By ROY MALONE / 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 aide of the governor’s who was involved in a night of hard drinking, attracted national comment and criticism.
By TERRY GANEY / 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. 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. 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.
WILLIAM H. FREIVOGEL / 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.
By ROY J. HARRIS, JR. / 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. 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.
By KURT SHILLINGER / 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.”
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.”
By TED GEST / 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 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. 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. 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.