Category Archives: St. Louis

Media and courts failed on Ferguson

The Ferguson story of racial inequality in St. Louis and the nation was largely ignored by the media and judicial system before Michael Brown was killed in 2014. And the Missouri Supreme Court has done little to impose reform since then.

That was the consensus of lawyers, journalists and community activists who came together Sept. 14 to talk about social media and the Pulitzer Prize tradition. The panel at Saint Louis University Law School was part of the two-day Millstone lecture series focusing on the social justice tradition of the Pulitzer Prizes during the prizes’ 100th anniversary. The lecture series honors the late James C. Millstone, a senior news editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and mentor of a generation of reporters before his death in 1992.

Kevin Horrigan, the Post-Dispatch’s deputy editorial editor and a Pulitzer finalist for his work on Ferguson, said he regretted how late the media were to the story.

“One of my big regrets is that we as a newspaper didn’t become continually and consistently engaged in the Ferguson story before Ferguson happened…. This problem is not new, it’s decades old. It is a fundamental and tragic missed opportunity for the Post-Dispatch…. We got pieces of it along the way. Jeremy (Kohler) wrote some terrific stories about cops floating from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. We’ve written about fire districts. We wrote editorials about restrictive covenants. But we never engaged on a persistent, crusading aspect of this story until post-Ferguson. And that’s not really in the Pulitzer tradition. The Pulitzer Tradition was to crusade against injustices. We missed it, we let it go…. And the sad fact is that we are less likely because of economic forces to be able to do the sort of loud, persistent and relentless reporting on this story that it deserves.”

Kohler, an investigative reporter at the Post-Dispatch, pointed out that he and others had written stories of police and court corruption in the years before the death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014. There were stories about the mishandling of rape cases and police who moved from municipality to municipality. But he agreed ArchCity Defenders was first to the story of the municipal court injustices that wrecked peoples lives.

Thomas Harvey, director of ArchCity, said the Ferguson story writ large was a “story that its been ongoing in America since its inception. It is a story we have largely sought to ignore. It is a story that that any reporter, any person, any lawyer, any law student could have just walked out to a court or a shelter or a jail and heard about any day…. And that is a story of the way the legal system systematically deprives mostly African-American…of their civil rights, creates and exacerbates poverty…. We see the results of these intentional acts right here in our back yard and we have failed to do anything about it.”

It’s a story about “folks that were stopped by one of the 67 police departments in the region, went to one of our 81 courts in the region…….were told that if they didn’t come back with the money they owed they would be arrested and jailed….They are arrested, they are jailed, they are told that to buy their freedom they’ve got to come up with the money that everyone knows they don’t have or they can’t get out. And then they call their family members and their friends and they say can you give me money….so i can get out of this cage and get back to my children.”

Families “scrape together every penny they had and try to get their loved one out of jail…then they were told at that moment that they were wanted in another town so instead of being free they were moved from one cage to another cage….. Five people in those jails have hanged themselves….”

Hand in the cookie jar

The journalists and lawyers on the panel agreed that the Missouri Supreme Court had failed to make meaningful reforms.

Horrigan said, “since the death of Michael Brown…there has been no major permanent change in St. Louis municipal courts. There have been some cosmetic changes. But the state Supreme Court has not done what it logically and morally ought to do which is to dissolve all 81 municipal courts and put them under the auspices of the county circuit court. And why is that – because there are entrenched interests, the traffic bar, the municipal court bar.”

Kohler agreed. “The Supreme Court has not done anything to change. The judges themselves, the courts themselves, the police departments themselves have been shamed temporarily…but there is not structure in place to make that permanent.”

St. Louis is a “frustrating place” for reform, he said. “St. Louis is not the kind of place that likes to admit that it did something wrong. It doesn’t seem to get embarrassed by itself . St. Louis gets stuck with its hand in the cookie jar and it says this is always the way we get cookies.”

