At Village Talk event, a role reversal for NEJC resident, KCUR host Steve Kraske

Kraske told the audience that Kansas policy debate had reached a "pivot point." "If you are so inclined to speak up, and you don't like what's happening, now would be the time."
Kraske told the audience that Kansas policy debate had reached a “pivot point.” “If you are so inclined to speak up, and you don’t like what’s happening, now would be the time.”

Northeast Johnson County resident Steve Kraske found himself on the unfamiliar side of the microphone Wednesday at Village Presbyterian Church, where parish associate Brian Ellison interviewed the well-known host of KCUR’s Up to Date as part of the church’s Village Talk series.

Before an audience of more than 150, Kraske described a childhood with an editor and writer father and social activist mother as fertile ground for the development of his interest in journalism — a field which he lamented is in a state of uncertain flux.

Kraske told the audience that it has been hard to watch the Kansas City Star, the newspaper where he worked full time from 1986 to 2013, struggle through a fundamental shift in the media landscape. While the paper itself is profitable, the enormous debt of its parent company, The McClatchy Company, has prevented the publication from investing to maintain or expand its coverage in many areas. Kraske said that while he believes the demand for high quality, credible information — as evidenced by the tens of billions of dollars people still pay for subscriptions to news publications — won’t go away, traditional mainstream media institutions haven’t figured out how to turn opportunities in digital media into the lifeline they need.

“It’s like the mainstream media and the Star were down in the bottom of a very deep pit, and we’re running out of oxygen,” he said. “The air is getting very, very thin.”

The weakening of institutions like the Star, he said, is especially troubling because daily newspapers have for decades been the places where most investigative reporting is carried out. While web-based outlets and television news are good at delivering breaking news, they aren’t usually equipped to do detailed reporting work.

On the plus side, though, Kraske noted that he had witnessed the news operation at KCUR experience explosive growth since he began hosting Up to Date there 13 years ago.

Ellison asked Kraske, who continues to pen a political column for the Star and spent years covering the Missouri statehouse and politics in the region, who he viewed as the most talented politician in Kansas. Kraske said Gov. Sam Brownback’s ability to get elected to every office he’s sought out since coming to Congress in 1994, combined with his ability to carry out an agenda while in office, likely put him at the top of the pack.

Whether you like his policies or not, Kraske said, Brownback could very well be the “most consequential governor in Kansas history.”

As for how the legislature will handle the massive budget hole it faces over the next several weeks, Kraske said it’s anyone’s guess.

“How this all plays out is going to be incredible political theater,” he said. “Too bad it has real life consequences.”

Before the close of the session, an audience member asked Kraske what advice he would give to local youth interested in getting into the field of journalism. He stressed that developing strong fundamental writing skills was key — and that northeast Johnson County families had an invaluable resource in SM East’s journalism program, headed by teacher Dow Tate.

“I would tell [your child] to go see Dow Tate at Shawnee Mission East,” Kraske said. “Whatever he’s doing there, it works.”