Author Archives: Terry Ganey

New editorial page editor at St. Louis Post-Dispatch

ST. LOUIS – Tod Robberson, a Pulitzer Prize winning editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News, will become the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page editor shortly after the first of the year.

Post-Dispatch Editor Gilbert Bailon said Robberson would succeed Tony Messenger, the editorial page editor who moved into a columnist position a few months ago. In Messenger’s absence, the Post-Dispatch has been using a freelance editorial service.

“We will go back to having three writers,” Bailon said. “This has been a temporary situation when Tony moved to being a columnist. We want to write our own editorials. That’s ideally what the situation would be.”

In 2010, Robberson was one of three Dallas Morning News editorial writers who were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for “their relentless editorials deploring the stark social and economic disparity between the city’s better-off northern and distressed southern half,” according to the Pulitzer Prize website.

That same year, Post-Dispatch editorial writer John Carlton was a nominated finalist for editorials on health care reform. Carlton has since left the newspaper.

Robberson, 58, has been on the Dallas newspaper’s editorial staff since 2006. He has experience as a foreign correspondent for that newspaper as well as the Washington Post and the Reuters wire service. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and journalism from Texas Tech University and a master’s in Arab Studies from Georgetown University.

http://www.pulitzer.org/biography/2010-Editorial-Writing

The Pulitzer Prize reporter who carried a gun

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When Taylor Pensoneau cast the characters for his novel “The Summer of ’50,” he modeled his fictional hardboiled newspaperman, Jake Brosky, mostly after a reporter Pensoneau remembered from his early days at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Straight out of the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1962, Pensoneau found himself in the newsroom with Ted Link.

“He was the Hollywood version of what a reporter looked like,” Pensoneau recalled. “He was good looking in a tough rugged way. He wore the role complete with a wide-brimmed hat.” Dark-complexioned and movie-star handsome, Link reminded some people of actor Robert Mitchum.

By 1962, Link had a reputation as a fearless investigator, a wounded ex-Marine and a man who wouldn’t hesitate to use a gun if he thought it was necessary. Reporters–especially the young ones—gave him a wide berth. Editors showed him great deference.

Appearances aside, Link was the genuine article. In the 136 years of the newspaper’s publication, Link likely ranks first among its reporters in terms of investigative production, widespread notoriety and vivid color.

Link’s stories affected national politics, won the Pulitzer Prize for public service, sent people to federal prison and changed the operations of federal agencies. The files he kept stirred action from U.S. Senate investigating committees.

“He was, perhaps, the outstanding investigative reporter in the U.S. in his day,” the late Selwyn Pepper recalled in an email in 1996. “He enjoyed the confidence of law enforcement people and gangsters in every part of the country. He was probably the most interesting reporter I have ever met.”

A colleague, the late Carl Baldwin, once wrote: “Link was probably the closest thing St. Louis ever had to a TV-type private eye. Gangsters had a certain romantic admiration for him, and he was chosen as the receptacle for their information.”

There was a dark side, too. A pistol-packing journalist, Link once was accused of first-degree murder for killing a handyman on his farm west of St. Louis. A jury acquitted Link in a case resembling the “stand your ground” scenarios that occur now.

The acquittal came after an unusual trial during which the prosecutor did not cross-examine Link and a key witness to the shooting – Link’s son – was not called as a witness. Some St. Louis police confided years later that they thought Link had gotten off because of his reputation and connections with law enforcement.

ILLINOIS CORRUPTION; TAX COLLECTORS ON THE TAKE

Link was born in St. Louis on Sept. 22, 1904, the namesake of his famous grandfather, architect Theodore Carl Link, the designer of Union Station. At age 20, he began work as a journalist at the St. Louis Star, where he focused on organized crime, gangland violence and the Ku Klux Klan. Reporting stints followed at the St. Louis Times and the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

When Link joined the Post-Dispatch in 1938, he was one of a few reporters who could claim to have worked at all of the St. Louis dailies. Other than a stint in the Marines during World War II, Link remained there until his death.

Among his shadowy news sources, Link counted Carl Shelton and his brothers Bernie and Earl, whose gang controlled gambling and liquor distribution in southern Illinois. A territorial dispute between the Sheltons and Charlie Birger, a former ally, led to one of the bloodiest gang wars in the annals of organized crime. In 1950, the Saturday Evening Post described the Sheltons as “America’s Bloodiest Gang.”

After Bernie and Carl Shelton were assassinated, Earl Shelton and other members of the gang began sharing information with Link that led to an expose of widespread corruption in Illinois: gambling, payoffs and close relationships between politicians and the underworld.

Link’s stories accused Gov. Dwight Green and the state Attorney General George Barrett of benefitting from funds collected from crime figures. Illinois state officials retaliated by indicting Link on charges of kidnapping, intimidation and conspiracy. The trumped-up accusations were connected with Link’s involvement in an incident in which a man was questioned in a Peoria hotel room about two murders.

Link’s disclosures about Illinois government corruption overturned the Green administration with the election of Gov. Adlai Stevenson in 1948. A new state attorney general dismissed the indictments against Link, and he later received the American Newspaper Guild’s special award for distinguished public service.

In 1951, Link began getting tips about illegal payments being made to St. Louis area agents of what was then called the Internal Revenue Bureau, the forerunner of the IRS. For a price, the local agents would let the targets of tax investigations off the hook. Raymond L. Crowley, the newspaper’s managing editor, gave Link the green light to pursue an investigation, with other reporters like Pepper lending a hand. Pepper later said Link did 90 percent of the work on the investigation.

