LE E’S FIN AN CIA LT UR MO IL RO CK S
by Repps Hudson
Ex-Post staffers find home at Beacon
Online news for St. Louis
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Dec 2008 / Jan 2009 Vol 38 Number 310 $4.00 ’80s SJR columnist Minsky now hailed as prophet
Key Mover at Beacon
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December 2008 / January 2009 Volume 38 Number 310
FEATURES Editor Roy Malone
The Yonder / Robert W. Tabscott
Editor/Publisher Emeritus Charles L. Klotzer
Tough times for Lee Enterprises and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch / Roy Malone
Illustrator Steve Edwards
Working for the online Beacon / Repps Hudson
Designer Frank Roth
Beacon tries to build support / Roy Malone
Radio History Frank Absher
Minsky's Moment / Roland Klose
Ad/PR Rick Stoff
Say it with pictures / Frank Absher
Art/Sports/Media Joe Pollack
Argus owner in prison / Benjamin Israel
The Digital Dilemma / Don Corrigan
Celebrities, the media and the law / Elayne Rapping
Fantasy to be TV anchor came true / Eileen P. Duggan
Tyndall, top stories of 2008
Missouri needs to examine its death penalty system / Rep. Bill Deeken
Book Review / Avis Meyer
Media/Politics Terry Jones Board of Editorial Advisers Frank Absher Jim Kirchherr Lisa Bedian Roy Malone Ed Bishop Tammy Merrett David Cohen Avis Meyer Don Corrigan Michael Murray Eileen Duggan Steve Perron David P. Garino Joe Pollack Ted Gest Joe Sonderman William Greenblatt Michael D. Sorkin Daniel Hellinger Lynn Venhaus Board of Directors Robert A. Cohn Michael E. Kahn Don Corrigan Charles L. Klotzer John P. Dubinsky Paul Schoomer Gerald Early Dr. Moisy Shopper David P. Garino Alberta Slavin Ray Hartmann Ken Solomon
Off the Record Biondi vs. Meyer, still in court / Roy Malone Microfilming of newspapers depends on Missouri budget / Benjamin Israel Guide on taping phone calls Local radio reports via Chicago / Frank Absher
We can be proud again / Charles L. Klotzer
Negative media stories hurt McCain / Terry Jones
The St. Louis Journalism Review 8380 Olive Blvd St. Louis, Mo. 63132 Phone: (314) 991-1699 • Fax: (314) 997-1898 e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org www.sjreview.org
SJR The St. Louis Journalism Review (ISSN: 0036-2972) is published monthly, except bi-monthly in December/January and July/August, by The St. Louis Journalism Review Inc., a non-profit corporation. Subscription rates: $25 (one year), $44 (two years) $62 (three years), $80 (four year), $98 (five years),. Foreign subscriptions higher depending upon country. Periodical postage paid at Washington, Missouri and additional mailing offices. Please enclose stamped, self-addressed envelope with manuscript. Copyright © 2009 by The St. Louis Journalism Review. No portion of this journal may be reproduced without the express permission of the publisher. Indexed in the Alternative Press Index. Allow one month for address changes. Postmaster: Send address changes to The St. Louis Journalism Review 8380 Olive Blvd. St. Louis, Mo. 63132.
Sports teams at the public trough / Joe Pollack
Libel: How far can you go? / Rick Stoff
Was there a radio station in this building? / Frank Absher
We appreciate this issue’s cartoon contribution by Tom Engelhardt, who stepped in for Steve Edwards, our cover illustrator and cartoonist.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 73-85160
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once used with students: One caveman looks out at the rain and says to the other, “We never had weather like this before we started using bows & arrows!” Obviously, the arrows—earlier, did not cause the rain—later. Thanks for yet another first-rate SJR! Pat [Patricia] McHugh University City
SJR coverage incomplete
For more see page 12
letters Why wasn’t this news? What events are worthy of reporting by the media? How big should a protest crowd be before getting some coverage? And does the nature of the protest subject matter at all? Or is it all at the discretion of the media reporters and their editors? On Saturday (Jan. 10), a demonstration in University City was organized by several pro-peace groups (Instead of War, Women in Black, Veterans for Peace). The demonstrators were of all religions and creeds and of all races and ethnicities. Why, then, was there not reporting of any significance about it in our local printed media, TV or radio stations?
Regardless of the political aspect of the event, blocking some section of St. Louis streets in the middle of the day on a Saturday for several hours for an event that required the presence of two dozen police cars and was attended by at least 1,000 people should have gotten some attention from some media. Khaled M Abdel-Hamid, MD St Louis, MO
Fallacy overlooked “Fallacies in the media” (SJR, Oct. 20008) could help bridge our logic gap. However, was one fallacy overlooked, “Post hoc, ergo propter hoc” (after this—therefore because of this)? Visualize the old cartoon I
I read with a heavy heart your October/November 2008 article, “Post layoffs cause fear, anger among staff.” I've been an avid reader of the Post since my early teens, and no one is more distressed about the sorry state of that newspaper than I am. However, there is another division of Lee Enterprises that has been damaged far worse than the Post-Dispatch. In the past year, Lee has decimated the Suburban Journals, and little has been said about it in the local media. How do I know this? Well, until Aug. 11, I was the online editor of the North County Journal. I was one of four North County employees who were laid off that August day. If a loss of four employees doesn't sound like much to you, consider the fact that this amounted to almost half of the paper's editorial staff. Two news reporters were left to cover the entire North County area. About a month later, Lee laid off North County's entire advertising staff. Some were rehired at the Suburban Journal headquarters in West County, but most were tossed out on their ears. I paid a brief visit to the newsroom in early October and was shocked to see the building almost empty. A year ago, there were more than 20 employees working there; by last month, there were eight. Even the receptionist had quit, and the managing editor and news editor were taking turns manning the switchboard. Also consider the fact that one year ago, the North County Journal published six editions and hosted six websites. Now it publishes two editions and hosts one website. Shocking, no? Yet I haven't seen any long articles in the SJR lamenting this ruthless hack job. Who sheds a tear for the Suburban Journals? Certainly not Lee Enterprises, and apparently not the local journalism community. Brent D. Warren Florissant
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off the record Biondi Vs. Meyer, still in court Despite a judge's ruling last month throwing out most of a lawsuit by St. Louis University against Prof. Avis Meyer, SLU lawyers are still trying to get Meyer to pay tens of thousands of dollars for their legal fees and alleged damages. The suit, say Meyer's supporters, is being pushed by Rev. Lawrence Biondi, the university president. The two men have had an ongoing feud for years, and last summer Meyer was barred from the newsroom of the University News, where he had been a popular faculty adviser for 34 years. Meyer has said Biondi blames him for anything Biondi perceives as negative in the paper. Student journalists still come to see Meyer about editing matters, and some 300 former students and supporters have backed Meyer on a website, many of them refusing to make donations to the university until the suit, which they call “vindictive,” is dropped. In early 2007, university officials indicated to the student editors that the newspaper might have to become independent. The students explored the possibility of going off campus, but never did. To preserve the paper's name for the students, Meyer incorporated it with the Missouri Secretary of State. He disincorporated the name several months later, after being contacted by university lawyers from the downtown firm of Lewis, Rice & Fingersh. Even so, several weeks later the SLU lawyers filed suit against Meyer, alleging federal trademark violations. Biondi's lawyers have tried to prove that Meyer used the newspaper's name, or was planning to, for an independent newspaper. They have pursued many motions of discovery, depositions, and even alleged that Meyer deleted his emails, which they said would be adverse to him. Meyer has denied doing anything with the name. U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson, known for taking a long time to throw out weak cases, finally did so when she ruled for Meyer in dismissing six of seven claims, just before Christmas. But SLU lawyers still are pushing for a bench trial on the last claim, which has similar arguments as the others had. The remaining claim is that Meyer is in violation of an old Missouri Statute (not invoked since the 1930s) in that he misused the name of a benevo-
lent organization, namely the university, and it wants an injunction against him. Meyer's supporters say it's an attempt by Biondi to get a ruling against Meyer so his tenure can be revoked and the university can fire him. Frank Janoski, one of SLU's lawyers, filed a summary of some of his fees last summer showing he was charging SLU $357 an hour for filing various motions and court responses. SLU's suit seeks damages for donations withheld by alumni, saying Meyer is the cause of it. Meyer has had to hire his own lawyer and has told associates he is broke. The fees for SLU's lawyers may top $100,000, say court observers. SLU seeks treble damages that could reach $1 million, the suit says, if Meyer is found to have willfully misused the newspaper's name. Biondi has not been involved in the suit—on the record. When the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on six of the charges being dismissed, the story never mentioned Biondi either. Roy Malone
Microfilming of newspapers depends on Missouri budget Microfilming of Missouri's newspapers is on hold while the State Historical Society awaits the next state budget. The Columbia-based State Historical Society of Missouri (not to be confused with the St. Louis-based Missouri Historical Society) depends on the state for about 80 percent of its budget, at a time when the state is running short of funds. “We are waiting to see whether or not the governor will withhold part of our appropriation for this fiscal year, as well as whether or not there will be budget cuts for next fiscal year,’’ said Gary Kremer, executive director of the Historical Society. In the meantime, the Historical Society will continue to store periodicals as they come in, but will not microfilm any until it knows what its funding will be. “It would be unwise not to be prepared,” Kremer said. “We are normally six months to a year behind in microfilming, so we're probably going to be even further behind.” The Historical Society maintains the most extensive collection of microfilm copies of Missouri newspapers. It currently microfilms copies of more than 300 Missouri
newspapers, Kremer, said. Many are not available online or anywhere else. It microfilms every newspaper it receives except for a handful of the larger newspapers that microfilm their own copies. In those cases, the Historical Society buys copies of the microfilm. Benjamin Israel
Guide on taping phone calls In Missouri, an individual who is a part, to a wire communication, or who has the consent of one of the parties to the communication, can lawfully record it or disclose its contents, unless the person is intercepting the communication for the purpose of committing a criminal or tortuous act. Recording or disclosing the contents of a wire communication by all other persons is a felony. Anyone whose communications have been recorded or disclosed in violation of the law can bring a civil suit to recover the greater of actual damages, $100 a day for each day of violation or $1,000, and can recover punitive damages, attorney fees and litigation costs as well. A Missouri court has held that radio broadcasts from cordless telephones are not wire communications, and thus, recording such radio broadcasts is not illegal under the eavesdropping statute. It is also a felony to view or photograph a person in “a state of full or partial nudity” if the person “is in a place where he would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.” In Illinois, an eavesdropping device cannot be used to record or overhear a conversation without the consent of all parties to the conversation. It is illegal to disclose information one knows or should have known was obtained with an eavesdropping device. Violations of the eavesdropping law are punishable as felonies. Civil liability for actual and punitive damages is authorized as well. Standard radio scanners are not eavesdropping devices. It is illegal in Illinois to videotape, photograph or film another person without that person’s consent in a restroom, tanning bed or salon, locker room, changing room, hotel bedroom or in their residence without their consent. From The News Media, And The Law (Fall 2008) published by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
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off the record Local radio reports via Chicago Does it matter where broadcasts of local radio news, traffic, weather and sports reports originate? At least one company believes it doesn't. Metro, which is part of Westwood One, provides such reports for many of the radio stations in the St. Louis market, as they do for hundreds of stations around the country. Last year, the company decided to shut down many of its local operations and drastically reduce the headcount in others, moving toward a regional office operation. On Sept. 12, several people were let go in St. Louis, according to coworkers. They were offered severance packages, and all non-compete restrictions were waived. The broadcast reports these people were doing on St. Louis stations were absorbed by Metro’s Chicago operation. Now there are rumors that there will be even more reductions in St. Louis scheduled for March 1. When SJR contacted Carol Williams, Metro’s director of operations in Chicago, she said she was not authorized to say anything. She suggested we contact Roby Weiner at the corporate offices in New York. Ms. Weiner emphatically refused to provide any information, telling us there was nothing to say about what is happening. When pressed, she gave the name of a third contact, Peter Sessa. He too had no comment. As things stand, sports and news reports for St. Louis stations are being done in both St. Louis and Chicago. The information is sent via computer to Chicago where it is put into broadcast form and read by announcers for transmission back to St. Louis. These same announcers are also broadcasting local news to other cities. If the St. Louis office is further downsized in March, only a few traffic reports would originate here, although for now the radio stations with traffic reporters aloft continue to share the same Metro aircraft. It is believed nearly all local news and sports reports would be written in and broadcast from Chicago. It’s all to reduce personnel and save money. Although broadcasters won't reveal this out-of-town origination of local reports, listeners will note mispronunciation of area street names and the names of local newsmakers. Frank Absher
“Son, your mother believed in the yonder...” That is what Abraham Lincoln's father said to his grieving 9-year-old son as he sealed the grave of Nancy, his wife, on a lonely hillside in Indiana in 1821. The yonder is that vast unknown that is beyond us and envelops us. The yonder is a belief in the sacral mystery from which we came and to which we finally and forever go. It is the heart of an existence that lies in the cosmic dust of the starfields that shine in the vast night sky. The yonder is what Albert Einstein, walking in the footsteps of Copernicus, Ptolemy, Galileo and the mythic quiet of those ancient wandering astronomers who followed a celestial light across the desert so long ago were pursuing. The German scientist, Einstein, drew a mathematical equation E=MC2 and labored till the end of his life to determine a unified theory of the universe, in which he skirted the boundaries of time in search of the meaning of why we are here, not simply as individuals but why and how life evolved on this tiny globe in the mist of infinity. I am told that arithmetic is the purest form of reasoning—calculus, geometry, physics, algebra, trigonometry, E=MC2—I was confounded by its listing in the curriculum. I wanted to be an astronomer when I was a kid, and one of my prized Christmas gifts was a Sears & Roebuck telescope. But living in the crowded hollows of West Virginia, I could only view a sliver of the sky. But it was arithmetic that did me in, so I shied away. I turned to language, literature and poetry to engage the mystery. I landed in the theological arms of God talk, which is the equivalent of Einstein's E=MC2. We will never likely know if Einstein's theory is finally and forever right. It is language that will carry us to the extent of our imagination, but it, too, must finally surrender to the universe.
