Tag Archives: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Scandals will fade but lobbying still drives the Missouri legislature

A series of sex scandals that revealed tawdry affairs among top officials in Missouri’s state capital made for titillating reading this summer and stirred up a controversy about journalistic ethics.

Sex scandals in Jefferson City are nothing new, say veteran statehouse reporters. Bad behavior by lawmakers and lobbyists has plagued the legislature for a century.

What is new is the social media technology that ensnares straying legislators and the willingness of the press to name names. The decision by the Post-Dispatch’s veteran and highly regarded statehouse reporter, Virginia Young, to name a female former aide of the governor’s who was involved in a night of hard drinking, attracted national comment and criticism.

The business of lawmaking – and it often is controlled by business – has always involved politics and money – gifts by lobbyists, and campaign contributions. Many lawmakers, cajoled by the lobbyists into thinking they are hot stuff, take all the freebies they can – tickets to sporting and cultural events, free meals, liquor, travel, you name it. All they have to do is vote the way they’re told.

Add to that the sexual affairs some lawmakers think they are entitled to when they are away from home four days a week when the legislature is in session. They figure they’ll behave again when they return home.

Two legislators who resigned this summer were attracted to legislative interns – college girls — in their offices. Both were middle-aged and married family men.

The first, who resigned in July, was Speaker of the House John Diehl, a Republican from St. Louis County. An intern saved text messages from him and said he had propositioned her. The messages made for juicy reading in the Kansas City Star and then in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The next to resign, a few weeks later, was state Sen. Paul LeVota, a Democrat from Independence. An intern accused him of sexual harassment by propositioning her. Another intern made similar accusations during the time she worked in LeVota’s office five years earlier.

In between these scandals, the Post-Dispatch reported on a possible rape case in Jefferson City involving a former aide to Gov. Jay Nixon. She said she had an affair with Diehl, though it had ended. She is a 31-year-old lobbyist who contacted police after a night of drinking and partying. She said she had a blackout and thought she had been raped, but wasn’t sure. Neither were police, who interviewed a number of people, including Diehl. Police ended the investigation due to “lack of victim cooperation.” Her lawyer later said she did cooperate with police.

The Post-Dispatch story about the alleged rape named the woman, based on the police report. The paper was criticized for naming a possible rape victim.

The Riverfront Times, an alternative weekly in St. Louis said the Post was wrong and had “shamed” the woman. The Poynter Institute ran a story saying that naming the woman made it appear she was not raped. It added: “It’s not the job of the media to judge whether someone was or wasn’t sexually assaulted.” The Columbia Journalism Review said Young should have conducted an off-the-record interview with the woman, which Young had declined to do.

A Post political editor, Christopher Ave, defended the story saying it had “political significance.” He said the Post relied on the police report which showed “no evidence of a crime.”

Young had omitted parts of the police report unfavorable to the behavior of the woman. Young declined to comment on the story except to say she did not regret writing it. Young has been a top reporter at the Post-Dispatch for decades. She recently announced her retirement.

Regardless of who is right, Young’s reporting was notable for exposing shenanigans in the legislative culture, something the media has largely ignored over the years. Many veteran reporters can recall “sexcapades,” drunkenness and other misdeeds of legislators that never got reported. Fred Lindecke, a longtime legislative reporter for the Post, put it this way: “The code was that we didn’t use it” if it didn’t affect the person’s official duties.


The full article will be included in the forthcoming print issue of GJR.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dudman looks back at Pol Pot

Richard Dudman, the chief Washington Correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the 1970s, almost died in Cambodia – twice. Now, at age 97, he looks back at his reporting and says he may have been too easy on Pol Pot – the murderous dictator of Cambodia.

Dudman was captured in Cambodia while covering the war in 1970 and spent 40 days as a captive of Viet Cong. Five years later, after Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge took power, Pol Pot invited Dudman and two other Westerners to Cambodia to see for themselves what life was like. One was Elizabeth Becker, who had covered Cambodia for several years for The Washington Post. The other was Malcolm Caldwell, a radical Scottish lawyer. They were the first outsiders to get visas to Cambodia to interview Pol Pot.

