Kansas City, MO

Holding a newspaper like 'The Kansas City Star' with morning coffee became a past routine--technology changed our habits

CJ Coombs

Kansas City Star headquarters in August 2006.The original uploader was Americasroof at English Wikipedia., CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s no surprise that reading the news on the internet replaced a lot of hard copy subscriptions and even shut down some smaller publications. Technology changed the routine of going to your doorstep to pick up the news you would catch up on along with morning coffee.

Some paper history

The Kansas City Star has been published since 1880 and has won several Pulitzer Prizes. It is the longest-running newspaper in Kansas City. The operation of this paper ran from the building pictured above for 95 years. It helped the career of President Harry S. Truman and is notable as being the newspaper where author Ernest Hemingway worked on perfecting his writing. From October 1917 to April 1918, Hemingway was reported for the Star.

When the paper began, it was called The Kansas City Evening Star by William Rockhill Nelson and Samuel E. Morss. Nelson and Morss came from Indiana to Missouri after selling a newspaper there called the Fort Wayne News Sentinel.

Due to health reasons, Morss left the newspaper business in 1881 which turned over the content as well as the tone to Nelson. During this time, other competitors were the Kansas City Evening Mail, The Kansas City Times, and The Kansas City Journal.

For the next thirty-four years, Nelson used the Star as the voice for the betterment of Kansas City, rallying against political corruption and advocating for civic reform and improvements. Nelson’s business decisions, such as selling issues for two cents each, undercutting competing newspapers, and focusing coverage on local news instead of national stories and advertisements, popularized the Star and drove up subscriptions. (Source.)

In 1882, Nelson bought The Kansas City Evening Mail (published from 1880 to 1882) and in 1885, he changed the name to The Kansas City Star (now 142 years old). In 1890, Nelson started The Weekly Kansas City Star (published from 1908 to 1952). In 1894, he started The Sunday Kansas City Star. In 1901, Nelson purchased The Kansas City Times (published from 1908 to 1990).

The former President Truman even worked in the mailroom wrapping newspapers for a couple of weeks in the summer of 1902.

In 1915, when Nelson died, he had a clause in his will indicating the newspaper was to support his wife and daughter and then be sold. In 1921, Nelson’s wife died. When Nelson died, his daughter and husband ran the paper.

Under [Laura's] leadership, The Star printed its first photograph and first comics, both banned by her father, and began WDAF Radio as part of The Star empire. (Source.)

Initially, Nelson didn't approve of his daughter's relationship with her husband, Irwin.

Irwin, as editor of the paper, initiated the employee purchase of the newspaper to keep it local. The stock was distributed to employees after Irwindied in 1927 of a heart attack in New York. Proceeds from the sale including remains of Nelson's fortune were donated to build the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Laura died the previous year in a Baltimore hotel room.

The Star had its role in American politics that began in the late 1920s with Herbert Hoover being nominated at the 1928 Republican Convention held in Kansas City. This role would continue through 1960 when Dwight D.Eisenhower concluded his presidency.

In 1942, The Kansas City Journal stopped its publication and probably suffered once Tom Pendergast began to lose power.

Ownership goes corporate

In 1977, The Kansas City Times and The Kansas City Star were purchased by Capital Cities and while under its ownership, won three Pulitzer Prizes. By 1990, The Kansas City Star turned into a morning newspaper and the Times stopped publication. In 1996, The Walt Disney Company bought Capital Cities and sold it to Knight Ridder the following year.

Kansas City Star printing plant.Photo by poster (Aug. 2006); CC-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons.

During Knight Ridder's ownership, a $199 million construction of the glass-enclosed printing and distribution plant was underway. It is a huge building that is two blocks long. It's pretty dramatic when you drive by it. Taking about four years to build, it helped to revitalize the downtown area of Kansas City. Printing out of the new plant began in June 2006, the same month and year that the McClatchy Company purchased Knight Ridder.

In early 2020, Chatham Asset Management LLC bought the McClatchy Company at an auction when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. In November 2020, it was reported by the Star that printing was going to be moved to a third-party resource, (Des Moines Register). The glass building had become too large for current needs and relocating printing had economic value. Obviously, since the pandemic began in 2020, a lot of the news staff were working remotely.

The Star sold the glass building on McGee St. to Ambassador Hospitality, LLC in 2019, entering into a lease-back agreement. It's being leased back for 15 years with annual payments by McClatchy Company.

December 2020 newspaper apology associated with past racism

The Star is now apologizing for its actions, and has published the first part of six-part package examining the Star's coverage of Kansas City. (Source.)

In December 2020, the President and Editor of the Star, Mike Fannin, published an apology for the newspaper’s lack of representation of a community and by community, I’m referring to African-American Kansas Citians.

Click here to read the apology. Imagine the embarrassment of current news staffers to read past issues going back years. But it wasn't the only publication to issue an apology.

The old Kansas City Star building

The massive three-story building housed the paper’s administrative/editorial offices and production facilities until 2005 when printing and distribution operations moved to a new purpose-built facility. Office and editorial functions remained in the historic building until it was sold for redevelopment in 2018. (Source.)

The old Kansas City Star Building is located at 1729 Grand Boulevard in Kansas City, Missouri. The architectural design of the building as noted on the nomination form to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places is "a unique and rare expression of the Italian Villa style in Kansas City." The well-known Chicago architect, Jarvis Hunt, designed the building which housed offices until 2018 when the building was sold for redevelopment.

In June 2019, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As a current subscriber to The Kansas City Star online, I may not receive a hard copy anymore, but I still value receiving locally written news that's been around for over a century.

Thank you for reading.

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Multi-genre writer and indie author; 30 years of legal secretarial experience; BA in Eng Journalism & Creative Writing. Thinker, giver, and lover of life. Born into Air Force service life, life has taken me to Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Missouri. I love family, art, truth, non-fiction, reading, history, and travel.

Kansas City, MO

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