Tony Messenger, the Post-Dispatch columnist and former editorial editor who also was a Pulitzer finalist for his work on Ferguson, described the injustice of the Ferguson municipal court that he had witnessed the morning of the panel.   http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/columns/tony-messenger/messenger-ferguson-judge-holds-naval-vet-s-reputation-in-her/article_5fd18b94-c99c-520f-9d17-79c710b3cfa7.html

Stephanie E. Karr, the former Ferguson city attorney who resigned under fire, was back in court serving as city attorney because no successor had been appointed. She insisted that Navy veteran Fred Watson plead guilty to a minor littering charge, claiming that his previous lawyer had agreed to the plea – even though there is no record of that plea agreement.

Watson’s case was highlighted in the Justice Department’s report of unconstitutional police practices in Ferguson. A police officer stopped Watson after he had finished playing basketball and insisted on an identification. When Watson refused, the officer arrested him and threw in other charges, such as the much-abused charge of failure to comply with a police order. Because of the arrest, Watson lost his security clearance and his job in cybersecurity at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

Has anything changed?

Even though Messenger acknowledges that “a lot hasn’t changed,” his approach to his job has.

“One of the things I tell people is that what Ferguson did to me is that it changed the rest of my career…. A woman wrote me and told me that she is tired of me using the F-word – the F-word is Ferguson. Ferguson, the F-word is not going away…. This is the story I will write about for the rest of my career…. It is going to take us that long: It has been two years and the Supreme Court has done nothing. It’s been two years and we still have 81 municipal courts. It’s been two years and Stephanie Karr is still the prosecutor in Ferguson even though she says she resigned… We haven’t solved this in two years and we’re not going to solve it in four years or five years or 10 years. It’s going to take us 20 years.”

On the hopeful side, Messenger said that “government officials are using the lens of racial equity more than they ever have in this city’s history.”

There was evidence of change from one questioner in the audience – Marie Kenyon, director of the new Peace and Justice Commission for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

The “Archdiocese hadn’t had a peace and justice commission for 20 years,” she said. “Cardinal Rigali said maybe we don’t need one of those….. It was only after the Ferguson uprising that Archbishop (Robert J.) Carlson said oh, maybe the church better looking into this too…. Now at the chancery, where I work, we’re finally talking about something other than pro-life.”

Nicole Hudson, leader of the Forward Through Ferguson group following up on the 189 calls for action of the Ferguson Commission, said she had seen activists come together in ways that hadn’t happened before Ferguson.

The goal, she said, was “a state of racial equity, which is a state where outcomes are no longer determined by race.” St. Louis is far from that, she added. Infant mortality among blacks has declined in recent years but it is now three times as great as for whites, up from twice as great a few decades ago.

Hudson and Harvey emphasized nothing would have changed without the “uprising in the streets.” But she added that many of the people of Ferguson are “emotionally spent.”

Twitter – the good and bad

Horrigan said “Twitter is as good as the person who tweets. Often it is a source rumor and innuendo and falsehood. The difference between mainstream journalism and social media is standards and my God, if we don’t abide by standards we’re really in trouble.”

Kohler agreed Twitter has its limitations because it is loaded with journalists and activists. He thinks Facebook is a better way to engage the community.

Harvey, though, credited Twitter with enabling him to “get direct access to journalists all of the country….something that couldn’t have happened before Twitter. So there are productive, important ways you get outside of the gatekeeping of decision-making about what is written about your community.”

Hudson said Twitter was “one of the places that keeps me accountable to the unvoiced…. It is really useful tool to stay accountable and keep my mind open.”

Messenger agreed that Twitter “helped drive the narrative of Ferguson,” but added, “It’s a good thing…..I connected with communities and sources I might not have connected with, specifically people of color. I found them on Twitter….I often used Twitter more than personal contact to get to know people and perspectives….

“There was an opportunity for journalists to connect with people that sometimes – to use the metaphor of the ivory tower and the editorial page – that we sometimes were not connecting to.”

