Editorial board writer Barb Shelly among top names to take a buyout at The Kansas City Star

Barb Shelly, one of the leading voices in local news, will leave the Kansas City Star, she confirmed on social media Friday morning.

Shelly, a graduate of Penn State University, has worked in several different capacities at the Star since 1984. She has been on the Star editorial board since 2004.

KCUR reported Thursday that the deadline for newsroom employees to accept buyouts came and went on Wednesday.

Also following Shelly out the door at 1729 Grand is Steve Paul, a veteran at the Star of more than 40 years. Paul is currently the editorial page editor. Also departing is Robert Trussell, the Star’s theater critic. Other names in the Star newsroom are said to have accepted buyouts, but as of this writing have not been independently confirmed and won’t be named here until they are. We will update as we learn more.

The Star’s newsroom has been harmless from buyouts offers for a year, a period of relative calm that had followed several rounds of buyouts and layoffs. The Star is owned by McClatchy, a Sacramento, California-based newspaper  company that owns 29 media properties. The Star is McClatchy’s third-largest newspaper property, based on daily circulation (157,661), behind the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram and The Sacramento Bee.

McClatchy posted its annual report with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday. The publicly traded company, which hasn’t paid dividends to shareholders since the first quarter of 2009, was warned last month by the New York Stock Exchange, where its shares are traded, that its low stock price hasn’t met listing requirements and faces possible delisting. Generally, the NYSE requires companies trading on its exchange to have share prices above $1.

McClatchy’s stock hit a three-month low of 87 cents per share on February 11, but the stock has grown since then, opening trading on Friday at $1.32 and likely staving off the NYSE’s delisting threat.

McClatchy’s financial realities were laid bare in the annual report. The company still makes most of its revenue — 60 percent — from advertising, which has been on a steady decline. In 2011, McClatchy made $936 million in advertising revenue and $1.3 billion in overall revenue. In 2015, the company realized $637 million in advertising revenue, and $1.05 billion in overall revenue. While audience revenues have grown since that time, it’s not been enough to offset losses in advertising. McClatchy posted an operating loss of $245 million in 2015. McClatchy continues to be burdened by debt that it incurred when it bought several media properties, including the Star, from Knight-Ridder in 2006. As of December 27, 2015, it has $937 million in outstanding indebtedness. Meanwhile, its pension obligations have increased.

All of which is to say that these latest buyouts mark another sad chapter in the troubles that face print media in this town and elsewhere. In an age where bashing “mainstream media” is as fashionable as not owning a television and telling everyone about it, such attitudes overlook the importance of having a strong media in local communities. And to have a strong media, you need to have people to do the work. At the Star, here and elsewhere, there are fewer people left to tell the stories that need to be told. There’s no joy in telling this story.

When local print media struggles, there are no winners — except perhaps for those people and institutions that need to be examined.

Categories: News