What is news?

thriving“The highest form of reporting is the ability to understand and fit together certain isolated and apparently unrelated trends before they become news. The public knows what news is after it becomes news. Only the accomplished and skilled reporter or editor knows what it is before it becomes news.” — A Handbook of Scripps Howard (1948)

‘Factious, flippant and reckless’

Frederick Law Olmsted  (Library of Congress)“Questions of the most momentous importance come up daily, and exact grave consideration from all. The experience of most persons will confirm the assertion that the manner in which the daily newspapers deal with these questions is most defective and unsatisfactory. Their false prophecies, their abandonment of all attempt to sift evidence — often unavoidable, it is true — their constant sacrifice of the truth to the demand for startling effects, the factious, flippant and reckless way in which many of them deal with the most serious topics, constantly remind their more intelligent readers that they are prepared to suit the requirements of the greatest number, but not by any means the best qualified, of those whose judgment goes to make up that force in human affairs called public opinion.” — “Prospectus for a Weekly Journal,” June 1863, from the collected works of Frederick Law Olmsted, a co-founder of The Nation.

We keep entering ‘a new and dangerous phase’

The week-long offensive to retake the ISIS stronghold (of Fallujah) has now entered a new and dangerous phase. [CBS News. May 30, 2016]  The Palestinian president today accused Israel of provoking a danger“religious war” … amid mounting concerns that their long-running conflict is entering a new and dangerous phase. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 11, 2014]  Declaring a victor before a negotiated settlement could mark a new, dangerous phase of the crisis surrounding the vote to succeed President Hamid Karzai. [The National Journal, September 11, 2014] The 48-page report released Tuesday is grim, Read more of this post

The armadillo in all of us

Weigh inIt may be small-brained and shortsighted, but the armadillo has managed to take over most of the Americas.

Only one armadillo showed up for this year’s “World Famous Armadillo Festival” in Hamburg, Ark., and it couldn’t have cared less.

After a ceremonial weigh-in and photo shoot with the reigning Teen Miss Armadillo (a local high school beauty), the creature was released in the designated “racetrack” — a makeshift chicken wire enclosure — where it immediately began to nose around for bugs and grubs. Read more of this post

Jinx Rag


1911 clip“Dedicated to the famous cartoonist Jean Knott.”

Knott (1883-1937) worked at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where he drew the popular “Penny Ante” strip and other cartoons. In 1916, he joined the Hearst syndicate.

Recent accounts say Lucian Porter Gibson of St. Louis (1890-1959) wrote “Jinx Rag” in 1915.  But a clip from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, published on Oct. 8, 1911, says Gibson and Jesse Dukes “jointly composed” the song. Little is known about either man. Copies of the score includes the instruction: “Not Fast. Don’t Fake


Spring Pests_edited-2 (2)

The exposure era

04-08-1906 the exposure era “One of the chief requisites of a successful author-exposer is that he shall take himself and everything he touches most seriously. An appreciation of the humorous would be likely to mar what would otherwise be masterpieces of exposure literature. … He takes the world seriously, he demands to be himself taken seriously, else he may brand you as one of ‘The System’ or a sympathizer of that aggregation of corruptors.” — The Exposure Era in the Magazines, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 8, 1906.

Clara-Jumi Kang 클라라주미 강

The homicide record: ‘A truly terrible state of lawlessness and indifference to human life’

The SpectatorIn December 1915, The Spectator, a weekly that covered the nation’s insurance industry, looked at the large increase in mortality caused by homicide in the previous decade. It focused on 30 leading cities. Many of its findings are familiar, including a condemnation of “the unrestrained sale of firearms.”

The largest numbers of homicides were recorded in places with the biggest populations, including Chicago and New York City’s then-biggest boroughs (Manhattan, the Bronx and Brooklyn).

But the highest homicide rates were found in cities in the South, led by Memphis, Tenn., which recorded a rate of 63.7 homicides per 100,000 people in 1904-1913 and 72.2 in 1914. Those numbers, wrote statistician Frederick L. Hoffman, “reflect a truly terrible state of lawlessness and indifference to human life.” A distant second was Charleston, S.C., at 32.7 in 1904-1913 and 33.3 in 1914, followed by Savannah, Ga.; Atlanta; New Orleans; Nashville, Tenn.; and Louisville, Ky.

St. Louis  —  the nation’s fourth-largest city until 1920, when it was overtaken by Detroit and Cleveland — had the eighth-highest homicide rate, according to the 1915 ranking.  Read more of this post

Patience in the face of adversity

Saint Louis

. . .

