Lee scraps Post-Dispatch’s copy desk

A reflection

And then there were none.

The executives at Lee Enterprises, which bought the Post-Dispatch in 2005, have been sloughing off accomplished journalists, writers and copy editors, helter-skelter, like a pine tree shedding cones in a hurricane.

And they’re still at it.

Lee announced, on Feb. 16, that the few, the proud, the survivors of the design staff and the copy desk would be jettisoned, as of May 1.

The list: Jennie Crabbe, June Heath, Lacey Burnette, Evan Hill, Colleen Schrappen, Cara DeMichele, Scott Andera, Amy Verkamp and Mike Reilly.  Lisa Eisenhauer, the assistant metro editor/nights, and Frank Reust, letters editor, also are leaving. 

Lisa Eisenhauer, assistant metro editor/nights, leaves the Post-Dispatch, walking past Joseph Pulitzer’s warning in the 1904 North American Review, “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together.” (Photo by David Carson)

Eisenhauer – who has tirelessly chronicled the layoffs,  buyouts, resignations and deaths of P-D staffers wrote in an email, “I couldn’t bear to stay after seeing the way the copy desk was rounded up and told their jobs were going to a design/copy editing mill.”

(Random thought: If this is Lee’s flagship newspaper, why do they keep striking her sails and keelhauling her crew?)

Copy editing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch — checking on spelling, accuracy, punctuation, flow, paragraphing, while also creating snappy, accurate headlines — will, henceforth, be performed in Munster, Ind., a town of 22,000, 291 miles from  900 N. Tucker.

Without maligning the copy editors of Munster — who may, indeed, have a firm grip on both an AP Stylebook and a dictionary — most devoted readers’ reaction would, or should, be: WHAT!?

Back in the day, through the ‘80s and early ‘90s, Harry Levins was the P-D’s CCE (chief copy editor). He presided over a desk of  approximately 20 copy editors, give or take, sprinkled about the fifth floor: news (12), sports (3) features (3) editorial (2). That number has been whittled down to eight, pretty much since Lee took the helm.

For more than a decade, eight stalwarts have been cranking out  the work of 20. And Lee decided that an appropriate reward for such devotion and industry is: Don’t let the door hit you in the butt? (And the primary motive cited by Lee, the threat of hedge-fund takeovers, smacks of abstraction, anti-unionism and definitive weaseling.)

Levins’ assessment: “A newspaper without a local copy desk is like a football team without linebackers: Mistakes break through the line and gallop toward the goalposts, while the local fans – the readers — groan in dismay.”


Eisenhauer, assistant metro editor/nights, prepares to leave the Post-Dispatch copy desk. (Photo by David Carson)

And, as banal as it may sound, most journalists I know think of their newspaper job as part mission, part calling, devoted to  making a difference, in the sunbeam of the First Amendment — which doesn’t shine anywhere else on earth. No one becomes a reporter or a copy editor to make money.

(Full disclosure: Your reporter worked on the copy desk for more than 20 years. Eight of the folks affected by this decision are friends; three are also former students in my journalism classes at Saint Louis University.)

United Media Guild President Jeff Gordon criticized Lee’s move, in the Post’s 2-16-19 story: “Such outsourcing inevitably weakens the newspaper, since editors with little knowledge of the St. Louis region will be editing copy, writing headlines and designing pages of the Post-Dispatch.”

And copy editor Colleen Schrappen observed: “I can’t imagine an out-of-towner will get all the nuances of post-Ferguson fallout  or the intricacies of the Better Together proposition. Our town’s beloved and beleaguered celebrities, athletes and politicians. The identities and histories of our 88 municipalities and innumerable neighborhoods. The inside jokes. The local flavor.”

To illustrate and buttress her concerns, consider the following examples of St. Louisisms and local lore, all of which contribute to making St. Louis, St. Louis: The Inner Belt; CWE; Ted Drewes; The Checkerdome; UMSL; Scruggs, Vandervoort and Barney; JB Bridge; The Veiled Prophet; The Loop; the Jewel Box; the Vandeventer Overpass; World’s Fair; Falstaff; Pruitt-Igoe;  Football Cardinals; Donut Drive-In; Famous-Barr; Easton Avenue; Crown Candy Kitchen; The Magic House; Phil the Gorilla; Stix Baer and Fuller; Mavrakos.