Pol Pot wouldn’t answer questions during their session with him. But that night Dudman was awakened by gunshots outside their guest house. A Vietnamese terrorist threatened Becker, shot at Dudman, who hid under the bed, and then killed Caldwell.

Recently, a special Cambodian court organized to prosecute Khmer Rouge war crimes asked Dudman about his reporting from that era. A lawyer who was questioning Dudman said he seemed to have been easy on Pol Pot. Dudman said he just reported what he saw. But the lawyer’s question haunts him, he wrote in an op-ed in the Post-Dispatch.

Reporting in Cambodia required courage. But the hardest thing for a reporter to admit is he may have gotten a story wrong.


The Pulitzer for Breaking News Photos: Breakthrough for the Post?

There’s a line in the “first rough draft” of recent Post-Dispatch history — the paper’s own account of winning its first Pulitzer Prize in 26 years on Monday — that sounds a bittersweet note, at least to me.

“The mood in the newsroom became tense as [Pulitzer administrator Mike] Pride read through the awards for reporting,” writes Tim O’Neil. “When he started into the next-to-last category, breaking news photography, and uttered the words ‘…to the St. Louis…,’ the room erupted in joy.”

The sweet is obvious: “Photographers hugged each other to the cheers of their colleagues.” Echoes, to be sure, of 17 other newsroom celebrations held by Post-Dispatch staffers over nine decades, starting in the 1920s when the legendary Daniel R.  Fitzpatrick first won for cartooning; reporting by John T. Rogers got an Illinois federal judge impeached for wrongdoing; and Paul Y. Anderson helped bring the Teapot Dome scandal to light.

The bitter? That the remarkable, intensive news coverage by Post-Dispatch reporters and editors — of the same Ferguson nightmare of violence that led to the photography Pulitzer — received no mention, either as winner or finalist. (In one earlier contest, the Scripps Howard Awards, the P-D had been the breaking news winner, with its photojournalism a finalist.) The breaking news reporting Pulitzer Prize went to the Seattle Times, for what the Pulitzer citation called “its digital account of a landslide that killed 43 people and the impressive follow-up reporting that explored whether the calamity could have been avoided.”

Perhaps Monday’s joy in St. Louis did overwhelm everything else. “I have heard just one newsroom staffer say later that it was embarrassing not to be included among the Pulitzer finalists for breaking news reporting,” Michael Sorkin tells me. Adds the veteran P-D reporter, who in 1993 was a Pulitzer finalist for investigative reporting, as part of a team with Terry Ganey and Lou Rose: “Everyone else in the newsroom seems to be enjoying the win. That includes me — the photographers earned it, pure and simple.”

Like Sorkin, who wasn’t in the newsroom for that Pulitzer announcement, this Post-Dispatch fan shares the excitement. The Pulitzers are in my blood. Especially those 18 Pulitzers in P-D history.

In 2002 I delivered a talk to the Post-Dispatch staff about the 15 years, from 1937 to 1952, when the Post won an unprecedented five Pulitzer Prizes for Public Service—the gold medals that are America’s highest journalistic honor. (For that that talk, I researched all its Pulitzers, and finalists, too, from 1991, 1993, 2000 and 2002. There’ve been four more finalists since: one in 2009, two in 2010, and this year’s for Ferguson-related editorial writing by Tony Messenger and Kevin Horrigan.)

So I’m using this space to recap a bit, and put the latest prize in congratulatory perspective.

First some Pulitzer background: The prizes having been endowed through the 1911 will of newspaper pioneer Joseph Pulitzer—then the owner of the Post-Dispatch (and the now-defunct New York World)—that award-granting organization set strict rules to keep interested P-D parties out of award decisions involving their own papers. (The last related Pulitzer board member was Joseph Pulitzer III, who died in 1993.)

The run of five public service Pulitzers started in 1937 with honors for a remarkable expose of voter fraud in St. Louis, with managing editor O.K. Bovard sending out reporters—including Roy J. Harris, my late father, and his late colleague Selwyn Pepper—to check out abandoned apartment buildings, confirming that at least 40,000 names on the voter roles were phony. It was a reporting performance praised by then-P-D owner and editor Joseph Pulitzer II, who also chaired the Pulitzer Prize board.

