Matt Pearce, who interned at the Kansas City Star and witnessed the firing of veteran metro columnist Steve Penn, has written an interesting story about what exactly transpired at the newspaper and the policies that resulted in Penn’s termination for an article in The Pitch alternative weekly (link).
Penn was one of three remaining black columnists at the Star following the “slash and burn” departure of sports columnist Jason Whitlock. Penn’s firing left the paper with Lewis Diuguid and Jenee Osterheldt.
Penn had been working 32 hours a week since 2009 as part of the paper’s cost-cutting moves.
Penn, 53, is now suing the newspaper saying that running news releases pretty much “as is” was a common practice at the Star. (JL note: It should be noted that in 25 years of sending news releases to the Star that was not my experience even though I would not have had a problem with it!!)
In a story after the firing stalwart Pitch reporter Peter Rugg said Penn wasn’t fired for just copying information directly from news releases, but for being “too goddam lazy” for not even bothering to rewrite them.
According to Pearce, Anne Hartung Spenner, at that time the Star‘s assistant managing metro editor, delivered the news to staffers that Penn, a 31-year veteran at the McClatchy-owned newspaper, was being fired. He had, Spenner explained, lifted sentences and paragraphs from press releases and passed them off as his own in his columns.
Spenner did not provide many more details except to note Penn’s firing would be printed in the next day’s paper. It was a rather unusual “public burial” as Pearce noted since a bevy of editors, reporters and columnists have simply vaporized at the newspaper with no notice whatsoever to readers over the years.
As expected the Star and Penn refused to discuss the issue with Pearce due to the litigation. In reality, the Star never speaks to other media outlets on any topic at the newspaper.
Pearce did a good job speaking with experts about what constitutes plagiarism and it is obvious that Penn had crossed the line. Pearce also noted (as Bottom Line had pointed out in an earlier story) that the actual legal filing of his case had so many mistakes in it that it was an embarrassment unto itself.