Category Archives: St. Louis

‘It’s patriotic to question authority’

Publisher’s note:  Margaret W. Freivogel wrote this appreciation of Dudman on his retirement from the Bangor Daily News in 2012.  The piece appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, which merged later with St. Louis Public Radio where Freivogel was editor.  (She is the wife of GJR publisher William H. Freivogel.)

by Margaret Wolf Freivogel

It’s appropriate that Richard Dudman, the quintessential intrepid journalist, retired this week of July 4. For him, journalism has always been a patriotic act.

Of course, Dick has claimed to retire before. He retired as Washington bureau chief for the Post-Dispatch in 1981 after a career that included ground-breaking coverage of the Vietnam War, 40 days in captivity in Cambodia and numerous other scoops. He moved to Maine, only to resurface as an editor for a university-based international news service. He retired from that but emerged 12 years ago as an editorial writer for the Bangor Daily News.

His last of more than a thousand editorials urged Maine’s senate candidates to forgo funding from Super PACs. Characteristically, he argued against secrecy in government. “The high court has held that money is a form of speech and that corporations have the same First Amendment right of free speech as individuals,” Dick wrote. “But the anonymous donations restrict the public’s ability to track which special interests are influencing which campaigns and candidates.”

At 94, Dick may be serious about retiring this time, though I hope he’ll find a new way to continue sharing his signature pithy insights. One I recall well was reserved for slow reporters. “He who sits on hot story gets ass burned,” Dick advised. He always kept a bag packed in his Washington office so he could be out the door before editors had time for second thoughts about sending him on assignment.

With the media world battered by cross currents of economic and technological change, Dick’s work and life shine as a guidestar. His devotion to traditional journalistic principles and zest for trying something new are just the example we need to navigate the shoals of uncertainty.

As Dick learned, charting a new course can be much harder in real time than it looks in retrospect. The love-it-or-leave-it crowd did not cotton to his reporting on the Vietnam War. They didn’t want to hear that reality on the ground was not nearly so sunny as the view from the official briefing in Saigon. The Globe-Democrat once denounced Dick’s work in a front page editorial headlined, if memory serves, “For America or for Hanoi.”

In contrast, Dick believes the most valuable service that journalists can perform for their country is to provide a clear-eyed challenge to conventional wisdom. Years ago, when some critics of the war were burning flags, he built a flag pole at his Maine house and called neighbors together to raise the colors. “Some of our liberal summer friends had questioned why would want to put up a flag pole and suggested that I sounded like a superpatriot,” he recalled this week. Dick told them, “It’s patriotic to question authority.”

Shortly before he left the Post-Dispatch, Dick found himself in uncharted waters. Two eager reporters proposed the crazy idea of sharing a job in the Washington bureau, where 24-7 dedication to work was the prevailing ethic. Would these reporters be sufficiently committed to the calling, he wondered? Dick sought advice from a friend, the feminist author Betty Friedan. “Do it,” she advised. And, with a nudge from publisher Joseph Pulitzer Jr., he did.

The unconventional arrangement was a life-saver for my husband, Bill, and me as we struggled with the logistics of raising our young family. And it turned out to be a good deal for the paper, which could deploy us as a sort of perpetual motion reporting machine.

On Dick’s last day in the office, President Ronald Reagan was shot. Dick ran up Connecticut Avenue to the scene. I rushed to George Washington hospital, where a shanty town of reporters and equipment instantly materialized to keep watch. That evening, Bill arrived in a taxi. I handed him my notes and he handed me the kids, ensuring seamless 24-hour coverage without interruption for sleep.

Then as now, tradition plus innovation works.

McCaskill’s town hall pitch for media literacy

by Terry Ganey

Photo by Terry Ganey

TIPTON, Mo.—Sen. Claire McCaskill held 10 town hall meetings across Missouri last week, fielding hundreds of questions about issues like health care, sanctions against Russia, and the sharing of voters’ information.

But it was at a forum in Tipton, a small town in the middle of the state, where McCaskill was asked about something other than congressional policy.

Shawn Meintz, a high school teacher from Kirksville, wondered what the senator would suggest teaching young people, 17 and 18-years-old.

The question prompted one of the longest responses McCaskill would give at the forum.

“Teach young people where they should go to find facts,” McCaskill replied. She said people today go to certain television networks to find affirmation, rather than information.  She said 15 percent of her constituents watch FOX News to get affirmation for their right-wing beliefs, while another group on the other side watches MSNBC to get their own assurance that they are right.

“The rest of the state is watching ‘Dancing with the Stars,’ and can’t stand either side,” McCaskill said.

McCaskill told Meintz that students need to know where to go to find fact-based journalism.

“They need to learn that there are no editors on social media like there are at newspapers. During the political campaign, hundreds of Russians created Facebook news feeds and people were repeating them as if they were true.

“One of the challenges we have in America today is simply learning what are the facts,” McCaskill added. “The notion that everything is fake news is not good for democracy.”

Meintz teachers U.S. government to 12th graders, and newspapers to 11th and 12th graders.  He also teaches an advanced placement class in world history.

On the day of McCaskill’s forum in Tipton, Meintz was just ending a vacation with his family at Lake of the Ozarks.  On their way back to their home in Kirksville they stopped by the senator’s hour-long town hall session.  Meintz was accompanied by his wife, Angela, and their three children: Jackson, 10, Kennedy, 6 and Pierce, 2.

Asked what he thought about McCaskill’s response, Meintz said, “I wish I had recorded it.  It was good.  I’m going to talk more in class about where to go to get real news.  She’s right.  There’s too much misinformation out there and public schools can address that.”

 

Terry Ganey covered the Missouri Legislature for 35 years for the Associated Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Columbia Daily Tribune. He is the former St. Louis editor of the Journalism Review.  He is also the author of “Innocent Blood, a true story of obsession and serial murder,” and co-author of “Under the Influence” about the Anheuser-Busch dynasty and “Pretty Ladylike,” McCaskill’s memoir.

