January 12th, 2013
Bill Tammeus

It’s generally not the kind of thing you read from a former Faith columnist for 36 years.

But the Kansas City Star’s long-time Faith columnist Bill Tammeus unloaded on the newspaper industry on his blog (1/12) as first reported by Kansas City’s most-read blogger Tony Botello at tonyskansascity.com.

The recent firing of his friend, Dave Lieber, at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram after 20 years seemed to be in the impetus for Tammeus’s rant.  (The Telegram and KC Star are both owned by McClatchy Corporation.)

“But now he’s become one more bit of collateral damage caused by the monumental failure of newspaper leaders across the country to  anticipate change and be ready for the technology they now blame for  their troubles,” wrote Tammeus. “This failure causes newspapers around the country (The Kansas City Star just lost another 17 good employees) to trim their staffs and do other budget-cutting moves to remain profitable and survive.”

While not specifically discussing the ills of major corporate ownership of newspapers by McClachy, Gannett and others, Tammeus railed on how slowly newspapers were able to adapt to technological changes.

“My own experience at The Star, where I was a full-time employee for about 36 years, told me that at almost every juncture, newspaper editors and their business managers sought to make necessary and inevitable changes slowly and cheaply,” he notes.
Tammeus also bemoans the lack of coverage by newspapers of issues of religion and ethics, and the departure of the Star’s venerable Religion Editor Helen Gray (LINK).
“Among the people who have been burned by the failure of newspapers to adapt to technology are readers who care about matters of religion and ethics,” he says. “Those areas traditionally have been inadequately covered by media everywhere but now it’s getting worse. At The Star, for instance, Helen Gray, who has been religion editor since The Flood, just retired a few days ago. No one has been named to replace her, though one of the news editors will oversee production of the weekly Faith section.”
What has happened to the Faith Section of the Star with Gray’s departure?  Benedictine College’s stalwart journalism professor Mike Throop posted his views on his Facebook page today.
“Memo: From The Kansas City Star
To: Faith-based readers.. Drop dead.
As I predicted, save for a couple of “guest” columns, the entire”section” is wire copy.” 

8 Responses

  1. Rick Nichols says:

    I think it’s rather simplistic to say that the demise of the American newspaper can be blamed either entirely or largely on advances in technology. After all, it was technology, albeit of the low-tech variety, that gave us the printing press in the first place. But I certainly empathize with Mr. Tammeus on the dismissal of his good friend from the Fort Worth paper. It sounds like he’s “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”. Good for him.
    Now when I look at The Star’s Faith section, the first thing I notice is that it’s on the back of Saturday’s FYI section and not the front. Yes, all you have to do is flip the paper over to get to the Faith section, but what it tells me is that the latest happenings in the world of entertainment, etc. are more important to The Star than the needs and interests of its faith-based readers.
    And as Mr. Throop has correctly pointed out, many of the items in the Faith section are simply wire copy. In May 2011 The Star had a chance to run a first-hand account of the Joplin tornado from the faith perspective of a survivor from the Kansas City area – yours truly – and passed on it just like that because The Johnson County Sun, which would go out of business less than three months later, had already done a standard article on my mother’s experience that fateful day. Who made that call – Helen Gray or her superior? The Leavenworth Times eagerly ran the piece online on June 8 and two weeklies in southwest Missouri in print a week later. In short, there’s much room for improvement in The Star’s Faith section.

  2. james says:

    “Religion” writers were always merely propagandists for organized religion, whose precepts were accepted without skepticism of any sort. They were not journalists; they were not reporters who asked tough questions — we can do without them.

  3. malcolm says:

    James, I don’t know where you get off in saying that “religion” writer’s precepts were regarded without skepticism. I can’t even conceive that anyone could write about religion of any kind and not experience counter points from detractors. I would be willing to guess that 100% of the articles that Bill Tammeus wrote received multiple replies from readers disagreeing with his viewpoint. In just the protestant world there are so many viewpoints that it will make your head swim. It started with Martin Luther in the 1600′s and it hasn’t stopped since. If there were no skepticism then there would only be one denomination. I liked Bill but I disagreed with what I considered his liberal Christian leanings in almost every article he wrote.

    Tammeus is correct; many newspapers did not embrace or adapt to the digital revolution.

    Information is power, but free information delivered instantaneously to your hand held device is more powerful.

  5. Mike says:

    James, what sort of “tough questions” did you have in mind for a section that concentrates on the multi dimensional aspects of faith. As it is, Helen Gray interviewed atheists for the Faith section, and they were questioned thoroughly on their world view. If you’re referring to the issue of clerical abuse, should that be in the “Faith” section? Perhaps.I’d say the Star has had a field day with that topic on the front page.
    As far as asking “tough questions”..look back to the political writing leading up to the elections and, honestly, assure us that “tough questions” were asked of ALL the candidates, not just the ones reporters might have had a mindset to dislike.

  6. Scott Simon says:

    The eye opener for me was his admission that on 9/11, Star computers were operating on PRE WINDOWS 95 OS SYSTEMS? Wow! That alone lends to my description of some operations, “As modern as a covered wagon.”

  7. John Altevogt says:

    Hmmmm…. I don’t know that I would term either Helen Gray, or Bill Tammeus as propagandists for organized religion. Not sure what james was looking for, or expecting.

    And, changing technology in a huge organization like The Star isn’t quite as easy as running down to Microcenter for a new laptop. There are all sorts of costly interfaces that have to be considered and it’s just not something you do casually every time the next new thing comes out.

    Like many at The Star, Bill is a creature of the left, but I don’t recall ever seeing him censor any opinions on his blog (and there were certainly some that were out there by any standard), or stick to orthodoxy in his columns.

  8. ask says:

    I think what you posted was very logical. But, what about this?
    suppose you were to create a killer headline? I ain’t suggesting your content isn’t solid., but suppose you added a post title that makes
    people want more? I mean TAMMEUS UNLOADS ON FAILURE OF NEWSPAPERS | Bottom
    Line Communications PR Firm is kinda vanilla. You
    might glance at Yahoo’s front page and see how they create news
    headlines to grab people interested. You might try adding a video or a related pic or two to grab readers interested about what you’ve written. In my opinion, it
    could make your website a little livelier.

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