Most P-D readers might pause and crinkle their brows if they had to identify or spell all or, even, some of these. But don’t worry, the P-D’s copy editors can, and have, and do – or did.

And copy editor Jennie Crabbe’s keen eye and wit adds a local spelling quiz to the mix, at the end of this article. (Even bona fide locals might be stymied; and “spell check” won’t cut it. Good luck.)

The degree to which readers and, especially, reporters rely on copy editors is common knowledge, in the business.

Longtime, indefatigable reporter Tim O’Neil, speaking for legions of his fellow “ink-stained wretches,” sent the following note to the copy desk, when he heard about Lee’s decision: “Over the years, I relied upon you to put your seasoned eyes to my stories to check for errors, sloppy words and phrases, and all the other shortcomings that rise from the rush of our work and the limits of my talent.”

And here’s a tidbit that might arouse some interest, or hackles: On page 32 of Lee Enterprises 2019 Shareholders Report, the following names and figures appear, under what might be tagged as total executive compensation, for 2018:

Mary Junck, executive chairman, $1,455,728;

Kevin Mowbray, president, CEO, $1,351,475;

Tim Millage, V-P, $360,597;

John Humenik, V-P, $554,820;

Nathan Bekke, V-P, $458,277;

Ronald Mayo, V-P, $841,976.

And that’s the news — from Iowa.

Meanwhile, back in St. Louis, copy editors Schrappen and Crabbe offer closing comments, about the meaning of their job/calling/mission:

Jennie C. “In the newspaper business, I always felt I was a part of something important. Serving the community, serving the reader. The feeling that I won’t be part of that anymore is kind of like mourning.”

Colleen S. “ I am sorry to leave it, even though it often treats me  badly. I love it; and it is dying in front of me.”

Avis Meyer was  mentor to a generation of copy desk editors, working alongside them on the desk and teaching at Saint Louis University.


See how close you can come to spelling these “St. Louis” names.

1. The road that’s west of Lindbergh and east of I-270 is

a. Spayde

b. Spode

c. Spoede

d. Spaede

2. The St. Louis mayor after Jim Conway and before Freeman Bosley Jr. was Vincent:

a. Schoemehl

b. Schaymuhl

c. Schaemehl

d. Schoemel

3. The road just north of Forest Park that intersects Lindell near the History Museum is: a. Deboliver

b. DeBalviere

c. DeVoliviere

d. DeBaliviere

4. The town in Southern Illinois where the school is falling into an old coal mine is:

a. Beneld

b. Benld

c. Benyld

d. Benneld

5. The park along the Missouri River in north St. Louis County:

a. Fort Bellfountain Park

b. Fort Bellafontain Park

c. Fort Bellefountain Park

d. Fort Belle Fontaine Park

6. The avenue that runs right by the headquarters of Nestle Purina is (Hint — it shares the name of one of Our Town’s founders):

a. Chouteau

b. Showtow

c. Choteau

d. Chateau

7. The street a few blocks north of No. 6, where there was a famous Union prison during the Civil War, is:

a. Grashut

b. Gratiot

c. Gratiott

d. Grasshet

8. Ol’ No. 2, Hall of Famer and owner of “the greatest pair of hands” Stan Musial had ever seen, is Red:

a. Shanedeenst

b. Shanedienst

c. Schoendienst

d. Schaendienst

9. It’s a great creek for floating near Leasburg, Mo., but oh-so-hard to spell:

a. Courtaway

b. Coataway

c. Cortoy

d. Courtois

10. OK, the name of this river isn’t German or French, but it’s so often misspelled that it makes a great end to our quiz. No. 9 flows into it. It’s the:

a. Meramec

b. Merrimac

c. Meramac

d. Maramec

BONUS: Name the river that meanders through much of northeast Missouri and has a state park named after it. (And spell it correctly!) Cuivre River


1.c //  2.a// 3.d//  4.b// 5.d// 6.a//  7.b// 8.c// 9.d// 10.a//

Nostalgic Reunion Of The Globe-Democrat

“Those were the days my friend; we thought they’d never end…”

And although no one at the St. Louis Globe-Democrat’s recent reunion actually uttered that melancholy phrase — that was the tenor of the evening.  The literati and glitterati, past and present, of that spittoon-laden, hurly-burly, competing-paper era gathered in St. Louis Saturday, Oct. 29. The event was sponsored by the St. Louis Media History Foundation under the dedicated leadership of Frank Absher.