Nevertheless, it is my conviction that the power and vitality of language lies in the ability to illumine the actual and imagined landscape that envelopes us. Language arcs toward the place where meaning may lie. At its best it is ineffable, at its worst it is warped and destructive. As one writer holds it language can never pin down slavery, the holocaust, hunger, poverty, war, not even love, peace and justice. Nor should we yearn for the arrogance to do so. The scope of language, if you will, lies in its reach for the ineffable. The choice word or the intended silence which surges toward knowledge and transcendence. But there can be no final summing up of the universe; the distance is too near, too far. The mystery of the yonder will not allow us to penetrate it. It is the Black Hole of language. Word work for those who know it, is sublime because it creates meaning that confirms our uniqueness in a way that makes us like no other creature. Death may be the ultimate meaning of life, but we live language, which is the eternal measure of our lives. Yonder, through my lens is wherever it is we go beyond ourselves into the meaning of our being here. It is to measure space, E=MC2 it is whatever we do to calibrate the mystery of time made precious by its passing. It is the word once spoken; the heart of the yonder is language, and Barack Obama more than any political figure in recent memory, took us to the edge of the landscape of inspiration and hope. It is framed in the Air Force hymn Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder. ___________ Written in St. Louis, the Inauguration day of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States. January 20, 2009. Robert W. Tabscott is a Presbyterian minister and president of the Elijah Lovejoy Society, a historical organization in Webster Groves.
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ose, my wife, who among many other things also proofreads SJR copy, asked me a short while ago, “This country experienced a traumatic, world-changing event, the presidential election, and this issue fails to take any note of it.” I mentioned Rev. Tabscott's reflections on page five, but while these were his thoughts triggered by the election, they actually do not deal with the election. The front pages and the inside pages of the St. Louis-Post Dispatch, The New York Times, The Financial Times, every magazine and news outlet, every broadcast outlet, were overflowing with minute-by-minute coverage. So, I confess, whatever we could say would be redundant. Yes, I never thought that our country would have the maturity to elect an African American. Yes, I relish at the pledge and now enacted openness of the new administration. Yes, I welcome the return to law and order by our intelligence and defense agencies. Yes, I rejoice at the regained international stature of the United States. And, yes, I wish that Claude-Jean Bertrand would still be alive. He was a frequent visitor and loved America. He was a professor at the University of Paris, a media ethicist, a student of American civilization, who for three decades turned a critical eye towards the media, wrote Ioannis Papadopoulos in Media Ethics Magazine. He designed a Media Accountability System (MAS), which he defined as any non-governmental means of inducing media and journalists to respect the ethical rules set by the profession. To him The St. Louis Journalism Review was a key tool in setting such ethical rules. We communicated frequently and some of his ideas were published in SJR. He wrote 20 books, lectured in 58 countries and established a Web site about MAS that was moved to the Reynolds Institute for Journalism at the
Charles L. Klotzer
This election is a transformation beyond politics, economics, wars and race.
Charles L. Klotzer is the editor/publisher emeritus of SJR.
University of Missouri (http://www.mediaaccountability.org). I mention him here because he—a lover of America—told me when Bush was reelected, “After all I said, now I am glad that I am a Frenchman. How could they?” Well, Claude, you would be proud of us now. One more thought that this election is a transformation beyond politics, economics, wars and race. Most readers will have heard of the mother, who told her daughter that this was the first time an African American was elected president. Incredulously, the girl wondered why no African American had ever been elected before. A new generation is offering us hope.
generation is offering us hope
On the local scene, the board of trustees of the St. Louis County Library considered a protest by the Citizens Against Pornography about a dozen titles on the shelves in the teen section of the Library. The list includes “Alice on her Way,” by acclaimed author Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and “The Little Black Book for Girls: A Book on Healthy Sexuality,” published by St. Stephen's Community House. The board's response: the library administration was instructed to review the teen collection, and the process used to add books to this collection. The trustees also decided that the collection will consist of 6th through 12th grade level material and will receive a “High School” label, according to Brian Brain, assistant director-adult & support services of the St. Louis County Library. While not literally rejecting the protest, the proposal will leave all the books on the shelves. The board deserves our congratulations. To stand up against the misguided attempts at censorship requires stamina and the fortitude to make unpopular decisions; unpopular with wellintentioned but shortsighted citizens, who fail to understand the core principles of a free society. ■
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politics & media / Terry Jones Terry Jones is professor of political science at UM-St. Louis
laming the media for unfair coverage has become a standard tactic in the modern campaign playbook. It is the political equivalent of complaining about the officials in sports contests. Maybe it will make you a sympathetic underdog and, more subtly, cause the media to become so sensitive that they tilt back in your direction. So it was not surprising that Sen. John McCain’s staffers used it time and again last fall, especially after their candidate begin slipping behind Sen. Barack Obama in midSeptember. But was it just rhetorical smoke, or was there substantive fire? It was fire according to a comprehensive study conducted by the Pew Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. In the six weeks between Sept. 8 and Oct. 16, a period extending from the end of the two national conventions through the third and final presidential debate, 56 percent of the stories featuring McCain were negative, far more than the 14 percent positive and the 30 percent neutral. By contrast, Obama stories had a slight favorable slant: 36 percent positive, 35 percent neutral, 29 percent negative. The research cast a broad media net that included five outlet categories: newspapers (New York Times plus six other dailies), five Web sites such as CNN.com and Google News, network television (ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS), cable television (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC), and radio (NPR, Rush Limbaugh, and two other talk shows—one liberal and one conservative). To be labeled negative or positive, a story needed at least three mentions in one direction for every two going the other way. Why the sharp polarity difference between McCain and Obama? The evidence does not point to the Republicans’ usual set of suspects: liberal them versus conservative us. Rather, it is more the media initiating a narrative and then fitting subsequent items within the ongoing story line that is the culprit. In McCain’s case, it starts with coverage about his faux suspension of his campaign so that he could concentrate on the financial crisis. From the media’s perspective, one misstep followed another in McCain’s attempt to recover,
The evidence does not point to the Republicans’ usual set of suspects: liberal them versus conservative us. Rather, it is more the media initiating a narrative and then fitting subsequent items within the ongoing story line that is the culprit.
so the negative stories mounted. The media’s penchant for a horse race (who is ahead, who is behind, and why) coverage compounds this. The trailing campaign— McCain in this case— often has its tactics criticized as desperate moves (how many times did you hear the “Hail Mary pass” metaphor?) while the leading campaign—Obama in 2008 —receives plaudits for its shrewd strategy. The Pew analysis also identified a new campaign-coverage four-step dance, one created by the explosion in the number of polls. Formerly, it was a two-stage process: the candidate says/does something (e.g., suspends his campaign) on Day One (factual coverage) and then the media ponders why on Day Two. Now polling extends this. On Day Three, media report on polls describing the public’s reaction to Day One’s event and then, on Day Four, the media analyze how this will affect the election’s outcome. Issues continue to be de-emphasized even in a year when the country faces enormous challenges domestically and internationally. Sixty-three percent of the presidential election stories had a spectator/game frame, discussing “tactics, strategy, and polling” as well as “advertising, fundraising, and political endorsements,” according to the Pew analysis (www.journalism.org/node /13312). Only 20 percent focused on policy positions and proposals. How did Gov. Sarah Palin fare? Her 39 percent negative, 28 percent positive and 33 percent neutral scores were better than McCain’s and not all that different from Sen. Joe Biden’s (32 negative, 25 positive, 43 neutral). But she had one horrible week in late September when the Katie Couric interview on CBS catapulted her negative coverage to 63 percent with only a few (8 percent) positive stories. The Pew study concludes that, based on media coverage, the presidential race “became substantially defined around the troubles that began for McCain in mid-September. . . . and, with a press corps heavily focused on the horse race and a candidate whose strategy was apparently thrown off by events, he (was) unable to change that narrative.” ■
Negative media stories hurt McCain
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TOUGH TIMES FOR LEE ENTERPRISES AND What happens when a newspaper company dumps hundreds of employees, sees its stock go from $45 a share to less than a dollar, has to suspend its dividend, faces possible delisting on the New York Stock Exchange, and has to plead with lenders to refinance its debt. This is what’s happened to Lee Enterprises, owner of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Like many other companies, Lee is in trouble financially—much like a home buyer who borrowed too much to buy too big a house and now can’t pay the mortgage. When Lee, a chain of smaller newspapers, borrowed heavily to buy Pulitzer Inc., including the Post, in 2005 for $1.46 billion, its executives assumed the good profits—that the newspaper industry had traditionally annual profit margins of 20 percent or more—would continue, and paying off its debts would be no problem. They miscalculated; the newspaper industry began a drastic decline. That slide has yet to hit bottom. Things seem to get worse by the day, as more people go to the Internet for information and the economy is in its worse shape since the Great Depression. Advertising and circulation have been in a freefall nationally and newspaper companies are cutting costs to pay debts. This usually means buying out, laying off or firing employees. Post-Dispatch cuts Lee shed nearly 200 employees at the Post through buyouts In 2005 and 2007. Last year it had two layoffs resulting in 69 jobs gone. On Jan. 8 it laid off another 39 employees. Many others have been fired individually or have left for other jobs. Lee CEO Mary Junck, from the Davenport headquarters, said: “Lee continues to generate substantial cash flow, and we continue to believe that Lee will emerge strong when all the national economic turbulence ends.” Still, financial analysts are paying close attention to Lee’s fortunes, especially after its outside auditor, KPMG, issued a statement in Decem-
STOCK PRICE HIGH $45
STOCK PRICE LOW .34
STAFF REDUCTION 308
By Roy Malone ber questioning whether Lee would remain “a going concern” or fail. Because Lee’s share price dropped to below $1 (30 cents at one point), The NYSE issued a warning it could be delisted. Shareholders saw the value of their shares sink 99 percent last year. The money that had gone to dividends now goes to the lenders. Lee assumed $306 million in debt from Pulitzer as part of the sale and has a debt payment of $142.5 million due on it in April. Lee says it is seeking to refinance that debt. The company said it has continued to pay down its debts. If Lee could not refinance, the Pulitzer unpaid debt could result in a call for immediate payment on the rest of the $1.46 billion (now down to $1.3 billion) it borrowed to buy Pulitzer. This debt is owed to a group of banks led by Deutsche Bank, and it was renegoti-
ated in November. Default could lead to a possible bankruptcy filing, the way the Tribune Co. and The Minneapolis Star Tribune recently sought bankruptcy protection. If this happened, though few people expect it to, Lee could escape full payments on various debts and even try to abrogate its union contracts. Lee not union-friendly The St. Louis Newspaper Guild represents 355 employees at the Post, about a third of the total. Lee prefers not to deal with unions in its chain of 53 daily newspapers. Kevin Mowbray, the Post publisher, created a community advisory board after he was appointed in 2007, and of the 67 members not on one was from organized labor—this is a city that is strongly union-oriented. The Guild’s main priority in bargaining for a new contract next June is job security, said Shannon Duffy, the union's business manager. He said the Post has violated the present contract by laying off people whose seniority rights should have protected them. Grievances have been filed over this and the extra costs put on current and retired Post employees for health benefits, but management refuses to agree to arbitration, Duffy said. With all the speculation about Lee‘s financial viability, it and the Post are still making healthy profits, though Lee no longer breaks out the figures for the Post. Things may not be as dire as they seem. And what lender wants to take over a newspaper company rather than give it some slack on its payment schedules. The intricate financial footwork is partly the result of accounting charges. For the fiscal year ended last Sept. 28, Lee reported a $207 million operating profit. Yet it also declared a net loss of $888 million. How so? It was due largely to a $1 billion loss associated with the writing down of the value of the Pulitzer acquisition—which was an accounting adjustment, not an actual loss of money. Junck says Lee’s fortunes will rise again. So maybe it’s time to buy
