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Kansas City Star Apologizes for Racism in Decades of Reporting

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The Kansas City Star on Sunday issued an apology for having “disenfranchised, ignored and scorned” generations of Black people in Kansas City, Mo., through much of its early history, saying the apology was long overdue.

In an essay titled “The Truth in Black and White,” Mike Fannin, editor of The Star, said that an investigation of thousands of pages of articles had shown that the paper, over decades, had denied the Black community dignity, justice and recognition.

“Before I say more, I feel it to be my moral obligation to express what is in the hearts and minds of the leadership and staff of an organization that is nearly as old as the city it loves and covers: We are sorry,” Mr. Fannin wrote.

The newspaper’s investigation began after the killing of George Floyd in May, at the hands of the Minneapolis police, prompted many companies — Twitter, Nike and General Motors among them — to examine their own biases and histories of systemic racism. Media companies, too, vowed to change their office cultures and pledged to take steps to create more diverse newsrooms.

Some went further. In September, the Los Angeles Times editorial board apologized for biased coverage of the city’s nonwhite population for much of the newspaper’s history, which it blamed on a shortage of Indigenous, Black, Latino, Asian and other minority groups in the newsroom. For at least the paper’s first 80 years, it was an institution that was “deeply rooted in white supremacy.”

The Los Angeles Times also apologized for a series in 1981 that it said had reinforced stereotypes that Black and Latino Angelenos were “thieves, rapists and killers” and had implied that the only effective responses to crime were more aggressive policing and harsher sentences.

The Kansas City Star’s investigation came out of internal discussions about how the paper should address racism in its past coverage. On Sunday, The Star published the result of those discussions: A six-part investigation by reporters who dug into the paper’s archives, dating back to its founding in 1880, to compare coverage by The Star and its sister paper, The Kansas City Times, to coverage of the same events in local Black newspapers, The Kansas City Call and The Kansas City Sun.

Mr. Fannin said reporters were “frequently sickened” by what they found. In its 1977 coverage of a deadly flood, the newspapers fixated on the property damage at the Country Club Plaza, rather than on the lives of the 25 people who died, including eight Black residents.

Often, achievements and milestones of Black residents of Kansas City were overlooked, the editorial said, “as if Black people were invisible.” Charlie Parker, the saxophonist and cultural icon from Kansas City, did not receive a significant headline until his death in 1955, the paper said. Even then, his name was misspelled and his age was wrong.

Some readers and journalists said the apology was a meaningful step forward, even though more work needed to be done. Wesley Lowery, a CBS News reporter, tweeted on Sunday, “I say this every time one of these critical self examinations happens: Every news organization should do that.”

In the editorial, Mr. Fannin said the positive changes the paper had already made to its coverage needed to accelerate, such as hiring a more diverse staff and quoting a wider spectrum of voices in articles.

“It is well past time for an apology, acknowledging, as we do so, that the sins of our past still reverberate today,” Mr. Fannin wrote.

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