Newsroom Project: Kansas City Star

The Kansas City Star is doing more than answering questions; its journalists alongside community educators — are showing their work.



For 138 years, The Kansas City Star has been a major presence in the social, economic, cultural and political history of the area. But the storied publication is stepping up its engagement and transparency efforts to improve how it understands its 310,000-plus daily readers — and how they understand the news outlet.

In 2018, the News Co/Lab started working with The Star to enhance the community’s news fluency, with transparency and engagement as major early steps. As the first step of our partnership, The Star convened a newsroom working group to identify how to better connect with the paper’s audience. The working group realized the people in the newsroom needed to be more open about who they are, what they do, and why they do it.

Working with the results of community surveys, we helped design and launch the following experiments, among others, in dialogue journalism and radical transparency using proven best practices.

“Because of our partnership with the Co/Lab, and the support of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the Kansas City Star has redoubled its commitment to transparency with readers. … These efforts have been embraced by Star reporters and editors, and the improved engagement is making a difference in the community.”

Mike Fannin, Kansas City Star editor


What’s Your KC Q?

The Kansas City Star debuted its newest experiment in engagement and transparency “What’s Your KC Q?” in October. Here’s how The Star introduced the project.

“The Star and the Kansas City Public Library are interested in answering your questions about KC — whether it involves the city’s history, current issues or what’s ahead. We want to hear the serious and the quirky, the big and the small. We’ll show you who we talked to and how we found the answer. We’ll also teach you about the available resources for you to answer your future KC Q’s.”

The project is a pathbreaking collaboration between The Star and the Kansas City Public Library, where the two are asking community members what they want to know. The public can submit questions — from politics to real estate to arts and culture — about their city through Hearken, an engagement tool specializing in “public-powered journalism.” Reporters and librarians then come together to answer their questions while showing their work. The goal? Combine aspects of information and news literacy to educate community members on how to locate and access information using library resources, while also shedding light on how reporters uncover information through public records, interviews and other journalistic methods.

So far, What’s Your KC Q? has answered more than a dozen questions, including these.


Prioritizing transparency, in articles and in person

In addition to launching “What’s Your KCQ?” the Star has expanded its transparency efforts through extended reporter bios, detailed explainers and commentary pages. Major Star articles, including investigative pieces, feature “How we did the journalism” explainers. In two recent examples, “How The Star exposed a serial killer who got away with murder for decades” and “How we found our stories of child marriage,” readers get a deep dive into the journalism required to pursue these astonishing stories. Corrections are another key priority for The Star, and its journalists and developers are working on a way to make corrections travel the same path and reach as many people as the original story.

The paper has also hosted town hall meetings and launched Java With a Journalist events at local libraries, encouraging the public to meet with reporters, columnists and editors so both sides can learn more about each other.


Read more about the program