Here’s Some Advice: Pull Out!

When New Theatre Restaurant starts advertising its upcoming production of Song of Singapore starring Loretta Swit, don’t expect any ads to pop up on KSHB Channel 41. The theater, one of the few arts venues that actually does local television advertising, has pulled its ads from the station until Channel 41 or its parent company, Scripps Howard, agrees not to run the new Dr. Laura Schlessinger television show, which is scheduled to debut September 11.

On her radio talk show, Schlessinger’s sharp tongue has gone after gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, calling anyone who is not heterosexual a “biological error” and spewing such ridiculous lines as “a huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys.” Those attacks, activists argue, will find an even broader audience — and do more harm — on the television show. Nationally, such companies as Procter & Gamble, AT&T, Geico Insurance, and Sears Roebuck & Co. have stopped advertising on the radio program and refused to advertise on the television show.

But now the campaign against “Dr. Laura,” as she is known to her fans, has become local. Some observers might find New Theatre’s action surprising, considering its reputation for very traditional theater fare, but New Theatre co-owner Richard Carrothers explains that the theater’s success (it was listed in May as one of the area’s 25 top special attractions, with a 1998 attendance of 242,000) allows it to take such bold measures to show its commitment to the arts community. “So many in the arts community are gay and lesbian,” he says. “Any arts organizations that would spend money with a station that airs somebody with (Schlessinger’s) point of view, I truly question what their commitment is to the arts community.”

The New Theatre appears to be the metro’s first big arts organization to come down on any particular side of the Dr. Laura controversy. Representatives of other organizations large enough to make television buys, such as the Kansas City Ballet and the Kansas City Symphony, said the issue had not come up because they didn’t intend to buy advertising until their holiday performances; others said it was something they hadn’t been aware of and would have to think about.

But Carrothers, who is quick to point out that his company has had a good relationship with KSHB in the past, hopes more arts organizations will follow in his boycott. “(KSHB’s) hands are tied…. Corporate (Scripps Howard) decided for the Kansas City market that they would put her in (the station’s lineup). So if corporate could see that it’s hurting their profits in Kansas City they could easily pull (the show). Right now, it’s just a one-case situation and the station can say, ‘Well, we lost this one.’ But if they had a bunch of accounts that they lost as a result of Dr. Laura, I think they could go to corporate and say, ‘Guys, we’re really having a lot of fallout from this.'”

KSHB representatives did not return phone calls inquiring about the station’s plans to air Schlessinger’s show.

If Schlessinger’s show does end up on KSHB, Carrothers says, “now we’re going to have Dr. Laura on television five days a week going into someone’s living room saying gays are second-, third-, or fourth-class citizens. That’s going to put the gay community back a couple of years.”

The Chopping Block
On July 2, The New York Times published a 3,200-word story on a lawsuit against locally based tax giant H&R Block. The story used court records to uncover the details of Block’s questionable business practices, including charging annual interest rates of more than 500 percent on many refund advances (“roughly what Mafia loan sharks in New York charge their best customers,” the Times reported) while also secretly collecting fees from its banking partners on each loan. The story also examined critics’ arguments against Block’s proposed $25 million settlement (which a judge has since rejected), including that the sum was too low.

So what was the biggest Block-related story in The Kansas City Star over that same period of time? The announcement of co-founder Henry W. Bloch’s retirement — not exactly a shocker given that Bloch is 77.

While Bloch’s retirement ran above the fold on the front page of the business section, the Block lawsuit has rated three articles (only one of which made the section’s front page), each half the size of the retirement story, which goes into great detail about the company’s succession plans and earnings increases.

Few of the details of the Block suit have appeared in The Star, so the paper’s begrudging stories read like reluctance to aggressively cover a local corporate heavyweight.

But Star Assistant Managing Editor of Business Chris Lester defends the paper’s lack of attention to the Block lawsuit as a matter of circumstance rather than design. With the Sprint-WorldCom merger failing grandly at the same time that the Block story was big news elsewhere, the paper poured much of its business-section resources into that story. “A story may not get the play it might deserve if there’s a bigger story going on at the time,” Lester tells PitchWeekly.

Lester says he and consumer affairs reporter Paul Wenske discussed the possibility of doing more in-depth coverage of the H&R Block suit, but the Sprint story became a priority and the Block suit was settled before they had a chance to pursue it. “Breaking news events will dictate coverage at times, and then there are moments in between individual events where we try to do a lot more analysis. I preach a lot about context and meaning to our staff and I think that’s what the newspaper can bring to people that they really can’t get from other media, particularly electronic. I personally, and a lot of folks on our desk, like writing the longer, in-depth pieces. And I think we’ve done a lot of that with Sprint.”

Last month The Star expanded the business section’s “news hole” by making changes to its stock tables on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays that will give the paper 50 percent more space for articles on those days. Now all it has to do is commit its resources to filling that hole with the in-depth reporting that is important to Lester and his staff.

Categories: News