Journalism loses staunch civil rights voice, mentor

George E. Curry, a former St. Louis Post-Dispatch, co-founder of the Greater St. Louis Association of Black Journalists (GSLABJ) and co-founding director of the GSLABJ’s workshop for minority high school students, civil rights activist and advocate for the black press, died of a heart attack on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2016.

Curry began his journalism career with Sports Illustrated before working for the Post-Dispatch from 1972–1983. He went from there to being Washington, DC, correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, where he brought the workshop model to the Washington ABJ chapter with support from several other former St. Louis media colleagues who also had joined DC journalism outlets. He was served as New York bureau chief for the Tribune.

Curry became editor of Emerge magazine in 1993, after Black Entertainment Television acquired a majority interest in the publication. He worked for the National Newspaper Publishers Association, where he wrote a weekly syndicated column that appeared in 200 newspapers, leaving in 2007 and returning in 2012. At the time of his death, he working to reestablish Emerge.

Curry wrote Jake Gaither: America’s Most Famous Black Coach (1977) and edited an anthology, The Best of Emerge Magazine (2003).

To many St. Louis colleagues, Curry’s most important contribution was as founder of the GSLABJ’s journalism workshop, now approaching its 40th year, with colleagues and alumni having replicated the model in several other cities, because of its role in training young people in essential journalism skills and launching their careers.

A service will be held on Saturday, Aug. 27, in Curry’s hometown of Tuscaloosa, AL. The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are expected to present eulogies on Friday, Aug. 26, and at the funeral respectively.

The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) has added in memoriam piece about Curry to its 2016 conference in Chicago and will present an excellence in journalism award in his name.

More information will be in our September print edition.

Links:

http://www.gslabj.org/news-and-events/

http://www.stlamerican.com/news/columnists/guest_columnists/george-curry-was-my-first-editor-best-editor-mentor-and/article_cdea7516-687f-11e6-81d2-f345d0834659.html

http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/obituaries/george-e-curry-journalist-and-columnist-dead-at/article_222b9ee8-c513-5a9e-9373-451706109f65.html

http://www.nabj.org/news/304574/NABJ-Mourns-the-Passing-of-Longtime-Black-Press-Advocate-George-E.-Curry.htm

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/08/21/490849074/george-curry-legendary-political-and-civil-rights-journalist-dies-at-69?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=npr&utm_medium=social&utm_term=nprnews

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/obituaries/ct-george-curry-obit-20160821-story.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/george-e-curry-journalist-who-led-black-publication-emerge-dies-at-69/2016/08/22/41c75e5a-6875-11e6-ba32-5a4bf5aad4fa_story.html

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/obituaries/bs-md-ob-delse-curry-20160821-story.html

http://stylemagazine.com/news/2016/aug/21/hillary-clinton-statement-passing-george-e-curry/

http://chicagocrusader.com/trusted-comrade-black-press-legend-george-curry-dies-69

https://www.facebook.com/groups/GSLABJ/

Author’s note:  Ruth E. Thaler-Carter was a reporter for the St. Louis Argus when the GSLABJ’s Minority High School Journalism Workshop began and helped launch a similar program in Washington, DC. She has written about the workshop for the St. Louis Journalism Review. She is currently a freelance writer/editor based in upstate New York and webmaster for the GSLABJ, which will hold a 40th anniversary event on December 3, 2016.

St. Louis journalism awards

Awards and Honors

Andrew Fowler, formerly of St. Louis, won the highest graduate award from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, the 2016 Harrington Award, in the category of Videography/Broadcast. Fowler began his career interning at the St. Louis American while continuing his studies. As his graduate project, he shot a documentary in Chicago titled My Muthaland, following the journey of actress Minita Gandhi. He is currently an online lifestyle journalist with Insider in New York City. Find out more about Fowler’s work in the St. Louis American.