University Honors for ‘All American’ Journalist: Bill McClellan

by Michael D. Murray

 

photo by Courtesy August H. Jennewein, University of Missouri-St. Louis

photo by Courtesy August H. Jennewein, University of Missouri-St. Louis

“St. Louis Post-Dispatch” Columnist, Bill McClellan, received the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, Saturday, May 13, at University of Missouri-St. Louis Commencement ceremonies held on campus in the Mark Twain Gym. He was introduced by UM Curators Distinguished Teaching Professor, Mike Murray, on behalf of the faculty.

“I am very proud to introduce St. Louis’ legendary columnist and television panelist, Bill McClellan. Many of you already know Bill because you have read his columns for many years. He is also the author of books — including collections of his columns and known as a founder and panelist for one of TV’s best local public affairs programs, ‘Donnybrook.’ Bill’s late friend and former boss, Martin Duggan, once said ‘Bill has a greater grasp of the human comedy than anyone who has ever written in – or about – St. Louis.’ We agree.

A friend of mine once edited a series of reference books about important writers. And he asked some of us for names of influential columnists from our region to include in one of the books. I had a bunch of Bill McClellan’s columns taped to my door. So I just folded them-up and sent them to my friend. His response was: ‘This is a perfect example of what we are looking for in this reference book — someone who writes about their community … and the entire community benefits.’ ‘Besides,’ he added, ‘most of these columns are really funny.’

In your Commencement program Bill’s biography states: ‘Like St. Louis, McClellan has proven to be a character to whom people relate fondly.’ We agree – Bill is ‘a character.’ And we know that heaping high praise on such ‘a character’ can be a tricky business. But in the tradition of the great Missouri writers — like Dr. Mark Twain — or the soon-to-be, Dr. Bill — even if we don’t always agree with such “characters,” we still greatly admire their work and recognize their talent.

We also know that nobody knows a ‘character’ like their spouse. So, it’s also a pleasure to recognize Bill’s wife, Mary, who is also here with us today. Bill and Mary have two children, Lorna and Jack.  Lorna is married to alumnus, Darryl Sanchez.

Many of you know Bill as a master storyteller. He has written crime stories, love stories, stories of injustice and unexpected kindnesses. He meets the classic definition of an ‘All American’ journalist because he is someone who “comforts the afflicted — and afflicts the comfortable,” writing about lack of fairness for people who have had to struggle in life – and calling-out and even mocking some of the folks he has referred to as the ‘born-wells” and the “married-wells.’ Some of you might recognize yourself in that and you know who you are. And because of this, to some of these very fortunate folks, at least, he might be considered a TOTAL trouble-maker — but not to us. To us, Bill is simply a very talented communicator – one with a really great sense of humor.

And whatever he’s doing, he keeps that sense of humor. On TV each week, he and his media veterans dissect the local news and then take phone calls. Someone named ‘Bob from Brentwood’ might call-in. The caller will comment on something serious from the program and then ask: ‘Bill, you remember me?’ Bill always remembers them. Another time ‘Bob from Brentwood’ might call back — but this time showing signs of being very irritated or annoyed. Bill is an expert in getting agitated callers to calm themselves down.  But he always does it very gently. He will frown and then repeat their name — usually three times, like: ‘Bob, Bob, Bob.’ He appears to be reaching-out across the airwaves to comfort “Bob from Brentwood” to get him to cool-off a little.  This takes talent — and a certain temperament.

I have to say that this is actually the second time that I have had the honor of introducing Bill. We have a Great Speakers’ series here at the University and a few years ago, I was asked to introduce Bill for a talk he was giving entitled ‘Characters I Have Known.’ I discovered then that Bill is not only a ‘Character’ – he also KNOWS a lot of characters. And many of them showed-up for his talk at that time. And as he started describing them, they began shouting back at him. He described the founders of St. Louis as lacking in the ambition to keep moving westward. These characters would shout back at him: ‘You’re SO right, Bill.’

It was very funny to get their read on what Bill had written and then was repeating — about them. Later, colleagues in our Communication Department asked how that talk went. I said: ‘It WAS really different … but also interesting … because Bill seemed to know all these characters … and they definitely knew him.’

In spite of his status and familiarity with many St. Louisans, Bill is always low-key — and also self-effacing. Reflecting on his career, he was once asked, ‘In the end … what difference does it all really make?’ And about that era some folks are known to love — high school — Bill said: ‘You know the Pretty women and the high-school athletes go through life with an easy self-confidence. People like me … we have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. I’m always ready to get thrown-out.’ With that in mind, we say THANKS Bill!  Thanks to an All-American Journalist, the one with a big chip on his shoulder, one that’s provided a unique perspective.

Because there is something ‘All-American’ about someone who speaks-up for the ‘little guy’ and underdog; or if needed, someone who can speak-up to authority; and articulate the concerns of people who aren’t able to do that for themselves. The University faculty is very proud to present an honorary doctorate to ‘A Real Character,’ and a most distinguished, ‘All-American’ journalist — Bill McClellan.”

Print journalism: don’t erect the tombstones just yet

by Don Corrigan

The “print is dead” mantra has been around for some two decades. That message was brought home to me as a professor at Webster University in St. Louis when my journalism department met to hire a new professor in social media. Also on the agenda were revisions to the curriculum for journalism majors.    Those revisions were needed to better reflect the inevitable move to digital technology in delivering journalism. When I protested that it might be too early to write off print newspapers, despite the encroaching new technologies, a colleague upbraided me severely. He supposedly was just trying to help me get it through my thick skull that we had entered a new media paradigm.

