Meet The New Publisher Of The Kansas City Star

Mar 18, 2016

Tony Berg, publisher of The Kansas City Star.
Credit Cody Newill / KCUR 89.3

Growing up, Tony Berg remembers the excitement of getting the newspaper.

"That was how we got news. I remember every day, go out to the driveway and it was like Christmas," he told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR's Central Standard.

And for Berg, being the new publisher of The Kansas City Star is a dream job.

“I feel like this is my hometown and this is my hometown paper,” he said.

“This is the first paper I ever read and I’m going to be a good ambassador for what we do,” he added. “I have a fundamental belief that The Star is — and will remain — the strongest media company in this town.”

Berg, 38, was born in Emporia, Kansas. He was adopted at a young age, and he and his family moved to what he calls the “Stanley-Olathe-Overland Park” area.

When he was 7, they moved to Chicago, where he attended high school. He came back to go to the University of Kansas, where he met his wife. After graduation, he and his wife stayed in Lawrence, where he got his start as a multimedia sales executive for the Lawrence Journal-World.

At the Journal-World, he found inspiration in its publisher, Dolph Simons Jr.

One story about Simons stuck with him.

In the late 1960s, Simons went to a newspaper conference and heard about cable TV. Simons came back and talked to his father, Dolph Simons Sr., who, at that time, was the publisher.

The elder Simons said to bring in a consultant. The consultant drove around Lawrence with Simons Jr. and said, “Don’t do it.”

The dad asked his son, “What do you think?” And Simons Jr. replied, “I think we should do it.”

For Berg, that's the kind of mentality that he wants to bring to The Star​.

“The quote that followed with him  was one that I’ve always wanted as a publisher and I’ve always wanted to have my teams look at and respond to," Berg said."Which is: ‘I would have rather failed than let somebody else come into my hometown and succeed.’

“And I will tell you, that’s the approach that I certainly am going to take with The Star.”

The paper's printing press.
Credit Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR 89.3

Berg, who has been the publisher for two months, credits his success to Simons, who he calls "one of the great media minds of our time."

According to Berg, Simons and the entire company were willing to try things, such as going digital (with a Lawrence Marketplace and Lawrence.com) in the early 2000s.

"They were, I think, far ahead of where a lot of other media companies were, and they devoted a lot of time and resources to it.

"They taught me that lesson that you can try — and things might not always work out — but it's better you try it than let somebody else come in and do it."

In his role as publisher, Berg says that his job is to make sure that everybody at The Star "has the things they need to be successful."

Recently, The Star extended another round of buyouts to newsroom employees, which some prominent reporters have accepted.

While some people might see the shrinking newsroom and the decreasing size of the paper as a bad sign, Berg sees it as part of the transformation to evolve their content and to relaunch the paper — such as adding a depth section with better content that, he says, has been well-received in the community.

He also cited some staff additions, like a videographer, content producers and tech people to help grow their audience, which, he says, is bigger today than it's ever been.

"That’s the end game for any of this is to remain an important part of the community and to keep our lead in terms of journalism and being the watchdogs for the Kansas City community," he said.

"And that takes transformation and that takes tough decisions. And none of those are easy, and none of them are things that I particularly like to do, but they're necessary."

Berg said that he doesn't look at The Star as a print news publisher; he considers it a media publisher. But he still wants the print product to be successful.

"I've only ever worked in newspapers. I have a real passion for what newspapers stand for and what they do, and I’m still a guy that reads the physical copy of the paper every day," he said.

He and his family share the printed paper, he said. His 8-year-old son, a Jayhawks fan, reads "all the sports things."

"That, to me, is the legacy I certainly want to pass on to him," he said.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org.