern history. Reporting on those lies isn’t bias; it’s the literal bedrock of the nation’s constitution.

While working on my new venture, I’ll be reading The Star as an observer. I’ve spent over a decade learning to look past my opinions to report on yours fairly. My little break will give me the luxury of a new perspective when I return.

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