Link disclosed that the Democratic National Chairman William Boyle Jr. had accepted payments from a St. Louis company that in turn received $500,000 in government loans. Link also discovered Boyle’s connections to the local Internal Revenue Bureau, and that the local federal tax collector, James P. Finnegan, was also on the company’s payroll. Finnegan later went to prison along with Matthew Connelly, President Harry Truman’s former appointment secretary.

Link learned that a report concocted at the suggestion of Truman Attorney General J. Howard McGrath falsely claimed there had been no tax-fixing scheme. Eventually, McGrath and the head of the Justice Department’s tax division, T. Lamar Caudle, were fired. Caudle was also convicted of misconduct in a tax-fixing case. The articles on corruption in the Internal Revenue Bureau led to a reorganization of the agency and earned the newspaper the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Some of Link’s reporting attracted the attention of a federal investigating committee headed by U.S. Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee. His panel was probing organized crime, and after Link disclosed the connections between the mob organizations in St. Louis and other cities, Kefauver’s investigators sought Link’s help. Kefauver later wrote, “In numerous instances, the first connections among the underworld, conniving politicians and corrupt law enforcement officers were supplied to the committee…out of Ted Link’s voluminous files.”

Little slipped by Link. His habit was to listen to and record every remark he heard. His intelligence-gathering style was to categorize and index every fact or rumor that came his way in case it might be useful later. His “Link-Memo for filing” entries found their way into envelopes in the Post-Dispatch reference library. “The reigning gang in Detroit is headed by St. Louis Sicilians who headquarter out on Jefferson Street and who saw the opportunity for bringing in whiskey from Canada about seven or eight years ago,” begins one of Link’s undated two-page memos.

“OBVIOUSLY A SPECIAL CASE”

Some of Link’s investigative methods likely were informed by his experiences outside of newspaper work. For the five-year period before joining the Post-Dispatch, he worked as a private investigator for the National Lead Company. He went after crooked lawyers who were filing phony injury claims in behalf of miners. Fifteen lawyers were disbarred as a result of his findings.

When World War II began, Link was 37, but his age didn’t stop him from joining the Marines as a correspondent in the Pacific. When a Japanese bomber demolished a press tent on Bougainville on Nov. 7, 1943, Link was among the five wounded. A reporter who had been filing stories for Newsweek Magazine and for an Australian newspaper was killed when hit in the forehead with a piece of shrapnel. Link was hit in the legs and back.

Years later in the headquarters of the Post-Dispatch, an aura seemed to surround him. After entering the newsroom, many would notice how before Link sat down at his desk he would take a handgun out of his pocket and place it in a desk drawer. He sat at a desk off to the side in his own little area, Pensoneau recalled. “None of the reporters, especially the young reporters, ever went up to talk to him because frankly we were afraid of him. He was never called up to the city desk like everybody else was. If someone on the city desk wanted to talk to Link, they got up and walked over to talk to him. He would not get up. Ted was never summoned. He was obviously a special case.”

Pepper recalled that Crowley, Ben Reese, the city editor, and all the other editors were impressed by Link. “I think they were all also a little afraid of him,” Pepper’s email said. “Reese, a huge part-Indian, was frightened by few people but I think he was a little in awe of Link.” Pepper said Link carried a gun for his own protection. “He told me he would never be killed or attacked by a major gangster but a minor gang figure might kill him to gain status among his gangster associates.”

Pepper wrote: “Link was pretty much a loner. He had little to do with the other staff members, although he was friendly enough. He rarely went to lunch with other reporters. Usually he had lunch with some public official or some hoodlum. He had many friends among the FBI people. They valued his information. A long time ago there was an incident in the office in which Link took offense at something another reporter had said. Ted slugged him, knocked him to the floor. I’m pretty sure that was the end of it—no one attempted to discipline him.”

Link was more reporter than writer. He disgorged his notes to rewrite men who would cast his material into a narrative. Pepper was often on the receiving end. “I was his personal rewrite man for many years and we had a good relationship,” Pepper recalled.

THE KILLING IN ST. ALBANS

In the summer of 1960, the front pages of newspapers across the country were dominated by political news as John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon sought their parties’ presidential nominations. On the morning of July 12, 1960, the front page of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat contained a story out of the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles speculating on the possibility of Missouri Sen. Stuart Symington joining the Democratic ticket as Kennedy’s running mate.

Two columns over was a photo of 55-year-old Theodore C. Link with a story that began: “Theodore C. (Ted) Link, a Post-Dispatch crime reporter, shot and killed a laborer Monday in a quarrel at the Link summer home in St. Albans, Mo.”      The dead man was Clarence W. Calvin. Link said he had fired five shots at the 35-year-old man using a .38 caliber revolver and a 12-gauge shotgun. He said Calvin had come after him with a knife and a pronged garden hoe.

The fatal shooting took place during an argument near the ruins of Link’s vacation cottage in Franklin County, just west of St. Louis, overlooking the Missouri River. The dwelling had been destroyed by fire a few days earlier, and Link believed it had been deliberately set. Calvin had done farm laborer jobs for Link. Accompanied by his 11-year-old son, Theodore Link, Jr., the elder Link said he gone to St. Albans to question Calvin, and found him rooting in the ashes of the cottage. Link suspected Calvin set the fire, and said he came armed to the meeting because he knew Calvin had a volatile disposition.

Link said Calvin denied setting the fire, and that an argument began. “He came at me with a knife and a hoe, and I ran for my shotgun, which was propped against a tree,” Link said. “I yelled to my son to run.” Link’s account differed from what Ted Jr. told authorities. According to the Globe report: “Ted Jr., however, said his father fired the first shot while Mr. Calvin was sitting at a picnic table and the last three as the laborer lay on the ground. The boy said he never saw a knife.”