Next (1941) came a remarkable campaign to clean up St. Louis’s air. That project started with the editor himself, who saw the filth whenever he returned home from his summer estate in pristine Bar Harbor, Maine. The third gold medal (1948) was for coverage of a Centralia, Ill., mine explosion fatal to 111 miners—a tragedy P-D reporters were able to trace to state mine inspectors who’d been paid off to let deadly conditions persist. And in 1950, public service gold medals went to the P-D and the Chicago Daily News, awarded for work by my dad, who teamed with Chicago reporter George Thiem in an unusual (for the time) collaboration exposing dozens of journalists on the state payroll.

The Post’s fifth public service Pulitzer, two years later, was largely for the work of investigative reporter Ted Link, with Selwyn Pepper on rewrite. Link disclosed widespread patronage-related corruption in what later became the Internal Revenue Service.

Outside Rogers’ and Anderson’s prizes and those five of the public service recipients, most other Post-Dispatch winners have been honored in non-reporting roles: Bill Mauldin for cartooning (1959); Robert Lasch for editorials (1966), Marquis Childs for commentary (1970) and Frank Peters for music criticism (1972.)

Then in 1989 came the Pulitzer for freelance photographer Ron Olshwanger—the last prize until this week: for his stunning picture in the P.D. of a firefighter trying to resuscitate a child pulled from a burning building.

Since then the Pulitzer competition had produced for the Post “only” finalists: celebrated work by Bill Woo in commentary (1991); Philip Kennicott, Bill Freivogel and John Carlton in editorial writing (2000, 2002 and 2010), and Robert Cohen’s feature photography (also 2010.) The sole reporting finalist was in 2009, to the P-D staff, for breaking news coverage of the city hall shooting in Kirkwood.

From my own perspective, I have followed the P-D closely at Pulitzer time ever since leaving the newsroom as a summer-replacement reporter in 1967, moving first to the Los Angeles Times and then to the Wall Street Journal. Over the years, this Post-Dispatch “brat” was cheered by its honored finalists—who illustrated that the paper was staying “in striking distance” — and then by that lone Pulitzer-winning photo. But I was saddened to see no more Post prizes.

So, was this year’s long-awaited Pulitzer for breaking news photography really a breakthrough for the Post-Dispatch?

From afar, I’m sure pulling for the paper, as are many other P-D fans. Like Kathy Best, a longtime Post staffer who left the paper as assistant managing editor/metro in 2005. (One of her memories of following Pulitzer announcements in St. Louis: Finding that the beloved Bill Woo hadn’t won for commentary in 1991. “The day he didn’t win was a really difficult one for everybody there,” she recalls.)

Best now is editor of the Seattle Times.

And watching the Pulitzer announcement from her own newsroom, “I had my fingers crossed for them to win something,” she says. “Selfishly, I didn’t want them to win at the expense of my newsroom. Still, I know what it’s like to have to keep a newsroom engaged and moving forward and enthused, day after day after day.” At the breaking news photography announcement, “I was thrilled for them. I’d been just blown away by the quality of their photography; they were putting themselves in harm’s way every day.” She was happy, too, “that such incredible work by the photo staff was honored, and, with editorial writing finalists being named, too, that the paper’s work on Ferguson was recognized in more than one way.”

In advance of Monday’s announcement, Best had prepared her own Times staff for any eventuality: “I told them the Pulitzers are a crap shoot, and win or lose we did great work.”

Here’s hoping the Post-Dispatch keeps on rolling the dice.


Harris, a veteran of the Wall Street Journal and the Economist’s CFO Magazine, is author of Pulitzer’s Gold, which tells stories behind the stories of public service prizes. Columbia University Press is publishing a new edition in time for next year’s centennial of the Pulitzer Prizes. He also follows the Pulitzers each year for Poynter Online, starting with a preview of the competition.

A new niche for traditional journalism in the digital age

In the aftermath of the killing of a black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last August, St. Louis Public Radio launched an ongoing series of conversations about race called We Live Here. The first full-length program traversed Lindbergh Boulevard, a busy thoroughfare arching through a diversity of the 90 municipalities that make up St. Louis County.

Two comments stood out in the broadcast, which aired in early March. The first was by a prominent businessman in Melville, a predominantly white suburb in the southern reaches of the county.