“If God send thee adversity, receive it in patience and give thanks to Our Lord and bethink thee that thou has deserved it, and that He will make it turn to thine advantage.” — Louis IX

Guiding principle

e.w. scrippsI have not a whole series of journalistic principles. I have only one principle, and that is represented by an effort to make it harder for the rich to grow richer and easier for the poor to keep from growing poorer. –– E.W. Scripps, 1910

We can only hold together, having supporting us the army of our followers, so long as we fight hard and win battles for them; so long as we fight against privilege and successfully and by degrees transfer continually some of the privileges of the few to the many. — E.W. Scripps, 1915

One year, 250 links

FergusonA lot was written about #Ferguson. Some of it was interesting. Some was good. A few things were important. http://bit.ly/1ww93uA

Stuffed sausages

It was a smile full of disdain, typical of self-important jerks who hang like stuffed sausages from the top of all corporate ladders. … They grew like a plague of fungi, thriving on the dung on which companies are built.

— Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

The focus should be …

558c38073f86c.imageFrom Post-Dispatch review of Henry W. Berger’s St. Louis & Empire:

… past attempts to address poverty, racial segregation and inequality, and troubled public education have had, at best, “limited success” and, in many cases, made things worse.

“Far more extensive attention and far greater corrective action” is required, he writes. “The focus should … be on people, not real estate. High-ticket enterprises such as stadiums, convention centers, and condo buildings do not a city make.”


Seeing the world through the eyes of the Globe

0 mdPeople who knew Martin Duggan as the elderly, avuncular host of a St. Louis PBS talk show also remember that he was a veteran newspaperman, the former editorial page editor of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

They may remember the Globe-Democrat as a conservative voice; they may forget, however, how reactionary, how out-of-step with the times, and how often foolish that newspaper could be.

In early 1983, the same year the Newhouse chain announced it was closing the Globe-Democrat, I interviewed Duggan for a profile of his newspaper’s editorial page. He was 62; I was 24.

He spoke about his reasons for only running columnists that agreed with the paper’s philosophy Read more of this post

‘Always remember, your work is not important. It is merely interesting.’

OKBA scale of basic values for an individual, or for a newspaper, in [O.K.] Bovard’s thinking, started with the concept of man as primarily an economic animal, whose life being was shaped to a great extent by his search for the necessities. But, while food, clothing, and shelter as basic needs of man provided the skeleton of his news philosophy, it was large enough to include such factors as the right to work, the right to know and learn, and medical care for the sick. Until a bed existed in every hospital for every sick and needy person, or until a desk was provided in every schoolroom for every child, Bovard felt that the question of a symphony orchestra for St. Louis should remain relatively unimportant. Thomas B. Sherman, the paper’s music and book critic, might argue that music should be classified as a necessity, but Bovard would not have agreed. This concept of news values explains in part Bovard’s desire to minimize the entertainment features of the paper and his eagerness to replace them with more solid stuff. He told Marguerite Martyn, who wrote about fashions and women’s activities, “Always remember, your work is not important. It is merely interesting.” When men were unemployed and starving, he grew impatient with the “fluff” and trivia that filled great quantities of newspaper space.” – James W. Markham, “Bovard of the Post-Dispatch (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1954) pp. 137-138

Read more of this post



‘Worst in the world for discovering genius’

EL_Masters1915Current_opinion“Your newspapers are really wonderful in many ways; they are positively audacious, astonishing, but they are the worst in the world for discovering genius. … It was an awful shame that a second-rate critic from England should have to be called in to tell Americans who their poets are.” — John Cowper Powys (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 29, 1915)

Read more of this post

Understanding lettuce

green-leaf-lettuce“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.” — Thích Nhất Hạnh

Happy in Ząbkowice Śląskie


Formerly Frankenstein, Silesia.

Sunday A1 2015

01-04-2015 a101-11-2015 a101-18-2015 a102-08-2015 a102-15-2015 a102-22-2015 a103-01-2015 a1 04-17-2015 biz04-19-2015 a105-10-2015 a106-07-2015 a107-05-2015 a107-12-2015 a108-30-2015 a109-06-2015 a109-13-2015 a110-04-2015 a111-01-2015 a111-08-2015 a1Residents are tired of talk from EPA. (Jacob Barker, Jan. 4) http://bit.ly/1LrDTre

GMO wheat. (Tim Barker, Jan 11) http://bit.ly/1u017wo

Stadium site far from empty. (Tim Bryant, David Hunn, Jan 18) http://bit.ly/1CCG9bM

Struggling to recover. (Jim Gallagher, Tim Bryant, Feb. 8) http://bit.ly/1wdHpnL

Prison services are profitable niche for Bridgeton company. (Tim Barker, Feb. 15) http://bit.ly/17dzeeR

St. Louis has a jobs problem. (Jim Gallagher, Feb. 22) http://bit.ly/1vYimzk

Health care subsidies hinge on four words. (Jordan Shapiro, March 1) http://bit.ly/1E6JQuD

Traffic fine limits could turn screws on cities’ budgets. (Jacob Barker, April 12) http://bit.ly/1cL3Ojn