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some of that low-priced stock and hold it until it is worth a lot more. The St. Louis Business Journal quoted an analyst as saying Lee will continue to lay off, perhaps 10 percent of its work force in 2009. along with other cost reductions. The Leeowned Suburban Journals eliminated 86 positions last year, and it has switched from free delivery to paid subscriptions. Lee sold Cardinals’ stake One commentator to a local blog said Lee ought to sell its shares of stock in the St. Louis Cardinals (which was 2.3 percent of the total). But Lee spokesman Dan Hayes said: “Lee is no longer an owner.” The value of the Lee’s stake, sold last year, was not reported, but some observers put it at anywhere from $11 million to $24 million, based on the $484 million value of the team published last year in Forbes magazine. Lee said it will attempt to stay listed on the NYSE by increasing the value of its shares through a reverse stock split that would convert as
many as 10 shares to a single share. The entire market capitalization of Lee was only $18.5 million on Dec. 31. Some newspapers in other cities are having worse problems: The Detroit Free Press and Detroit News have cut home delivery to just three days a week; The Seattle Intelligencer will shut down in less than two months unless someone buys it; The New York Times is looking to sell assets; and The Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, recently told most of its 31,000 workers to take a week off without pay in order to avoid further layoffs. Larger newspapers, including the Post, are beefing up their online news operations. But the ad revenue has not materialized as hoped. James Surowiecki, a writer for The New Yorker magazine, wrote in a recent issue: “It would not be shocking if, sometime soon, there were big American cities that had no local newspaper; more important, we’re almost sure to see a sharp decline in the volume and variety of content that newspapers collectively produce.” ■
Fired without a warning “Brutal” is the word used by some staffers at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to describe the latest round of layoffs on Jan. 8. Among the 39 terminated were Sue Luberda and her husband, Dan. Both are out of work, with two teenage children living at home, a house mortgage and no health insurance. Dan, a 20-year Post veteran who works in production maintenance, got the word on his cell phone as he was driving home. He called Sue with the bad news. She called her supervisor, who told her she’d get a call from Pam Maples, the managing editor. Maples called and said for Sue not to come in the next day. She was a news aide with 35 years on the job. She compiled the “Help Yourself” column and helped with other copy. Why would the paper lay off both breadwinners in a family? “I'm clueless,” Sue said. “They had to know we were married. We have the same last name and address. Everyone knows us. I thought one of us might be laid off, but I didn’t think both of us would lose our jobs at the same time.” Dan, a non-union employee, had Sue on his health plan, which he lost after 48 hours of his termination. Now they both had to start looking for jobs and worry about the high
cost of any health insurance they might get. Sue said she didn't know who made the decision about them or why, but she thought the company could have given them some notice so they could look for other jobs. They, and dozens of others laid off over the last year, got no “Thank You” from the company for all their years of loyal work. One reporter said: “They (company) couldn't have done it in a worse way. Some people were told right in the newsroom, with everyone watching. They were humiliated.” One news staffer was stopped when he came in the front door and told he could not go up to the newsroom. “They were treated as though they did something wrong,” said another employee. The guards had names and photos of those laid off and apparently were told to watch for any violent reaction. Eric Mink, editor of the op-ed page and a high-profile columnist, was one of those dismissed. He told a friend he had no idea what was coming. Tim Poor, who had been wire editor until the Washington bureau was reduced to one person, was also fired. So was Sandy Wood, a wellliked metro editor who had health problems and relied on her medical insurance. Those not in the union
were told they had to sign an agreement not to discuss the termination if they wanted to get 13 weeks of severance pay; union members would get up to 66 weeks of severance pay, according to the contract. As employees commiserated with those who got the ax, one union official recalled the news last year of how the company's top boss, Lee Enterprises CEO Mary Junck, pocketed a 17.8 percent increase to earn nearly $3.4 million in 2007, even as the company's stock declined by 52 percent. Post employees know more layoffs are coming, as Lee struggles to pay on the huge debt it took on to buy Pulitzer Inc. “No one's safe,” said a reporter. ■
More changes at Post At press time, SJR learned of additional changes at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that were effective late in January. Several staffers have volunteered to retire or resign. This opened up two copy editing position for Ted Rogers and Amy Verkamp-McCarthy, who will be rehired. The departing staffers are Gary Clark (employee for 34 years), Geoff Dubson (for 30 years), Kathryn Rogers (for 32 years), Mike Florio (for 10 years), Sharon Fuller (for 10 years), and Jason Lawton (for 4 years).
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TFull-timeHstaffers,E beside MargieBFreivogel E (left)Aand BobCDuffyO N C R E W (right), include: Susan Hegger, Donna Korando, Bob Joiner, Mary Delach Leonard, Dale Singer, Linda Lockhart, Brent Jones (presentation), and Nicole Hollway (general manager). Part-timers are Shawn McGinness, Dick Weiss, Sally Altman and Marty Kaplan. There are dozens of freelancers and contributors. About 140 people have been involved in the operation.
WORKING FOR THE ONLINE BEACON by REPPS HUDSON reelancing for stlbeacon.org is a dream come true for someone like me who left the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in one of its many sheddings of experienced reporters and editors. If I have a story idea, I call one of the former Post staffers who work for the site, pitch my story and get a quick yes or no. If an editor has a story she wants me to do, she calls, pitches it and I say yes or no. There's no bureaucracy. A quick answer. No meetings. No delays. Just a polite straightforward reply on the spot. If the Beacon is a prototype of future local news coverage and presentation, I'm all for it. It's clean and lean. If there are politics in coverage or play, I've seen no evidence of it in reporting and writing several stories over the last few months. I mentioned this streamlined operation to Margie Freivogel, the top Beacon editor and a former senior Post editor and reporter for whom I had worked when we were both at the newspaper. She laughed when I said Post edi-
tors say they are shifting to an online operation. I wasn't sure if they meant they were giving the Beacon several reporters and editors who have a few good years of journalism left in them. We want their story ideas if that's their expertise, Freivogel said, referring to how some of their stories end up featured on the website. A former Post reporter who may know something about agriculture or energy, as do I, may suggest some stories about the future of energy production and use in the two-state region. A Beacon editor was already thinking along the same lines. So it was a natural fit. The answer to my suggestions is usually a yes. My editor, often Donna Korando, Susan Hegger or Dale Singer, are all journalists with whom I worked with for years on the Post editorial page. We understand each other, a precious feature of a healthy reporter-editor relationship. My editor discusses the story with me, gives me a length and a deadline (which is often graciously flexible, since I also teach, cook, haul kids around and try to run a
household) and tells me how much the Beacon will pay. For a one-source quickie, it's usually $100. For more sources and more work, it's $250 or so. The checks come in the mail a little after the first of the following month. Imagineâ€”a publication that pays freelancers promptly and fairly. Almost without exception, the Beacon folks I talk with are journalists I have known, respected and trusted for many years. They too left the Post, sometimes of their own free will, sometimes not. The Beacon is where a lot of local serious journalists have gone to find a second life after the newspaper they all loved didn't want them any more. As it turns out, this seems to be an opportune time for a local news website to get started. There are plenty of older reporters and editors on the market, looking for work. The Beacon crew, in its office at KETC (Channel 9), is like a merry little band of pioneers who are reinventing journalism in this daunting era when the Internet is felling newspapers right and left. Being a small, new organization,
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it's easy to take the leap into the unknown, Freivogel said. One thing that has made the transition a little easier is this: Most of the reporters and editors who have found a home at the Beacon worked for the Post when the first Joseph Pulitzer's Platform statement was the guiding light. Freivogel says she doesn't have to spend a lot of time emphasizing fairness, keeping editorial comment out of stories and other aspects of conventional journalism. At the same time, the Beacon is
exploring ways to bring in more convergence journalism, where multimedia—videos, links and so on—are available on the screen for the viewer to click on. One could say the look is a bit grey. Certainly it's not flashy. “We feel we have high-quality content,” Freivogel said. The message to the viewer is somewhat different than much of what's on the Internet today, which leans heavily toward jumpy visual images. Freivogel and other Beacon
staffers say the website is evolving and constantly being updated. It's clean and organized, said Freivogel. It's not frantic. Nothing about the Beacon is frantic, which is why it's rewarding to write for it. If the site evolves successfully, it can become an example of what can be made of a serious, online destination for viewers' indepth news, sound analysis and thoughtful commentary. So far, we are just scratching the surface, is how Freivogel puts it.
BEACON TRIES TO BUILD SUPPORT by ROY MALONE year ago they had no office, no money and no online news operation. But the organizers, many of them ex-St. Louis Post-Dispatch editors and writers, had a dream of starting a website to be called “The Platform.” “All we had was an idea . . . . this new thing on the horizon,” said Margie Freivogel, who became editor of a web-based publication she knew little about. The situation changed as the startup, now called the St. Louis Beacon, was launched last April, after money was raised. But success for the nonprofit site still appears as a mirage on the horizon. The editors are trying to figure out how to refine their business model, how to get more money, and how to lure more readers to the website—stlbeacon.org—to read what the Beacon calls “news that matters.” “We don't have all the answers, but we feel we're on to something, we feel like we're getting there,” Freivogel said. Some success is evident. Emily Rauh Pulitzer, who cashed out with about $415 million when Pulitzer Inc. was sold to Lee Enterprises in 2005, threw in a challenge grant of $500,000, provided the Beacon can raise $1.5 million to match her
The Beacon is building a grassroots network of sources—people who respond to questions posted on the site and who have experience in specific areas, such as technology, health or education. These contacts are interviewed by Beacon reporters for stories and ideas, said Linda Lockhart, who oversees a new journalism tool called the Public Insight Network, a product developed by Minnesota Public Radio and American Public Media. It contains about 230 contacts so far with a goal of about 1,000 in six months, Lockhart said, “It helps us inform the Beacon’s coverage.”
money. William Danforth, former chancellor of Washington University, is giving the Beacon $200,000 over two years. Recently, the Knight Foundation awarded the Beacon $90,000, part of $390,000 in grants to four online news sites—the other three being in San Diego, Chicago and Minneapolis. The money is for expanding the news reporting on the sites. Before its launch, the organizers were surprised to see the Post announce that it would start a blog called the Platform, a nod to the paper's platform statement by the founder, Joseph Pulitzer, in 1907. The Post obviously saw the newcomer as competition. Rather than squabble over the name, the onliners switched to The Beacon. The Beaconers got free office space from KETC (Channel 9), the public television station, and soon will occupy even larger quarters in the KETC building at 3655 Olive Street. The Beacon joined KETC in reporting on the housing-mortgage crisis and on election coverage. Advertising revenue is noticeably missing, so the startup is faced with finding other ways to raise funds to carry them beyond the two years of current solvency. Bob Duffy, who had been a Post cultural writer and editor, is the Beacon's assistant editor and has come to wear several hats—marketer, fundraiser, spokesman and writer. He said the Beacon is seeking grants from foundations, corporations, philanthropists, patrons with deep pockets, members, sponsors and advertisers. The Beacon has about 180 donors who have kicked in varying amounts, Duffy said. When Pulitzer Inc. was taken over by Lee, many veteran journalists at the Post took buyouts. Freivogel had been the Sunday news editor. She and
others wanted to bid on buying the Post through an employee stock-ownership plan, but they never got the chance. (“A fortuitous failure,” she observes with a laugh, in light of the declining fortunes of newspapers.) She and Duffy visited other cities where online startups had taken root, such as San Diego and Minneapolis, to learn what needed to be done. They wanted to infuse the quality of the Post reporting they once knew. Freivogel keeps a sketch of the late publisher, Joseph Pulitzer Jr., by her desk and calls him “a guiding spirit.” The Beacon must upgrade its website to handle ads and memberships, Duffy said. The number of hits—contacts by different people coming on the Beacon site in a month—has increased from 8,000 last May to about 28,000 recently, he said. To get more traffic, the Beacon needs to promote itself. Anyone can view it free by going to the stlbeacon.org website and, in the upper right hand corner, signing up for the Beacon newsletter. It is sent daily via e-mail to those on the e-mail list. Salaries for the 10 full-timers and four part-timers are naturally below what writers and editors make at the Post. Freivogel doesn't take a salary. “That's my donation,” she said. Will the Beacon creators ever benefit financially? “Not a chance,” said Duffy, noting that its a nonprofit. “But this is why we got into journalism in the first place, to give people information they need.” Freivogel says: “We're still very new and growing, gaining support even with the downturn of the economy. It's a new concept. Eventually people will come to think of us as a place to go.” ■ Repps Hudson, a freelance writer, is retired from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch but still writes a weekly business column for the paper.
