Sunday, August 29, 2010

Jason Whitlock, Shan Shariff, Anonymous challenge crusty journalism tradition: Is it a brilliant revolution or just plain lazy?

“But YOU don’t care.”

An idea seems to be emerging among the younger generation of journalists and it’s worth exploring. It’s an idea which could have serious implications for the profession, for readers, viewers, listeners and communities. It may be brilliant and it may just be lazy.

"We're able to get away with more because the standards for what's right have dropped."

This is pretty close to what radio talker Shan Shariff said last week about a national sports writing controversy. “We” in that sentence referred to sports talkers and sports writers, and the standards of behavior in their profession. What he said next is the point. It went something like this:

Old school media people might not like it but my guess is YOU don’t give a damn. YOU don’t really care about that stuff.

“You” refers to listeners and readers. What he’s saying is simple: The rules and standards of the profession – which have always been voluntary anyway – don’t matter to you. All you want is some entertaining information. The rest is stuff for journalism professors to worry over.

Jason Whitlock said nearly the same thing in his meltdown minute. He wrote for YOU, he said. He didn’t write for awards. He certainly made clear he wrote for money, but he argued he didn’t write for awards. And he didn’t like the journalistic standards his editors tried to hold him to. Like writing every day, I suspect. . Interviewing. Developing original material. Keeping himself out of the center of the story … Just guessing here based my reading of his work across the past 16 years.

Anonymous made the same case in partial defense of Whitlock, though with more elegance than the other two. “That being said, refusing to give credit where credit is due is incredibly small-minded; most readers don't care. It's only in the insular world of journalism and sports journalism that this would be an issue…”

Most readers don’t care. It seems to me this is increasingly true. The Internet has broken down our sense of intellectual ownership. If I can click on it, I own it. Teachers are in an uphill battle against this mindset.

Readers also don’t care as much today about reputation, which is a huge problem for journalism. If readers are as willing to accept the material in an unedited blog by someone whose reputation they don’t know, why should the New York Times triple check sources? Why should the Kansas City Star pay Tony Rizzo to get the story instead of a summer intern or an Internet wired newsroom in India? Why should Jason Whitlock or Sean Shariff worry about getting things right instead of making people angry enough to read or listen? Some of the incentive to get it right is gone.

So, what Anonymous said is, I think, increasingly true.

Is this a brilliant revolution or simply lazy?

Probably some of both. It is certainly easier to do journalism without the burden of principles established across the last century by a profession which literally started being a profession from scratch. College freshmen, for example, begin the semester in Reporting 101 not seeing what’s so darn hard about journalism. Hey, you sit down and write what you think and it gets published.

"What? You have to write what somebody else thinks? Whose idea is that? You have to do interviews? Interviews? Go outside and meet people? And, you have to take notes? You’re kidding. Notes? Really? And then you can’t say what YOU think about what this guy thinks? You have to stay out of it? That’s messed up…"

And all of this incredulous angst is just for starters. All this happens in the first two weeks of the semester.

But let me slide over to the other side. Readers really don’t care about many of the things journalists and journalism professors agonize over. Anonymous has it right about journalism being an insular world. You might manage an interview with someone important who has never given an interview before. You write the story with gusto then it’s off to the break room to celebrate. Journalists, in my experience, tend to party together. You get high-fives in the break room, pats on the back and a little barely concealed envy. And, you think you might be up for an award yet again this year if only your blockhead editor plays this story right.

But back at home, your neighbor will read the story, even if it’s under the flag on page one, and probably not notice your byline. And, worse, your neighbor will find the story unremarkable. Your neighbor has no idea you have counted coup. Which, once you realize this fact, will drive you deeper into the insular world of journalism.

I became a teacher precisely because I had big problems with the traditions I found in journalism. I wanted to teach students who would go off like hand grenades in newsrooms someday: “Yes, this is a story and a good one and, dammit, we need to run it.” “No, that’s it; I’m not doing another one of these worthless stories. This is not news. The world does not need to know the 10 best ways to clean a toilet.” Well, maybe that’s a bad example.

So, I’ve spent an entire career as a teacher and a journalist chafing at the rules.

The problem here is to distinguish the traditions of journalism we should keep and the shackles we should throw off. The Internet is making that a tougher call. And the economics of the profession, which are always the driving force, are not making the choices easier. Nor, is the awards culture. (See Matt’s fine piece on this subject.)