St. Louis Public Radio has received a national Edward R. Murrow Award for its website, STLPublicRadio.org, in the large market radio category. The award was announced last month by the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). While SLPR has won multiple regional Murrow Awards in its history, this is its third national Murrow.

Post-Dispatches

RECOGNITION
Metro columnist Tony Messenger received a Missouri Honor Medal for Distinguished Service in Journalism, awarded by the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Ian Froeb, Gabe Hartwig and Josh Renaud won first place for digital innovation in the annual Society of Features Journalists awards. Daniel Neman took third place for specialty writing and Aisha Sultan received an honorable mention for commentary.

STAFF CHANGES

Bryce Gray has been hired as a business reporter, covering energy and the environment.

Jacob Barker, who formerly covered these topics, moves to the economic development beat. Gray formerly worked for the High Country News, a Colorado magazine.

Ashley Lisenby, who just finished a masters degree at the University of Illinois-Springfield, is joining metro as a digital-first breaking news reporter.

Mike Faulk, currently with the Yakima Herald-Republic in Washington, has been hired as a civic watchdog reporter.
Celeste Bott, formerly of the Chicago Tribune, is joining the Jefferson City bureau as a reporter.

Nicholas J. Pistor has resigned as City Hall reporter to work on his new book, Shooting Lincoln.

St. Louis Public Radio wins national awards for Ferguson coverage

St. Louis Public Radio has won two national awards for its 2015 coverage of the events that followed the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. One is a new Peabody award and the other a Silver Gavel from the American Bar Association.

The station was the inaugural recipient of the Peabody-Facebook Futures of Media Awards for its project “One Year in Ferguson.” 

The award is a new and separate award from the traditional Peabodies and is given to the top five stories in digital spaces.  The team that worked on the digital projects included Kelsey Proud, digital innovations editor, Brent Jones, data visualization specialist, Stephanie Lecci, newscast producer and Bill Raack, editor.

https://m.facebook.com/stlpublicradio/posts/10153395641132101?comment_id=10153395754232101&comment_tracking=%7B%22tn%22%3A%22R0%22%7D

The ABA Silver Gavel was awarded for contributor William H. Freivogel’s series of legal analyses on “Law, Justice and the Death of Michael Brown.”  The award announcement said the series showed “in-depth legal understanding to the highly charged aftermath of the shooting of an unarmed African–American teenager by a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer.”

http://www.americanbar.org/news/abanews/aba-news-archives/2016/05/american_bar_associa0.html

 

Editor’s note: William H. Freivogel is publisher of the Gateway Journalism Review.  Margaret Wolf Freivogel, his wife, is the retired editor of St. Louis Public Radio. 

Bill to expand student journalists’ rights moving in Missouri Legislature

Talk is cheap.  Free speech isn’t.

And that is what Missouri lawmakers must decide as they contemplate the Cronkite New Voices Act currently making its way through the state government.

If passed, the bill, sponsored by Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, would protect student journalists and advisers from censorship unless content is libelous, illegal or an invasion of privacy.  The act would override a decision in 1988 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which ruled that St. Louis high school students’ freedom of speech rights were not violated when the school’s principal prevented articles about teenage pregnancy and parental divorce from being published in the school newspaper.

Instead, if the bill passes, student journalists would be granted the same free-speech rights afforded to other students under the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District Supreme Court ruling.  Under that ruling, school administrators cannot punish students for speech that does not cause a substantial disruption to the operation of the school.

If Missouri legislators approve the bill, Missouri will become the eighth state — joining Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts and Oregon — to pass a law protecting student journalists’ free-speech rights under the Tinker standard.  A similar bill is pending in the Illinois General Assembly.

A good sign for passage of the Missouri bill was the House’s overwhelming vote in its favor in March.  The legislature’s sympathy for the student journalists accosted by Melissa Click (see cover story) seems to have led to a greater appreciation of student journalists.