“This is what our foundation exists to do — preserve history,” Absher said of the gathering.

A flurry of sterling names were bandied about, and most (not all*) were on hand: John Auble, Jerry Berger*, Bob Byrne, Joe Castellano, Dan Caesar, Joan Dames*, Martin Duggan, Susan Fadem, Jack Flach, Pat Gauen, Katy Gurly, Holly Hildebrandt, Julie Hohman, Myron Holtzman, Kim Plummer Krull, Rich Koster*, Bob Lowes, Mike Montgomery, Tim O’Neil, Joe and Ann Pollack, Tim Poor, Del Schwinke, Margaret Sheppard*, Sue Evans Spoto, Ted Siegel, Jackie Siekerman, Rick Stoff, Joe Tannian, Ted Vessell, Lynn Venhaus, Ken Winn and Sue Ann Wood*.

The festivities were emceed by the amiable and relaxed Alvin Reed, ably abetted by Absher, Tom Pagano, Bob Byrne and the faithful Bill Greenblatt, who captured those fleeting moments and faces with his camera.

As the ebullient crowd of 50 or so hobnobbed and gnoshed, Martin Duggan (especially), Lynn Venhaus, Susan Fadem, Rick Stoff and John Auble shared their Globe-Democrat tales and tributes, adding pizazz, wit and lightness to the evening.

The hit of the evening was Rick Stoff’s cobbled-together media montage (with Holly Hildebrandt’s archival support); and it was roundly cheered. The memorable Globe-Democrat images streamed across the screen like stills from 1931’s Front Page (though no one, thankfully, ever actually looked like Adolph Menjou.) And the flow of pressrooms, headlines, nostalgic images and familiar, often departed, colleagues gently carried the audience along — though some of the details were curious.

Stoff commented:  “Someone in the audience noticed that the desks, chairs, cabinets — all the furniture that the paper had in the ‘30s and ‘40s, we still had in the ‘80s.”

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Everyone cheered, remembered and reveled in Stoff’s collective vision of the way “we” were … the nonconformist, eccentric, often unpredictable mold that the Globe-Democrat forged.'' All were reminded that the Globe was never boring and that it can still surprise.

Like this: On Oct. 15, 1964, two headlines appeared above the fold, on 1A;  “Khrushchev Resigns” … and … “Cards Win Series.” (placed at the top of the page.)

Or this: In early March, 1982, the Globe ran an “obit” for John Belushi, on the editorial page. The headline proclaimed: Death of a Slob.

And this: Jack Flack, crackerjack reporter and active retiree, remembers — sometime in the ‘60s, conferring with publisher Duncan Baumann about endorsing, or not, a particular high-profile candidate (almost certainly a Republican). The next morning, after their decision had landed on the front yards of at least 300,000 St. Louisans, Flach and Baumann heard, sort of, from the overlooked, unendorsed candidate. Large urns, overflowing with plump, yellow chrysanthemums, were delivered to both Baumann’s and Flach’s front porch. The attached white tags read: For yellow journalists.

Several of the many stalwarts who made the two-block trek to work for the Post-Dispatch were on hand, including two who were gently corralled for comment: Tim O’Neil, a reporter still toiling away at the Post; and Joe Tannian, copy editor, still toiling away at retirement. (They were members of a 1986 contingent of what one Post-Dispatch was called the Globe-Democrat Boat People. They were also called the Post Toasties.

O’Neil recalls that being at the Globe — near the end when the paper was shut down by the Newhouse chain, and a new publisher Jeff Gluck was in charge (cue: hissing and booing) — was unique.