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Hyman Minsky wrote a regular column for SJR in the 1980s
By Roland Klose
yman P. Minsky died in 1996, but today the Chicago-born economist is getting credit for anticipating the Economist Anticipated The current financial crisis. To be being a spot-on prophet of doom. precise, Minsky’s “financial in- Financial Collapse That Has In a sense, though, Minsky was stability hypothesis,” refined in Discredited Free-market already famous—just not with local the ’70s, describes how bubbles reporters, who seemed to prefer the form in capitalist economies, Ideologues free-market cultists at Washington with potentially disastrous conUniversity’s Center for the Study of sequences. American Business, headed by forA professor of economics at Washington University until 1990, Minsky was a famil- mer Reagan official, Murray Weidenbaum. Until the economy started coming apart, Minsky’s obituary was iar voice to readers of the St. Louis Journalism Review; by Roland Klose he wrote a regular column for the paper in the early the last time Post readers saw his name. The notion that capitalism is inherently unstable is 1980s. Minsky offered SJR’s readers an argument to the supply-side economic theories that held sway under the hardly new, but Minsky broke ranks with the prevailing Reagan administration, and have dominated public pol- wisdom of the Milton Friedman school, which held that markets are self-regulating and efficient. Instead, Minicy for a generation. Minsky’s financial-instability model has three stages. sky argued for effective government regulation and At first, investors borrow only what they can repay intervention to curb irrational exuberance and delubased on anticipated cash flows. Then, as asset prices sional thinking, while, at the same time, promoting the rise, they start to speculate, expecting to be able to refi- values of a democratic society. nance. By the third stage, optimism turns to recklessGovernment must offset swings ness, and borrowers engage in what Minsky called “Ponzi borrowing”—unable to pay either principal or Minsky called for keeping government big enough to interest, they gamble that ever-climbing asset prices will allow them to keep refinancing. Debts pile up faster offset swings in private investment, removing barriers than they can handle, and collapse becomes inevitable. to labor-force participation, actively regulating marIn the summer of 2007, Nouriel Roubini, professor of kets, and eliminating incentives for firms to get too big. economics at New York University and author of “RGE Some specifics, at first blush, would be a tough sell to Monitor” (www.rgemonitor.com), invoked Minsky to populists: Minsky argued, for example, for the eliminadescribe the housing bubble that triggered the recent tion of the corporate income tax, requiring employees to pay 100 percent of payroll taxes, and phasing out market crash. Minsky’s name has since crept into the popular transfer payments, like Aid to Families with Dependent press—and he even got a mention in his former home- Children (AFDC). But his goal was a full-employment town paper, which had mostly ignored his work for most economy—the Alan Greenspan view, that there’s a “natural” rate of unemployment, didn’t square with Minof his lifetime. sky’s values. In essence, Minsky believed that people were the most Becomes famous after death important resources in any economy—that’s why, for “A dozen years after his death, Hyman Minsky sud- example, he strongly promoted government investment denly is famous,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial- in education. Here he is, in the Sept. 1985 edition of SJR, writing ized on Feb. 17, 2008, taking note that the financial press, primarily in Europe, was crediting Minsky for about an economy’s most important resource:
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“Reaganomics is bad economics. Its practitioners and publicists do not understand the full richness of economic theory. They take one proposition from theory—that free markets can be an effective instrument for achieving cooperation and coordination—and apply it to all phenomena. They either do not know or, if they know, they find it politic to ignore the demonstrated weakness of markets as the coordination and control mechanism for the creation of resources. An investing economy is much more complex than a system in which only trading takes place. Every society uses and creates resources. Perhaps most important is the creation of resources that will be available for use in the future—even the quite distant future. Physical resources—factories, farms, power plants, etc.—are important, but the overridingly important resources of an economy are its people. Births, bringing up children, and education are the ways we create human resources.” Many economists today see Minsky as a towering figure whose analysis of modern capitalism has proven more durable—and palatable—than that of the free-market ideologues who’ve held sway in Washington, D.C., for 30 years. ■ Roland Klose is the former editor of Illinois Issues, managing editor of Riverfront Times, assistant business editor of The Tampa Tribue, and assistant business editor of the Memphis Commercial Appeal. He is currently ressurecting FOCUS/Midwest magazine.
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Excerpts from Minsky’s 1980 columns in SJR Hyman Minsky was more than an economist and tenured professor at Washington University. His regular columns in SJR during the ’80s, as Roland Klose in “Minsky” reveals, forecast America’s current economic debacle. He was a prophet, who is now being recognized on the international scene. Below are a few excerpts from his many columns written for SJR in the ’80s. “The evidence from history is that our economy is much more successful when government is big than when government is small. The historical evidence is supported by modern theoretical findings to the effect that complex systems, which generate movement through time, are subject to intermittent breakdowns. Such breakdowns can be contained by interventions or constraints.” * * * “The capitalism that the New Deal created is deservedly popular. Its measures—social security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, etc.—lifted some out of the fear of poverty, unemployment, and abandonment that haunts the vast majority, who are neither rich nor successful. In addition, the New Deal restructuring created an economy that seems able to avoid deep and long depressions.” * * * “The Reaganites, many of whom are devotees of free-market economists, create policies in pursuit of an ideal-market economy. In the abstract system that such economists and their followers often confuse with reality, Great Depressions cannot happen. They, therefore, feel justified in overlooking that the New Deal was a response to the great collapse of the American economy that took place between 1929-33. The New Deal, which aimed to create a free economy in which a Great Depression could not occur was, in this view, unnecessary.” * * * “A Reagan policy agenda can be constructed by starting with the objective: Dismantle the New Deal. To do that, a crisis is needed, a massive government deficit will do. To get such a deficit, taxes must be reduced and spending increased. “Tax decreases were defended and rationalized by supply-side economics. Supply side economics was not and never has been a doctrine by serious professional economists. . . . “The second move in the strategy to force a crisis—raise spending—was easy. Defense spending now increased as a percent of G.N.P. each year. Little discipline has been exercised.” * * * “In the not distant future, the economy will go through another serious recession. At that time, the hollowness of the Reagan society will be evident. Hopefully, at that time a program of democratic reconstruction will be on the agenda.”
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imes may be tough for a lot of people, but save a place at the head of the bread line for professional sports teams. With an unconscionable arrogance that begins with owners who consider themselves not only entitled to wallow at the public trough, but also to stand first in line, and a trickle-down theory (the only place it’s worked) that gives players the right to carry guns in public places, to drive without licenses, to beat up on women, professional (and sometimes “amateur”) sports organizations happily label the dregs of society as scholar-athletes and lionize them as examples of character-builders. The hapless Rams proudly announced that they will not raise prices for next year (exceptions noted for some seats) and apparently think they’re doing someone a favor and probably deserve full houses and standing ovations. They did not publicly applaud the gravy poured on the equally hapless Kansas City Chiefs, but you can bet your bippy that they’ll be around in a few years seeking equal—or probably greater—largess to put a feather on the Ugly Dome and call it macaroni.
sports & media / Joe Pollack
Sports teams at the public trough
State aid for losers
And whoops!!— just look at what happened—the Board already has taken the Cardinals off the hook for Ballpark Village and its suburbs.
Joe Pollack is a former St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist and current theater critic for KWMU
At the same time, Bill DeWallet (thank you, Bernie Miklasz, for the year’s finest sports nickname) and his Cardinal cohorts will soon be lobbying the city and its Board of Aldermen for relief. Don’t forget that the baseball All-Star game is only months away, as is the opening of Ballpark Village. You doubt it will be ready? Do you not believe what the Lords of Downtown have been telling you? It’s funny, but if Ballpark Village is not ready to start fleecing St. Louisans and visitors by July, the Cardinals will owe big bucks to the city. Of course, the city can drink some more Cardinal Kool-Aid and take DeWallet and Ballpark Village off the hook, and the drinks probably are aging right now while the pitch is being prepared. And whoops!!—just look at what happened—the Board already has taken the Cardinals off the hook for Ballpark Village and its suburbs. What a fortuitous moment in history.
The Chiefs, if you haven’t noticed, recently received $25 million in tax credits from the Missouri Development Finance Board to help build a new training facility at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph, and to do more renovation at Arrogant Stadium (oops, make that Arrowhead), where they lose their home games. Missouri’s two NFL teams have managed to win four games this season, which certainly makes them qualified for state assistance. Only the Detroit Lions (0-16) did worse than the Rams and Chiefs, who fumbled, bumbled, staggered and fell to a pair of victories and 14 losses apiece The Rams will soon go shuffling off to Jefferson City, helmet in hand, seeking equally large amounts of money to improve their facility. Or maybe they won’t, because if someone rates the Ugly Dome as truly ugly, the ownership triumvirate of Rosenbloom, Rodriguez and Kroenke can break their lease and leave town, or sell the franchise, leaving the city of St. Louis holding a very large, debt-filled bag. Finding a location, or a buyer, will be extremely difficult until the economy creates its next bubble on which to hitch a ride, but it will not be impossible. Someone always wants to own a sports franchise.
What did we learn? Meanwhile, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch commentary by Michael Reilly, a good copy editor, asks, “Did St. Louis learn anything from losing the football Cardinals?” Well, Mike, I think several things were learned. First, the city and many of its citizens, the ones Bill McClellan used to call “the Bornwells and the Marriedwells,” learned they could go out and spend a lot of money and make huge promises to the Lords of Football—only to get fleeced again by an organization that lacked skill in the front office and on the field. Second, many fans learned they did not have to take out second mortgages to buy season tickets, and they also learned that they could ignore football on Sunday afternoons and that it was no greater a tragedy than ignoring church on Sunday mornings. I’ve lived in St. Louis about a decade longer than you. I was here before the Football Cardinals, during the Football Cardinals (I even worked for them) and after the Football Cardinals. I was here during the hiatus and then the hysteria that accompanied the Rams. Whether we had pro football or not, the city changed not an iota. Nothing happened. The stultifying hubris and we-deserveall attitude of the Bornwells and Marriedwells, to whom the city always has bowed, have remained. So has the longtime racism inherent in almost every-
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ach day brings more news about the economic slide of news media and their failure to keep customers and develop new ones. In St. Louis, as in most other large markets, newspaper and radio websites have begun offering original video as a way to generate more site visitors. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch site, stltoday.com, is acknowledged by most as the pioneer site in St. Louis for such video. Today, all the Post's photographers shoot and edit local video, as do some reporters. Determination of which stories should have video on stltoday is the job of By Frank the photographic staff, with occasional input from the site’s editors. “The video on our site offers a different kind of experience,” says Will Sullivan, stltoday’s interactive director, “especially as the generation and culture changes to one that grew up with TV and consuming MTV video content. They seem to prefer that over reading hundreds of column inches. It’s an engaging format, especially when paired with a print piece.” He says the use of video opens up new options for people who used to depend only on words to convey information. “Sometimes we do things called sidebar videos showing a piece of a larger story, and it will bring you into that experience a lot better than just words would. These stories are like little gold nuggets throughout the site.”
recently when he wrote lyrics to a song about the problems of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and sang it for a video posted on the site. Locally produced video on the websites of St. Louis radio stations is relatively scarce, except for Bonneville’s toastedrav.com site. Jen Danker, the company’s new media director, told SJR its goal is to offer video that won’t be found anywhere else. “The main goal is to entertain and inform site visitors about things that are going on around town,” she says. “There may be an issue that we cover. We don’t want to do it the Absher same way the news stations might. We try to find a different angle— something unique.” Bonneville’s video team has a weekly planning meeting. There are two writers, two videographers, a graphic designer and a lead developer who sort through story ideas. Their goal is to develop traffic to the website. Danker says it’s working. “We cover so many areas and subjects, so we do have a broad reach. We’re seeing all different age groups coming to our site.” Two other radio stations with a heavy news commitment don’t yet do any locally produced video for their websites. The news directors of both KMOX and KWMU say a local video operation is on their wish lists. But for those media already providing such a service, public feedback has been universally positive. “We crank out videos as quickly as we can to get a large variety up there,” says Bundy of the Journals. “I’ve been really pleased with the response we’ve gotten and the quality they’ve produced in a short time.”