On July 28, the Post-Dispatch front page was dominated by a story from Chicago where Nixon had won the Republican presidential nomination. A story two columns over reported that a Franklin County grand jury had indicted Link on first-degree murder charges. Link’s trial the following January was heard in Hermann, Mo., on a change of venue. Franklin County Prosecutor Charles Hansen told the jury that Calvin had been shot twice with a shotgun and three times with a revolver, and that Calvin “was shot at least once while he was seated and at least twice while he was lying on the ground.”

Defending Link was Henry G. Morris who was skillful during his questioning of potential jurors and who managed to help empanel an all male jury that included eight farmers. And as the trial unfolded, Morris erected a case of self-defense, managing to put Calvin on trial, and demonstrating during his cross-examinations that the shooting victim was a troublemaker on parole, a dangerous man who had threatened others in the community. There was testimony that Calvin had torched Link’s house. The second prosecution witness, Sheriff H. Bill Miller, testified that Calvin had twice threatened to kill the sheriff. Miller said he had to go to Calvin’s home three times because his parents said he had threatened them. On one occasion, Calvin pointed a shotgun at the sheriff. Calvin had a record of peace disturbances, especially when drinking.

Among the pieces of evidence introduced was a 28-page transcript of a coroner’s inquest in which Link said he fired on Calvin because “I was in fear of my life. I was in fear that he would shoot me, cut me or murder me and then my boy.” A St. Albans farmer, Marion Thiebes, testified that Calvin had told him the year before that he was going to “get” Theodore Link. Link testified in his own defense at one point stepping down from the witness stand to demonstrate for the jury how he fired from a crouched position. “When he moved to the end of the bench he leaped off and started toward me, raising the three-pronged fork over his head with the prongs aimed in my direction,” Link said. Link said he fired his guns as Calvin came toward him with the forked hoe and a knife he had pulled from his pocket.

“When I fired the third shot, it hit him in the head,” Link testified. “It knocked him back and he fell on his back.” The prosecutor did not cross-examine Link, and his son was never called as a witness.

In closing arguments the prosecutor said the defense had dwelt only on the character of the dead man. He said Calvin did get into arguments, but only when he was drunk and usually with members of his own family. “Clarence Calvin was not the number one citizen of Franklin County,” Hansen said. “We know that. We would be fools if we denied it. But did that give a Post-Dispatch reporter from St. Louis the right to come out there and kill a man?” Hansen described Link as the aggressor. He said Calvin wasn’t looking for a fight but that Link was, buying a shotgun during the trip earlier that day from St. Louis to St. Albans. He said Link had concluded from what he heard from neighbors that Calvin had burned down his house. “Link took it upon himself to be judge, jury and executioner,” Hansen said.

William Wessel, an attorney from Hermann assisting in the defense, told the jury in the closing argument that Link was on his own property, had shot a trespasser in defense of himself and his son. He said the only evidence in the actual killing pointed clearly to self-defense. “Ted Link has rid Franklin County of an evil nuisance,” Wessel concluded. “Calvin had it coming.”

Among the possibilities for the jury to consider were convictions for first-, or second-degree murder, or manslaughter. However, Link’s defense team managed to get other instructions included. For example, one instruction told the jury “that you will take into consideration the evidence as to threats made by the deceased prior to the killing.” Another instruction advised the jury that it could take into consideration Calvin’s “rash, turbulent and violent disposition” and whether that affected Link’s “apprehension of great personal injury to himself.” Another instruction told the jury a defendant has the right to defend himself or a member of his family to prevent injury to himself or his family.

The Evening Star of Washington, D.C. published a special section on Friday, Jan. 20. It was the newspaper’s inaugural edition and it featured a full-page color portrait of the new president, John F. Kennedy. Inside, on page A-6, was an AP story datelined Hermann, Mo. “Reporter Cleared in Slaying of Man,” the headline read. The jury had acquitted Link after two and one-half hours of deliberation. Raymond Engelbrecht, the foreman, said the jurors thought Link had a right to protect himself and that the state had not brought any evidence to refute his contention of self defense. “It’s a terrible thing for a man to have his home burned down,” Engelbrecht said.

Bill Miller Sr., the editor and publisher of the Washington Missourian, covered the trial as a reporter for his family’s newspaper. Now 85 years old, Miller said he asked the foreman about the reasoning in the deliberations. “He was on his (Link’s) property, wasn’t he?” Engelbrecht said.

“In other words,” Miller said, “Link had told Calvin to stay off his property and when he found him on it, Link shot and killed him. Link’s attorney made Calvin the bad guy, and it worked with the jury. Link had a very good attorney and he really knew the people out there. He knew these farmers. If someone is trespassing on your property, they felt strongly and still do to a great extent, about property rights and gun rights. If they told you to stay off the property, you better stay off.”

Attempts to reach Ted Link Jr., for this story were unsuccessful. He did not return two telephone messages left at his home seeking comment. Pensoneau, 74 years old, said he has attempted to interview Link about his father in the past, but that the son has turned down his requests. “I got one quote from him, ‘my dad was more like a cop than a reporter.’ He didn’t like to talk about his dad.”

Baldwin died in 1994 and Pepper passed away in 2008. Both had been retired for many years. Link died on the job. He was still working in daily journalism at the Post-Dispatch when a heart attack took his life on Feb. 14, 1974. He was 69. Reflecting on his work, the Post-Dispatch called Link “persistent, incorruptible and unintimidated.”