Chesterfield is flexing muscle as a retail hub. (Lisa Brown, April 19) http://bit.ly/1yH40d3

Medicaid missteps gave reluctant lawmakers a line of attack. (Jordan Shapiro, May 10) http://bit.ly/1dUcIeT

Doe Run damage gives neighbors a sinking feeling. (Jack Suntrup, June 7, 2015)  http://bit.ly/1IroN9j

Learning to adapt. (Jacob Barker, July 5, 2015) http://bit.ly/1IYxvpS

‘Schoemehl pots’ in thick of debate over street closure. (Leah Thorsen, July 12, 2015) http://bit.ly/1g9pPu6

Tax Bill Brawl. (Jim Gallagher, Aug. 30, 2015) http://bit.ly/1KeYeD9

The ‘gig economy.’ (Tim Barker, Sept. 6, 2015) http://bit.ly/1OGaigq

Giant Illinois shooting range hopes for a shot at reloading. (Tim Barker, Sept. 13, 2015) http://bit.ly/1KjssF1

Washington U. to remake its front door. (Tim Bryant, Oct. 4, 2015) http://bit.ly/1FNXPru

Pointing fingers. Many players, theories in contamination of landfill. (Jacob Barker, Nov. 1, 2015) http://bit.ly/1N474AY

Sustainable farming means full-time commitment to learning — and teaching — for Illinois couple. (Tim Barker, Nov. 8, 2015) http://bit.ly/1MEe7Qp

(Lisa Brown, Nov. 22, 2015)



David Carr interviews Edward Snowden, Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald

David CarrFeb. 12, 2015


A strategy based on more campaign ads, less industry competition

give light

E.W. Scripps Co. is in the process of shedding its newspapers as part of a combination with Milwaukee-based Journal Communications.  The newspaper-free E.W. Scripps will focus primarily on broadcast and digital. Its future, outlined by CEO Rich Boehne (excerpts below), anticipates a windfall of heavy campaign spending in a post-Citizens United political marketplace. It also looks to a future with fewer competing media voices in local markets.

Boehne & Co. have been singing the same tune for more than four years. In a 2010 presentation to analysts, E.W. Scripps gloated about the windfall it garnered from midterm elections. “We took more than our fair share — by design” read one slide in the presentation that was headlined: “2010 political winners: GOP and SSP.” (SSP is the ticker symbol for Scripps.)

Some idealists may think such a strategy — one that depends fewer competing news organizations and on 30-second, often vitriolic and misleading, TV spots — is cynical, Read more of this post

St. Louis, 2014

Saint Louis 2014


farm in winter“The snows, the length of the sub-zero weather, and the floods of 1936 go down in the annals as the worst since 1881, and for decades they are the yardstick against which all winters and springs are measured. … While the daily paper frequently did not get delivered, and the mail didn’t make it, either, while schools and businesses closed, while Greyhound buses coughed to a stop in snowbanks and trains came through only sporadically, Dougan Dairy battled drifts and floods and never for a day failed to deliver the milk to each customer’s doorstep — although sometimes a few hours late.” — Excerpt from “Snow,” from Jacqueline Jackson’s The Round Barn, Vol. 1, published in 2011.

The Round Barn, Vol. 2, was published in 2012; The Round Barn, Vol. 3, in 2014. The fourth and final volume will appear in 2015. The entire set is available at roundbarnstories.com  (I began publishing Jackie’s work, including her poetry, when I was editor of Illinois Times, and later, in FOCUS/midwest. I also was able to assist her in completing The Round Barn series, a project she’d undertaken many years ago. It’s a remarkable work.)

SLMPD bars Santa from City Hall

A Christmas tale: How ‘Santa’ ended up buried in St. Louis

1900 SantaEarly on Christmas morning, in the year 1900 in the city of St. Louis, an old man with a long gray beard and shoulder-length hair wandered north on North Grand Avenue, leaning on a cane as a brisk cold wind stung his face and whipped his coat.

Sitting at the front window of 3615 North Grand the home of butcher Edward Ladain and his wife, Lulu  seven-year-old Elizabeth watched the old man with growing amazement.

Who would be outside on such chill morn were it not Santa Claus himself, weary from a night of hard toil and on his way home?

Little Elizabeth and other children in the house  their names lost to history  opened the door, and invited Santa inside to warm himself.

As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, then an afternoon newspaper, recounted in a story published Dec. 25 (“Mistook Him for Old Santa Claus“): “The old man paused, then he entered. He mumbled something and shivered with the cold.  The children bade him be seated before the big fire in the grate. He looked with vacant eyes at the demonstration of his little hosts. He could not divine the cause. It was so different from the other receptions he had had.”

Read more of this post

A successful year

12-15-1916 Weil ad (2)