Say it with
Suburbans produce videos The Post’s sister newspapers, The Suburban Journals, at suburbanjournals.stltoday.com, also produce video reports. Editorial director Don Bundy says they’ve been doing it for about 11 years. “We trained one person right off the bat, and he went out into the field and trained the other folks, and we brought them up to speed as quickly as we could.” Bundy says each of the seven local Journal offices has complete control over what they shoot. “In St. Charles,” he says, “the managing editor wanted to give every staffer the opportunity to work on a video, so she started a series called ‘Odd Jobs.’ She had each staffer pick an odd job, go out and write a 10-12 inch story about it and then produce a video featuring someone in that job.” At the Belleville News-Democrat, online editor Joe Ostermeier has enjoyed watching the paper’s transition toward video on its Web site, bnd,com. The potential it opens for conveying information excites him. “We’re story tellers,” says Ostermeier, “and to the extent that we can now use one other way to tell the story is a great thing. “We can write great stories, and newspapers have done that for a long time; but to have a video that, for instance, shows a grieving mother at her son’s grave site on a snowy day, and she’s brushing the snow off the headstone—you can write that in a story, but if you have a video showing it, that can be very powerful,” Ostermeier said. The News-Democrat’s photo staff carries most of the responsibility for shooting and editing website video, but several of the new, younger reporters are also doing it. Even veteran columnist Wally Spiers got into the act
Viewers respond At stltoday, Will Sullivan is happy with the quick response his readers provide: “We get comments and ratings on what we do. The reactions are often instantaneous. We probably get more favorable feedback for the videos than we do for the articles, actually.” Toastedrav has taken things a step beyond the norm, sharing its videos with other sites, says Danker, “We’ll also post our videos on BlimpTV and we also get a lot of views through YouTube. Some of the stuff we do on a weekly basis has really developed a following, so it’s good for us when it’s posted on other Web sites.” And at the Belleville News-Democrat, Joe Ostermeier is particularly proud of the site’s most-watched video ever, a 5-year-old local boy who had a hole-in-one at Yorktown Golf Course. “We just went out in his backyard and he picked up his golf club and described how he got his hole-in-one.’’ It ended up on SI.com and was linked on the Drudge Report. “Sometimes,” says Ostermeier, “more sophistication is not the best way to go. Sometimes it’s just turning on the camera and letting the person describe things. “We don’t live in a world anymore where people are content just to have their newspaper drop on their driveway every morning,” he says. “They have an expectation during the day that they’ll get their news from somewhere and we want it to be us. We’re trying to use the Internet as a way to serve our readers between the hours that the newspaper lands in their yard.” ■
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more than $470,000 from the Public ith its owner and editor now Schools into a private account he in prison, the venerable St. controlled, as well as other funds paid Louis Argus, the oldest to MOKAN. Hasan used the money for African-American owned business in personal expenses and failed to Missouri, is facing hard times. report it as taxable income, prosecuArgus owner Eddie Hasan did not tors said. return phone calls recently about his Hasan pleaded guilty to one charge plans for the paper, in his absence. He of tax evasion and agreed to pay the was ordered to report to the federal IRS $105,996 in restitution. In addipenitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., on tion, Judge Richard Webber fined him Jan. 5 to begin serving a year and a $100 and ordered him to serve one day for tax evasion. year and a day in prison. In the Dec. 11-17 issue of the Argus, an editorial announced that Political group gives the paper would reduce its publicamoney to Argus tion schedule in 2009, publishing two issues in January and one or two Since December, the St. Louis By Benjamin Israel issues a month from then on. American and two online publicaIt made those cuts because it “faced the uncertain- tions, the Arch City Chronicle and PubDef, have ties of a deepening worldwide economic recession,” the reported that a group close to Mayor Francis Slay has half-page editorial said. It made no mention of Hasan's been funneling money to the Argus, apparently to get legal troubles. better press for the mayor. The group is called Citizens In fact, the Argus has come out every other week for a Better St. Louis. since November. On the week before Christmas, the The American alleged that, at a time when much of Argus was readying its second issue of December, the local African-American community has been upset Argus office manager Judith McDuffie said. with Slay's support of changes in the way the St. Louis Hasan bought the Argus in 2003 from Eugene Public Schools are run, and with his dismissal of the Mitchell, grandson of William Mitchell, who had been city's first African-American fire chief, Sherman George, associated with the Argus since its founding in 1912 as that the money was used to ensure favorable coverage of the newsletter of the Western Union Relief Association, the mayor in the Argus. a black-owned insurance cooperative. When the Relief Filings with the Missouri Ethics Commission show Association failed in 1916, Mitchell and his brother, that Citizens for a Better St. Louis gave the Argus Joseph E. Mitchell, became majority shareholders in $10,370 in 2008. In the column for the expenditure's the newly independent newspaper and became sole purpose, the copy just read “Media.” Generally, camowners during the Great Depression. J.E. edited the paign finance expenditures for advertising are listed as paper while his brother handled the business side. advertising. In 1912, three other African-American papers existed When asked why the group gave the money to the in St. Louis, but by 1916, they were all out of business. Argus, Brad Ketcher, treasurer for Citizens for a Better After that, African Americans founded seven com- St. Louis, said, “We make multiple expenditures there, petitors to the Argus. All but one, the St. Louis Ameri- and they are for various purposes.” When asked to elabcan, founded in 1928, had folded by 1929. Even though orate, Ketcher said, “The reports speak for themselves.” many of the founders of the American, like Homer Asked about the purpose of the group, Ketcher said Phillips and Charles Turpin, had been close associates that it supports issues and matters that are important to of the Mitchells years earlier, the Argus remained the the city of St. Louis. He declined to elaborate. dominant African-American newspaper in St. Louis for Legally, the group is called a continuing committee, decades. J.E. Mitchell used his paper as a force for one that can work in election campaigns. It is not necchange, leading efforts to get African Americans elected essarily affiliated with any candidate, and it can conto office in the post-World War I period and later head- tinue over the course on many election cycles. ing the local NAACP chapter. But the paper went into Asked about its relationship to Mayor Slay, Ketcher decline after J.E.'s death in 1952. It had opposed the said, We are independent of the mayor, but we are sup1963 Jefferson Bank boycott and demonstrations porters of the mayor. because the bank was its biggest advertiser. According to its Ethics Commission filings, the CitiAs mainstream dailies like the St. Louis Post-Dis- zens for a Better St. Louis was founded in February patch started hiring African Americans and paying more 2005. Of the $68,500 donated to it in the first three attention to the community's news, the Argus suffered months of that year, by far the largest chunk, $10,000, like the rest of the black press and has not prospered as came from Thomas Guilfoil, a former law partner of Slay. the American has in recent years. In that year, it donated $8,653.33 to each of the three Like Mitchell, Hasan has a history of activism. Hasan candidates for St. Louis School Board supported by heads MOKAN, a company that helps minority contrac- Slay: Joe Moramarco, Flint Fowler and Joseph Keaveny. tors and construction workers get jobs and monitors In 2006, the group worked for passage of Proposition compliance with affirmative action agreements. He was G, which increased business-license fees on a graduone of the leaders of the 1999 protest blockade of Inter- ated scale in St. Louis city. The mayor as well as most state 70 that resulted in an agreement that brought of the aldermen supported it. more highway construction contracts and jobs for Ketcher, an attorney, has a long record as a political African Americans. activist. He served as Gov. Mel Carnahan's chief of staff In 2001, MOKAN contracted with the St. Louis public from December 1995 until May 1999 and worked in the schools to monitor minority participation in construc- governor's office before that. tion contracts let by the St. Louis Public School District. According to federal prosecutors, Hasan deposited continued on page 24
Argus Owner in Prison
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e have concluded another election year of candidates palling around with terrorists, associating with the guilty, and being smeared on talk radio. One might think it is impossible to go too far in defaming a public official or public figure. Actually, says communication attorney Mark Sableman, the risk of libel and slander damages can still face individuals or the media who get sued for their criticisms. A couple of recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have made it somewhat easier for a defamed person to sue successfully for damages, he said. But the critics must try really hard to achieve the level of libelous defamation that would result in damages against them, he added. “There is no question that the level of meanness and outrageousness in our discourse has gotten worse over the years, but I am not sure that libel law can control that,” said Sableman, a partner in the St. Louis law firm Thompson Coburn LLP. Much of the political criticism volleyed about during the 2008 elections amounted to quibbling over facts, such as how many times Candidate X voted against the troops, voted for earmarks, was for or against an issue, and so forth. “You don’t make a libel suit out of different judgments on the same facts,” Sableman said.
Ad/PR / Rick Stoff
Accusations that may have been scandalous decades ago won’t go far in today’s courtrooms, Sableman said.
RIck Stoff, a former St. Louis Globe Democrat reporter and editor, now practices public relations at his own firm, Stoff Communications
It is a misconception that intent and disregard for facts are sufficient to create a strong case for libel, Sableman said. The defamatory statement must be stronger than an accusation of atheism. “I don’t think that is libelous,” Sableman said. “To be libel, it has to be an accusation of serious criminal conduct or incompetence in an office, a profession or business, or sexual misconduct or a loathsome disease. The defamatory content prong in almost every state requires something seriously harmful to reputation. “If you correctly or incorrectly accuse me of having an overdue library book or getting a parking fine, I can’t sue you for libel. It is not a sufficiently serious legal violation to seriously damage my reputation. It has to be seriously harmful to reputation before it meets the defamatory content threshold for libel or slander.” Slander is defamation that is spoken as distinguished from libel which is written, printed, or any sign, picture or effigy.
LIBEL: How far can you go?
The Dole campaign ad A television campaign ad ran in North Carolina by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole made the list of “Top Ten Political Turkeys of 2008” published on CNN.com. The ad suggested that Dole’s opponent, Kay Hagan, had taken “godless money” for her campaign at a “secret fundraiser” held by an adviser to an atheist organization. While a picture of Hagan was displayed on the screen, a woman’s voice stated, “There is no God.” It turned out, however, that Hagan was an elder and Sunday School teacher at the First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, N.C. Hagan filed a defamation and libel suit against Dole, but withdrew it after defeating the incumbent on election day. Sableman does not believe the Hagan suit would have succeeded, although Dole’s ad was apparently intended to be harmful and was prepared with reckless disregard for the truth.
What’s libelous can change Accusations that may have been scandalous decades ago won’t go far in today’s courtrooms, Sableman said. “Libel follows society’s mores, and I don’t think an accusation of non-traditional religious beliefs or non-beliefs would seriously tar someone’s reputation akin to an accusation of serious criminal conduct. In the past, anything that wasn’t traditional morality might have been considered sexual misconduct, such as being homosexual or promiscuous outside of marriage. I don’t think an accusation of being homosexual is libelous any more, although it might have been considered almost per se libelous 100 or 50 years ago.” Two U.S. Supreme Court cases in recent decades have made it easier for a news organization to be sued successfully for libel, Sableman said. The case of Harte-Hanks Communications v. Connaughton in 1989 in volved a political candidate (Connaughton) whose incumbent opponent for a municipal judgeship had been endorsed by the local newspaper. In days prior to the election, news broke of a bribery scandal, leading to the arrest of the incumbent’s director of court services. The newspaper ran a continued on page 24
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DIGITAL A M M E L DI
By Don Corrigan
inter 2009 is shaping up to be a season of mass-media confusion when it comes to television. Deadlines for converting your TV sets to digital loom, while television stations are beginning to switch frequencies and channels for the transition. KMOV Channel 4 and KNLC Channel 24 became the first local stations to go all-digital. The move has been problematic for some residents who receive their signals through old antennas, rather than through satellite, telephone or cable systems. Another snag for TV consumers across the U.S. is a major backup in requests for government coupons to offset the cost of converter purchases. The $1.34 billion program for $40 vouchers recently ran out of money, and tens of thousands of Americans are now on a waiting list. On Feb. 17, all full-power TV stations must go digital by federal law. Analog televisions not connected to cable, a satellite receiver or a converter box will be unable to receive these digital signals. In Missouri alone, 478,000, or one in five, households do not have cable or satellite and have relied on over-the-air television.