“It sickens me,” James Sinclair told the program, ‘to see St. Louis on the national news the way we have been portrayed. There are issues that need to be addressed. But the need to be addressed, they don’t need to be shouted at. And they certainly don’t need to take it out on the police.”

The second was by Chris Kerr, who lives on an exclusive six-acre family homestead in tony Frontenac. “I don’t follow these types of cases,” Kerr said. “Whatever it is, the national case, the new case, the next one that comes up.  Whatever agenda that somebody’s running that wants to do it. I don’t care. It’s not relevant to my life. So I just – I hear it on the news, but I stay out of it.”

I don’t know these men, nor do I know how their interviews were edited, so I’ll tread lightly. The program aired four days before the United States Department of Justice released its findings, based on forensics and witness testimony, clearing Officer Darren Wilson of culpability in the death of Michael Brown, but also chronicling deliberate racial profiling by the Ferguson police department against young black males.

The report supported the concern shared by people such as Sinclair and Kerr about a rush to judgment. But I am interested in what these two men had to say for a different reason. Their antipathy toward the coverage and motives of the national press in Ferguson raises an important question for a city struggling to confront its historical legacy of structural and systemic racism. When the national story fades into a local story, how and by what means does the conversation advance within this deeply divided American metropolis? Put differently, in our evolving media landscape, where do we build the common narratives that enable society to move forward?

My question arises from what was for me a formative insight when I covered sub-Saharan Africa for the Boston Globe. During the eight years I lived in Boston prior to moving overseas, I had almost no connection to its black communities. But within my first year of reporting from Africa, something curious happened. Boston’s black leaders reached out to me. Some prominent ministers even traveled to South Africa to meet with me, and my newspaper eventually flew me back to Boston at one point to participate in conversations with key black community leaders and renowned academics.

I did not get it. I was a white reporter writing about Africa, not Roxbury or Dorchester. What did my stories have to do them? The answer from one prominent cleric gave me a critical insight into the role metropolitan daily newspapers once held in the life of a city: “When you put brown issues on Page 1 of our newspaper, that legitimizes us.”

The minister’s comment gave me a profound new sense of purpose as a journalist. Before the digital age, newspapers were where the diverse communities of a single large urban center met, argued, strived and perhaps learned to understand each other. Every day, papers reached into every community, office, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority train and barber shop across the greater Boston area and much of New England. A story affecting any one demographic group reached every demographic group.

Ferguson put St. Louis at the center of a tragic national debate about race and policing in the United States. But it has done something else, too. It has given us a case study in community dialogue in the digital age. From 2005 to 2014, circulation of the St. Louis Post Dispatch halved, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. That contraction is likely continuing. The paper maintains that is has more than 6 million unique visits to its website per month – more than double the total greater metropolitan population. But the proliferation of information sites and social media means the front page – print or virtual – is no longer our common gathering spot. St. Louis Public Radio, meanwhile, claims it reaches about 200,000 people, or roughly one tenth of the population, per week.

Might hashtags fill the role local daily newspapers once did? There is no question that social media have become the connective tissue of our time. But even there, the plethora of platforms scatters us. An April 6 survey by the Pew Research Center of Ferguson hashtags reveals our divided attention: 86 percent of Ferguson comments on Twitter were directly related to the Brown shooting and its aftermath, while 62 percent of Ferguson comments on Instagram focused on tangential thematic issues – race, police brutality and politics.

Those trends suggest a new niche for traditional journalism in the digital age. More information from more sources does not necessarily mean more common ground. With ever more ways to communicate, we’re clearly all talking more than ever. What we’ve lost, perhaps, is the common spaces where we gather to listen. In the future, sifting through the glut – clarifying, verifying and contextualizing – may be the more valuable exercise of the traditional media’s ethics and judgment and a smart way to maintain relevance and the public’s trust.


Kurt Shillinger is a former national political reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. He covered sub-Saharan Africa for the Boston Globe from 1997 to 2003.

Post-Dispatch wins Scripps Howard award for Ferguson coverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Post-Dispatch’s Bailon wins Editor of the Year Award

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor Gilbert Bailon has won one of journalism’s top honors—the Benjamin C. Bradlee Editor of the Year Award given by the National Press Foundation. The foundation is a national journalism training organization that recognizes a newspaper or magazine editor annually. The award was established in 1984 but has been given in Bradlee’s name only since 2006. Bradlee, the longtime Washington Post editor, died last October at 93.

