Beginning in January 2022, the Northeast News is celebrating 90 years of serving as the independent voice of Historic Northeast Kansas City. Ninety years of reporting on its community’s schools, government, churches, nonprofits, neighborhoods, immigrants and refugees, infrastructure, parks and so much more.
The Northeast News was founded in 1932 during the Great Depression. During WWII, news of area soldiers fighting in both the European and Pacific theaters of the war filled the pages of Northeast News.
“It started as a primary communications print venue, if you will, for the neighborhood – which the neighborhood was much, much different at that time – and there were actually two or three different papers that were here, so it already entered a market that was saturated with print journalism,” Publisher Michael Bushnell said. “And as time progressed, those other papers, like the Northeast Voice and the Northeast Bugle, came and went.”
In 1956, Tom Patton and Leron Hill purchased the paper and continued to produce community news for the Northeast community. Then, in 1976, Terry and Mary Brock purchased Northeast News and relocated it from St. John Avenue to 6612 Independence Ave. Later, it moved back to the 4600 block of St. John Avenue.
“There was a competitor that came in for a very short period of time in the mid 1980’s called The Northeast World, and that was at a time when the Northeast News had migrated back to being more or less a shopper type of paper, and any editorial content that was in it was geared towards the advertiser,” Bushnell said.
Under the Brocks, the business expanded by adding typesetting services, partnering with a local print shop to provide printing services. During the 1980s and 1990s, the newspaper became a local shopper circular with little coverage given to community news.
In 1998, Michael Bushnell and his wife, Chris Adams, purchased the paper with the goal of steering it back to the quality news source it had once been. The newspaper office relocated to 5715 St. John Ave. in 2001 and still operates there today.
In 2005, the Northeast News website was launched at www.northeastnews.net. To keep up with the social networking trend, Northeast News created a Facebook page (Kansas City’s Northeast News) and can be followed on Twitter @NortheastNewsKC and Instagram @Northeast.News. The Northeast Newscast, a weekly podcast, launched in 2017.
Purchasing the paper 23 years ago, having a local voice was central to Bushnell and Adams’ mission.
“Having been a neighborhood association president, having seen all the good that goes on in the community – and watching us be maligned by a lot of the mainstream press outlets, and the general attitude about Northeast at the time – we said we’re none of that,” Bushnell reflected on his thoughts at the time. “‘We’re safer than Westport. We’re safer than a lot of the Midtown neighborhoods and the housing stock is better. We have a better community.’”
That mission endures today as the Northeast News embarks on its 90th year.
“It’s endured, I think, from editor to editor to editor and then, you know, you pick up that mantra and we live it now, I mean, we live here, we’re embedded, and I think it just gets in your blood, you can’t get rid of it,” Bushnell said.
“Small town community newspaper at its best – that’s the Northeast News! Local news, uber local news is what communities wrap their arms around. It is what builds community, it is what celebrates community, and for that we thank the Northeast News for their never ending commitment to the Historic Northeast.Bobbi Baker-Hughes, President/CEO Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce
The neighborhood has evolved over the past 90 years, starting as Downtown Kansas City’s first suburb, again with the flight to the suburbs decades later, to welcoming an influx of refugees and immigrants from various countries. Always present, the Northeast News has evolved a lot in some ways, but stays true to its roots.
“We still cover the chili dinner for the Boy Scouts, we’ll still go out and cover the car washes and the community events, cleanups and things like that,” Bushnell said. “What wasn’t done a lot back then was we didn’t have a lot of immigrant or refugee interaction at that time, and we do now. Those people have settled here, and they’re starting to have families, so now their families are becoming part of the community and have become part of the community. So it’s just that patchwork quilt, if you will.”
It’s the community that drives the Northeast News’ weekly coverage.
“Community journalism is about communities, not just a geographic community, so we’re going to cover what’s going on in the refugee community,” Bushnell said. “We’re going to cover what’s going on in the education community and the arts and culture community, all of those things get thrown into one pot. You don’t have to have a geographical boundary to have community journalism. And it’s those non-geographic communities that we tend to cover, as well as the geographic community, that we operate in.”
In 2021, the Northeast News returned to its header from 1937, “The Northeast News is your paper. Co-operation means mutual success.”
The slogan, borrowed from an issue published in the middle of the Great Depression, represents how important a newspaper was to the community amid crisis, while many luxuries were scaled back.
“It just says so much more when you pick something up from that era,” Bushnell said. “You’ve got to have cooperation amongst everybody in order to have success and everybody contributes to everybody else’s success. I think that goes right back to that patchwork quilt, where we’re going to cover those events regardless of what community it’s in because it affects us.”
