What the major media most resent about the alternative media is the latter’s freedom to pursue the truth. By doing just that, Tony Botello has made “Tony’s Kansas City” arguably the second most influential source of news in Kansas City over the last decade. Here is Tony in his own words:
What inspired you to start blogging?
Freedom. While earning my Bachelor’s of Arts in Communication Studies at UMKC and for a few years after I worked for both the KC Hispanic News and Dos Mundos. During my time reporting community news I was constantly frustrated by how many stories weren’t being told or items that were so cleaned up that they were nearly indecipherable to someone who wasn’t an insider.
When did you Start?
I started the website 12 or 13 years ago (I honestly don’t know) but turned it into a blog around ten years ago. As far as community journalism . . . I wrote a few satirical op/ed columns for my high school newspaper (Bishop Miege) but really got involved as a reporter while earning my Associates Degree at The Penn Valley Scout where the small Community College student newspaper was abandoned and a few very dedicated people took over and restarted the operation. At some point I won a couple of awards for editorial op/ed & movie reviews from the one of the statewide college media groups. MCMA??? Again, not sure but somewhere there’s a scrapbook with all that stuff in it. I hope they bury me with it because it gave me the completely wrong impression of journalism and community news as something fun.
How much time do you put into this?
No less than 8 hours every day, sometimes a lot more but blogging isn’t like a 9-5. It’s not really work, it’s about sharing with a group of people who are at least somewhat interested in also sharing their viewpoints.
Do you do it for love or money?
I’m not against getting paid but there are much easier ways to make a living than blogging. I’ve tried a lot of stuff to make the blog financially viable and something more than debilitating vocation — Over the years I’ve sold a bit of advertising, subscriptions to a newsletter and I’ve also written a few ebooks. However, contrary to some conspiracy theories, I don’t have any secret political benefactor. I’d like to think that what makes the blog more interesting than a social media post or a mainstream outlet is that it’s the unfiltered opinion, insight and occasional reporting from someone who has a bit of knowledge to share about the reality of how local government and media work.
What about City Hall irritates you most?
There is an absolute lack of concern or regard for the opinion of taxpayers and voters that has grown worse over time in Kansas City. So many elected officials act as if voting is nothing more than a perfunctory ritual and, more often than anyone would like to admit, the outcome of an increasing number of Kansas City elections is determined by special interests and voting blocs, not by making an honest pitch to the electorate or trying to get people involved in the process. Since the outset of TKC, political deals that influence policy take place behind the scenes with very little regard or concern for average voter, taxpayer or resident. At the end of the day, that’s why I keep doing TKC, at the very least, it’s one of the few places people can join together and spout off about this stuff to at least share their common disgust with the way politics works in Kansas City. And once in awhile we find something fun like a photo or a video that offers a unique local distraction.
What is the most consequential story you have broken?
Mammy-gate probably put the blog on the map for people who aren’t overly concerned with politics. Months before anybody else, the accusations of racial slurs in Mayor Funkhouser’s office were common knowledge in KC among insiders thanks to tips and hints from TKC readers. A few years later, hinting at the missing $15K connected to the sordid political career of Councilman Brooks before his resignation was also a big deal. Dropping a lot of tidbits about that story that were later confirmed by KSHB’s Ryan Kath (an AMAZING MSM Journalist) was important in keeping the story at the forefront of the local discussion.
Talking about recent tax abatement for the KC Star was also an important story that might not have received a lot of attention but was good for insiders to know.
Still, over the past two weeks, I was really happy to report on community opposition to Kansas City University expansion in a way that, I hope, helped power further community discussion.
Finally, this month, readers sharing with me that the Pitch was switching to a monthly publication schedule and confirming that with the editor was newsworthy, especially since I’ve always really liked the Pitch and hope they can weather the storm that’s confronting newspapers right now.
Which story has provoked the most abuse?
Anything racial. Like it or not, racial trolling is part of the Internet and there is not a single news or social media outlet that hasn’t struggled to deal with it appropriately. From Facebook to Twitter and beyond – Trolls and spammers have the potential to ruin any online conversation.
Why does KCPT not want you on the air?
You’d have to ask them. They’ve been nothing but nice to me. At one point host Nick Haines said journalists from The Star would boycott if I was on . . . To be honest, I’m not that concerned about appearing on Public Television because I think the conversation has moved beyond TV talking heads and if you look at the view counts or even the TV ratings of their news shows . . . They’re not exactly setting the world on fire even though their contribution to the local discourse is important and still has a lot of influence.
What kind of traffic do you get to your site?
I don’t sell ads now so I don’t really count. Back when I entertained advertisers a few years ago it was tens of thousands of people every day. I would guess it’s more than that because I still get messages from elected officials, the random death threat along with an occasional stranger coming up to me and saying that they like the blog. However, in a world where Facebook and Google dominate the vast majority of Internet traffic any news outlet comparing clicks would be sadly disappointed. I’d like to think I’m doing something more important than just writing for traffic and given the reaction that I get via the blog, for the moment, I’m doing okay in terms of finding an audience. In the end, most writers struggle to gain attention for their work.