Pensoneau said of all the reporters he has known over the years, he has gotten more questions concerning Link than about any other reporter. In August, Pensoneau was contacted by Dennis Enrietta of Cole City, Ill., who was researching the disappearance of Amelia “Molly” Zelko, a crusading Joliet newspaperwoman. Zelko had written stories about mob activities, and she vanished on Sept. 25, 1957 and was never seen again. Link had written about the case.

Enrietta said as he studied Link’s stories on Zelko’s disappearance he came away believing Link had the best sources. “I couldn’t figure out why a guy from St. Louis had so much information on this disappearance that happened in Joliet,” Enrietta said. “He seemed to be tuned into the right grapevine. I was hoping there was a secret archive where he kept some notes.”

 

A teaching moment

COLUMBIA, Mo. – At the world’s oldest journalism school, the professors for the most part are long on academic credentials but short on in-the-trenches reporting experience.

Still, the University of Missouri School of Journalism prides itself on offering “real world” opportunities for its budding journalists. It’s called “the Missouri method” which combines “a strong liberal arts education with unique hands-on training in professional media.”

Tim Tai, a photojournalist student from St. Louis, got a real education this week when protestors and some faculty members blocked his attempt to cover the demonstrators’ tent city on the Carnahan Quadrangle. Freelancing for ESPN, Tai was trying to document what was happening after the departures of two top administrators in the wake of racist events on the campus.

The story of how the football team’s boycott led to the departures of the UM System President Timothy Wolfe and MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin made national news. But it was the sidebar about what happened to Tai and another student that rang alarm bells in the School of Journalism.

In a video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRlRAyulN4o three MU faculty members are shown with the protestors who were blocking Tai’s attempt to photograph the protestors’ movement known as Concerned Student 1950. While Tai points out he has a First Amendment right to do his job on the quadrangle’s public property, protestors chant: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, reporters have got to go.” The three faculty members were later identified as Melissa Click, a communications professor, Richard Callahan, chairman of the Religious Studies Department, and Janna Basler, director of Greek Life.

Mark Schierbecker, a history and German student from the St. Louis County suburb of Rock Hill, recorded the video. When he posted it on You Tube, he wrote, “This is what civic-level censorship looks like at a university with the largest and oldest public college of journalism.” The video shows Basler pushing Tai, Callahan raising his hands to block the photographer’s field of vision, and Click confronting Schierbecker and calling for “muscle” to help remove him from the tent city.

If anything sets the University of Missouri-Columbia apart from other universities, it’s the Journalism School. The school’s reputation draws students from around the world, and the out-of-state tuition they pay goes a long way toward paying the university’s bills. What happened to Tai seemed like biting the hand that feeds you.

Brian Brooks, who retired as the school’s associate dean but who is still an adjunct member of the faculty, filed a harassment complaint with the school’s Title IX enforcement office based on what he saw on the video. “Dr. Click and her accomplice may also be guilty of battery as our student on one or two occasions protested being pushed by the two women,” Brooks wrote in an email.

State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, who as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee butters the university’s bread, has called for the firing of Click and Basler for violating the school’s code of conduct. The Republican from Columbia said what the two women had done amounted to at least third-degree assault.

Click has since apologized and resigned her courtesy appointment at the Journalism School, although she remains on the faculty of the Communications Department. Basler has apologized, too, and according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, she has been placed on administrative leave.

Even before the confrontation between the photographer and the protestors, there were indications that media coverage on the campus was unwelcome. Matt Sanders, the city editor of the Columbia Daily Tribune, wrote this week, “The protest leaders were loudly telling students, in front of reporters, not to speak to reporters. Reporters have an agenda and don’t care about their movement, they said. The message was loud and clear—they saw us as their enemies.”

What happened to Tai was “a teaching moment” for journalism students. In the real world they can expect to be unwelcomed—or even despised–observers documenting events. Just ask Paul Hampel, a highly-regarded, 30-year veteran reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who was beaten, bloodied and robbed while covering the anniversary events in Ferguson in August. Hampel was taking photos and videos of break-ins before he was attacked.

Hampel, 54, who colleagues said put his heart and a young person’s enthusiasm into every story, was placed on medical leave suffering head and other injuries. Last month he resigned from the newspaper. On Oct. 12 he began work as a legislative analyst in St. Louis County government.

Author’s note:  Terry Ganey has a master’s degree from the University of Missouri School of Journalism where he has been an adjunct instructor.

Veteran, popular columnist Bill McClellan joins the latest Post-Dispatch Exodus

Since Lee Enterprises acquired Pulitzer, Inc. and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2005, there’s been a steady departure of well-paid, veteran professionals who over the years had made the newspaper one of the most valuable journalistic assets in the country.

With hundreds of millions of dollars in debt from the acquisition, the burden of paying off the loans fell on the shoulders of employees at Lee’s 46 newspapers who faced layoffs, furloughs, frozen wages and the elimination of benefits.

A quick way of cutting costs was to buyout senior journalists at the Post-Dispatch. From the beginning of Lee’s acquisition, buyouts of veterans who had risen to the top of the wage scales became an easy way of reducing costs, despite the fact that it seriously eroded the quality of the newspaper.

The latest round taking effect today includes Bill McClellan, who for more than 30 years has been the newspaper’s popular, hardworking, four-day-a-week columnist. Since 1983, McClellan has been the St. Louis town crier, historian, humorist, soothsayer and seeker of justice. His work has been compared with Mark Twain’s.

By itself, McClellan’s departure would be enough to shake the foundations at 900 North Tucker, the headquarters building Lee Enterprises wants to sell. But McClellan is not alone. Also taking advantage of a severance package/retirement offer are:

–Virginia Young, the Missouri state capital’s premier investigative reporter, who has consistently made politicians accountable since she joined the newspaper in 1988. Her reports on abuses of a state tax credit program led to indictments, prosecutions and guilty pleas by five men involved in the scheme.

