Magazine article Editor & Publisher

When St. Louis Got the (Newspaper) Blues

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

When St. Louis Got the (Newspaper) Blues

Article excerpt

Patrick Gauen recalls it as a Hollywood moment, a scene that might have been too corny even for Frank Capra. On a rainy Sunday night in February 1984, he and General Manager Richard H. "Dick" Amberg Jr. were crossing Tucker Boulevard to watch the presses roll on the first edition of the revived St. Louis Globe-Democrat. The paper's owner, Advance Publications, had shut it down for two months before being forced to sell to the third person crossing the street -- an energetic 31-year-old named Jeff Gluck. Globe-Democrat circulation drivers spotted the new owner and began honking their horns and driving by slowly in spontaneous appreciation.

Before morning, that rainy night would turn into a blizzard that paralyzed delivery -- and the Capra-corn moment with the drivers would months later fade to a scene more fitting for a Martin Scorsese gangster epic. "I went into Jeff's office, he's on the phone and he motions for me to sit down," recalls Gauen, then the paper's top editor, "and he says to whoever's on the other end, 'Well, how much extra is it if they carry guns?'" Gluck was about to break the Teamsters' delivery contract -- and hiring security guards for the new drivers.

There were many other memorable moments at the Globe-Democrat under the new owner. There was the weekly employee race to the bank to be sure paychecks cleared -- that is, when checks were issued at all. The day the UPI wires fell silent for hours as the news agency demanded payment. The health benefits that disappeared and reappeared almost every other month. By 1985, the newspaper that had once sponsored Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic couldn't afford air conditioning in the newsroom.

At a time when a new fervor for local ownership of the newspaper is gripping many cities, the Globe-Democrat experience recalls the usual warnings about answered prayers. And it's not the only one.

To some residents and former employees, the Boca Raton (Fla.) News is another example of a paper that suffered when it went from chain ownership to local hands. Knight Ridder lavished attention on the paper, which in the early 1990s underwent a radical makeover as part of the chain's then-groundbreaking 25/43 Project to win back baby boomers. …

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