Saturday, August 16, 2008

National success as an independent in St. Louis

It is among my professional duties to read The St. Louis Business Journal. It's seldom an invigorating or memorable experience, but I do remember its editorial about "the feeding frenzy around the fate" of disgraced former Police Chief Joe Mokwa.

Amazingly, the first conclusion The Business Journal drew from the towing scandal that brought down Mokwa was, "Our community needs to stop destroying our own." That is truly an amazing place to start drawing conclusions from a police scandal!

The first conclusion, to many of us, was: We need to get to the bottom of this thing and get out of uniform (or lucrative City contracts) anyone who has been abusing the public trust and committing criminal acts at the expense of citizens and taxpayers. We need to get those individuals into the criminal justice system, where they belong.

But let's take the Business Journal's reasoning about not "destroying our own" a step further. In addition to not "destroying our own," surely the Business Journal thinks we should start (or continue, or get better about) promoting what is best about "our own," by which I suppose we mean our town and its people and institutions.

It will be interesting, then, to see if the Business Journal does anything with the following news about one of "our own."

In its 2008 "Newspaper of the Year" competition, Suburban Newspapers of America judged The St. Louis American to be the best newspaper of its class (Non-Dailies, Over 37,500 Circulation) in the United States.

The St. Louis American finished Second in this class for General Excellence. Given that the winner is a Canadian paper - The Era Banner, of Newmarket, Ontario - that makes our paper this year's best paper in the association in the U.S.

(Boilerplate: Suburban Newspapers of America is the only non-profit, professional trade association specifically serving the suburban and community newspaper industry. SNA's membership is comprised of nearly 2,400 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.)

It's remarkable that the only paper in the association judged to be better than the American, The Era Banner, is published by Metroland Media Group, Ltd., which publishes 100 community newspapers with a total of 132 editions and a combined distribution of approximately 4.5 million copies per week.

We publish one newspaper, The St. Louis American, with a weekly circulation of 70,000. Our publisher is one (black) man, Donald M. Suggs.

The Era Banner also can rely upon corporate resources far more vast than its publishing chain of 100 newspapers. Metroland is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Torstar Corporation. Its other businesses include the Star Media Group, led by The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper, and even Harlequin Enterprises, the romance novel publisher.

We can rely upon the resources of one (black) man in St. Louis, Donald M. Suggs.

Also, consider whom we beat. Third Place for General Excellence in our class went to Bayside Times, of Bayside, Queens, N.Y. Bayside Times is published by Times Ledger Newspapers , which publishes 14 papers with primarily paid circulation that cover the borough of Queens in New York City.

We publish one newspaper in St. Louis, Missouri, and we give it away for free.

Bayside Times also can access resources that range far wider than its 14-paper publishing group. Times Ledger Newspapers is part of News Corporation’s Community Newspaper Group, New York’s largest group of neighborhood newspapers covering Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

The St. Louis American simply has one (black) man publishing it in a small building of 25 (mostly black) people selling the ads, reporting and editing the stories, shooting the pictures, designing the pages, uploading it all to the web with daily updates, and driving the papers around to supermarkets, drug stores and hair salons, and dropping them off.

I'm adding as parenthetical the fact that we are part of the "ethnic media" or "black press" and that our competitors in this association mostly are not. The black community is as rich (or more so) than the mainstream, in terms of coverage opportunities, and black journalists and ad reps are as capable (on average) as their non-black counterparts.

What strikes me as much more crucial is our independence. Our paper is the only paper that won an award from Suburban Newspaper of American this year that is a truly independent, stand-alone paper. The next smallest operation that won any award was a paper out of Florida that is in a publishing group of five.

We were beat only by a publishing group of 100 that is in a corporate network that also publishes Canada's largest paper and fricking Harlequin romances. Our nearest competitor is a publishing group of 14 that is mobbed up with community newspapers that cover all of New York's outer boroughs except for Staten Island.

We are in a publishing group of one. In St. Louis. Let's see if the Business Journal tells the rest of "our town" about this remarkable news concerning "one of our own."

The problem, of course, is The St. Louis American is independent in thought, as well as business operations. When the mayor disgraces himself by promoting an unqualified black man to fire a highly qualified black fire chief, or by trying to cover for a (white) police chief who apparently has been running a criminal operation out of a tow yard with a lucratice City contract, we say so, loud and proud.

This seems often to disqualify us from consideration as "one of our own." That clique tends to be held a little more tightly than just folks who happen to be doing good work in St. Louis. In fact, the quality of your work often has little to do with whether you are considered as "one of our own" by the "our townies."

If the Business Journal (or St. Louis Post-Dispatch) want to report our good news and are at a loss for anything good to say about us, they can always quote from Suburban Newspapers of America. Here are this year's Judge’s Comments about us:


“The St. Louis American is a bold, authoritative and authentic voice of the black community in St. Louis. Itcommunicates a strong sense of community, purpose and mission. The paper provides a comprehensive local report as well as national stories from a point of view that is not present in the mainstream press. It combines news reports, commentary and features in an interesting and integrated presentation that reflects the community lifestyle. Living It is a lively collection of local features, columns and calendars.”


“The news presentation is serious and dignified, yet it reveals the character and personality of the community. The paper takes advantage of good reproduction to display bold typography, large photographs and interesting illustrations. Photographs are used generously throughout the sections. Red flag and spot color contribute to a patriotic tone suggested by the name of the publication. The use of typography, color and white space, along with the photos and headlines, convey a strong sense of community pride.”


“Retail ads are well designed and reflect the targeted audience. Career Center listings are attractive and easy to read.”

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