Missouri Newspaper Confronts and Apologizes for its History of Racially Biased Reporting


The Kansas City Star, a newspaper based in Kansas City, Missouri, published an extensive analysis of its past reporting this week, acknowledging and apologizing for its history of reinforcing and perpetuating racial bias, discrimination, and violence. 

“[The Star] disenfranchised, ignored and scorned generations of Black Kansas Citians,” the editorial reads. “It reinforced Jim Crow laws and redlining. Decade after early decade it robbed an entire community of opportunity, dignity, justice and recognition.” 

For nearly 140 years The Star has covered local, regional, and national news for millions of readers, earning the newspaper eight Pulitzer prizes. But The Star acknowledged that, since its founding, it has disproportionately covered news about white citizens, omitting most stories about Black achievements as well as coverage of the widespread violence committed against Black Americans.  

The few stories that did center around Black people portrayed them in dehumanizing and undignified ways, reinforcing the myth of racial difference and contributing to the presumption of dangerousness and guilt that Black people are forced, to this day, to navigate.

Black people in Kansas City were written about in The Star and Times more often as criminals---'brutes,' 'low negroes,' 'dangerous negroes'---or as the denizens of a crime-ridden world, than in any other fashion, one-sided negative portrayals with an incalculable effect on generations of Kansas Citians. Rarely, even up into the 1960s, did the papers doubt, challenge or investigate the police version of events, or interview Black victims.

The Kansas City Star

“When Black people were written about, they were cast primarily as the perpetrators or victims of crime, advancing a toxic narrative,” The Star wrote. “Other violence, meantime, was tuned out. The Star and The Times wrote about military action in Europe but not about Black families whose homes were being bombed just down the street.” 

As part of its acknowledgment, The Star outlined a six-part plan, enacted in the wake of George Floyd’s killing, to help the newspaper confront and learn from its history of racism. Two of the newspaper’s recent projects—an examination of the lack of trust in police in communities of color and an investigation into the systemic racism within the Kansas City Fire Departmentare part of The Star’s plan to produce more coverage about and for Black Kansas City residents, who represent nearly a third of the city’s population. 

The newspaper has also committed to hiring a more diverse team, continuing to educate its staff on the paper’s history of racism with thorough examinations of past coverage, and making its content freely accessible to the local communities it admits it has historically failed to serve. 

The Kansas City Star is one of numerous newspapers and media outlets that have come forward in recent years to publicly examine and acknowledge their role in shaping dangerous racial myths and stereotypes. 

Among the others is The Montgomery Advertiser, which apologized in 2018 for failing to acknowledge and honor countless victims of racial terror lynchings.  

Following a visit to EJI’s National Memorial for Peace and Justice, The Advertiser wrote: “There are thousands of names on the memorial of people we don’t know enough about. […] We didn’t take the time to learn who they were and tell their stories, and we take responsibility for our predecessors’ negligence.”

In the wake of tragedy, from racial terror lynchings to police killings, comes the need for reflection—a reconciliation with the past and the responsibility we bear in the present—which is crucial for finding a way forward. 

In its own reflection, The Kansas City Star encouraged other local businesses to follow suit and “come forward and own their history as well, tell their stories, get the poison out—for the sake of the community and their employees.”