OK, so here’s the solution. The focus has to shift from tradition, awards, editors, and even the bottom line (though I’ve always argued this will actually help the bottom line)… to YOU. These three folks kind of have it right. The focus has to shift to what YOU need. YOU have to become the north star of journalism.

But, that also means, in the case of Shan Shariff and Jason Whitlock, the focus also has to shift away from them. (I suspect Anonymous is also a writer – the cat can turn a phrase…) The focus has to shift away from the writer and the talker. It has to shift away from your byline, your career, your money, your celebrity, your ego. The story is not about you (unless you accomplish an incredibly messy public meltdown). The story is never about you.

And we have to build our reputations on being right, being fair, always getting to the bottom of the story at any cost, having courage and providing the deepest analysis rather than being louder and funnier and more outrageous than the next guy.

If we could really shift the focus to YOU, the reader, viewer and listener, we might be able to rewire this profession for the good of the communities it serves.

--Lofflin, stepping down from the soap box now… oops! Big step...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Another opinion on the "Awards Culture" at newspapers; plus, a Thelma Lou encounter

John has written two terrific posts (here and here) that referenced an "Awards Culture" at the Kansas City Star. As a former newspaper journalist myself, I have a few thoughts on the issue.

And a whole heap of mixed feelings.

There's no doubt that an Awards Culture exists at the Star and elsewhere. You can always tell when the Star is trying to win an award, and I'm positive the editors and reporters have conscious discussions about that very subject. The stories are always featured prominently, usually over several parts, and they may even include some sort of special logo to accompany each piece. These days the content continues online as well.

Here's my confession: I've done the same thing.

I wrote and assigned stories with the intention of using them to win journalism awards.

Here's the kicker, though, in my experience: writing to win awards can often produce high-quality, thoughtful journalism, but ironically, it rarely translates into actual awards.

I won several journalism awards over the course of my career, and not one of them was given to a story I wrote with the intention of winning an award.

There are a couple borderline cases, though. The most recent is a story I wrote in 2004 for the Wynne (Ark.) Progress. I was editor of that publication for about four months. During that time I met a woman named Leigh Smiley. Her son, Jeremiah, is autistic. Leigh and her husband Shannon were trying to raise $10,000 to buy a very special guide dog for Jeremiah.

After I interviewed the family, a very surreal feeling overcame me, the thought that if I wrote a good story, I was going to help this boy get his dog. But also, I thought I might win an award.

Both things happened. Jeremiah got his dog, and I won an award, honorable mention for feature writing from the Arkansas Press Association. To this day I consider the 1,300-word story the best thing I've ever written.

Another time at another newspaper, the Platte County (Mo.) Citizen, I met a historian who was chronicling the Interurban Railroad, which ran through the Kansas City area in the 1910s through the 1930s. I wrote a story about the railroad, and the historian's quest to save a historic interurban bridge. I researched the story for two months before I wrote a single word. During that process I got the feeling that I might win an award. We published the story over two parts, and afterwards we printed it up in a little booklet.

Again, I won an honorable mention for feature writing, this time from the Missouri Press Association.

That same year, something strange happened. The MPA gave out two honorable mentions in the feature writing category that year, both of them to me. The other award was for a story I wrote about a lady who built dollhouses. To me, the story was unremarkable, and certainly not written with any award intentions. I don't even remember submitting it for consideration.

And that's usually how it works. The awards are given to stories that exist organically, and not the ones created artificially just to win awards.

Every other award I've won in the business in three different states was for an "organic," not "artificial," story.

Still, though, I think there's a case to be made for writing to win awards. Let's take the Star's current feature about the Kansas City Mo. School District. Would that story have been written if the author and editors didn't hope to bag a trophy? Probably not.

If journalists are cranking out high-quality stories that engage readers and get people talking, does it really matter what their intentions are?

I don't know the answer. But the Star feature reminds me of one last incident to share.

I was once the editor of the Wednesday Magazine in south Kansas City. That job didn't last long either; I was fired for writing a column that angered an advertiser. But before that, I hatched a plan to write a year-long feature story about Southwest High School, which at the time had been converted into a charter school. I was going to chronicle the first-ever graduating class of Southwest by focusing on five extraordinary students. The five-part series would run at the beginning of each quarter and at the end of the school year. I also wanted to dive into the history of Southwest, which had produced some amazing graduates: director Robert Altman, actor Chris Cooper, authors Calvin Trillin and Evan S. Connell ("Mrs. Bridge"), and others.