“Don, I like print journalism as much as you do. I used to enjoy getting up in the morning and reading a newspaper with my coffee, but it’s over. I can get it all online now. Print is dead,” he scolded, hammering his fist on his desk to drive the point home. When I tried to debate the issue further, I received some sympathetic glances from other colleagues – the kind of glances reserved for grandma as she tries to hold onto a few keepsakes before being moved from her old home to the retirement center.

I soon stepped down from advising the college student newspaper, the Journal. The departure turned out to be a great excuse for a 2010 retirement party – an old-school happening for an old-school journalist. Rather than leave journalism tutelage altogether, though, I continued to teach media law and started an outdoor/environmental journalism certificate. As for the revised journalism major, two of my favorite required legacy courses were summarily jettisoned: History and Principles of Journalism and Community Reporting. My work down the street from the university at Webster-Kirkwood Times, Inc., publisher of three local newspapers, had been serving as a great resource and inspiration for teaching about covering communities as well as about print journalism operations.

Alas, the “buggy-whip factory” known as Webster-Kirkwood Times continues to prosper to this day. And now, almost a decade after I had to confront the reality that “print is dead,” comes an article in Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) that insists print is not dead with a subhead entitled, “The Revenge of the Real.” The article in the 2016 fall-winter issue notes that it may actually be digital that is dying on the electronic vine after years of newspapers trying to find a business model that will make digital news profitable, or at least self-supporting. According to the CJR article by Michael Rosenwald, digital may be working for a few large national newspapers, but for regional newspaper businesses all the Facebook, tweets, apps and websites are a bust. In the future, digital may just involve “add-ons” for the base print products, included as a benefit for readers, but definitely not “profit centers” meant to sustain the franchise.

As the 2016 CJR article notes: “The reality is this: No streamlined website, no ‘vertical integration,’ no social network, no algorithm, no Apple, no Apple Newsstand, no paywall, no soft paywall, no targeted ad, no mobile-first strategy has come close to matching the success of print in revenue or readership. And the most crucial assumption publishers have made about readers, particularly millennials – that they prefer the immediacy of digital – now seems questionable, too.”

CJR goes on to quote Iris Chyi, a University of Texas professor and new media researcher. Chyi observes: “The (supposedly dying) print edition still outperforms the (supposedly hopeful) digital product by almost every standard, be it readership, engagement, advertising revenue, and especially willingness to actually pay for the product.” Chyi examined data collected by Scarborough, a market research firm owned by Nielsen, for the 51 largest U.S. newspapers, finding that the print edition reaches 28 percent of circulation areas, while the digital version reaches just 10 percent. (And it is a business model that still pays the bills, including salaries.)

‘Thriving’ print

There’s no question that the big guys in the newspaper world have been weathering tumultuous times. Some have been saddled with debt from acquisitions made when newspapers were at their peak. Others have more recently been sold at bargain basement prices to new owners without journalism backgrounds. Many of these owners have continued to hack away at the print product; continued to cut remaining staffers; and, continued to put resources into digital platforms that have yet to produce significant revenue after years of experimentation with pop-up ads, paywalls and digital-first strategies. It’s a formula that has failed to stop the decline in readers and loss of circulation. The trade and general media focus on these “big troubles” at big newspapers has obscured the fact that print as a whole is thriving.

“Far too much emphasis has been placed on digital and national media,” said Tim Bingaman, president and CEO of Circulation Verification Council (CVC). “And very few companies have been able to produce meaningful regional or local editorial content on a digital platform and monetize it for significant profit.  However, local and niche print continues to be very profitable.  Interestingly, much of the digital content we analyze is actually sourced back to traditional media sources.  Much like radio stations were famous for reading the newspaper as their news content, we see the same thing in the digital world (where original print stories now become the content). Print is not dead.”

Bingaman and other industry observers note that people need to keep in mind that 97 percent of all U.S. newspapers have circulations below 50,000, and about 85 percent of all newspapers are weeklies. Collectively, the “community newspaper” sector accounts for more than 70 percent of total print newspaper circulation in the U.S. and 97 percent of newspaper titles. Two-thirds of U.S. weeklies have circulations below 10,000 (as do 45 percent of U.S. dailies). Any analysis of the “newspaper industry” that overlooks the community-newspaper sector, especially the weekly newspaper sector, is going to be inherently flawed and grossly misleading. And analysis that overlooks 97 percent of newspapers may miss the fact that print is holding its own and in many sectors is actually thriving.

“Trends vary greatly depending on the type of print measured,” said Bingaman.  “Daily newspapers and large national consumer magazines continue to lose significant print circulation and those losses receive a majority of the attention in the media industry.  However, a much larger segment of print – community newspapers, shoppers, city & regional magazines, business publications, and niche publications like parenting, 50+ lifestyle, ethnic, and special interest publications are thriving and have very stable or even growing circulation numbers.

“For instance, community newspapers, typically free weeklies, have lost less than 1 percent of their circulation in the last decade.  City and regional magazines, and business publications have also fared the poor economy well with less than 2 percent circulation loss.  Most of these losses come from publishers simply trimming expenses on less valued circulation types.  Niche publications have fared well overall with a 1.5 percent circulation increase in the last decade.  The most important item I take from these numbers is that intensely local community based print is thriving. The ‘print is dying’ message is so prevalent because of the high profile of major losses from large metropolitan daily newspapers and national consumer magazines,” Bingaman stressed.

Guy Bergstrom, a writer for About.comMarketing, continually declares,  “Don’t Believe the Hype: Newspapers Are Alive and Kicking.” Community papers have negotiated the new digital era and America’s economic downturn quite well. Newspaper trade organizations such as the Independent Free Papers of America (IFPA), the National Newspaper Association (NNA) and the Inland Press Association (IPA) are all working to get that message out to readers and advertisers: “We’re Just Fine And We’re Not Going Away.” These groups say it’s vital to get this information out, because the drumbeat about the demise of print can become a self-fulfilling prophecy if not countered.

                            READOUT: Is digital “dying”?