“It was like being in a old black-and-white movie,” O’Neil said. “A little stark and harried, but everyone was pulling together, trying to keep the outfit going. It was noisy. We were scrappy. It was fun.''

And Tannian, summing up the evening for almost everyone, said: “It amazed me that we were that much older … and still recognizable.”

The Globe-Democrat, 1852-1986. Oh yes, those were the days …


Four Stalwarts Retire From Post-Dispatch

From hot lead to computers; from a p.m. newspaper to an a.m.; from Pulitzer ownership to Lee Enterprises, four veterans who have written and edited for a total of 135 years, recently walked out of the Post-Dispatch for the last time. It was a big loss of talent, experience and institutional memory.

They are: Phil Sutin, John Duxbury Ron Cobb and Joan McKenna.

Phil Sutin started his 45-year tour after his work at The University of Michigan gained him a P-D internship. He worked as general assignment reporter, in zones and the east side. After a session at University of California at Berkeley, in the early ‘70s, focusing on urban studies, he returned and tackled regional issues, city hall, county government, transportation, and the Clayton Bureau. He filled in as the metro-desk editor in the late 1990s and early 2000s; and his slot as regular Saturday night desk editor lasted until his retirement.

Some stories Sutin worked on: analyzing the area’s fragmented governments, covering the saga of the Admiral entertainment boat, editing more than 20 voters’ guides, and having the lead story on his last day. A blue turtleneck was his trademark and he’s probably had more bylines than any other Post reporter. St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley honored him by naming May 31 as Phil Sutin Day. In retirement, he plans on helping his wife Kathy with her website, St. Louis On The Cheap.

John Duxbury, called “Dux” by his sports-department colleagues, worked four years at The Sporting News before being hired in 1969 by the late Bob Broeg, then the Post’s sports editor. He is unassuming but was highly valued over his 42 years because of his bedrock knowledge of sports knowledge and his good humor.

Dux missed only one day of work. Among dozens of colleagues he recalls working with — Rick Hummel, who was selected for the Baseball Writers Hall Of Fame, and Neal Russo, a baseball writer whose weird antics included shoe polish on his hair to keep it black. Dux’s work included hundreds of rewrites, handling agate copy of league standings, box scores, a dizzying array of facts and stats, and maintaining a library of college catalogs and history sources on sagging shelves, collections from the old days

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to shore up the present.

He still belongs to the Baseball Writers Association of America, so lots of Cardinal games and watching sports on TV are on his retirement schedule.

Ron Cobb came to the Post as a sports copy editor 31 years ago but three years later found himself on the Blues hockey beat. He covered other sports as well, including Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers winning the first of five Stanley Cups in 1984. He saw Jack Clark hit the pennant-winning homer in Dodger Stadium in 1985. He wrote a speech for tennis great Arthur Ashe, which Ashe delivered at the St. Louis Tennis Hall of fame induction ceremony a year before he died of AIDS. Cobb, a top-rated local amateur tennis player, even traded lobs with Rod Laver at Forest Park.

Cobb transferred to features for the next 16 years. He served an eight-year stint as travel editor and wrote about places he visited around the country and things he did – snowmobiling, hiking, dog sledding and golfing.“This was my job,” he kept telling himself amid the fun. In retirement, he has no travel plans but will work sprucing up his house and playing “a lot of golf without getting bored.”

Joan McKenna started at the Post in 1994 as a free-lancer covering local governments. She got on the features department, worked on the Calendar section, Get Out and whatever else came down the pike. Then it was the copy desk and finally into design, where she worked for 13 years. Among her memories is this story:

On a Monday night in October 2000, a plane crashed in thick, foggy weather. The night editor told McKenna they needed a small, 4-inch wire story. Word then came that the plane was owned by the son of Gov. Mel Carnahan and he often flew his dad to campaign events, No one spoke, but they knew. Volunteers filled the newsroom to pitch in where needed — editing copy for an obit, answering phones; taking dictation. At a furious pace they worked to get it all, get it right. Afterward, driving home, McKenna remembers trying to take it all in — as a part of the world that informs the rest of the world.

She plans to stay in writing and editing, hone her programming skills and be a Facebook blogger for a non-profit group.