–Michael Sorkin, who most recently has written news obituaries of notables, and who in 1993 was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for disclosing prosecutor George Peach’s use of a city checking account to pay prostitutes.

–Susan Weich, who joined the newspaper in 1987 and who disclosed in a “Burning Through Tax Dollars” series how fire protection districts in the St. Louis area were wasting money while board members received gifts from firefighters.

–Bob Kelly and Margaret Gillerman, two veteran reporters who handled multiple assignments at the newspaper over the years.

Kelly announced his departure Thursday night on Facebook, saying, “Tomorrow will be my last day at the Post-Dispatch after 43 years of working there. It’s been a great run, but I’m ready for retirement from a full-time job.”

In another Facebook post, Gillerman said, “We hung on for a very long time…I admire all we have done together!! I love all our years together! I love our Joseph Pulitzer tradition now and ever more.”

In addition to McClellan and the five reporters, two editors and a paginator also accepted buyout packages.

Jeff Gordon, a Post-Dispatch sports columnist and the president of the local United Media Guild Unit, released a statement saying that the nine veteran employees leaving the Post would mean that four reporters and a copy editor, who had been targeted for a reduction in force on June 26, would be allowed to keep their jobs.

Under the agreement, McClellan would continue to write a once-a-week column on Sundays.

Influencing the departing journalists’ decisions was the fact that the newspaper’s contract with the Guild expires in September. Gordon’s statement said the company had indicated a desire to review the existing severance language that allows long-time employees, depending on their date and years of service, to collect up to 66 weeks of pay.

As news of the latest departures swamped the Internet Thursday night, reactions were sad for St. Louis and critical of Lee Enterprises. One posting on Twitter said: “As a reader, I’m saddened by the loss of deep local knowledge in this wave on Post-Dispatch departures.”

Publisher’s Note: Terry Ganey, the St. Louis editor of GJR, was the Jefferson City Bureau Chief for the Post-Dispatch before taking the first wave of buyouts in 2005.

Missouri capitol reporters still trying to police their own

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri State Capitol is a very busy place in April as the annual legislative session nears adjournment and lawmakers hawk dozens of bills in frantic attempts to make them law.

Journalists sweat to cover the chaos.

But despite the pressure, the reporters who make up the Missouri Capitol News Association were not too busy to come together again earlier this month to consider problems with one of the press corps’ members, the Missouri Times, a newlyformed organ published by former Poplar Bluff Mayor Scott Faughn.

The press group, which represents about a dozen news organizations that cover state government, had put the Missouri Times on notice in late January that it had to come up with a policy that demonstrated editorial independence while at the same time giving assurances that it was no longer hosting lobbyist-sponsored parties.

While Faughn told the group the parties were a thing of the past, the policy he delivered fell short of expectations. His acknowledgement that a member of the state House had used a sleeping room for lodging in the Missouri Times business office did not add to Faughn’s credibility.

But while one member of the press corps wanted to suspend the Missouri Times from the group, the vast majority agreed to give him more time to come up with a stronger written policy that separates the financial side of the Missouri Times from the reporters who cover the news.

The policy statement that Faughn sent by email on March 30 said, in part, “The newspaper and its staff should be free of obligations to news sources, newsmakers, and outside interests. Conflict of interest should be avoided. Newspapers should accept nothing of value from news sources or others outside the profession. Gifts and free or reduced-rate travel, entertainment, products and lodging should not be accepted.”

Some reporters at Monday’s meeting said the constant use of the word “should” was too weak, and that a blanket prohibition against conflicts, gifts and political activities should be part of the policy. They also said a stronger “firewall” should be demarked between Faughn, who solicits ads and sells subscriptions, and his two reporters who cover the capital.

Question from reporters seemed to reflect a concern that some lobbyists are positioned to influence news coverage.

“If a lobbyist calls you to complain about a story, what do you do?” asked Bob Watson of the Jefferson City News Tribune.

“They do, a lot,” Faughn responded. “I have to read the story to see if they may be right, especially if it’s a factual thing. We won’t put something out that’s incorrect.”

“Is someone who bought a full page ad in the paper more likely to have a story written about them?” asked David Lieb of the Associated Press.

“No,” Faughn responded. “They wouldn’t even know that’s happening.”

“But don’t you assign stories though?” asked Virginia Young of the Post-Dispatch.

“If I get tips,” Faughn replied. “But I don’t assign stories or what to write about them.”

In response to a question from the Columbia Tribune’s Rudi Keller, Faughn admitted that state Rep. Elijah Haahr, a Republican from Springfield, had lodged in a sleeping room at the Missouri Times’ business office in Jefferson City.

“He stayed for a little bit between places, and again it was about two years ago maybe,” Faughn said. “I wasn’t there. He moved on.” Haahr did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

The Missouri Capitol News Association, founded in 1988, is responsible for allocating parking spaces near the state Capitol and offices within it for legitimate news organizations. The association’s bylaws state that members must be “editorially independent of any political party, institution, foundation, lobbying entity or business group.”

The association allocated facilities for the Missouri Times shortly after it was formed two years ago by Faughn and former House Speaker Rod Jetton. At that time, Phill Brooks, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri and the KMOX radio reporter covering the capital, asked for a written policy describing the Missouri Times’ editorial independence. He has never received an acceptable statement.

During the most recent meeting, Brooks moved that the Times be suspended from the association until it came up with an acceptable ethics policy while still keeping its access to a parking space and office. At stake, Brooks said, was “our credibility as an organization as to whether or not we will uphold the standards we espouse as journalists.”