Perhaps newspaper trade groups need to go on the offensive and declare: “digital is dying.” There’s plenty of evidence for such a new mantra on digital. A number of attempts have been made to challenge the dominance of the hyper-local, print fare of community newspapers with internet products, foremost among the challengers is AOL’s Patch sites, which have practically disappeared after losing tens of millions of dollars. Jock Lauterer, a community journalism professor at the University of North Carolina, makes the important point that print newspapers are retro and after a day of working in front of video screens all day, many readers want a return to retro. They want “the old portable, clippable, hold-and-fold legacy media,” according to Lauterer.

Digital news advocates and the so-called “technological utopians” will argue that print does not have a future because the kids are all on their smart phones and many don’t know what a print newspaper looks like – they regard it as a relic of some bygone era. Bingaman of CVC insists that young people may rely on smart phones now for information, but they will take up the dependable print newspaper habits once they settle down in a community and want to know what is going on in their schools and at the city council. Bingaman said CVC has the data to prove his contention.

“In 1999 CVC audited 516 community newspapers and shoppers in North America.  In 2016 we audited 2,976 papers and 463 of those original publications are still with us from 1999. In 1999, 7 percent of their audience was made of readers under the age of 25.  In 2016, that number for those same 463 papers is 6 percent. The under-25 age category has never been a large consumer of print, and never will be,” Bingaman said. “However, for community-based publications, young people begin to read these publications as they become involved in their communities.”

“As they buy cars, get married, buy homes, and have children they are drawn into reading about their community,” Bingaman continued.  “In 1999, 17 percent of readers were between the ages of 25-34. In 2016, that 25-34 demographic is 18 percent. This leads me to believe that community-based publications continue to replace their aging demographic with a young audience as they have in previous decades.  As a matter of fact, readership of community-based publications has increased from 74 percent in 1999 to 77 percent in 2016.  Overall, a larger percentage of households are reading this form of print than they were in 1999.”

Bingaman is echoed by Bill Reader, an associate professor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University and a longtime member of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper editors (ISWNE). Reader said millennials may be digital natives who prefer digital delivery when available, but they are not as print-averse as many media experts would have us believe. Offer them a good print product, and they’ll pick it up.

“The best model for reaching young people today is digital-only for routine daily news, sports scores, and other ‘hot news’ items,” said Reader. “However, they will use higher-quality print news offerings for long-form reporting, analysis, and opinion. Special sections are still going to thrive in print with young people, if they are done well. Getting a new generation of talented, trustworthy journalists to embrace and work on community newspapers will be the key for the print future.”

No one makes a stronger case that print newspapers are in the catbird’s seat, while digital is dying as a sustainable news technology, than Iris Chyi, who is heavily quoted in the 2016 CJR article. In her 2015 monograph, “Trial and Error: U.S. Newspapers’ Digital Struggles toward Inferiority,” Chyi provides plenty of data to show that digital news products have fallen far short of expectations. Companies that hoped to move their news content from print to only online during the past two decades are finding that 85 to 90 percent of their revenue still flows from the old, legacy print product.

The problem is that most assumptions on the all-digital future have never had any reliable empirical support, according to Chyi. The result is that during almost two decades of trial and error, bad decisions were made and unfounded strategies adopted. The audiences for news were totally misunderstood and the original print product deteriorated through all the attention and experimentation with digital products that no one would pay good money for. Part of the problem is readers viewed the digital products as available, but inferior. And they were conditioned not to pay for them.

In the conclusion of her study, Chyi contends that newspaper managements have been wandering in “a digital jungle” for 20 years with no sense of direction, doing what everyone else is doing rather than doing what is best for the print newspaper, the anchor for their operations. She offers newspaper managers a number of directions for finding the way out of the confusing and unprofitable digital jungle. Among her points:

  • Accept the fact that online display ads are not effective and may never be very effective, no matter how obnoxious and annoying newspaper businesses make them.
  • Acknowledge that print newspapers don‘t have to die, unless they are mismanaged or ignored for the new shiny things out there. In many communities, readers still will pay $300 to $500 a year for the “dead tree” format.
  • Realize that consumers view the digital news product as inferior, much like fast food or ramen noodles. Not many are interested in actually paying for digital news products.
  • Concede local newspapers are never going to benefit from the economies of distribution of a Google or a Yahoo operation. Chasing readers with multiple platforms will wear down your journalists, erode your print product, and can be a waste of valuable resources.

READOUT: Academics need to be more responsible

Chyi argues that newspaper owners need to listen to their managers, editors and reporters who increasingly lament: “All the effort that is going into the website is hurting the print edition. Could we just not do it?” She insists that newspaper owners, who get upset looking at all the young digital natives on their mobiles, need to realize that they are using their phones for entertainment and not for news. To retain or attract younger readers, newspapers need to focus on noteworthy and essential content – and not fret about the means of distribution.

Chyi and other media observers, such as Marc Edge, author of ‘Greatly Exaggerated: The Myth of the Death of Newspapers,” have clearly seen the beacon of light through the dense digital jungle. To use another such metaphor, they can see the forest through the trees, and they can actually see that the dead-tree media still prosper. Newspapers have an important place in the media mix when not burdened with all the illusions about their supposedly inevitable digital future.

Journalism academics can be forgiven if they have fallen under the spell of the digital utopians. Academics generally are not “bottom line people” who worry about the business model as they embrace and explore the new media technologies. Also, journalism academics are continually attending webinars, seminars and conferences where the media high priests preach the gospel of digital distribution. At the annual Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conventions, I’ve listened to the experts tell us for years that if news companies were not on a website within two years, they would die. Five years ago, I listened to the experts tell us that if news companies were not on mobiles within two years, they would die. In both presentations, I asked the experts what the business model is for these platforms. The answer in both instances: “The business model will come. The important thing is that you have to be there when it arrives.”

