‘Refusing to obey orders’

The Day Book, E.W. Scripps’ Chicago-based ad-free daily, in 1916 reported on an unusual fight between the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and all of St. Louis’ major department stores.

The Post-Dispatch introduced a slick new rotogravure section to showcase its photography, but the department stores balked at the 50 cent per line ad rate, the highest “ever charged in St. Louis for newspaper advertising,” The Day Book reported.

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From review of Linda Morice’s “Nuked: Echoes of the Hiroshima Bomb in St. Louis” (2022): “The common thread that appeared to link these illnesses and deaths was Coldwater Creek, the 19-mile Missouri River tributary that starts at a spring-fed lake in Overland and winds through North County, including near her family’s former Florissant home.”

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‘Still a going piece of journalistic debauchery’

“Old man Pulitzer set the goal in dirty journalistic ‘ethics’ in the USA. His Post Dispatch in St. Louis and the New York World were examples in blackmail and dirty publicity that gave old man Hearst his guidepost. Bill went old Joe one better and became the all time low in blackmail and character assignation [sic] journalist approach. People seemed to like it.

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‘St. Louis is a slum city’

Mill Creek housing, circa 1948

The wholesale demolition of Mill Creek, the elimination of historic structures along the riverfront and urban renewal share a dark legacy in St. Louis. But long-forgotten is the wretched condition of most of the city’s housing stock immediately after World War II, when one out of every three residences lacked a toilet or bath.

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‘Only one Santa Claus’

Everybody knows about little Virginia O’Hanlon’s 1897 letter to the New York Sun, asking if Santa Claus is real. Francis Pharcellus Church’s response – “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus” – deftly elevated magical thinking, delivering a double blow to journalism and parenting from which neither ever recovered.* The Sun, which also gave us the Great Moon Hoax, died in 1950.

Unlike Virginia, who was the subject of news stories throughout her long life, nobody remembers little Wilbur Kent and his letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in which he asked whether there were two Santa Clauses because that’s how many he saw — on the very same day! He was deeply troubled because his “pap an mamma” said there was only one Santa, just like “they is only 1 god.”

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‘American money’

Adolf Hitler and Henry Ford, circa 1922

Adolf Hitler, the Austrian-born Bavarian fascist, made his first appearance in the pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a century ago, about 10 years before he was appointed chancellor of Germany.

It was a brief mention. The newspaper on Dec. 11, 1922, published only the first paragraph of a short Associated Press story, which reported “American money is helping to finance the Fascisti movement in Bavaria led by Herr Hitler.”

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New York World artist George Luks is republished here in The World’s sister newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, on Nov. 28, 1897. The Little Nippers — Alex and George — are playing a tuba and a banjo. Luks belonged to the “Ashcan School” of American realists.

A whale of a fail

Sometime in the 1990s, a colleague at The Commercial Appeal proposed creating an anonymous messaging board in the Atex system, allowing staffers to post questions and concerns about the newspaper. It was a way, she said, to prompt useful discussion about change in a newsroom where some saw management as unapproachable and inflexible.

The idea had a promising start, then quickly descended into personal criticism and recriminations. The editor pulled the plug.

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‘Only the names are different’

Actor Frank Lovejoy played Randy Stone

“Like most newspapermen, I hardly ever read a newspaper. A glance at the headlines, a quick look at the box leads, and we got the roundup. I guess we take the world pretty much for granted. The idea that each day’s news isn’t really news — it’s just a repeat of last week’s auto accident or a political speech or a murder. Only the names are different. It’s history — or what some people think history is. The chronicle of battles and speeches, of victors and vanquished, of winners and losers — and all in black and white, nothing gray, nothing in between.” — “Randy Stone,” from “Night Beat: Somebody Stop Ann.” (aired Aug. 7, 1952)

‘The secret’

Pulitzer József

“To think rightly, to think instantly, to think incessantly, to think intensely, to seize opportunities when others let them go by – this is the secret of success in journalism.” (1904)

“Every reporter is a hope, and every editor is a disappointment.” (1899)

The dynamite plot

A horse-drawn streetcar at the Fairground Park entrance, circa 1880s (from the collection of the Missouri Historical Society)

In 1885, streetcar workers in St. Louis went on strike, seeking a 12-hour workday (instead of the usual 16- to 18-hour day), a wage scale of $2 per day for conductors, 20 cents per hour for overtime, and $1.75 for drivers. The streetcar companies responded by hiring replacement workers.

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‘He studied nothing, but knew something about everything.’

In January 1903, Rep. John T. Crisp of Independence proposed a “Jim Crow” law for Missouri, requiring Black and white passengers to ride in separate railway coaches. “Col. Crisp’s bill is taken seriously by his fellow members at Jefferson City. It is necessary to say this for the reason that Col. Crisp’s colleagues do not always take him seriously,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported

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‘Stop complaining’

Marcus Aurelius (Photo by Carole Raddato/Flickr/CC)

“Everything that happens is either endurable or not.

“If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining.

“If it’s unendurable … then stop complaining. Your destruction will mean its end as well.

“Just remember: you can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your interest to do so.” – Marcus Aurelius, “Meditations

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Watermelons and Prophets

Illustration of one of the floats in the 1890 Veiled Prophet procession (St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Oct. 5, 1890)

Organizers of the Order of the Veiled Prophet in 1878, led by brothers Charles and Alonzo Slayback, sought to lift the city’s profile as a growing, affluent commercial hub. But, early on, the all-white, all-male Veiled Prophet promoted racist tropes, which were unapologetically echoed by all the leading newspapers of St. Louis.

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‘Real news’

Old press.

“In this market-driven world of easy-to-digest events, news increasingly becomes almost a parody of the term. News is no longer something ‘new’ but instead becomes a commodity that can be passed off as something interesting or original.

“Unfortunately, the lack of real news in the newspaper – news that gives a sense of depth and insight and context to surface events – is the one solution market-minded managers won’t consider when they analyze why readers are abandoning newspapers.

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Porta il luce …

“Facesti come quei che va di notte, che porta il lume dietro e sé non giova, ma dopo sé fa le persone dotte.”

(“You were as one who goes by night, carrying the light behind him – it is no help to him, but instructs all those who follow.” – Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio XXII, 67-69, Divina Commedia)  

The Missouri editor whose bigotry outlived him

John W. Jacks (1897)

John W. Jacks, who died a century ago this year, was in his time an esteemed newspaperman, a native Missourian who started, owned and edited several publications before buying the Montgomery Standard in 1881 and editing the weekly for some 40 years. He was politically active, accepted state and federal appointments, ran for office and used his position and his paper to advance his interests. “One of the ablest newspapermen in Missouri” is how he was described in news stories about his death published across the state.

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