Do pictures of scantily-clad women help draw?
Nobody believes me but my love for beautiful women has nothing to do with chasing clicks. Over the years I’ve continued to share photos of the “hotties” because in many ways they are newsworthy, they offer a glimpse of the culture around us that influences the way we look at media and life . . . And, again, big admission here . . . I’m a fan of supermodels like millions of people around the world.
How would you describe your political philosophy?
Cynical. I’ve flirted with Libertarianism but ultimately resigned myself to the fact that politics in the U.S. is a two party system. Lately, I’ve come to think of politics as performance art which is the only way I can really understand the rise to power of President Trump or the media dominance of Alex Jones. Ultimately, I think the mainstream media is learning (or exploiting the fact) that MOST voters would rather be entertained than consider the mundane details of even the most controversial policy discussion.
Has your political philosophy changed over time?
Absolutely. I hope that I understand more about Conservative viewpoints and I think I’m starting to see the humor and hypocrisy from the left as the social justice warrior phenomena worsens. Or, maybe I’m just getting older like all of us.
Who has been your least favorite public official?
I try to separate the personal from political and for that reason my least favorite public official has always been Mark Funkhouser. I feel like he didn’t understand that people didn’t “hate” him and he never realized that constant criticism of his office or his wife wasn’t personal but just part of local politics and the silly hyperbole that’s essential in making a convincing political argument when people are mostly inclined to ignore local government altogether.
Your most favorite?
As an elected official – I have nothing but good things to say about Missouri State Rep. Brandon Ellington. He has a great story, he is a fierce advocate for his constituents and he isn’t afraid to go against the conventional wisdom of “urban” politics. Look at his record on school choice, gun control and the recent $800M bond issue – He’s always ahead of the curve and offers heartfelt and well-reasoned positions. Best of all, he’s his own man and still works for stuff like a Malcolm X Observation Day in Missouri. More local leaders in the urban core need to follow his example of independent thinking and reason beyond mere partisan or identity politics.
What is the best book you have read in the last year?
Before that, I hope readers will note my constant mentions of Scarlet Letters– Which really taught me a lot about the horrible strategies people use to play politics nowadays.
What about the KC Star irritates you most?
The provincialism of the newspaper makes it almost unreadable and a poor reflection of Kansas City. Even when they stray across partisan lines, which is thankfully starting to happen more often, they still write and report from an ivory tower that has very little in common with the way that most people watch or talk about the news. Despite the rugged style of my blog that’s often full of typos, I’m not against professionalism but there’s a blind adherence to authority among Kansas City newspaper journalists which makes most of their writing and nearly all of their opinions inconsequential and almost completely unreadable.
What TV series would you recommend someone binge watch?
Just finished binge watching The People Vs. O.J. Simpson – For those who don’t remember or weren’t around for the drama – I was finishing high school at the time – The series is a riveting dramatization of a milestone in American culture that still influences our divisive American discourse. Sadly, many view the O.J. trial as the genesis of the current culture war where BOTH sides are so blinded by the racial implications of an issue that they’re not only unable to confront devastating facts but also far too insulated to reach out to others who might have an opposing viewpoint and really try to find a consensus or common ground rather than just screaming at each other.
What is the best thing that has happened to metro KC during your tenure as a blogger?
The defeat of the Jackson County Translational Medical research tax was one of the most important election victories over the past decade. More than anything else, this demonstrated that people from different backgrounds and even formerly opposing political sides could cooperate in order to stop a regressive tax proposed by corporate insiders who didn’t have any regard for average voters.
That campaign paved the way for the defeat of the first streetcar car extension attempt and maybe offers a blueprint for fighting upcoming issues like $800M GO Bonds or the new airport proposal.
It wasn’t just a grassroots campaign, there was at least one major political donor (Dr. Brad Bradshaw) who spent big money to help launch his political aspirations (which have been ultimately unrealized so far) . . . Still, the opponents were outgunned in terms of campaign fundraising, insider connections and support from elected officials but still managed to score an impressive upset victory in a landslide vote against the tax.
What is the worst?
Crosby Kemper III said it best, the streetcar TDD vote has been the single most corrupt election in Kansas City since the Pendergast era. I can’t prove it but I think the kind of local government arrogance that would perpetrate this kind of cynical scheme makes it easier to understand why the Kansas City murder rate keeps creeping up to record levels. When elected leaders stop caring about the consequences of bending the rules to fit their agenda, it’s hard to hold anyone to higher standards.
What value do citizen journalists like yourself provide to the metro?
Either by way of social media or blog or tweet . . . People who do what I do offer an alternative voice and a reminder that voters are still watching despite efforts to make mainstream media an accomplice to every municipal scheme that reporters can’t or won’t identify. I only wish that so many outspoken people witnessing our national politics would take a look at what’s happening in local government and realize that they don’t need to look all the way to Washington D.C. to find find dysfunctional politics – It’s happening right in their own backyard.