Obviously, journalism academics are as lost in the digital jungle as are many newspaper managers. They’ve all been warned over and over about the coming print apocalypse lurking out there in the bush, but it has yet to materialize. So what should academics be telling their journalism students? Tim Bingaman of CVC suggests that courses in the new media should not discount the old media. A course in history and principles of journalism should show students that newspapers survived radio in the 1920s, television in the 1950s, and now the Internet with the arrival of a new century.

Rem Reader at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University believes that far too much journalism instruction ignores or is dismissive of the community press. Journalism students who are not exposed to the community press are often surprised to learn about the diversity of local and niche media that exists today, the important roles they play in society – and the jobs that are available with this legacy media.

“Journalism professors really do have to get their heads out of their … sand boxes,” said Reader. “Too many J-school profs are just as ignorant about the community newspaper sector as their students. The irony is that most J-school students work in community journalism while on campus – student newspapers, student-run magazines and websites, student-run radio and TV news shows – but don’t even realize it. Many do their internships with community media and community newspapers continue to be a steady source of entry-level jobs. There is digital innovation in the community press, too, and lots of success stories to share.

“There are plenty of examples of ‘best-practices’ coming from the community press in terms of reporting, editing, visual and multimedia journalism, professional ethics and more,” added Reader. My advice for J-school profs is to contact their state press associations and ask them to name the five best “small newspapers” in the state, and then for the profs to get to know those papers and their staffs. Invite them to campus to talk to classes.  They will attest that print is not dead.”

READOUT: Community and daily journalism differ

Jock Lauterer, who wrote the book on community journalism with the book, “Community Journalism,” contends that students need to know successful community journalism differs markedly from the troubled big city journalism. Community journalism works because it involves relentless local coverage that helps a community define itself. Community journalism works because it’s extremely personal as the reporters live among those whom they cover and feel a special accountability to them. Community journalism works because the wider-frame national and global issues are localized.

Although Chyi, Reader, Lauterer and other journalism academics are adamant that print is not dead, they would certainly not counsel students to ignore the news successes of the digital age. Digitalization does seem to be working for larger, national news operations. Digitalization has allowed for interesting websites that aggregate news and features for reader convenience (although sometimes violating original copyrights). Digitalization has provided useful add-ons for newspaper operations, from websites to Facebook to the tweets that provide a heads-up for late-breaking stories. Above all, digitalization can improve reporting. Computer-assisted tools allow reporters to gather more data, contact more sources, check more facts and write better-researched stories. There is, however, a flip side to all this, as Reader points out.

“The flip side of digitalization is that there has been a proliferation of fake news, advertorial, and crassly ideological garbage on the web. The culture war in the U.S. also has led to an across-the-board “dumbing down” of the general population, to the point where they only believe media messages that confirm their own personal biases. They are openly hostile toward media that challenge their beliefs,” Reader said.

“This is not new in human society. Francis Bacon lamented such willful ignorance and narrow-mindedness in the Novum Organum, first published in 1620: superstition, stubbornness, dismissing ‘difficult” information,’ gravitating toward entertainments and trivia, etc. The Internet has empowered those who would exploit such willful ignorance using the trappings of ‘real news,’” Reader contended. “The challenge for journalists today and in the future will be to stand, always, with integrity, bravery, and tenacity. That is how real journalists will stand apart from charlatans, and how community newspapers will stand apart from the putridity of cable television and crassly ideological websites.”

Former P-D editorial writer’s Facebook challenge to Rep. Wagner on Obamacare @STLinquiry

by Eddie Roth

As I sit down to write this piece mid-February, top news organizations are reporting a potential watershed in the years-long march by Republicans in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature national healthcare program, also known as Obamacare.

Except this time, things are different. The GOP controls the presidency and both houses of Congress. Votes no longer are theater offered to placate the political base. Rather, the votes likely will result in grave consequences to millions of people, including hundreds of thousands in the St. Louis community who depend on Obamacare for access to healthcare.

Repeal efforts now sit menacingly off-shore, like a tropical storm steadily gaining hurricane strength. Its precise path remains uncertain. It may move out to sea. But should it make landfall at full strength, it may devastate the lives of many.

At least that’s how Obamacare repeal should be covered as news. Such coverage should reflect the impending crisis of a potentially deadly storm. It should be the lead daily news story. Reporters should press responsible local officials and community leaders for details and constant updates on contingency plans – focusing attention on those who have the greatest capacity and responsibility to protect the public.

That’s how I have been trying to cover it at my modest social media page on Facebook – “The Office of Special Inquiries and Reports | @STLinquiry,” a page devoted to “timely, independent, non-partisan investigation and analysis of St. Louis questions & controversies.”

Repeal not inevitable

Repeal of Obamacare and resulting hardship are not inevitable.

Enrollment is measured in the tens of millions and has driven down numbers of the uninsured to historic lows. The program’s advent has coincided with one of the nation’s longest sustained periods of job growth. The rate of healthcare costs, meanwhile, has slowed to an extent that actuaries calculate significant savings to entitlement programs.

But not everything about Obamacare has worked out well. Participation of private health insurers has been uneven, market to market. Premiums have risen and become unaffordable to some people who earn too much to be eligible for subsidies.

Political opponents of the Affordable Care Act have seized on these shortcomings and, rather than work to correct them, have done all within their power to undermine the program and poison its reputation in the minds of the public. Many now claim Congress must act to “repeal and replace” because the program is in a “death spiral.”

Still, in the early weeks of the new Congress, practical action to repeal Obamacare has not matched the bloody-shirt political brio. The Obamacare killers have been slow to get out of the gate. Repeal and replace strategies of Congressional Republican leaders have been met with resistance and worry among some of within the Republican caucus who understandably think eliminating Obamacare could cause a major political backlash as millions of Americans lose access to health care.