“I feel like I tried to do what you asked,” Faughn said.

After no one would second Brooks’ motion, the group approved another Young offered that gave the Missouri Times until the end of May to produce “an updated policy that addresses concerns about establishing a firewall between financial activities of the Missouri Times with its sources and the people covering the news.”

The Missouri Times publishes a weekly print product that’s distributed free of charge and makes stories available on an Internet website. Its two reporters are Collin Reischman and Rachael Herndon, whose Republican connections and political activities raised questions during the association’s meeting in January.

Faughn said this week that the problems with Herndon’s independence had been addressed and resolved. “Anybody who works for the Missouri Times cannot be involved in partisan politics,” he said.

Jetton is no longer involved in the publication of the Times. Faughn also owns the SEMO Times in Poplar Bluff and has a show, “This Week in Missouri Politics” on KDNL-TV Channel 30 in St. Louis.

In 2007, Faughn was convicted by a Cape Girardeau County jury of three counts of felony forgery. In that case, he was accused of forging checks for an account for a highway expansion project.

Other journalists at Monday’s meeting represented the Kansas City Star, St. Louis Public Radio, the Missourinet and Politicmo.

Progress of the Beacon/KWMU merger

Editor’s note: This story ran in the Summer 2014 print issue of GJR

On one wall of the St. Louis Public Radio newsroom hangs an electronic sign resembling a large flat-screen television with colored graphs, charts and numbers telling the story of the station’s website.

One recent summer afternoon, a visitor saw that 89 people were checking out the site to see what the news operation had to offer. Tim Eby, director and general manager of St. Louis Public Radio, said more people have visited the station’s website since it merged with the online startup the St. Louis Beacon six months ago. The number of listeners to KWMU, 90.7 FM, has remained about the same.

While the news staff was roughly doubled to 21 and the Beacon as a brand disappeared, the combined operation remains a boutique for news consumers. Eby said the station has averaged about 120,000 unique visitors a month.

March was the high point when the website attracted 149,000 unique visitors viewing some 400,000 pages of content. During the same month, according to the Alliance for Audited Media, stltoday.com, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website, attracted 4.7 million unique visitors who looked at 67.9 million separate pages of information.

Some view the Beacon-KWMU merger as an experiment in the development of new media, a window into what may sustain serious journalism in the future. But for now, the numbers show that even if non-profits such as the Beacon line up with state university-sponsored operations like KWMU, they attract a comparatively small following. Without investigative reporting, crime coverage, sports, business news, editorials, obituaries and columnists, they remain a supplemental news service.

“Of course there are websites that get much more traffic,” said Margaret Wolf Freivogel, editor of St. Louis Public Radio. “I know generally speaking sports and crime drive web traffic. Those are not what we are spending a lot of time on because a lot of other people are, and we’re not going to duplicate what other people do. It’s important for people to see our work, but we’re not measuring ourselves totally on eyeballs.”

Freivogel is a former Post-Dispatch editor who left the paper in a buyout in 2005. Three years later, she co-founded the Beacon with other former newspaper colleagues. At the Beacon, her emphasis was on the kind of copy she edited at the newspaper, interpretive stories and news analysis pieces. The Beacon also focused on art and culture.

The Beacon’s slogan, “News that Matters,” has been retained by the newly combined operation. About half a dozen former Post-Dispatch reporters and editors joined Freivogel at the Beacon. Now they’ve moved with her to the modern, well-equipped St. Louis Public Radio newsroom and studios at 3651 Olive St. in Midtown, St. Louis. They are now university employees since the station is owned by the University of Missouri.

Twenty-four blocks east, in the offices of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the disappearance of the Beacon has largely gone unnoticed. “Nobody here at the paper hardly ever talked about it,” said one veteran. “I never heard anybody say, ‘Did you see what the Beacon had?'”

“There are some sites that I read and checked every day, but the Beacon’s was not one of them,” said Amanda St. Amand, the Post’s online editor. “My mission was not to keep up with the Beacon’s deep, thoughtful analysis, which I don’t believe is important to 98 percent of the people in St. Louis.”

When the merger began to develop between the Beacon and the radio station, it appeared on the radar screen of columnist Joe Holleman. But as he said to the general public, few seemed interested. “It was an inside-baseball creation to start with, except that it had no baseball,” Holleman said. “I don’t think it was something that invited the general masses to come see it, nor do I think they aimed to get the general public reading it.”

During the execution of the Beacon-KWMU merger, Freivogel and Eby drafted a vision statement with the help of a consultant, which stated a lofty goal: “A vigorous, powerful, forward-looking news organization can light the path to a better St. Louis and lead the way nationally in reinventing journalism as a trusted partner in a better democracy.” The merger attracted national attention, and the Columbia Journalism Review last fall quoted Freivogel as saying the combination could make St. Louis a leader in “the reinvigoration of local news.”

An examination of a run of stories provided by St. Louis Public Radio shows the news on the site duplicates much of the meat-and-potatoes journalism practiced elsewhere: the travails of a local school district, the City of St. Louis’ decision to allow gays to marry despite the state’s ban, a political controversy within the St. Louis County Council, the decision to sell to the public a former Nike missile site in nearby Illinois. Their stories may sometimes be longer, contain more details or offer a different approach, but nearly all of them were being covered by other local media, especially the Post-Dispatch, which at the same time offers much more.

On the other hand, St. Louis Public Radio offers another viewpoint on some of the same news — a diversity of approaches that gives readers the chance to carefully examine an issue from several aspects.