Bill makes sense

Protect young adults and their professional educator and treat them with respect and trust?  Yes.  Tell them their ideas matter?  Yep.  And what they think and what they say and what they communicate could spur discussion and educate?  You betcha.  Young adults need to feel valued and reminded their voice, their thoughts, their words matter.  This bill could help solidify that.

Journalism has changed.  That’s no secret.  The students in the journalism programs at my school, Kirkwood High School — and in programs throughout the country — produce a daily news website, a news show, a newsmagazine and a yearbook.  My students are tweeting breaking news, posting links to Facebook, and snapping shots during a basketball game that are immediately shared on Instagram and Snapchat.

We are lucky at Kirkwood High School.  Our journalists get that voice.  Beginning with former principal Franklin McCallie and extending to today’s Principal Mike Havener, we have been a school that supports the First Amendment and values our students.  And I have seen kids thrive.  Kirkwood H.S. has won the Journalism Education Association’s First Amendment Press Freedom Award more than any school in the country since its inception.  A program that had 75 students a decade ago now has more than 200.

When the events of Ferguson unfolded more than a year ago, some St. Louis-school administrators told advisers and students they could not cover the events in their school media.  To not cover something as important as Ferguson would be unfathomable to my students.  This type of censorship by administrators undermines critical thinking and destroys the quality of student media.

At Kirkwood, we covered it.  On our website, in our newsmagazine and in our yearbook–we covered it.  Students covered it to inform, to educate and to spur thoughtful discussion.  The press freedom at Kirkwood allowed student journalists to cover the events including a student walkout during the school day.  This press freedom told students their voice matters.

So much has changed in journalism, but one thing hasn’t: the benefits of practicing it when protected by the First Amendment.  Journalism gives students responsibility and real participation, not cosmetic decision-making honored only if it falls within the scope of the principal’s personal prejudices.  Establishing an open forum for student free expression through the student press is one of the most important things schools do.  Student journalists can tell the stories of their community better than anyone else can, and student voices can help promote positive school culture or help to change destructive culture.

Would you rather have this speech protected and under the supervision of a trained adviser or tell censor kids and have them express the same sentiments on social media?  Oftentimes a healthy student press means a healthy community.  It is civics in action.

Scholastic journalism is the epitome of authentic project-based learning, using various platforms to help students develop important media, news, information and civic literacy skills that are so often forgotten in other parts of the school curriculum.  And the goal of scholastic journalism is not to create journalists, but rather it is to develop capable employees and engaged citizens.  Though high school journalism teachers are proud of those students who follow career journalism’s calling, those educators know their students will be more informed, more empathetic and more engaged as a result of their scholastic journalism experience.

“The ongoing process of questioning, experimentation, reflection and analysis combines autonomy with a supportive ‘OK-to-fail’ environment, boosting confidence in students as they struggle with real-world challenges and find solutions,” said Sarah Nichols, a high school publications adviser and vice president of the Journalism Education Association, the largest association of scholastic journalism educators and advisers.

Today’s scholastic journalism — with an emphasis on the ethical and legal responsibilities of communicating in a digital world — will help students learn to rise above the noise and create meaningful dialogue.  What other class can claim such a vital learning outcome?  Quite simply, the end-goal is not journalists, but better people.

This process and end product cannot happen if student journalists and advisers are censored.  Censorship is detrimental for students and society. Punishing students for their speech teaches them that censorship, often arbitrary and without limits, is acceptable.  But in a society dependent on journalists and the public keeping the government in check, we cannot afford to have curiosity and confidence bred out of our students.  We cannot afford to stifle today’s new voices because they are tomorrow’s media leaders and citizens.

It is 2016 not 1988.  Eight states have laws negating Hazelwood.  There is no evidence of any greater incidence of libel, invasion or other injury in those states – even California, which had had such a law for nearly 40 years.  So that is a combined 160-plus years of experience with student press freedom.   After all, the New Voices Act merely gives students the same level of First Amendment protection that the Supreme Court gave Mary Beth Tinker in the 1960s when she wore a black armband to school to protests the Vietnam War.