Impact of repeal on St. Louis residents

Should repeal come, it likely will come suddenly. It will be hustled through with a series of late night votes shrouded in an opaque cloud of alternate facts.  Thus, news organizations should sound an alarm. Conventional news gathering approaches provide many opportunities to do so. I have marshaled data describing the scope of risk to this community, such as by noting, county-by-county, congressional district-by-congressional district, where for the more than 100,000 St. Louisans enrolled in Obamacare reside.

I have explained how sudden loss of health insurance at that scale would look (It is about the same number of people as are employed at BJC (24k), Boeing (15k), Washington University (14.5k), Scott AFB (13.k), Enterprise (6.8k), Express Scripts (6.4k), Monsanto (5.4k), Wells Fargo (5.3k), Edward Jones (5.2k), AB-InBev (4k), and then some, combined).

I have written and linked to information about potential long-term damage to the well being of hundreds of thousands of other St. Louisans who have health insurance but who suffer from or are at risk of chronic disease, and whose access to healthcare, even under high-quality employer provided insurance, depends on Obamacare protections that prohibit insurers from excluding coverage for pre-exisiting conditions and lifetime caps on coverage amounts.

I have tried to define the economic stakes to a community whose local economy has such a high concentration of healthcare related business enterprises, starting with world class hospitals and medical research.  I also have tried to introduce my “small but influential” readership to key local players – people this community will be counting on to help avert disaster.

My focus has been on U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner. I have coined my Obamacare coverage as the #TheAnnWagnerProject. Ms. Wagner is the most influential House member representing the St. Louis region. She is a part of Republican House leadership. Under my #stormwatch metaphor, she’s the equivalent of the St. Louis region’s director of Emergency Management with direct responsibility for protecting the community from potentially disastrous effects of Obamacare repeal.

I regularly email Ms. Wagner’s press secretary. I request information on her plans for “repeal and replace” legislation. I seek comment from Ms. Wagner on steps she plans to take to ensure the St. Louis region is protected.  So far I have received no reply, not even an acknowledgement.

But as part of my coverage, I also have reviewed Ms. Wagner’s Federal Election Commission campaign contribution disclosures. I have sought to identify contributors well known in the community and with reputations for thoughtful moderation in civic matters. I have written to a number of Ms. Wagner’s campaign contributors, inviting their comment on the community stakes involved in Obamacare repeal and what community consultation they would like to see from Congressional leaders such as Ms. Wagner.

Dr. Danforth’s response

One of Ms. Wagner’s most significant campaign contributors, Former Washington University Chancellor William Danforth, accepted the invitation.   Danforth graduated from Harvard Medical School, received his medical training at Barnes Hospital and St. Louis Children’s Hospital and, since 1967, has been a professor of internal medicine at Washington University Medical School. He has served as Vice Chancellor of Medical Affairs and president of Washington University Medical Center. From 1971 to 1995, he was Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis.

In a letter to me, Dr. Danforth wrote:

“You asked for thoughts on national health insurance that might be helpful in talking with Congresswoman Ann Wagner. My reply is probably different from others you might receive.”

“To start with, insurance for health care is very complicated. Health care is complicated with steadily advancing technologies, changing diseases, aging population, evolving private coverage, varying rates of employment, new diseases, new therapies and better prevention.”

“An objective look would conclude that financing health care in the United States has been improved by Obamacare; expenditures have risen slower than expected. Nevertheless, it is clearly imperfect, but to improve it will be hard and complex with possibilities for many mistakes. To throw Obamacare away rather than to learn from it and try to improve it would show very bad judgment, probably cause major decline in insured Americans and add to the burdens, likely including costs of disease.”

“The problem is that there is no tested alternative plan, perhaps no alternative plan at all. To try to write a new plan is risky and likely to be worse. A politicized Congress is the wrong place to try to devise alternatives. Congress could better decide the amount of money it is willing to spend on the health of the American people and then charge a panel of experts of various persuasions to develop the best improvements they can. The plan could allow states to experiment. The panel should also recommend a time to review it. One should not be thrown off by complaints; there are bound to be some. Complaints should be taken seriously, analyzed and used to help in future improvements.”

“Humans learn to improve complex systems by having people argue, debate, compromise and never stop trying to adjust it and make it better. No person or group can do it once and for all. What are necessary are imagination, trust, trial and error and patience. That is the way humans develop their best arrangements.”

“I hope these thoughts are helpful.”

Impact of local news coverage

Local news coverage can have an impact on impending Obamacare repeal, but only if it focuses sharply on local effects and if it pointedly brings accountability to local leaders. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is not following St. Louis needs or sentiment regarding access to health care. Neither is House Speaker Paul Ryan.

But both would be interested in what U.S. Rep. Wagner has to say. Wagner’s party cannot ignore her if she puts loyalty to this community ahead of loyalty to her party on access to healthcare. Wagner’s campaign contributors, in turn, bear a special responsibility for the leadership she exercises – or fails to exercise. They are fair game for news coverage in an impending crisis. That’s because repeal of Obamacare is life-and-death matter for this community. Urgent and sustained local news coverage of local people of influence may determine whether ordinary St. Louis voices – those who stand to lose the most – are heard in Washington.

St. Louis Media History Foundation Hall of Fame event is Saturday

ST. LOUIS, March 15, 2017 — The St. Louis Media History Foundation, a nonprofit organization that researches and compiles artifacts and memorabilia related to the St. Louis area’s rich media history, will hold its 2017 Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremonies on Saturday, April 15, 2017, at the St. Louis City Center Hotel downtown, 400 South 14th Street, near Scottrade Center.

The dinner and ceremonies will begin at 5:30 p.m. There will be a cash bar and free indoor and outdoor hotel parking for attendees.

Tickets for the dinner entrees — Grilled Salmon with a Citrus Orange Gastrique, Sautéed Chicken Picatta in a White Wine Caper Sauce, or a vegetarian Eggplant Stack — will be $55 for individuals or $550 for a table of 10.

