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Kansas City Star apologizes for its coverage of Black people

The Kansas City Star published a story Sunday that apologized for the way it had covered Black people.

“The Kansas City Star prides itself on holding power to account. Today we hold up the mirror to ourselves to see the historic role we have played, through both action and inaction, in shaping and misshaping Kansas City’s landscape,” the editor of the newspaper, Mike Fannin, wrote in the piece.

“It is time that we own our history.”

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He wrote that the 140-year-old newspaper came to the decision to do the examination after a suggestion from reporter Mará Rose Williams. That suggestion led to a deep look into the paper’s coverage of race and the Black community since its founding in 1880.

In their research, Kansas City reporters looked through newspaper archives and interviewed people who lived through the events that were reported in the past. They also spoke with former Kansas City editors and reporters.

“Reporters were frequently sickened by what they found — decades of coverage that depicted Black Kansas Citians as criminals living in a crime-laden world,” writes Fannin. “They felt shame at what was missing: the achievements, aspirations and milestones of an entire population routinely overlooked, as if Black people were invisible.”

Fannin writes of how the newspaper, like many newspapers of the mid-20th century, was a “white newspaper produced by white reporters and editors for white readers and advertisers.” He describes how having the newspaper was a tradition for some families that has been passed down for generations.

“But not in Black families. Their children grew up with little hope of ever being mentioned in the city’s largest and most influential newspapers, unless they got in trouble. Negative portrayals of Black Kansas Citians buttressed stereotypes and played a role in keeping the city divided.”

A “toxic narrative” was created in which Black people were primarily portrayed as victims or perpetrators of crimes, writes Fannin.

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He points to a rare instance when a Black Kansas City man was celebrated —  Charlie “Bird” Parker the acclaimed jazz saxophonist — noting that it was only to report on Parker’s death. When his death was reported, his name was misspelled and his age was incorrect.

Fannin said progress did not begin until the 1960's during the Civil Rights Movement when more Black reporters wee hired. But he also said mistakes continued.

"The good news is, solutions are not impossible. Our gradual improvements need to accelerate. We need a more diverse staff. We need deeper community conversations to better focus our coverage. We need a spectrum of voices to represent our entire community. And we occasionally just need good advice."

He ends his piece by announcing the formation of the The Kansas City Star Advisory Board that will meet with newsroom leaders monthly to discuss current issues.

"We are grateful for how far we’ve come. We are humbled by how far we still have to go."