Look, teenagers are incredible.  They are funny, smart, eager to please, and up for just about anything as long as food is involved.  They have the most generous hearts and want desperately to be loved and validated.  They are quirky, and messy, and have the best sense of humor.  I want to instill in them the belief that they are not limited, and that they can do anything if they’re willing to work hard enough for it.

The Cronkite New Voices act would make students feel important and valued.  And we all need to feel that way.

Free speech in Missouri may die Friday without as much as a peep

We learned Monday the New Voices Cronkite Act (HB2058) is not being put up for vote by Sen. David Pearce. If this bill is not heard by Friday, it will die.

If passed, this bill will restore the Tinker standard of student expression in public high schools. The Tinker Standard (1967) protects student speech unless it is libelous, an invasion of privacy or creates a “clear and present danger” or a “material and substantial disruption” of the school. The act would override a decision in 1988 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier which ruled that St. Louis high school students’ freedom of speech rights were not violated when the school’s principal prevented two articles, one about teenage pregnancy, from being published in the school newspaper.

There are similar bills running through legislatures throughout the country and nine states have already passed similar legislation. In fact, one is currently working through Illinois and Maryland just passed theirs last week. The bill had overwhelming support in the Missouri House (Y: 131 N: 12 NV: 1 Abs: 18) and the Senate Education Committee.

Now it just needs a chance.

Missouri scholastic journalism students and advisers need this to pass. This protection ensures First Amendment protection as students practice journalism under the guidance of a trained adviser. Much better than killing programs and kids moving their message to social media regardless. At Kirkwood High School, where I advise more than 175 journalism students annually, young adults know their voice matters. They critically think, collaborate and produce thoughtful, engaging journalism. It’s the definition of civics in action.

We need to tell young adults their ideas, their words and their speech matters. The Cronkite Act is a step toward that. Look, I do not know Sen. Pearce, but I would ask him to trust advisers and young adults. Tell them their voice matters in this world of muddled messages and lack of media literacy. Support scholastic journalism and media in an educational setting.

Still a TV news junkie

photo1

On Aug. 9, 2014, as the streets of Ferguson, Mo. erupted in protests following the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, one of the first television reporters on the scene was Betsey Bruce of KTVI, Channel 2.

Bruce updated a report on the station’s website at 3:50 p.m.  That afternoon she worked the streets collecting information.  As she stood in front of the Ferguson police station that Saturday night, she told viewers, “Police are trying to calm tensions.”

The account she delivered included interviews with witnesses, visuals of the shooting scene and comments from the police chief.  Near the conclusion, she said St. Louis County Prosecuting Bob McCulloch would end up investigating.

Months later, when the streets boiled over again after a grand jury issued a “no crime” finding, Bruce was in Ferguson again.

“It was the most compelling and the most frightening experience I’ve ever had because it was dangerous and you didn’t know who you were talking to,” Bruce recalled later. “Those are frightening times when you’re not quite sure when you should be looking over your back or taking notes.”

Many other reporters were on the scene in Ferguson, performing in the same way.  What sets Bruce’s work apart is the fact she was 65 years old when the event unfolded.

While all of her contemporaries have retired or moved on, Bruce continues to work long hours and weekends as a TV street reporter.  She prefers to cover politics and public policy, but will accept any assignment.

“I’m always fascinated by what’s going on,” she said. “I call myself a news junkie.”

Bruce’s 45 years in St. Louis television news at what was once KMOX-TV and then later at KTVI is a record.  As the first woman to work hard news TV assignments, she is a pioneer in St. Louis broadcast journalism.  And Bruce is unique in that she has spent her entire career in one market.

“I hate to say this, but when I was in college I was watching her on TV,” said Mike Owens, who covered the news for KSDK-TV, Channel 5 for 27 years between 1983 and 2010.