Tickets can be purchased in advance through Eventbrite, or at the door. Discounted hotel rooms for guests also are available through the St. Louis City Center Hotel. Rooms must be reserved by March 31.

  • John Beck – Senior Vice President of Emmis Communications, who oversees all four Emmis radio stations in St. Louis: KSHE, KIHT, KPNT, and KFTK. He’s been general manager of KSHE since 1984.
  • Jim Brady – Pioneering news director at KTVI-TV. He later held the same position at KMOX Radio before becoming executive secretary of the St. Louis County Board of Police Commissioners.
  • Dennis Clancy, Art Dwyer, Ron Edwards, John McHenry, and Tom “Pappa” Ray – Jazz/blues producers for listener-supported KDHX when the station began broadcasting in 1987.
  • Peggy Cohill – Executive producer of “The Charlie Brennan Show” on KMOX Radio, and a program producer at that station for more than 40 years.
  • Jack Dorsey — @jack is a computer programmer and internet entrepreneur, co-founder and CEO of Twitter, and founder and CEO of Square, a mobile payments company.
  • Bob Dotson – Emmy-winning correspondent for NBC News, where he spent 40 years, including 25 with “The Today Show.” He’s a six-time recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for news writing.
  • Mary Edwards – Senior producer of KWMU-FM/St. Louis Public Radio’s “St. Louis on the Air” call-in program and its live broadcasts of the St. Louis Symphony. She has been with the station since 1974, and has been responsible for helping to shape KWMU’s innovative programming.
  • David Erich – Public relations executive for several St. Louis-area companies, including Pepsi and United Van Lines. He was the first ad executive for Six Flags when it opened in 1971.
  • Dan Forrestal – Longtime public relations executive with Monsanto who helped guide the company’s communications strategy as it maneuvered from a chemical company into one of the world’s leading agricultural companies. He also mentored many communications practitioners throughout his career.
  • Don Francois – Pioneering TV engineer who helped launch KACY-TV, one of the first UHF stations in St. Louis. He later helped other local stations transition from black-and-white to color broadcasts.
  • Margaret Wolf Freivogel – Award-winning St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporter and editor. She also was founding editor of the St. Louis Beacon, a non-profit digital news startup that merged with KWMU-FM/St. Louis Public Radio in 2013.
  • Roy Harris – A Post-Dispatch reporter from 1926 to 1967, Harris won a Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for investigating election fraud in Illinois. He also helped the newspaper win three other Pulitzer Prizes in 1937, 1941, and 1948.
  • Rick Hummel – Longtime St. Louis Cardinals beat writer for the Post-Dispatch, Hummel – nicknamed “The Commish” — is a former president of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, a J.G Taylor Spink Award recipient in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and a Pulitzer Prize nominee.
  • Sid Savan – A major figure in St. Louis advertising, Savan also was a longtime instructor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His Savan Advertising also helped many ad execs get their start.
  • Clarissa Start – Gardening columnist for the Post-Dispatch from 1938 to 1972. Her column was serialized in Ladies Home Journal. After retirement, she wrote her column for another 30 years.
  • Jack Thorwegen – Co-founder in 1985 of the Zipatoni marketing firm, known for its creative work. His Proof Agency, founded in 2014, helps craft brewers and distillers compete against larger rivals.

The St. Louis Media Hall of Fame has recognized St. Louisans who have made a major contribution, in their work here or elsewhere, to their respective media in four different fields: Radio, Print, Television, and Advertising/Public Relations.

The Foundation also maintains an exhibit at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, 3524 Russell Avenue, in South St. Louis. Admission is free. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.

The Foundation accepts tax deductible contributions to develop and expand its St. Louis media history collection, its website, local archives and repositories, oral histories, and the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame. For more information, visit the foundation’s Facebook page or www.stlmediahistory.com.

‘Truth did not die,’ Garrett tells GJR audience

compiled for GJR

What is new … right now … is after years of Americans wondering if journalism matters … we have a renewed fascination and curiosity about what journalism is, what it does and what are the ethical and professional obligations upon which it stands.

The audience … hasn’t been this curious, this attentive in years. What will government do? What are the checks and balances? What are the institutional levels of power? How will the elegant system of co-equal branches of government the founders bequeathed us function amid the unpredictability of a Trump presidency? The stakes feel high and real and vivid. And they are.

Time magazine asked this week if truth is dead? It asked if god was dead in 1966…. God was no deader then than he or she is now. Neither is truth. Did truth die when John Adams signed the alien and sedition act? Did it die during the 19th century when politicians large and small bought newspapers, reporters and editorials like so many trinkets? Did it die during teapot dome or when robber barons tried to turn government into a clearinghouse for greed and corruption? Did it die during the cold war, during Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-contra, Bill Clinton’s impeachment or Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction?

Truth did not die… because the search for it did not perish. Truth may have been delayed… but it was not denied. The question is not whether truth is dead … but will the search for it ever die. I say on behalf of journalism and the first amendment … never … not ever.

Michael A. Wolff – Freedom Fighter

by William H. Freivogel

Mike Wolff has helped save men on death row, preserve the St. Louis school desegregation program, end capital punishment for juveniles, protect the vote of poor people, establish jury trials in discrimination cases, preserve jury verdicts in personal injury suits and foster efforts to rid St. Louis’ municipal courts of longstanding injustices.

Few St. Louisans have made such important contributions to the public good over the past 30 years. As a legal services lawyer, civil liberties lawyer, special counsel to Gov. Mel Carnahan, Missouri Supreme Court judge and chief justice and retiring dean of the Saint Louis University Law school, Wolff has always been on the side of equality, freedom and good government.

This is why the Gateway Journalism Review is awarding Wolff the Freedom Fighter award at its First Amendment celebration on March 23.

Not only has Wolff accomplished more than just about any community leader, he always seems to be having more fun than anyone in the room. A big man, Wolff has a ready smile and a repertoire of wry, funny stories on the tip of the tongue. He’s not averse to chuckling at his own stories.