The series allowed me to conduct my favorite interview of all time, a phone interview with a woman named Betty Lynn. That name probably doesn't mean anything to you. But Betty Lynn, a Southwest grad, played Thelma Lou on "The Andy Griffith Show."

That's right. I got to interview Thelma Lou.

I was canned after the second part of the series was published, and my successor didn't finish what I started.

As I stated before, I have mixed feelings about the "Award Culture." I think it can produce good quality journalism that wouldn't be done otherwise. But it's also a slippery slope, and can lead to situations like the Jason Whitlock ordeal at the Star.

This is just one man's opinion.

--Matt Kelsey

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Landsberg right about awards culture; awards are journalistic poison -- like too much bar-b-que

Awards are poison.

John Landsberg has an excellent take today on Awards Culture. His thoughts about the Star's over-the-top play of their school district award pitch is dead-on. Why save it all up for a start of school series? Why not cover the nitty gritty of what happens in Kansas City Missouri schools every damned day?

And that doesn't mean just the terrible stuff.

And why not do a monthly analysis of who gets the contracts and who makes the money from school district funds by untangling the data base so we know who owns what? Why not investigate some of these "canned" programs school districts buy? Why not cover the Kansas City Board of Education meetings like a duck on a bug. Why not ... the list is long and anybody could add to it. The fact is, the Star couldn't assign too many of its crack reporters to this story. It may be the most important story in this entire community with ramifications all the way to Smithville and Stanley.

--Lofflin... "So, a lot of minor league prospects doing well right now; the Royals behind 3-0 in this game today..." Bob Davis in the fifth inning at Detriot this afternoon

Monday, August 23, 2010

Don't miss the real meat in Jason Whitlock's bizarre Shakespearean Sandwich -- the money quote, to be or not to be... a reporter or a celebrity

While most focus on the sauce, the meat of Jason Whitlock’s Big Sandwich, if you can find it, is probably a lot more nutritious.

Strip all the intriguing… salacious… details away. Why did Mr. Whitlock quit writing for the Kansas City Star on May 26?

According to Mr. Whitlock, he quit because his editor told him he could not credit another news source in his column. Bare bones, he made his stand on only this point. I’ve made stands on points just as seemingly mundane, and, of course, that’s where all the other saucy stuff comes in. If he hadn’t slathered on the sad history of his entire career in journalism, seasoned by a few references to childhood and college, the explanation would have lasted a good hundred eighty seconds instead of a hundred eighty minutes.

His editor said you can’t reference in your story. Mr. Whitlock drew a line in the sand.

Now, you can look at this at least two ways. The first is the way Mr. Whitlock chose. The “awards culture” of the Kansas City Star -- fueled by the evil characters in his tragic narrative -- thought the piece he had written might bring the newspaper another plaque for the wall at 17th and Grand. The judges would not look kindly on a reference to someone else’s reporting for a major portion of the story.

It is not uncommon to think this way if you are thinking about awards. If you want to submit a wonderful design in the design category, you can’t use a background of roses you downloaded from the Web. You need to go out and shoot some roses for yourself and build the design from your own work.

The other way to look at this pivotal incident is this. Mr. Whitlock’s editor may have been demanding he develop the part of the story himself, quoting his own sources and, hopefully, adding his own detail. If this was the case, you can’t fault her, or her superiors. Most editors would make the same demand. And, they should make the same demand.

I wasn’t there, so I don’t know. But I do find a lot of columnists today are little more than amalgamators, stitching together “reports” into stories then pouring on their own special sauce of opinion. The special sauce is their claim to fame. In essence, it is their celebrity. They think in terms of their brand, of using their brand to drive traffic to themselves – and, incidentally, to their publication.

Not a bad strategy for Rosedale Bar-B-Que. Let your sauce do the talking. Of course, the meat ain't bad at Rosedale either.

Amalgamating is essentially what most bloggers do. It is easier than the care and feeding of good sources, working the phones, attending the games or the city council meetings, and sitting down for the long interview it might take to get the one money quote.

The other way is to gather “reports” and let the money quote come from you.

You become the money quote.

More often than not, Mr. Whitlock has been his own money quote. He said as much Friday.

It’s possible Mr. Whitlock’s line in the sand has to do with both perspectives, the “awards culture” of a newspaper and the “celebrity culture” of columnists today.