In September of 1970, fresh out of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Betsey Barnette started as a writer at KMOX-TV, the CBS-owned station in St. Louis. In December of 1971, she married Bob Bruce, whom she had met in college.  For a while she was known as Betsey Barnette Bruce, and then finally, Betsey Bruce.

In college, her adviser had warned her that news directors considered women “economic luxuries.”  “What he meant was that most news directors didn’t believe women were capable of handling a full range of stories,” Bruce said.

At that time, women’s roles were limited in St. Louis television newsrooms.  Pat Fontaine had done weather and features on KMOX-TV.  Dianne White, the first black weathercaster, was on KSD-TV, Channel 5.  Lee Shepherd had become a co-anchor on that station’s “Eyewitness News at Noon.”  And Harriett Woods was doing public affairs programs on KETC, Channel 9 and KPLR, Channel 11.

By January of 1971, Bruce had persuaded management she could go out in the field to report stories.  Her first two offerings were about child daycare and abortion.

“I was trying to prove to my boss that I was not an economic luxury, that I could do things that either the men hadn’t thought of doing or didn’t do or maybe were uncomfortable doing,” Bruce said.  At the time her mentor was Pat Fontaine.

“She was the only older woman on the air at my station and she was very helpful to me,” Bruce said. “One time I got some unwelcome attention from a male staff member, and whatever happened, she took care of it.  It was gone.  He was still there, but he never did that again.”

Covering her first City Hall news conference in the office of Mayor A.J. Cervantes, a photographer from another station made a big deal about Bruce breaking new ground.  She got to ask the first question.  Bruce recalls now some early comments such as “wow, you’re taking a job from a man; you shouldn’t be doing this.”

“There was a lot more focus on how I looked than what I was covering, which I always found frustrating,” Bruce said. “I was very determined, that I was not going to be distracted, and I was going to do my job and be a good journalist and be sure I didn’t spoil it for any other women behind me.  I was probably pretty intense and focused.”Jack Etzel, a reporter at KMOX-TV from 1969 to 1974, recalled that Bruce “had a maturity about her.”

“Women at that time were very rare, and it was unusual to hire someone full time essentially right out of college,” Etzel said. “Betsey was the youngest and ablest of anybody.  It was nothing for her to cover any story that happened.

Betsey Barnette was born into a family of journalists.  Her grandfather on her mother’s side was George Lasher, the founder and director of the Ohio University School of Journalism.  Her mother was the first woman reporter at Editor and Publisher.  Her father worked for newspapers in Gary, Ind., and Buffalo, N.Y.

In 1965, when Betsey Barnette realized she wanted to go into broadcasting, she chose the University of Missouri because the journalism program had a television station with a commercial license.  She enrolled in the fall of 1966, entered the broadcast sequence and edited the “Maneater” student newspaper in 1969.  As a result of a visit to MU by KMOX-TV managers in the spring of 1970, she got a job interview and was hired.

Between 1971 and 1989, Bruce made a name for herself at Channel 4, becoming the political editor and weekend news anchor.  In those days as now, success for television reporters came with either a permanent assignment at a network or a Monday-through-Friday primetime anchor slot in a major market.

Bruce harbored those dreams, too.  But her career took a different turn in 1989 when Channel 4 managers offered her a weekend-only job.

“I left Channel 4 because they didn’t want to have me any more as a full-time anchor,” Bruce said. “I always felt that was a financial reason, a salary reason.  I don’t know for sure.  But I don’t like to burn bridges.  I don’t worry about that.”

Tripp Frohlichstein, who was assistant news director during some of the time Bruce was at KMOX-TV, said he remembered her as “a hard working reporter.”

“She cultivated many sources and broke several stories,” Frohlichstein said in an email. “Even today, she represents a throwback to earlier reporting in that she continues to try to present all sides of an issue, no matter what she covers.”