While on the Supreme Court, Wolff was that rare judge who was willing to explain a court decision to a reporter. Even rarer, he wrote like a journalist in a simple, common sense way that people could understand.

When Wolff was chief justice, AT&T Mobility tried to avoid having to pay tens of millions in taxes due on telephones. The company claimed cell phones were actually two-way radios instead of phones.

Wolff interrupted the technical arguments by holding up a cell phone in front of the lawyers and asking rhetorically if anyone doubted it was a phone.

In a 2011 adoption case, Wolff criticized the majority of the court for delaying the reunion of a boy and his immigrant mother whose parental rights had been unfairly terminated by a lower court. Wolff wrote that the mother and boy should be reunited “not in 90 more days or 900 more days, but now.”

Referring to the biblical story of Solomon, Wolff added, “At least Solomon had the option to decree that the child be cut in half. All we lesser judges have is the law, and it is our duty to make sure that the law is obeyed.”

In 2009, when the state Supreme Court rejected a challenge to Missouri’s school funding formula, Wolff lamented that $6,342 went to educate each Festus student, but $16,647 each Clayton student.

“What makes the children of one school district deserving of only about one-third of the education money available for the schools of the children in the highest-spending district?”

he asked.

It’s not surprising that Wolff writes like a reporter. After graduating from Dartmouth, he worked his way through the University of Minnesota law school as a reporter and copy editor on the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Eddie Roth, a lawyer turned journalist turned public official, puts it this way: “Mike’s record of judicial leadership has his old reporter’s fingerprints all over it. He plied small ‘p’ politics from the bench the way journalists work from newsrooms; not by throwing his weight around, but by throwing well-reported, incisively expressed ideas around. He used fourth estate methods to advance third branch ideals.

“And by forging consensus through carefully constructed, durable foundations of law and fact, Mike Wolff has created platforms on which many have been empowered and inspired to participate in fights to win and preserve freedom.”

After a stint in legal services in St. Paul, Denver and as director in Rapid City, S.D., Wolff joined the Saint Louis University Law School faculty in 1975. He also served as general counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri.

Wolff was the lone Democrat to challenge Republican Attorney General William Webster in 1988.  Terry Ganey, the retired Post-Dispatch reporter who disclosed Webster’s Second Injury Fund scandal, recalls the race: “Webster, an incumbent, was considered unbeatable. Wolff at that time raised the issue of the Second Injury Fund being a problem. He was way ahead in making that an issue.”

Wolff lost in 1988 and lost the Democratic primary four years later to Jay Nixon. But the abuses of the Second Injury Fund helped bring down the Webster in the 1992 race for governor against Mel Carnahan. Wolff became Carnahan’s counsel.

One of Wolff’s leading accomplishments was to help craft legislation, supported by the governor, business leaders and a bi-partisan group of legislators, that made possible a negotiated settlement of the St. Louis desegregation case. The legislation extended the life of the novel program, which continues to exist, and directed state money to school districts with large percentages of poor children. The legislation finessed resistance from Nixon, who had waged an all-out legal campaign to end the transfer program.

As counsel Wolff reviewed the pleas of death row inmates. After Carnahan named Wolff to the state Supreme Court, Wolff was a leader of the court’s close scrutiny of capital cases.

Wolff joined the opinion of his friend, the late Richard Teitelman, in freeing Joseph Amrine from death row after the three key witnesses recanted their testimony. Wolff also took of heat of writing the decision giving Kenneth Baumruk a new trial in 2002. Baumruk had been convicted in the same courthouse where he had killed his wife and shot four others.

The most important death penalty decision led to the U.S. Supreme Court to end the execution of juveniles.

It’s not often that a state supreme court leads the U.S. Supreme Court into a new interpretation of the Constitution. But that’s what happened after the state Supreme Court ruled 4-3 that Christopher Simmons could not be executed for murdering Shirley Crook because he was under 18 when he committed the crime. The U.S Supreme agreed that evolving standards of decency no longer permitted executing teens because their brains are not fully developed.

In another notable decision, Wolff was part of the majority that ruled photo ID requirements violated the promise of equality in the Missouri Constitution. That decision has blocked stringent photo ID laws for the past decade.

In other important decisions, Wolff established the right to a jury trial in employment discrimination cases, rejected caps on damage awards as deprivations of the right to trial by jury and upheld the right to collective bargaining for public employees. While on the court he also chaired the Sentencing Advisory Commission and was active in national efforts aimed at more rational, less arbitrary criminal sentencing.

After the court, Wolff became dean of Saint Louis University Law School, righting the ship after a tumultuous period during which the Rev. Lawrence Biondi forced out one dean and appointed an interim dean who did nothing to quiet things down.

The law school became a hotbed of reform of the municipal courts after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014. This was a tricky situation because notable alums were on different sides of the municipal court issue. Thomas Harvey, head of ArchCity defenders, led the reform effort, while other graduates were in prominent municipal court judgeships.

Faculty also got heavily involved in the reform, including Professors John Ammann and Brendan Roediger. Wolff saw it as his job as dean to make sure Ammann and Roediger could fully represent their clients, whose lives had been damaged in the muni court shuffle of being locked up for failing to pay traffic fines.

Nor was Wolff afraid to criticize his old colleagues for moving too slowly to bring an end to the unjust practices in the municipal courts. Last summer, Wolff expressed his impatience with the slow response from the presiding judge of the St. Louis County Circuit Court and from the state Supreme Court. That was before the Supreme Court acted at the end of the year to required important changes.

Wolff’s wife, Dr. Patricia Wolff, has long run the Meds & Food for Kids foundation that feeds a miracle peanut butter supplement to malnourished children in Haiti, saving hundreds of thousands of children.

It’s hard to think of another St. Louis couple that has contributed so much to the public good.