Frank Russell, a doctoral student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has been studying the merger. Based on an interview with Freivogel and an analysis of the content of the new organization’s website compared with the two old ones operated by the radio station and the Beacon, Russell found that the combined news organization has made progress in integrating their strengths.

“We concluded the staff had begun to combine complementary strengths to increase its capacity to cover news that was important in the St. Louis region,” Russell wrote. “We found improvements on quantitative indicators of news quality. The combined staff also showed progress in use of multimedia items such as photographs, embedded documents, and especially audio clips.” (Russell’s paper will be presented at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference  in Montreal.)

While the St. Louis Public Radio website does not cover sports, it does have a weekly column on chess. “It’s a very popular column,” Freivogel said. “A lot of people look at it. Online, you have the opportunity to cover topics that are of interest to a lot of different people, but you also have the opportunity to cover a topic that a smaller number of people are intensely interested in, and chess falls into that category.” Between Dec. 18, 2013 and July 2, 2014, the website featured 28 separate columns on chess that attracted a total of five online comments.

When asked about which KWMU story has had the most impact, Eby pointed to a series of reports by Véronique LaCapra and radio reporter Chris McDaniel, who have been investigating Missouri’s execution process. They focused on the legal and ethical questions of how Missouri obtained its execution drug. Last October, the station disclosed that Missouri had turned to an unauthorized distributor for an execution agent.

While the stories took place before the merger, Freivogel said that since then, the beefed-up staff has enabled McDaniel to be free from other reporting duties to concentrate on the continuing execution controversy.

“You can be covering major developments that are happening day by day, and also give people time to work on longer range things, and you can juggle that to get a respectable amount of breadth and depth,” Freivogel said.

While the addition of the Beacon reporters to the news staff has not increased the number of radio newscasts, Eby said there had been an increase in the number of locally produced stories that are inserted during NPR segments “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”

KWMU’s market share has remained constant at about 3.5 or 4, meaning that at any given time, about four percent of the St. Louis area listeners are tuned in. Eby said compared to public radio stations in other markets, those figures are “pretty competitive.”

“The newscasts are better,” Eby said. “We are probably using less wire copy than what we may have done before. We’re still learning about how to take an enterprise story on the website and how do we use that in a newscast. We don’t have the answer for that yet, but we’re learning how to do those types of things.” He said the former print reporters seem to enjoy their new roles behind the microphone.

KWMU recently announced plans to add four additional radio reporters in St. Louis as well as a correspondent to cover the Missouri delegation in Washington, D.C.

According to Eby, March was a good month for website visitors because that is when the station does its on-the-air pledge drives that bring people to the site to donate money. For the Beacon, the merger was like a lifeboat since the radio station had a broader base of donors who would pay the bills. The Beacon relied on a smaller list of contributors who would give larger sums of money.

To help pay for the merger over the next five years, a $3 million fund was created through special donations. Eby said the combined operation hopes to grow new sources of revenue so that by year six of the merger, the operation will be self-sustaining without the $3 million cushion.

The University of Missouri has provided a direct subsidy to St. Louis Public Radio, but the amount has been decreasing. During the last fiscal year it was about $250,000. “We don’t expect we’ll get any more because of the challenges facing university funding,” Eby added.

To meet a $7 million annual budget, more money must come from additional individual giving, corporate sponsorships on the radio, admission fees to special events and website advertising. Eby hopes to raise more money through advertising generated by increased website traffic.

 

Post-Dispatch wins Scripps Howard award for Ferguson coverage

The Scripps Howard Foundation has awarded its first place national breaking news award for 2014 to the staff of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for coverage of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the chaotic events that followed.

“A news organization is never tested more thoroughly than when a major story breaks in its backyard,” the contest judges said. “The Post-Dispatch was tested by a story that was fluid, emotional, important and not easily told with clarity and balance. It passed this test with textbook execution.”

The Cincinnati-based foundation announced the awards and finalists Tuesday. The contest entries were reviewed by industry experts who studied them during two days of judging at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Post-Dispatch entries for editorial writing and photojournalism, both focusing on Ferguson events, were finalists in the Scripps Howard competition. They were: “Lessons from Ferguson,” editorials by Tony Messenger and Kevin Horrigan and a portfolio of photos by Robert Cohen.

Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer on Aug. 9 following an altercation on a city street. A St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Wilson last November, and a Justice Department report released earlier this month concluded that Wilson had been justified in shooting.

The circumstances surrounding Brown’s death and the grand jury’s decision led to months of protest, sporadic violence and property destruction. News organizations from throughout the country converged on what quickly became a national story. The incident prompted an examination of police practices, racial disparities in law enforcement employment and injustice in the operations of municipal courts.

The judges who reviewed the breaking stories for the Scripps Howard contest said the Post-Dispatch editors recognized the implications of the story from the first minute they learned of the shooting. “Using every resource at its disposal, the Post-Dispatch began reporting the story and telling it, first on social media and by morning in print,” the judges said. “Its reporters and photographers stayed on the streets, with apparent inexhaustible commitment. And its editors and layout team pulled together the results in vivid and compelling packages on day one, day two and beyond.”

The newspaper’s reporting staff was sometimes exposed to physical violence in carrying out their assignments. Once about 20 people picketed the Post-Dispatch claiming it was biased against protestors. The newspaper scored news beats in its coverage such as the official autopsy of Michael Brown and surveillance video of Darren Wilson leaving the Ferguson police station after the shooting.

The award carries with it a trophy and $10,000. The other finalists in the breaking news category included the Everett, (Wash.) Daily Herald for its coverage of a mudslide that crushed a rural neighborhood killing 43 people, and the CBS Evening News’ reporting from Cuba following the surprise announcement of re-established relations with the United States.

