The Star’s news podcast goes deep: Best of KC 2019
Our Best of Kansas City 2019 issue is out now. Go grab a copy. Alternatively, you can browse the results of the readers’ poll here. The issue also includes a list, compiled and written by The Pitch’s editorial staff, shouting out some of our current favorite things about KC. We’ll be publishing these items online throughout the month of October.
Transportation ordinances, tax incentive proposals, personnel changes at the county, dysfunction at a state agency: Stories like these are essential, the backbone of any decent newspaper. Unfortunately, they’re also often rather boring, particularly when told in the view-from-nowhere style that has defined daily American journalism for nearly a century. It can be a drag to mentally trudge through a local government story, squinting while trying to decode the meaning buried within the text. Just tell us what it means! we often want to yell.
Among the lessons the rise of podcasts has taught us is that most reporters, when freed of the dull shackles of inverted-pyramid journalism, are plenty capable of explaining their stories to a general audience. You just have to let them talk like regular people. The Daily, from The New York Times, is the gold standard in this category, but we became fast fans of The Kansas City Star’s weekly podcast, Deep Background, pretty soon after it launched last year.
The show typically consists of the hosts—Star columnist and editorial board member Dave Helling and digital editor Leah Becerra—speaking for about a half-hour about the most interesting piece the Star published that week with the reporter who filed it. Helling, who has a TV background and expansive institutional knowledge derived from decades of local reporting experience, is a natural, guiding the conversation with intelligent questions and gentle humor. We like the chat format of the show, but we also appreciated the more ambitious, narrative-driven July episode Becerra hosted about Missouri politicians’ use of Confide, a secret message app. Reported on for over a year by the Star’s ace Jefferson City correspondent Jason Hancock, the story was a convoluted one, involving multiple lawsuits and investigations related to two officials (Eric Greitens and Josh Hawley) who have since left office. We’d struggled to keep up with it in the day-to-day, but after the 40-minute podcast, we felt confident we could explain the Confide saga at a dinner party. Ultimately, that’s what we want from journalism. And that’s why we keep tuning into Deep Background week after week.