This community has supported the Northeast News through the Great Depression, through various wars, through multiple recessions, and now most recently through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You can’t have one without the other,” Bushnell said. “Newspapers were strong, even the Dailies were strong up until the late 60s and early 70s. But you’ve got to have events to cover and the community has to be interested in those events and reading about those events. I think that having a newspaper that covers those micro issues in your community is important, not just to the strength of the paper, but it’s important to the strength of the community.”
A saying Bushnell remembers often, “There’s nothing so scary as an informed electorate.” He is proud of the Northeast News for being a resource to help educate the community about what’s going on in their neighborhoods and their city.
“You should be educated about what’s going on in your community, and that makes, I think, a better community person,” Bushnell said. “It just makes a better neighbor, in my opinion.”
“We are delighted to say congrats to Northeast News, a long standing, core partner of the Kansas City Museum. Northeast News is vital to our community as an important source for information and an advocate for history and cultural heritage. Northeast news deeply understands the power of resident engagement and connects us through thoughtful journalism and powerful stories.”Anna Marie Tutera, Executive Director of the Kansas City Museum
The No. 1 highlight to his 23 years at the Northeast News was getting the keys to the office.
“I think getting the keys and realizing, ‘Oh my god, now I’ve got to produce this newspaper! What in God’s name am I doing?’” Bushnell said.
There are days he won’t forget, like covering the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
“We didn’t have a real active website back then, but everybody jumped in and we were all one, and so everybody ran kind of the same stories and went to the same briefings,” Bushnell said of collaborating with other newsrooms.
Nearly 20 years later, with COVID-19 spreading across the United States, the Northeast News partnered with other community journalism resources to put out accurate, updated information.
“It was for everybody’s benefit, everybody’s working together at the same time towards the same goal,” Bushnell said.
For Bushnell and the team at the Northeast News, opening that envelope from the Missouri Press Association each year never gets old. Over the years, the paper has won a number of awards for excellence in Journalism, photography, page design and general excellence in news reporting.
“When we get to find out how well we did – or how unwell we did, lately we’ve been doing real well – and learning that we’re recognized by our peers in journalism for excellence in what we do, that to me is a highlight every single year,” Bushnell said.
The team that he’s assembled over the years reflects the direction and voice of the paper.
“You hire good people, you put them in a position and you let them do their job. You let them do their job very well, and you try to help those people grow,” Bushnell said. “I don’t like to dictate editorial policy, and I hope that reflects to the readers, and even the non-readers, that it’s not me calling the shots, it’s the readers.”
If there’s one thing that Bushnell hopes people know about the Northeast News, it’s simply, “We’re poor, please advertise.” The Northeast News does not charge subscriptions to its readers, rather delivering 8,500 free papers to households throughout Northeast’s historic neighborhoods, small businesses and community spaces. The majority of the paper’s funding comes through advertising revenue from other small businesses located in and around Northeast Kansas City.
“I think that the fact that we pride ourselves on providing community journalism that is impactful and important to the community that we live in, and that right there, I think that speaks volumes,” Bushnell said. “You don’t have a strong community without a central voice, and a team on board that says ‘This is important, you people need to get behind this,’ or ‘This is all hogwash,’ and you know, ‘Let’s separate the wheat from the chaff with this article.’ I think we’ve done that very, very well. Nobody else was going to do that drill down for our community but us, that’s our job.”
“In a world that relies too much on news on a screen, it is nice to know there is still a community newspaper that you can hold, read, and rely on. While you don’t have to look long to find an opinion online, it’s usually one sided and incomplete. The Northeast News asks the questions that this community needs answers to, and provides the information that generates an informed opinion that is needed to take effective action. It gives voice to this community that can’t be ignored by City Hall. They’ve provided these services for the Northeast community for 90 years and I hope the Northeast community will support it for 90 more.”Scott Wagner, former City Councilman and Director of Northeast Alliance Together (NEAT)
The Northeast News has partnered with other local agencies to host candidate forums for mayoral, city council, state representative and other races throughout the years, allowing citizens to ask the questions.
In the next 90 years, Bushnell hopes to see a community journalism outlet that grows with the community, that has the opportunity for growth in terms of bringing on new team members that can go out and cover more stories and bring more quality news content to its readers.
“That’s key, and I hope that the advertising community sees that, as well as the sponsorship community,” Bushnell said. “I really hope that they see a value in what we bring to the table.”
The Northeast News has been and continues recording history that someday will be used to gain a clear picture of the Historic Northeast at various points in time. The Missouri State Historical Society, Missouri Valley Room at the Kansas City Public Library, and Newsbank archive the Northeast News issues weekly.
“It’s an honor, it’s a privilege and it’s a huge responsibility, which I think really makes it for me, we’ve got to get it right, and we have to get it right in so many different ways, but’s got to be factually accurate and it’s got to be the truth,” Bushnell said. “It’s got to be right in here, in your heart, it’s just extremely important, and I’m proud of it.”