McCaskill joins protest Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. has expressed alarm that the federal coupon plan is inadequate to meet the needs of citizens in the state and nationally. “I don’t want a single person in the state of Missouri to wake up on Feb. 17, 2009 and not be able to get their local channels on their TV, said McCaskill. She has been vocal about the need to better edu-
cate the general public about the upcoming switch to DTV. She also has harshly criticized the Bush Administration's FCC policies for lack of progress on finalizing consumer education and broadcasting rules for station owners. President Barack Obama said he wants broadcasters to hold off on the big switch from analog signals to digital. Obama transition-team cochair John Podesta said government funds to support the change are “woefully inadequate” and cited concerns from consumers groups that many people haven’t made the necessary upgrades. Watching snow Earlier this month, Nielsen Media Research released numbers stating that nearly 8 million Americans, who are still using antennas, haven't acquired converter boxes and could be left confused and watching snow on their TV screens. Bush administration officials said they were unwilling to move the digital switch deadline to later in the year because of converter-coupon problems and lack of information for consumers. It remains to be seen whether an Obama administration taking the reins will act quickly to move the deadline, if at all. Congressional Republicans argue that there's no incentive like no TV to bring home the digital change to unaware consumers. A quick trip to most electronics product stores, such as Radio Shack, can remedy the signal problem with an equipment purchase. However, the U.S. Consumers Union has expressed particular concern for low-income,
elderly and rural homeowners. They could be left with blank screens and little access to emergency broadcasts in the event of weather problems or disaster issues. A spokesperson for McCaskill's senate office, Maria Speiser, said the senator's office has done plenty of outreach to state residents to help get the word out about the DTV coupon program in Missouri. We've always said that reaching the coupon cap was not a matter of if, but when, said Speiser. The Bush administration, unfortunately, didn't show much desire to address this issue, and that's why Sen. McCaskill and the staff have done such aggressive outreach in Missouri. She has repeatedly pressed the Bush administration on improving their DTV plan, added Speiser. “As a result of our outreach program,” said Speiser, “many Missouri communities have some of the highest coupon-take' rates in the country. Despite this, far too many households who need coupons still have not requested them, so we are encouraging Missourians who still need a coupon to get on the waiting list now.” For questions and answers about the digital switch, go to the Web site www.dtvanswers.com or consult the Federal Communications Commission site http://www.dtv.gov. To make an application for a converter coupon to defray converter purchase expense, call 1-888-388-2009 or go to http://www.dtv2009.gov. ■ Don Corrigan is a professor of journalism at Webster University and editor and co-publisher of the Webster-Kirwood Times.
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Radio History/Frank Absher Frank Absher is a St. Louis radio historian. St. Louis radio history is available online at www.stlradio.com
thus bringing the he question new tower into use. came in a But the mystery of phone call in the studio remainOctober 2004. David ed unclear. Ohlemeyer’s comIn October 1946, pany, The Lawrence an article in the St. Group, was in the Louis Globe-Demoprocess of rehabbing crat told of KWK’s the Marquette Buildpurchase of a twoing in downtown St. story former bank Louis. There was a building at the corhuge radio tower on ner of Fourth and the roof, and atop the Pine streets downbuilding an extra town, a block away room had been built. from the then-BoatOhlemeyer had men’s Bank Buildfound some papers in ing. The article the room and wanted stated that “One of to know, out of cur the most modern iosity, whether a radio station had ever operated there. He broadcasting studios in the Midwest contacted me, a local radio historian, has been planned” for the building. But and I said “Let’s take a look.” The eleva- the best-laid plans failed to become tors were out of order, so a 20-story reality. For undisclosed reasons, the building was never climb was in order. refurbished. Sure enough, the Three years room he had talked later, May 9, 1949, about looked as if it KWK-AM and FM had been used as a moved their studios studio. There were to the building at even a few perforated 12th and Cole acoustical tiles still where the Globeon the wall. But no Democrat’s FM stadocumentation tion KWGD was could be found to being shut down. At link any station to the same time, the the studio. company that But the papers owned KWK and he’d found were KWK-FM changed helpful. They were its name to KWK, bills of sale for the Inc. tower and its The new building antenna, made out had its own broadto Thomas Patrick, cast tower on site, Inc. at the Chase rendering the tower Hotel, which was the atop the Boatmen’s parent company of The radio tower atop the Building redunKWK. The tower, Marquette Building dant. By the end of purchased in Decthe year, the St. ember of 1946, was 270 feet tall. When erected, the tower’s Louis Star-Times entered into an agreetop light was 574 feet above street level, ment to buy and use the tower on The making it the highest broadcast tower Boatmen’s Building for its station, in the area. But the antenna to be KXOK-FM. There was never any mention of perinstalled on the tower was for an FM stamanent studios at the Broadway address tion. KWK was an AM station. All of the equipment was delivered to but an interview many years later pro314 North Broadway, then known as the vided an explanation. KCFM was broadBoatmen’s Bank Building. Thomas casting from the tower after a disastrous Patrick, Inc. had been given permission fire destroyed its facilities, and owner in 1945 to erect its FM station on a fre- Harry Eidelman made reference to the quency of 95.3 megacycles. The station fact that his announcers were using the came on the air in September of 1946, “temporary studio on the 22nd floor of so this tower would not have been in the Boatmen’s Bank building.” The temporary studio had been put in use initially. The Federal Communications Com- place after construction of the tower so mission changed KWK-FM’s frequency the radio station would have a place to to 99.1 the following year. The change originate broadcasts in such an emerappears to have come in August 1947, gency. ■
The tower, purchased in December of 1946, was 270 feet tall. When erected, the tower’s top light was 574 feet above street level, making it the highest broadcast tower in the area.
Was there a radio station in this building?
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WE LIVE IN A SOCIETY IN WHICH CELEBRITIES HAVE BECOME, SYMBOLICALLY, OUR NATIONAL ROYALTY.
By Elayne Rapping
e live in a society in which celebrities have become, symbolically, our national royalty. With the coming of cable and the Internet, and the rise of pop culture beats on virtually every national newspaper, what is almost a national addiction to celebrity has gradually been taking over much of the print media and even more television news. The roots of what I call the celebritization of American society and adoration of public figures are found in the 19th century, when political leaders began to be chosen on the basis of their “charisma” or personalities. Today, pop-culture stars loom largest as celebrities, but political figures have not escaped the media's attention. Since the coming of television, politicians have increasingly been forced to conform to the norms of celebrity to make themselves electable. Starting with John F. Kennedy, surely one of the most telegenic of presidents, and one who received enormous media coverage based on his looks, his family life and his lifestyle, candidates have increasingly been “celebritized” in this way. Sen. Barack Obama, while a senator, appeared on the covers of People and other magazines. The vast majority of celebrity news is trivial. The media make much ado whenever a celebrity does something, from getting arrested for drunk driving to getting married or divorced. Yet, there are instances, primarily in legal cases, in which truly important issues are covered solely in terms of gossip and sensation, avoiding all serious consideration of major legal, social and political issues. An example of a celebrity story in which serious legal issues were overlooked was when Michael Jackson was charged with child sexual abuse. The case dealt with the concept of “reasonable doubt,” the Constitutional guarantee requiring that the prosecution must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed the crime. In Jackson's case, a young boy had accused the pop star of sexual abuse. It was well known, due to the obsessive coverage of Jackson's lifestyle, that he regularly brought boys to his fantasy-like homestead and often had them sleep in his bed while their parents were elsewhere. Therefore, according to the media, it was a “slam dunk” case. Even Nancy Grace, a lawyer turned TV personality, said on the air that “he slept with hundreds of boys and therefore was obviously guilty.” If Grace, who had apparently gone to law school, could make such a statement, it is not surprising that less-informed media commentators made the same assumption. It is also not surprising that there was mass outrage when Jackson was acquitted. And yet, it was obvious from a legal point of view that the acquittal was a foregone conclusion. For Jackson was not on trial for “sleeping with hundreds of boys,” but only for sleeping with the one who pressed charges. And this boy and his mother, for a number of reasons, lacked credibility as victims and were seen as trying to make money from the case. They presented no hard evidence of the charges brought. Thus, the “reasonable doubt” was enormous. And no matter how much the public believed that Jackson was a pedophile, the prosecution could not meet its burden of proof. In fact, there is every reason to believe the case would never even have come to trial if Jackson were not a celebrity.
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Fodder for tabloids Another example involves the late Anna Nicole Smith. Her legal debacles continue to be fodder for media and tabloids, the most recent case being over the paternity of her infant daughter Dannielynn. Among the many scandals and gossipy nuggets about Smith, the obses-
sion over the paternity of Dannielynn was among the most-covered and re-covered stories, because it was “sexy.” Another important legal case that Smith was involved in, and which continues today, is over the estate of her late husband, wealthy Texan J. Howard Marshall II. The case dates back to the mid-1990s, when Smith petitioned the courts for part of her husband's estate. The heirs of Marshall countered her claim that she was entitled to half of the estate. When it appeared the Texas probate court would reject Smith's claims, she and her legal team started up a new legal attack on Marshall's estate before the first one was complete. Smith declared bankruptcy in California federal court and, in the end, was awarded $88 million. This judgment was appealed and, after many legal hearings and procedures, the case ultimately made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006. The high court decided that the case had some legal merit and sent it back to the federal appeals court in California for final adjudication. A decision has yet to be made. Although the media coverage remained fixated on Anna Nicole Smith, the legal machinations associated with this case were far more fascinating. How does one declare bankruptcy and get awarded nearly $88 million? What are the implications of such a successful litigation attempt? The media failed to cover these legal issues in a comprehensive way. There is potential for this case to set a dangerous legal precedent that would affect all Americans, particularly average citizens who don't have the resources to fight a long legal battle. One issue is the manner in which federal courts should exercise their jurisdiction over legal disputes when they conflict with local courts hearing essentially the same legal disputes. So the Marshall litigation continues to clog the court system as Smith's lawyers appear to have successfully “forum shopped” for sympathetic legal venues. Media fail to explain What makes the Marshall case similar to Jackson's is the failure of the media to even try to explain any of the actual—and there are several legal issues at stake—but rather to focus exclusively on the scandalous, sensational aspects of Smith's personal life. Her many love affairs were vaunted; her failed reality TV show mocked; and even her endless problems with weight control were well known almost by everyone. But no mention—and I was interviewed extensively about Anna Nicole Smith when she died—was made of the serious issues involved in the estate case.
The television ratings wars and the falling revenue of newspapers have made the media increasingly willing to cater to the lowest common denominator of public taste. And that lowest common denominator is celebrity scandal and gossip. Bad news drives out good. In the 1980s, tabloid TV series, considered “trash” at the time, drew audiences away from the traditional news media by doing actual investigative journalism about celebrity scandals. Such stories quickly “trickled up” to those serious news shows, which could not afford not to compete with them for ratings. Thus the tabloidization of what used to be called serious news. National news divisions shrank. Hard news blurs with entertainment news. Everything from the nightly news to cable networks like CNN and MSNBC sink lower in their rush to cover what sells. Consider the media attention to Paris Hilton, an heiress and jet setter with no claim to fame except that she shows up wherever the paparazzi are. When she was arrested for drunk driving and sentenced to jail, the media could not get enough of the story. Watching a day of CNN programming, it was depressing to see the war in Iraq and other important issues pushed to the side, while every detail of the Hilton case was gone over endlessly. The legal system itself is increasingly influenced by celebrity news coverage. When the media are watching, as they were in the Hilton case, she received celebrity treatment in jail. Not only was she placed in better quarters than other inmates, But also her sentence was reduced to a few days. There was no end of coverage of what she wore as she left jail and there was a plethora of soft questions for the party girl. She presented herself as someone who never did drugs, read the Bible, and was basically the girl next door. No reporter, including Larry King, questioned any of this. Hilton was given more favorable coverage because she was a socialite celebrity. Smith was treated in much more “trashy” ways when she died, and later when the custody battle over her daughter broke out. The favoritism based on class is obvious. Celebrities have the resources to hire the best attorneys and investigators as well as influential individuals who have the ability to manage their cases in ways that allow them to forum shop for the most amenable venues. The majority of us, should we be arrested, would have no such resources. Obviously this is a growing social problem, as more celebrities get special treatment. This is obviously not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they forged the Constitution. So what does this all mean for society in general? The virtual taking over of the media by trivial celebrity news has had a disturbing effect on the quality of public discourse. Once celebrity gossip overwhelms the news media, what hope is there for the truly important issues of our day to get the attention they need and deserve? I don't see the situation improving. Money talks, as they say, and as long as celebrity and trivia news bolster media revenue, things are likely only to get worse. ■ Elayne Rapping, Ph.D, is professor of American Studies at State University of New York/Buffalo.
