For Wichita Eagle, no concern about relationships

Should the Wichita Eagle, a city’s only daily newspaper and the state’s largest, be concerned about the parties to its business relationships?

It’s a question that the Wichita Eagle should be considering. But the newspaper’s top executives seem to have no concern.

On February 14 I sent a message to the publisher and executive editor of the Wichita Eagle expressing my concerns about the newspaper’s future landlords. That letter appears below. After several follow-up attempts by email and telephone, neither would respond.

Sent I sent this message, I’ve found I was mistaken about the ownership of the building to where the Eagle will move and become a tenant. Brandon Steven is not an owner. I had relied on Eagle reporting1 from January, naming Steven as an owner. The reporter confirmed to me that was an error.

An error in the digital archives of the Wichita Eagle which could easily be corrected.

Of note, the Eagle portrays itself as a digital entity. One of the things about material published digitally is it can be easily corrected. As of today, the erroneous story from January 3 has not been corrected, even though the reporter knows she made an error.

Is it important that a newspaper avoid business relationships or entanglements with parties that are frequently in the news? I’ve been told that the Eagle has to rent from someone, and Wichita is a small town. Well, not really. The Eagle owns its current building, which eliminated the relationship with a landlord. And if the newspaper wants to be a rental tenant, it could rent from the many landlords who are not frequent newsmakers, especially those that the Eagle needs to hold accountable.

This is a sad episode for the Eagle. When Eagle reporters ask someone about uncomfortable topics and the subject does not respond to messages, the newspaper reports that, and in a negative light. Here, the top two executives at the Eagle would not comment on something they may be uncomfortable discussing. I think we deserve a newspaper with greater capacity for self-examination, and one whose executives are responsive to legitimate concerns.

Following, the message I sent. Note the corrections indicated in footnotes.

February 14, 2017

Mr. Roy Heatherly
Mr. Steve Coffman
The Wichita Eagle

I’m writing because I’m concerned about some issues regarding the Wichita Eagle and its news coverage.

Specifically, I’m concerned about the Eagle entering into business arrangements with the parties who purchased the Eagle building, and then becoming a tenant of the same parties.2

The three parties are Brandon Steven, Dave Wells, and David Burk. While the Eagle is certainly free to do business with anyone it wants to, these three men are newsmakers that the Eagle has covered in the past, and will likely need to cover in the future.

Mr. Heatherly, you may remember that last year at a Wichita Pachyderm Club meeting I asked you about the arrest of Brandon Steven (although I did not use his name), and why the Eagle did not cover this news. Other newspapers did, including the Topeka Capital-Journal and The Morning Sun in Pittsburg.3 4 Those newspapers thought the item newsworthy as Steven had recently been an applicant for a Kansas casino license, and factors such as a person’s reputation are relevant to these applications. Many thought it curious that the Eagle did not report this news.

Regarding David Burk, he is a continual newsmaker in Wichita, and not always in a positive way. A notable incident was his appeal of property taxes on property located within a tax increment financing district, which defeats the purpose of TIF.5 6 Worse, he misrepresented himself as an agent of the city in order to obtain this benefit. When the Eagle reported on this, it rated designation of “special report.” Other than this, Burk is a newsmaker in that he has, for many years, made large and regular campaign contributions to many city council members, and has received much subsidy from the city through many different programs.

For Dave Wells, a principal of Key Construction, he is often in the news for the same reasons as Burk: Large and continual campaign contributions, and a frequent recipient of subsidy. A particularly troubling matter involving Key Construction and public policy occurred in 2012, regarding the awarding of the contract for the new Wichita air terminal, a contract worth around $100 million. Key was one of the parties pursuing the contract. We learned that Key and its partners were making campaign contributions to one Wichita city council member, Jeff Longwell, immediately before and after he participated in a council vote on awarding the contract to Key.7 Several months later after additional campaign finance reports were filed, we saw that Key made contributions to other council members during the run-up to the contract dispute.8

When it was announced that the Eagle was selling its building to these parties, I was not comfortable with this transaction. But it was a one-time deal. Later we learned that the Eagle is to become a tenant of the same parties,9 a business relationship that is likely to last for a long time.

When the Eagle gives these parties free publicity in future news stories, will readers need to be concerned about the motivation for the Eagle printing the stories?

But more important: When these parties do something wrong, will the Eagle vigorously pursue an investigation? An investigation against its landlord?

I hope you can understand my concern.

I would appreciate receiving comments on this matter for a story I am writing for the Voice for Liberty. In addition, if either of you would like to appear on WichitaLiberty.TV to discuss that matter, we can do that too.

Thank you,
Bob Weeks


Notes

  1. Rengers, Carrie. Wichita Eagle signs deal for new downtown headquarters. January 3, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/news/business/article124312049.html
  2. An error. See introduction.
  3. Kansas casino bidder Brandon Steven busted for public nudity. Topeka Capital-Journal, October 1, 2015. http://cjonline.com/blog/tim-carpenter/2015-10-01/kansas-casino-bidder-brandon-steven-busted-public-nudity.
  4. Castle Rock developer arrested. The Morning Sun, October 8, 2015, http://www.morningsun.net/article/20151008/NEWS/151009892.
  5. Developer appealed taxes on city-owned property. Wichita Eagle, February 14, 2010. http://www.kansas.com/news/special-reports/article1024583.html.
  6. Report: Errors made in Old Town Cinema district tax appeal. Wichita Eagle, March 10, 2010. http://www.kansas.com/news/local/article1027324.html.
  7. Sedgwick County Commissioner Karl Peterjohn questions out-of-state contributions to challenger Jeff Longwell. Wichita Eagle, August 1, 2012. http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article1096574.html.
  8. Campaign contributions show need for reform in Wichita. Voice for Liberty, January 11, 2013. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/campaign-contributions-show-need-for-reform-in-wichita/.
  9. An error. See introduction.

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