In selecting Bailon, the judges said: “If ever a newspaper and its editor faced a real-time stress test, it was the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and editor Gilbert Bailon in 2014. From the shooting of Michael Brown in August through the November announcement by the grand jury, the Post-Dispatch was under pressure. But it delivered for its readers and the larger St. Louis community with a breadth of coverage that is truly impressive. Hundreds of stories, dozens of editorials, every piece of evidence – all were there either in print or on the paper’s website. Most striking were the photographs, often taken at great personal risk to the photographers. Throughout it all, Bailon was a strong presence both in the community and in his newsroom, fighting for access and striving to keep the coverage balanced and emotions in check.”

The award was given in Washington, D.C., last week at the foundation’s annual dinner. Typically, the winning newspaper presents a short video on the winner. The Post-Dispatch produced one, in which various editors sung Bailon’s praises.

In brief remarks after the award was given, Bailon credited the newspaper’s ownership for “giving us the resources and latitude to do great journalism under great stress” after the Brown shooting. He observed that he never had been involved in covering such a “volatile” story.

Bailon said that the Post-Dispatch’s journalists “are the heroes tonight.” He noted that some had been assaulted in covering the Ferguson shooting’s aftermath, including one who was chased out of a backyard at gunpoint. Many Post-Dispatch employees have been subject to racial taunts and threats to cancel subscriptions, he said.

The Ferguson episode “has reaffirmed our vital role to tell stories…and to hold public institutions accountable,” Bailon said.

Among other recent winners of the award are David Remnick of The New Yorker, Leonard Downie Jr., Bradlee’s successor at the Washington Post, and Gregory L. Moore of the Denver Post, who was cited for his newspaper’s coverage of the mass killing at a suburban Denver movie theater.

Guild leader says Lee Enterprises’ workers deserved bonuses

The head of the union that represents reporters and other workers at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says employees of Lee Enterprises – rather than its chief executives – deserved bonuses.

On April 4, Lee Enterprises filed documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission disclosing the board’s executive compensation committee had approved bonuses of $700,000 for chief executive officer Mary Junck and $400,000 for treasurer Carl Schmidt. The bonuses were “related to the company’s successful completion of its long-term refinancing.”

Shannon Duffy, the administrative officer of the United Media Guild in St. Louis, said the labor organization was pleased that Lee Enterprises was able to successfully refinance its debt.

“We continue to root hard for that company to be successful,” Duffy said. “We and our members are obviously tethered to it. That being said, I was disappointed their first reaction, almost reflexive on their part, was to give more money to the people at the top when the people further down the ladder had been working, pulling double and triple duty, for less money. And my first reaction, were I in their shoes, would be to reward those people.”

In March, Lee Enterprises refinanced $800 million of its debt relating to its 2005 purchase of Pulitzer Inc., owner of the Post-Dispatch, extending the time in which its loans must be repaid. In 2013, the company repaid $98.5 million of its debt, and during the first six months of its 2014 fiscal year through March it paid off another $34.5 million.

Employees at Lee’s 46 newspapers shouldered a major share of that loan repayment through layoffs, furloughs and buyouts, frozen wages, elimination of some benefits and higher costs for others. Michael Sorkin, a reporter at the Post-Dispatch, laid out the details of what had been happening at the newspaper in a recent posting on Facebook.

“Memo to the board of directors at Lee Enterprises – could you live today on less money than you made six years ago – and pay more for fewer benefits?” Sorkin asked.

He wrote that Post-Dispatch employees hadn’t had a raise since June 6, 2008. Since then, employee costs have increased “for the worst company health insurance we’ve ever had.” Sorkin went on to point out that retiree health and life insurance were gone, pensions frozen, and for new employees there are no pensions.

In a 5½-year contract, negotiated in 2010, guild members gave up wage concessions of 6 percent and took unpaid furloughs. The recent bonuses for Junck and Schmidt came on top of substantial pay raises and bonuses they previously received.

“The top people at Lee get big bonuses while we sacrifice,” Sorkin wrote.

Duffy said the guild would be negotiating a new contract with the company next year.