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removed because you’re in the stuickie Newton has always been dio, but the advantage to it is you serious about news. When have a chance to be part of all the other little girls in tiny Bearstories. When I was younger, I loved den, Ark., were dreaming of becomgetting the interview, getting on the ing princesses, Wonder Woman or air live, the immediacy of it. I think movie stars, Vickie dreamed of this is the perfect time for me to be becoming a TV news anchor. an anchor—I move a little slower, The evening news was the most need a little more artificial light. It’s popular TV show in the Newton worked out well.” home. In fact, she and her brother At 42, she’s been in the business Nick named their two puppies for 21 years, a span that has seen Sadat and Begin, after the newsmany changes. “I think the biggest making leaders of Egypt and Israel. challenge for news is maintaining “We were such little nerds, and relevance,” she says. “I think now we delude ourselves and think [KMOV is] doing a good job because we’re the cool people,” she says. we are adapting to what our culture “Sometimes you need a fantasy.” is dictating. The Internet is demandNow a seven-year veteran on the ing that we adjust the way we tell KMOV-TV Channel 4 anchor desk, the news. Maybe you don’t want to Newton is living her lifelong dream. watch it on television—that’s fine, She co-anchors the 5 and 10 p.m. we’ll bring it to you via the net. We’ll weekday newscasts with Larry Vickie Newton bring it to you via your telephone. Conners, and often covers the 6 We’ll bring it to you. And I think that p.m. broadcast as well. is born of a commitment to journalNewton still obsesses over the ism and an awareness that change news, getting it through every is inevitable.” source available—Newsweek, Time, She also believes local TV news, The Economist, The New York in general, is still serving the pubTimes, CNN.com, MSNBC.com— lic. “I think we have corrected an “everything,” she says. “I mean it’s alarming trend toward sensationalridiculous. If I miss Meet the Press, ism,” she says. “We’ve slowly I’m downloading.” She and her recalibrated and redefined what is brother still exchange tips on news news. Frankly, for a while there we bits that one of them may have were trivializing the value of news missed. by covering some silly occurShe started actively pursuing her rences. I think we have policed ourgoal while attending Bearden High selves, with a little bit of prodding School, despite a talent for playing from the news consumer.” piano. Newton was good enough to accompany the church choir and By Eileen P. Duggan Anchors series on race win piano competitions, but she couldn’t see music as a career. One thing KMOV is doing that is “It simply was a concept I could not grasp,” says the far from trivial is “A Shared St. Louis,” a six-month soft-spoken, reserved Newton. “I was in a town of 1,200 series on race relations in St. Louis. Newton anchors the people. It’s hard, I think, for many kids to dream of segments, which have appeared in various time slots something they cannot see. I could see news anchors. I since August and wrapped up in December. had never seen a concert pianist, so I never made the The series was the brainchild of Sean McLaughlin, connection.” executive news director who moved here from MinWhile still in high school, Newton worked part-time nesota by way of Tulsa. “It was very courageous of him as a news reader on a local country music radio station. because it is such an emotional issue, and for a new She went on to Arkansas State University, where she executive in a new city to want to investigate is impresearned a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism in sive,” Newton said. 1987. During college, she worked at a National Public Newton’s skill on the job has won her several awards, Radio affiliate and after graduation moved on to televi- including Best TV News Anchor by the Riverfront Times sion at KATV in Little Rock, KMBC-TV and WDAF-TV in in 2002, a Suburban Journals’ Women of Achievement Kansas City, and then WDIV-TV in Detroit. Along the award in 2007 and inclusion in the St. Louis Business way, she married her college sweetheart, but they Journal’s 40 Under 40 list in 2006. divorced after eight years. The stylish newswoman has used her celebrity to While in Detroit, Newton did graduate work at the help others by serving on the boards of the Literacy University of Detroit. She then worked in Atlanta at Roundtable, which has established “Vickie’s Literacy WSB-TV and CNN. Her thesis was on the “back burner” Fund” in her honor; Opera Theatre of St. Louis; Jazz at until she arrived at KMOV in January 2002 “and started the Bistro; the YWCA; the St. Louis Symphony’s Comto create a life with some balance, which is what I trea- munity and Education Advisory Board; and several othsure most about my life,” she says. She completed her ers. She also served on the National Endowment of the master’s degree in journalism in 2003. Art’s Music Panel for the 2007 grants round. She enjoys chairing fund-raisers and plans to host Misses being a reporter small fund-raising dinners at her new downtown loft. In Now that Newton is an anchor, she misses “the dis- the meantime, Newton cooks for friends and family covering process of reporting and being in the mix of the continued on next page day’s events,” she says. “As an anchor, you’re somewhat
Fantasy to be TV anchor came true
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members at her vacation/retirement home on Lake Hamilton near Little Rock. She visits there every month or so, often inviting friends to dinner. For her favorite escape from the seriousness and intensity of the daily news, Newton goes back to her music, playing the Young Chang grand piano she bought herself for her 30th birthday.“It has always been my little safe haven, and it’s one that I wish I had more time to cultivate,” Newton says. She has performed at public events such as the Variety Club telethon and a benefit concert for the St. Louis Children’s Choir at Powell Hall. At that concert earlier this year, she played with St. Louis Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster David Halen and soprano Miran Halen. She
studies with Peter Henderson, an assistant music professor at Maryville University, and she is currently preparing Grieg’s Notturno for an upcoming performance. In her perfect life, down the road, Newton envisions spending her days running a voice-over production studio, her evenings cooking and attending shows with a handsome husband (not yet in the picture), and her nights playing piano. She’s sure that day will come. “I believe that we all have a way of eventually finding that place where we truly belong—if you don’t faint from the tedium of the journey.” ■ Eileen P. Duggan is a freelance writer/editor and a publications specialist
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SPORTS TEAMS Continued from page 14
thing it does. In addition, the city has abandoned the commitment it should have had to education, to industry and transportation, to its citizens. Nothing happened when St. Louis lost pro basketball either, though a great deal did and/or will happen at the departure of McDonnell Douglas, TWA, the Sporting News, Ford’s Hazelwood plant, Pulitzer Publishing and many others. Mizzou’s hype Post columnist Bryan Burwell, with the wide eyes and innocent expression of a fan (though he doesn’t have to pay for his tickets), continues to buy into the material being disgorged and spread thickly in his direction by the Mizzou athletic department. His groveling infatuation with the football team took no pause as the team, gurgling with the hot air of its early-season victories, collapsed when real opposition lifted its head. And the same thing has happened to basketball. Opponents like Northern South Carolina, Southern Northern Alabama, SIU-Edwardsville and others of similar ilk may pad scoring totals and bring merciless victories, but when the big kids of the Big 12 come into Columbia, they will trounce the Tigers as if they were red-headed step-children. The Tigers will have no game toughness, no knowledge of their own inabilities. Doesn’t the basketball coach talk to the football coach? Don’t they read the results of each other’s games? And look at what happened when the Tigers met their first Big 12 opponent, the obviously awe-inspiring powerhouse Nebraska Cornhuskers. ■
ARGUS Continued from page 16
In 2006, Ketcher was campaign manager for Missourians for Lifesaving Cures, a group promoting the embryonic-stem-cell initiative on the November 2006 ballot. In 2002, Ketcher worked for Citizens for a Healthy Missouri that unsuccessfully promoted a cigarette tax earmarked for health care and education. Efforts to get on-the-record comments from the Argus were unsuccessful. ■
LIBEL Continued from page 17
front-page story prior to the election stating that Connaughton, the challenger, had engaged in “dirty tricks” and offered witnesses jobs and trips to promote the scandal. Connaughton sued for libel. Subsequent court proceedings showed that the newspaper had interviewed persons critical of Connaughton but had not interviewed a key person who could support his contention that he had done no wrong. The newspaper also chose not to listen to a tape recording Connaughton made of a key conversation and provided to the newspaper. “It is utterly bewildering in light of the fact that the Journal News (Hamilton, Ohio) committed substantial resources to investigating Thompson’s (a woman involved) claims, yet chose not to interview the one witness who was most likely to confirm Thompson‘s
account of the events,” The Supreme Court decision stated. “By the time the November 1 story appeared, six witnesses had consistently and categorically denied Thompson’s allegations, yet the newspaper chose not to interview the one witness that both Thompson and Connaughton claimed would verify their conflicting accounts of the relevant events.” In the case, the Supreme Court majority wrote of its public-figure exception to libel: “We have not gone so far, however, as to accord the press absolute immunity in its coverage of public figures or elections. If a false and defamatory statement is published with knowledge of falsity or a reckless disregard for the truth, the public figure may prevail …. Based on our review of the entire record, we agree with the Court of Appeals that the evidence did in fact support a finding of actual malice.” Coach sued over claim he lied The 1990 case of Milkovich v. Lorain Journal Co. was pursued for many years by the wrestling coach at the Maple Heights High School in Ohio, His team was involved in a 1974 brawl that resulted in the hospitalizations of four players from the opposing team. Disciplinary proceedings by the state high school athletic association followed. A sportswriter and columnist who had attended the wrestling match wrote a column charging the coach with lying under oath about events leading to the brawl. When Coach Milkovich sued, the newspaper claimed the column was protected by an opinion privilege or a contention of “rhetorical hyperbole.’’ After numerous proceedings, the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which found that an insinuation of perjury was not protected by the cover of opinion. “The connotation that petitioner committed perjury is sufficiently factual to be susceptible of being proved true or false.” The case was remanded to state courts and the newspaper settled with Milkovich out of court. Other protections against libel claims remain, Sableman said. News media cannot be sued successfully for libel following the publication of communications that are considered privileged. “We have a privilege that attends to reporting things from the public record because there is a public interest in people knowing those things. We are exempt from libel even if a story is false and defamatory, such as an accusation of murder a gainst a man who is later acquitted.” The media also cannot be sued for political advertising broadcast by an opposition candidate. “The Federal Communications Act says broadcast stations may not refuse to accept an ad from a political candidate. The consequence of that, in the no-censorship, no-liability section of the act, is that the station is not liable for the content of ads from a political candidate,” Sableman said. How about that wonderful world of reasoned discourse on talk radio and, sometimes, pundit television, where anyone can be accused of virtually anything? The courts have created the term “rhetorical hyperbole” for such language. “There is no question that talk radio is pretty outrageous in a lot of situations, but a lot of what they get away with is rhetorical hyperbole. It is opinion—statements that are so extreme they are not taken literally,” Sableman said. ■
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MISSOURI NEEDS TO EXAMINE ITS DEATH-PENALTY SYSTEM By Representative Bill Deeken (R-Jefferson City)
For the past several years I have sponsored legislation that would impose a moratorium on executions in Missouri while a commission does a complete study of the death penalty system in our state. This may seem a strange action for a person who, in principle, supports the death penalty. But I believe that this legislation is absolutely necessary in Missouri. ince 1989, Missouri has executed 66 people, fourth most of any U.S. state. Legislation returning the death penalty to Missouri law was enacted over 30 years ago. Since then, Missouri has not had a comprehensive official review of the state’s death penalty system. With a punishment as final as death—it’s long past time state officials take a pause to examine thoroughly our system of taking a life. My main reason for sponsoring this bill is fear that an innocent person could be executed. While there is much to be proud of in our criminal justice system, it is still a human system. Mistakes can and have been made when it comes to the death penalty. Nationally, 129 people who were convicted and sentenced to death since 1973 have been exonerated. This includes three men in Missouri—Clarence Dexter, Eric Clemmons and Joe Amrine—who had their death sentences removed when evidence of their innocence came to light. Legitimate concerns have been raised with our state’s application of the death penalty. A Columbia Law School study in 2000 revealed that one-third of Missouri’s death sentences were later reversed because of errors. A few individuals currently living under a death sentence in Missouri have raised credible claims of inno-
cence. While I don’t know if their claims are valid, the execution of even one innocent person destroys the integrity of the system. How do innocent persons get sentenced to death? An examination of wrongful convictions reveals common threads: mistaken eyewitness identification, forced confessions, jailhouse snitches, poor legal representation, faulty evidence and misconduct by police and prosecutors. Many of these problems existed in the Illinois criminal justice system when Governor Ryan halted executions in 2000 after 13 death row exonerations. A commission examined the state’s death penalty system and recommended numerous reforms to prevent wrongful convictions. Some of these recommendations were adopted into law. Surely we in Missouri also deserve to have the best possible criminal justice system we can create. If my legislation were passed, a similar commission would examine all aspects of the death penalty as administered in the state: including the evidence used to obtain a homicide conviction, the experience level of attorneys, resources available to counsel, characteristics of those who receive a death sentence, the cost of the death penalty, criteria used by prosecutors in seeking the death penalty and the interests of the families. The commission would
report its findings and make recommendations to the General Assembly and the governor. Regardless of one’s position on the death penalty, all people want a fair and just criminal justice system. Missourians are no different. While surveys indicate majority support in principle for capital punishment, 60% of Missourians support a three-year moratorium and study of the state’s death penalty (Center for Social Sciences and Public Policy Research, Missouri State University, 2004). In addition, nearly 300 Missouri church groups, businesses and civic organizations have signed resolutions calling for a moratorium on executions while a study takes place. The moratorium legislation that I sponsored in 2008 had bi-partisan support with 58 co-sponsors (14 Republicans, 44 Democrats). I hope to have more co-sponsors in the upcoming session. Our state currently requires cars to be inspected for safety every two years. And just as we wouldn’t inspect our cars while driving them on the highway, we shouldn’t examine our death penalty while executions continue. Missouri should take a pause in executions and do a thorough examination of how we use capital punishment. Justice demands no less. ■
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people people people people people people people people people people people
Media Notes MEDIA AccuWeather, Inc. Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., U.S. Navy (Ret.) has been elected to the company's board of directors. He served from December 2001 to October 2008 as the Undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere. In this position, he also was the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agency that keeps watch over US waters and weather patterns. Better Business Bureau Jerri Stroud joined BBB as editor of The Bridge, the organization's newspaper. KWMU-FM Tim Eby was named the general manager of the radio station. Eby, who currently manages WOSU Public Media in Columbus, Ohio. Eby, an Indiana native, has been at WOSU in Columbus since 2004. Prior to his work in Columbus, he worked at WVPE (88.1 FM) public radio in South Bend, Ind. Eby was named to NPR's board of directors in 2002 and served as its chair from 2004 through 2007. He is an active leader and member of several other professional organizations including Public Radio in Mid-America and is a trustee of the NPR Foundation. National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) NAMLE is the new name of the Alliance for a Media Literate America. It is the leading membership organization for educators and youth media practitioners working in media literacy education. Sherri Hope Culver, director of the Media education lab at Temple University, has been elected president of NAMLE. St. Louis Post-Dispatch Jerri Stroud has left the paper (see Better Business Bureau). Jim
Gallagher took over the financial services beat, which originally brought him to the paper.
diocese of St. Louis.