--Lofflin … and, yes, I’m writing this in the back of the kitchen with a cup of strong coffee and one eye on the hummingbirds outside. No original reporting here. But, whoa!, I needed to leave for work six paragraphs ago. And, I don’t expect to win an award for this little ditty nor do I expect to get paid. Therein likes the big flaw in the notion of citizen journalism.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Review: "Blockade Billy"

As always, I feel hesitant to post because I'm afraid I'll push one of John's brilliant posts to the backburner.

But he would tell me to just shut up and write. And I've been holding off on this post too long. So, here goes...

Stephen King has written a nicely disturbing novella in "Blockade Billy." Although it's chock-full of homespun baseball cliches, in the vein of "The Great American Novel" although not done as well, "Blockade Billy" hits its stride at the end, when it stops being a baseball story and becomes a Stephen King story.

Unfortunately, the two can't coexist.

King is not very good at writing about baseball.

But that's okay. He's good at scaring the bejeesus out of you, and he's good at making the hairs stand up on the back of your neck (across all mediums in a way NOBODY else can), and he's good at turning a nice, cute little story into a twisted tale of murder and horror.

This is actually King's second (at least) attempt to incorporate baseball into a horror story. The other was the much more successful "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon." It was probably more successful because it was less about baseball and more about being a superb psychological thriller.

Since "Blockade Billy" is a short, short book - you can sit down and read it in a couple hours - this is going to be a pretty short review. I can't give away too much; because of its length, King really only has one big "Oooooh!" moment in the book.

But it's worth reading. However, as I said earlier, with a cover price of $25, the 112-page book - which includes large print, large margins and pictures! - is not worth buying. Check it out at the library, like I did, or wait for it to hit the discount stores.

--Matt Kelsey

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Who gives a rat's whatever about sports talk or talker ethics? New school attacks the old school (spit) journalism...

I haven't heard the word "journalism" spoken anywhere with such distaste ... not Sarah Palin, not Sam Shepard playing Chuck Yeager in "The Right Stuff," not even in academia.

I'm listening to a snippet of one of the morning sports talk talkers. This is as close as I can get to the quote by writing it on a peanut bag balanced against the steering wheel.

"We're able to get away with more because the standards for what's right have dropped," the guy growled.

In the sentence before he said something about how "journalists" wouldn't like what he was about to say. Something about how media people wouldn't agree with him, about how he would be the bad guy among media people. Maybe even to his boss for saying this. Not a bad listenership ploy, I suppose. Paint yourself as the victim, the outsider, even before you speak.

"But you don't care," he said with the confidence of the clairvoyant. "As a sports fan you don't give a rat's (something) about whether a journalist asks Tim Tebow for his autograph."

That's close enough for you to get the meaning, I think.

What got me was the way he expectorated the word "journalist." I'm not sure what that was about. I know in studying humor, some theorists think when you happen on particularly over the top humor, it usually indicates something psychological lurking just under the surface of the humorist or the society. Or both...

(One thing I have to figure out how to do is wire my car radio so it goes directly to XM music in the morning if I've listened to the ball game on it the night before. )

As I said, I only caught a snippet. About enough to back out of the driveway and get to the corner to turn left. So I'm just speculating on the story behind this rant. I'm sorry, I could listen longer. I just couldn't take the voice. You know, I'm not asking for the professional big boy voice that was kind to the ears in the old days. I'm not that old school. I'm just asking for a voice that doesn't sound like a blender on puree. Or, as I said a few blogs ago about an afternoon talker, like your mother nagging you about cutting the grass.

Does it matter to you if "journalists" fawn over the folks they are paid to cover?

I heard a story that I haven't been able to confirm, so take it as a "what if..." The story goes like this: One year the Los Angeles Rams gave every beat reporter a color television at the end of the season.

Now, as a fan, would you expect those reporters to write tough things about the Rams? I wouldn't. Those guys have to be wondering what the gift will be next year. A car? Better to keep your mouth shut and stay on the beat. Better not to do anything to get yourself reassigned.

At one time I read the Kansas City Star bought two season tickets every year for its Royals reporters even though they never sat in the seats. I don't know if they still follow that practice but it was the right thing to do.

The New York Times did an interesting story on a new school television reporter who is also a conditioning agent for NFL athletes. Boy, that's somebody you want to trust with the straight goods.