The Scripps Howard Foundation, established in 1953, is the charitable arm of E.W. Scripps Company, which owns television stations and other media outlets throughout the country. Recipients of the journalism awards will be honored in Denver on May 21.

 

Parties and the press

JEFFERSON CITY – The Jefferson City press corps has voted to give the Missouri Times until the end of March to clean up the news organization’s ethics mess or face the possibility of losing credentials to cover events in Missouri’s state capital.

Ten representatives of wire service, print and broadcast news organizations met Monday to discuss the lobbyist-sponsored parties that Times’ publisher Scott Faughn had held for lawmakers at the newspaper’s office in Jefferson City. While some press corps members appeared ready to vote to take away the Times’ allocation of capital office and parking spaces, the group approved a motion giving it the chance to draft a newsroom policy of editorial independence as well as time to demonstrate that the lobbyist-sponsored parties were no longer taking place.

Collin Reischman, the Times’ managing editor, told the group Faughn was not a journalist and was unschooled in ethics policies. And Reischman said Faughn was trying to hire a consultant to give advice on the development of a mission statement, an employee handbook and “best practices” that would prevent problems in the future.

“I do take issue with the way Scott does things,” Reischman said. “I told him fifty different times that he shouldn’t do them again. If it were up to me, there wouldn’t be any parties.”

While capital city reporters and lawmakers had been aware of the Times’ parties for months, the issue became public Jan. 4 when Rudi Keller of the Columbia Daily Tribune reported details of as many as six events, including the fact they “went largely unreported to the state Ethics Commission.”

James Klahr, the executive director of the Missouri Ethics Commission, said Tuesday that “it would be a good idea” for lobbyists who spend money on lawmakers, either individually or in a group settings like the Times’ parties, to report it to the commission.

The reporting requirements aside, several reporters present for Monday’s meeting said the parties violated journalistic ethical standards by creating an apparent, if not a real, conflict of interest.

“This has raised credibility questions for us,” said Phill Brooks, a journalism professor at the University of Missouri and the KMOX radio reporter covering the capital. “We uphold standards of editorial independence and the avoidance of a conflict of interest.”

Brooks noted that two years ago, when the press corps first accredited the Missouri Times, he requested a written policy that described its editorial independence since both the Times’ founders, Faughn and former House Speaker Rod Jetton, had been involved in politics. Brooks said he never got the policy.

POLITICAL ACTIVITIES

The Times publishes a weekly print product that’s distributed free of charge, and makes stories available on an Internet website: http://themissouritimes.com. Reischman said the press run is usually 1,000 to 2,000 issues, but sometimes has been as large as 5,000. The publication has two full time reporters, Reischman and Rachael Herndon, whose editorial independence was questioned during Monday’s meeting.

Herndon was identified as the president of the Cole County Young Republicans as recently as June of last year. Copies of emails were distributed at Monday’s meeting showing that prior to the November general election, Herndon was going door-to-door campaigning in behalf of Bryan Stumpe, the Republican candidate for Cole County circuit judge. In encouraging others to work for Stumpe, Herndon’s email said, “The current judge is one of the last Democrats holding office in Cole County.” The incumbent judge, Patricia Joyce, retained her seat.

“Standards that we expect are not being met when a company is soliciting lobbyists for parties and a reporter working for a paper is a party operative,” Keller said.

“I’m not denying that that was problem,” Reischman responded, “But we are rectifying that now.”

In an interview, Reischman said he had been aware of Herndon’s prior political work and that he had told her she had to stop it. But he said he apparently hadn’t been emphatic enough on that point. “I should have been more clear,” he said. Since then, Reischman said, he had had a “come to Jesus meeting” with Herndon, and she remains a reporter.

Neither Faughn nor Herndon responded to a Gateway Journalism Review reporter’s requests for comment.

According to the Missouri Times web site, Herndon studied communication and art history at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and previously worked as a campaign staff member. Reischman has a journalism degree from Webster University.

The web site also describes Faughn as the Missouri Times’ publisher and president of SEMO TIMES, a weekly newspaper in Poplar Bluff, Mo. It also describes Faughn as a member of the St. Louis Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The SPJ’s Code of Ethics says journalists should “avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” and “remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.” The code also says journalists should “refuse gifts” and shun “political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.”

Faughn is the former mayor of Poplar Bluff. In 2007 he was convicted in Cape Girardeau County of three counts of forgery.

ALLOCATING SPACE

Journalists covering state government are members of the Missouri Capitol News Association. The organization meets infrequently as the need arises, usually to allocate resources for reporters such as office accommodations, parking spaces and a spot at the Senate press table.

The organization’s bylaws require that for an entity to be credentialed, it must distribute news to a broad segment of the public, be independent of any lobbying activity and demonstrate its ability to cover the capital for at least six months. In addition to the Missouri School of Journalism, KMOX and the Columbia Tribune, journalists at Monday’s meeting represented the Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Kansas City Star, St. Louis Public Radio, the Missourinet, KRCG-TV, and the Jefferson City News Tribune.

After agreeing that Monday’s meeting was open to coverage by the Gateway Journalism Review, the group discussed plans by the Republican-controlled state Senate to remove reporters from a press table on the floor of the chamber and sequester them in a spot in an upper gallery. It also voted to accredit Eli Yokley, who writes for a blog Politicmo and supplies news to the Joplin Globe, KY3-TV in Springfield and the New York Times.

After airing the controversy about the Missouri Times, the group agreed to reassess the news organization’s performance at a meeting that will be scheduled some time around the legislative Spring break, the last week of March.