Bruce moved to KTVI, Channel 2, initially doing some anchoring and reporting. In television journalism, women have always had to meet extra criteria relating to appearance and youth.  Bruce said there used to be a rule of thumb that when women turned 45, they couldn’t survive on TV news.

“Other than some of the very early national broadcasters who made a move from print to broadcast, there’s always been an expectation that women meet a different standard than men on the air,” Bruce said. “If I looked and had the weight of a Herb Humphries, if you remember Herb, was a Channel 4 reporter, I probably wouldn’t have the job.  (Humphries, a 300-pound man, died in 2003).  I do know that to me the more important thing was having a voice that was strong and clear and reasonably pleasant to listen to.”

In 1994, when she was 45, Channel 2 managers pulled her off the anchoring job.

“It had nothing to do with the quality of my work.  I decided I was going to hang in there.”

Over at Channel 5, Owens often found himself in competitive situations with Bruce since they often covered the same stories.

“I always knew when Betsey was around I was going to have to work hard to keep up,” Owens said. “She is a tough competitor.”

Bruce estimated that she has worked half of her career on the weekends, and that off and on, she held anchor posts for 16 years.  Owens said it was “incredible” that Bruce was still at it.

“If I was at her level, 45 years into a career, I don’t think I’d want to be working weekends,” Owens said. “I’d say, ‘find a kid to do this.’  She works what they give her.  I think that’s pretty impressive.”

When Betsey Barnette joined Channel 4 there were three newscasts: 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.  “It was a very relaxed schedule,” she said. “We worked afternoons and evenings.”

Things have changed.  The Channel 2 newsroom produces 13 1/2 hours of news for both KTVI and KPLR.

“It’s become a much more hectic, pressure-driven business even in the last 10 years,” Bruce said. “There is a lot of pressure to turn a 4 p.m. story for a dayside reporter now.  And you don’t get a photographer until 11 a.m. so you have a window of five hours often, not always, to get something put together and it cannot be as comprehensive as I like to do.  I have to admit, I’ve found that frustrating, but we are serving an audience with information and the real challenge is to be sure that you have covered it well enough that a. your accurate and b. you have the other side if there is another side to a story.”

Tom Heyse, a video photographer, worked many assignments with Bruce before he retired last year after 42 years.

“She is very thorough,” Heyse said. “She will dissect everything and look at both sides.  She never has felt entitled.  She’s worked for everything she’s gotten.  When her situation changed from anchoring to street reporting — a lot of talent really want to be anchors — she accepted that role and really did it well.  She’s a unique person in our industry who plugs along and does the job with no complaining.”

Some people in the news business can become calloused by the grind of daily events, but Heyse didn’t see that with Bruce.

“She didn’t look at it as a story that she had to get done for the day,” Heyse said. “She would get involved in a person’s life.  It wasn’t a put-on.  It was true stuff.”

In the four decades that Bruce has covered the news, the technology has constantly evolved.  When she began, 16-milimeter film documented events.  If a reporter was far away from the station, film was air-shipped, processed and edited.  Later, videotape replaced film, and microwave dishes mounted on satellite trucks sent signals to the station from a remote location.

Now the news can be recorded with digital cameras, edited on laptops and sent for broadcast with a special telephone, provided the reporter has a cellular signal.  Relaxed union rules now permit “backpack journalism” in which a single reporter carries the equipment, shoots the video, conducts the interviews and does the stand-up report.  Bruce managed to avoid that method.

“And I am fortunate because I had a ruptured disc last spring and had back surgery and so I’m glad I don’t have to carry that stuff around,” she said.  During her three months’ of recuperation, Bruce had time to think about what’s next.  Her husband is a semi-retired insurance broker.

Bruce said she has a basement full of files to go through as well as stacks of her grandfather’s papers that need to be archived.  She’d like to do some writing of her own, possibly about the switch from film to electronic news.

But for now, she’d like to keep doing what she’s doing.

“It would be really hard for me to skip what I have a front row seat for.”