I've been wined and dined by sources who refused to let me pay. When I got home I sent them checks for the dinner, explaining that as a reporter I simply could not accept their generosity (and I submitted expense account reports in the same amount to the magazines... Now, that's not old school -- that's business).

You just can't let the reader or listener think you might be biased by the gifts you're offered. So, no, I don't want the people who cover sports fawning over athletes they are supposed to tell me the truth about. I don't want them accepting tee-shirts or hats or other perks they are offered on their beats.

And although I've often suspected it, I don't want them to make it obvious to me that they are really star struck in the locker room. The way they ask what they consider tough questions makes you think of an orderly trying to calm a suicidal mental patent in the emergency room.

Surely this sports talker would not want the Star's city hall reporter to accept gifts from the mayor. If the mayor wrote a book, surely he wouldn't want the guy fawning over an autographed copy. And surely he wouldn't want a supplier of snow plows sending the mayor on a free golfing junket to Florida just before the decision on which plows to buy is made. In politics, that's called conflict of interest and among politicians and business people it's often against the law. The law takes it seriously.

So, bottom line, his argument -- the little I heard -- seemed to be these things just aren't important in sports and to sports fans. And, about that, he may be right. Sports may not be very important in the dangerous world we occupy. Perhaps not even important enough to listen to some guy debate with himself whether the football coach should be more open to the press or why Brett Farve decided to return for another season.

On second thought, why would anybody tune into these guys? Unless, of course, he was listening to the ballgame on that radio the night before.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Whitlock's vacation turns permanent

Lansberg is all over this story.

Oh for the day when the arm-chair, celebrity sports columnist syndrome is gone, as well. Go to the game, watch what happens, add some insight, write with grace... that's all I ask.

Oh, yes, and a box score please.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

The State of the Royals ... not so sweet; just check out the ninth inning last night...

In the bottom of the ninth
last night, the Royals sent three hitters to the plate.

If they had not pinch hit for the third, all three would have been hitters who choke up two inches on the bat. None of the three was Barry Bonds.

Three hitters in a row who choke the bat.

Now I appreciate defense as much as the next guy. Hey, I think defense wins games in slow-pitch softball, the most offense-minded game on the planet. But for an alleged major league team to send three chokers to the plate in a row?

Oh, if only it were about their defense. Only one of the three is a defensive specialist. The center-fielder appears adequate and the catcher -- as Joe Posnanski says -- may be the worst everyday player in either league. So, it's not about defense.

OK, three chokers in a row. The combined batting average of the first two was .421. Combined. That's an average average of about .211.

With the catcher added, the combined average would have been .681. That's a pretty good series in bowling but not much in baseball. The average average of three hitters the Royals sent to the plate in the bottom of the ninth would have been .227.

But instead, the Royals pinch hit for their iron man catcher. Not sure how the manager summoned the guts to tell him to sit down, but he did. And the average of the poor pinch hitter who probably got more swings off live pitching in the first three days of spring training than he has gotten all season? Whoa! .170.

So, in reality the Royals sent three hitters to the plate in the bottom of the ninth last night in front of 34,206 fans.


Good thing the game wasn't on the line and the ticket you bought was just for watching the brain trust evaluate talent.

And, that's how it's gone for Royals fans this year after the trades and the call ups. You can put a ribbon on it, but it still stinks.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Props to Chrissie Hynde, Taco Bell, and the modern university

Sitting in a coffee shop sipping some exotic blend, watching the sun come up on Taco Bell. What a life. Coffee picked by hand from organic trees somewhere on the other side of the planet and the sun rising over Taco Bell. Who could ask for more?

When I graduated college many years ago, I did. I believed my life would be special because I believed I would be special. But what I found out across time was that the world I lived in did not want special. It wanted interchangeable. The more special you are, the more dangerous you are because the harder you are to replace.

So I moved into academia a quarter century ago; the lure was that academia was home to the special. I had special profs myself who civilized me first, then, once I was civilized, taught me something. Sometimes they taught me because of their quirks. The agnostic religion professor. The peace loving down to earth artist. The befuddling philosophy professor. The hyperventilating journalism teacher. I could tell you stories, and some of them might be special, but all of them would amount to the same thing. It was good to be different.

But my timing was bad. I moved into academia just as academia became corporate America and began fearing the special. If you have special talents, you invent special classes, you attract special students, you build special programs, you are part of a special university, you, my friend, are dangerous. You are, in some sense, irreplaceable.