The Bonneville St. Louis Radio Group, Kevin Robinson was appointed program director a WARH-FM (106.5) The Arch. Rene Knott and Derrick Goold were added to the Sports/talk 101.1 team as a weekly host. Bob Ramsey will host the afternoon drive show with Randy Karraker.
KETC (CHANNEL 9) The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) chose the station to manage a national project designed to increase student achievement in math, engineering, technology and science. The station will take the lead in the Community Engagement Pilot Initiative and help guide the efforts of seven other public television stations.
The St. Louis Jewish Light Ellen Futterman has been appointed editor, interim editor Mike Sherwin has been promoted to managing editor and Brent Kornblum has been promoted to Advertising Manager. Futterman joins the Jewish Light following an extensive search that attracted resumes from across the country. Futterman served 25 years as a reporter, editor and critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Most recently she served as vice president of Twist, LLC, a media and integrated marketing firm. She worked for the Post from 1982 to 2007, first as a critic-at-large, arts and entertainment editor, and as a feature and general assignment reporter and later as daily features (Everyday) editor. She has written for a variety of other publications and continues to serve as a correspondent for The New York Times. Futterman has also taught journalism and media at Washington University and Webster University. Sherwin becomes managing editor of the Light after two years with the organization. He previously served as assistant editor of the publication and as interim editor during this search. Kornblum becomes advertising manager after working with the paper for more than 10 years, previously serving as assistant advertising manager. St. Louis Metro Evening Whirl Gentry Trotter has been named publisher at large. Previously, he has been publisher of The Crisis Magazine. President of the Whirl is Barry Thomas. St. Louis Review Teak Phillips, previously a photographer and photo editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has been named editor of the St. Louis Review, the newspaper of the Arch-
Kirkwood Call The Kirkwood Call, Kirkwood High School's student newspaper, was named a 2009 Columbia Scholastic Press Association Gold Crown finalist. Project Censored The organization received the 12th Annual Pen Oakland Literary Censorship Award. The St. Louis Press Club Richard Weiss was installed as president of the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis. Alice S. Handelman, former president, was honored as a 25-year member of the National Federation of Press Women. The club's Catfish Award went to Susan Fadem and Cynthia Kagan Frolichstein. Members Bea Renna, Marci Rosenberg, and Joan Quicksilver were honored by the Older Women's League as Women of Worth. Suddenlink Communications Patty McCaskill, senior vice president for programming, was picked by Multichannel News to this year's class of Wonder Women. She and Jerry Kent made Cable Fax's 100 List for 2009. Webster-Kirkwood Times The Elijah P. Lovejoy Society headed by Rev. Robert W. Tabscott honored the newspaper company with its annual Lovejoy Award for upholding the principles of a free and ethical press. Receiving the award were Publisher Dwight Bitikofer, Managing Editor Kevin Murphy and Editor-In-Chief Don Corrigan. The Webster-Kirkwood Times marked its 30th anniversary in 2008. The award was presented by Marianna Riley.
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people people people people people people people people people people people AD/PR Casey Communications, Inc. Diane Poelker joined the agency as a client services assistant. Falk Harrison Creative Matt Bell joined the agency as an associate creative director. Previously, he was an associate creative director with several local design firms. Fleishman-Hillard Susan Veidt was promoted to president of the agency's U.S. Central region. Bill Walkowiak joined the agency as a senior vice president in the corporate and financial practice. St. Louis Arc Erika Ebsworth-Goold joined the firmas a director of communications and public relations. Stan Gellman Graphic Design Megan Ruff and Katie Rhea joined the agency as graphic designers. The Vandiver Group (TVG) The agency hired Amber Boland as a team member. She is a 2008 graduate of Saint Louis University, where she graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor's degree in marketing and communications. Paul Van Klaveren has joined the agency as a practice leader, branding. He owned and operated his own firm in Atlanta. Prior to that, he was international marketing director for a subsidiary of Caterpillar. He was also creative manager for Watson Wyatt and a branding consultant for Saatchi and Saatchi. Sara Howard has joined the agency as Senior Team Leader. Previously, she was a senior strategist for a presidential campaign in Missouri, communications manager for the two million-member Service Employees International Union and Communications Director for a United States senator. AD/PR AWARDS Grizzell & Co. The agency was recently selected as a winner in the 2008 MarCom Awards competition. The international contest recognizes outstanding work by communication and marketing practitioners. Kochan & Company
The agency won two Silver Davey Awards in the Music/Jingle Radio Specialty category. St. Anthony's Medical Center Lois Kendall, media coordinator in the marketing and public relations department, received a ShowMe Excellence Award from the Missouri Association for Healthcare Public Relations and Marketing. Stan Gellman Graphic Design The 19th Annual International Galaxy Awards included two works by the agency for inclusion the 2008 world's best in marketing communications. Studio Montage The agency received four awards at the Crystal Book 2008 Award of excellence at the Chicago Book and Media Clinic Show. The Vandiver Group (TVG) The agency has been awarded one platinum and two gold MarCom Awards. The platinum award, the highest honor attainable, was given in recognition of an electronic brochure prepared for ShowMe Aquatics & Fitness. In addition, the firm earned a gold award for the Saint Louis County Department of Health holiday campaign and for the Pinnacle Entertainment Lumiére Place Opening Premiere. BOOKS “Alfred Kazin: A Biography,” by Richard M. Cook, chairman of the Department of English at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, was selected Sunday to a “Best Books of 2008” list published by the Washington Post. The book was also named a 2008 Outstanding Academic Title by Choice magazine and was a 2008 Best Book of the Year Selection by the Association of American University Presses. He is currently preparing an edition of Kazin's journals to be published by Yale University Press. Robbi Courtaway has written a book on the Prohibition era in the St. Louis region, called: “Wetter Than The Mississippi; Prohibition in St. Louis and Beyond.” Becky Homan, retired garden editor for the Post, has written a book called “Missouri Gardener's Companion.” Patricia Corrigan, retired reporter and food writer for the Post,
has written a book called, “Eating St. Louis: The Gateway Citys Unique Food Culture.” IN MEMORIAM Wayne Leeman, 93, on Nov. 5, 2008. Reporter for St. Louis PostDispatch from 1936-1982. Covered state and regional news. Robert Poos, 78, on Dec. 15, 2008 in Alexandria, Va. Former AP reporter in St. Louis and later a war correspondent. Was managing editor of Soldier of Fortune magazine and writer for U.S. Dept. of Commerce. Michael Cody, on Jan. 1, 2009. Was a news editor at the old St. Louis Globe-Democrat and executive managing editor of the Suburban Journals. Gus Lumpe, 75, on Jan. 11, 2009. Former reporter at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, he became the editor of the Missouri Teamster newspaper in 1970 and was active in Democratic politicst. He retired in 1989. Lumpe worked as a volunteer on The St. Louis Journalism Review in its formative years. He laid out the first issue of SJR in 1970, the same year he left the Globe. He kept on working on SJR for many years. ■
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He left the news grind and . . . wrote a book “Drop & Hook” By Russ Ainsworth 333 pages, American Literary Press, Baltimore, Maryland, $17.95 / reviewed by Avis Meyer any journalists, regardless of gender, length of time in the business, or newsroom status, think that they have a book lurking about. They are convinced that somewhere beneath their who-whatwhen-where-why-and-how exterior, there is the great American novel. But most of them procrastinate and fritter away that writing inclination until the final edition. Thus, many tales slip away, untold. Russ Ainsworth, who spent 40 years in the news business, 28 years as a wire editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (he retired in 1998), is not like most journalists: He wrote his book. It's called “Drop and Hook.” Here's a how-he-did-it look at Ainsworth's opus, with a smattering of a book review, shirt-tailed at the end. (This reviewer worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, near but not with Russ, for 20-plus years.)
The author: Mencken wrote: It is the dull man who is always sure, and the sure man who is always dull. And given the twists and turns of the story, Ainsworth's book, like its author, comes across as wide-ranging, overflowing with intriguing characters and tangential tales but not dull. “Drop and Hook” follows the lives of several over-the-road truckers, mainly out of Baltimore, with side trips to Italian and Polish neighborhoods, detours into Catholicism and police investigations, and wanderings into the East Coast drug culture. Considering that Ainsworth: Has never driven a big rig, is neither Italian nor Polish, is a practicing Lutheran, has never lived in Baltimore, and has never associated with police or drug lords, Mencken's comment applies—the story is not boring, nor is the author. Ainsworth said his book began, in some ways, when he was a youngster, growing up in Tuxedo Park, N.Y. He was an East Coast kid and a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, but he liked the Orioles and often passed through or visited Baltimore. And the life of an over-the-road trucker always intrigued him. This enthusiasm for new sights (he and his wife Dee share that wanderlust; they are inveterate travelers) was aided and abetted by a friend whom Ainsworth met, later in life, at a church gathering. This long-hauler helped keep Ainsworth's details about driving a big rig roadworthy. He made eight trips to Baltimore in the past two or three years, double-checking street names, neighborhoods, geography and landmarks, to maintain accuracy and authenticity. (Barry Levinson would be proud.) Ainsworth said that his work as a wire editor—isolating the key details, emphasizing people, reorganizing the flow of the story, tightening the writing—was a godsend when he tackled his book. He described his writing schedule as “peripatetic.” Over an eight-year period, he wrote, revised, reorganized and edited when time allowed, all squeezed between
globe-trotting trips, grandparenting and keeping up with the dayto-day stuff that most retirees find keeps them busier than they anticipated. His search for a publisher was also long and exhausting, he said. So he finally decided, as so many authors before him have, to bite the binding (at an estimated $20,000 plus) and launch the book himself. Russ Ainsworth And as for what might be next: Ainsworth said that he may have another idea for a book in the hopper; but for now, “Drop and Hook” is his baby, and he's not through nurturing and enjoying it. The book: The basic story of “Drop and Hook” may initially remind fans of two TV shows that could easily compete for the title: Best TV cop show ever, “Homicide” and “The Wire.” (Ainsworth said that he has only rarely seen the former and has never seen the latter.) We bounce back and forth from Fells Point to Chesapeake Bay. We cross the harbor on boats and wander down dark alleys in pursuit of perps. We travel the large and small byways with the truckers, and we learn about the cabs they live in and the structures and strictures of their day-to-day life. The effective line drawings of big rigs that pop up occasionally were created by one of Ainsworth's daughters, Alison Theimann. We meet good-guy Kenny Wisniewski. He agrees to work with the police, who are trying to bust a drug ring that's distributing tons of hard-core stuff out of Baltimore, via containers that are dropped from incoming ships, onto the trucker's rails, and then hooked by the trucker (thus the book's title), for transport . . . to points east, west and every other compass point. We meet Big Knife, a hulking, anonymous drug kingpin who would kill innocent bystanders at the drop of a crab cake (and does) to escape identification and arrest. We meet Kenny's uncle, Stach, who lumbers through the story as the ultimate and realistic cop: He means well, he tries hard to do the right thing, but sometimes he screws up. “Drop and Hook” is punctuated by lots of Polish and Italian food and culture, lots of people you're glad to meet, and lots you wish you hadn't. Without giving away too much of Ainsworth's complicated and darkling story, not everyone who deserves to die, does. And not everyone who deserves to live, does. The characters are colorful, the lessons about overthe-road turmoil and demands are well-crafted. And though the flurry of polysyllabic names and constant catalogue of family and friends may seem occasionally daunting, “Drop and Hook” is a good read. ■
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Published on Aug 12, 2010