We really want interchangeable.

Interchangeable credentials. Interchangeable methods. Interchangeable syllabi. Interchangeable assessment rubrics (don't even try to understand that phrase...). Interchangeable research agendas. Interchangeable desires. Especially unchangeable desires.

Because, ultimately we've decided to operate the modern university as a drive-up window. Drink yer exotic blend, mister, then get your butt over here and start buildin' tacos.

PPS: Guess what. We crossed the 10,000 mark this week. Of course, one stupid Youtube video does that in an hour but, you know, it's still a little amazing.

PPS: Special thanks to Chrissie Hynde for this morning's idea. That guitar is no prop strapped across her shoulders and she is no pretender. And to my daughter who recently taught me what this song means.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Royals coming apart at the seams; Greinke and Butler know how this flick ends

They're like bad marriages, these bad teams.

Everything comes undone the same way. The warmth of spring spreads hope all will finally be well. And in the heat of August, hope wilts.

Then the bickering begins. The friends take sides.

The brain trust would like for you to believe all is well, this marriage can (once again) be saved. Just be patient. Visit the pastor. Redefine the roles. Work on the small things. Do the dishes with a smile.

But the players (on the team and in the marriage) know different.

In the past week the only two players on this team who would start on any .500 or better major league team have aired grievances. They are inside. They know the thing is coming apart.

Why? They've seen it before. As young as they are for major leaguers, they've seen it before twice.

Greinke and Butler. They know how this movie ends.

And what about the fans? Like some of the friends of the marriage, they've turned on them. Disloyal, they shout. Flawed. Greinke needs to pitch like his old self. Butler can't line up properly for the relay from the outfield. Greinke better shut up and win. Butler needs to grow up and hit for power.

Fans, like friends of the marriage, are fickle. But, like Butler and Greinke, they've also been here before. Some for more than half a century. They all know how the movie ends. Or should know.

It's time for the fans to realize this impossible marriage between Kansas City and Major League Baseball aint gonna work. Ever.

But, unfortunately, they all know next spring they will let themselves be filled with hope again. And by August, they will feel betrayed.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Novel Notes: "Blockade Billy"

I stumbled upon what I'm hoping is a little gem at the West Wyandotte Public Library this week. It's a fairly new novella from Stephen King called "Blockade Billy." According to the novel's Wikipedia page, King wrote the baseball story in only two weeks.

Pretty impressive, even for a short, short novella.

The last Stephen King novel I reviewed on this blog was the pretty good "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon." Although not a baseball novel in subject, baseball plays a part of the backstory.

In "Blockade Billy," King puts baseball center stage.

Right now I'm finishing up Dee Brown's brilliant and enraging "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." After that, I'll read and review "Blockade Billy." The reading part should only take me a couple days.

One last note: I know he's Stephen King and everything, but I was a little astonished by the cover price of the tiny hardcover edition of the book. Twenty-five bucks.
I can't imaging paying $25 for a book that's about the length of a magazine article.

But people will pay any price for a book with that man's name on it.

--Matt Kelsey

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Revisited: Good news; bad news for the Royals -- Guillen is gone and Zack Greinke speaks the truth

You already know the news, but here it is.

Good news: Jose Guillen designated for assignment.

Bad news: Zack Greinke speaks the truth.

First heard about this on an afternoon talk show before I could hit the XM button for the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia week. The talker -- whose voice is reminiscent of your mother nagging you about cutting the grass -- was chewing on the details. Came home and read Bob Dutton's piece on the Star's Web page. Man, Dutton can squeeze more words out of a 30-second interview than a wringer washer. Some time in his career he must have been stuck behind a four inch stack of wedding announcement writing bridal stories for the women's page.

The long and short is that Zack is making noises about not signing another contract. And, his noises go precisely against the PR hype the Royals and some of their sycophants are selling about the crop of minor leaguers just waiting to bust through to the Big Leagues. You can't argue his logic. This is the third rebuild in the course of his six year career. The previous two have not worked -- nor has anything worked for the last quarter century. The chances are small that these guys will have an impact and even smaller that they will have an impact soon. He bravely points to Mr. Gordon in left field as an example.

2012? Zack is not hopeful. Nor should he be. And, in the meantime, another lost season in 2011.

All these KC fans who just can't wait to see the prospects should drive up to Omaha for a game or two because you are a long way from seeing them tear up major league pitching or pitch a consistent major league quality game. All you have to do is run your finger down the roster of this team and remember how you couldn't wait to see these guys at the stadium. Only two have genuinely panned out -- Billy Butler and Zack Greinke. Remember when you couldn't wait to see what Mr. Gordon would do in the bigs? Nough said.

Zack will be better off in the National League anyway. Maybe he can play a few games in October over there. Maybe win a flag or even a ring. And pinch hit once in a while.

Here's a scary thought. What would happen if Tony LaRussa and Dave Ducan got hold of him?

Time has come for us to make Major League Baseball lie in the bed it has made. Time to ditch our outdated chauvinism. Today, you can follow any team anywhere, every game. You can watch games played in other cities on your computer. You can't even do that with the home team because their games are blacked out by the brain trust at MLB. The players have no loyalty, the owners have no loyalty, MLB just wants to sell you caps -- why should the fans?

What is Kansas City about the Kansas City Royals? Any home-grown Frank Whites on this team? Any career Royals like George Brett who came here from the beach and decided to stay? Even the owner isn't from here. Especially the owner isn't from here. This is a team from nowhere, going nowhere.

In fact, it may actually be dangerous to your psyche to identify with this team. Is this hapless franchise a true reflection of the city where you have chosen to live? I'm hoping your answer is 'no.'

What is the character of this franchise since 1985? Would you claim this as the character of your beloved home town? Some of the transplants -- outlanders -- who don't really want to live here might say, "Yes, second class is about right." But you wouldn't, you who come home to this place and can't wait to fire up the barbecue in your big green back yard or smell the coffee roasting at Folgers, or buy sweet corn at a roadside market. You're not second class, your city isn't second class ... but your ball club? Well... second class is a bit generous for this franchise, frankly.

Free yourself. Pick another team -- or two -- and follow their season. If Greinke leaves, I'm pretty sure I'll keep track of when he pitches and see every game. Pick a team whose style of play you like and go there -- through the magic of the Net -- for professional baseball.

And go out to the stadium once or twice a year to eat a hot dog and remember what baseball is like when it isn't on a screen. Or, to watch when your new favorite team comes to town.


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tiahrt vs Moran; Kraus vs Pratt...GOP primaries FINALLY over today: Can I get an Amen?!?

The GOP primary commercials we see in Kansas City for the two hot races -- U.S. Senate and Missouri Senate 8th District -- have been, frankly, nauseating. After a couple of viewings, I've been using the clicker to keep the mud off the carpet. These geniuses should remember we watch their commercials at home in the living room not at a cattle auction or a wrestling match.

At best, they're little more than school yard taunts. "I'm more conservative than you are,"

More conservative doesn't quite capture it. More "tea party" is closer. Perhaps... "more against."

Reminds me of Marlon Brando in "The Wild One". "What are you rebelling against, Johnny?"

"Whaddaya got?"

At worst, they're mean spirited, viscous, condescending and silly. They're caricatures of the ideas they profess -- a local actress doing Tina Fey doing Sarah Palin in dinner theater. Politics meets Corky in a Christopher Guest movie.

They've provided an awful insight into the worst, most selfish, impulses of this moment in history. I've said it before; I'll say it again:

We are, as a people, better than this.

Way better.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

The bottomline on why we've had nothing new from Star (both the newspaper and the writer) columnist since May? Will he write again soon?

Just a quick pitch this morning:

Bottomline Communication in Kansas City has been reporting on strife at the Kansas City Star's sports desk this week. Editor Holly Lawton has resigned, they report. Speculation about her replacement includes the idea McClatchy may try to save money by combining the Kansas City and Wichita sport desks, or bringing the Wichita sports desk to Kansas City. And, juiciest, Bottomline offers a possible reason why we haven't seen anything new from Jason Whitlock since his all-over-the-place tirade against the NCAA in May .

According to Bottomline's sources, Whitlock has long been troubled by the editing process. "Insiders have said for years that Whitlock's columns frequently require significant editing. Reportedly, Whitlock does not like anyone editing with his work, or even offer(ing) suggestions for improvement ... ," Bottomline writes.

I understand this. It is a problem I often have working with freshman journalism students.

One commentator says let Mr. Whitlock's stories run un-edited so everyone can see the raw material and decide or themselves.

No offense meant to Lawton's efforts, but I always thought they were unedited.

-- Lofflin