St Louis University Professor Says Public Journalism Must Progress Slowly

By Corrigan, Don | St. Louis Journalism Review, March 1998 | Go to article overview

St Louis University Professor Says Public Journalism Must Progress Slowly


Corrigan, Don, St. Louis Journalism Review


A local communication scholar and advocate of public journalism said it's no big surprise that St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editor Cole Campbell has tread softly up to now in promoting the public journalism philosophy at the paper.

"It takes some time to change a newsroom culture and Campbell is in a whole new part of the country," said John Pauly, a professor who chairs the communication department at St. Louis University.

"If you look at where it's been done elsewhere, it's where editors have been a part of the community and where they're in tune with that community," said Pauly. "I think Cole Campbell is still trying to get the lay of the land."

At the Missouri Press Association annual convention last fall, Campbell surprised many in the local press by insisting that the paper has, in fact, done very little public journalism in his first year at the Post.

"I'm amazed when the man who is recognized across the nation as one of the chief practitioner's of public journalism says that he isn't doing public journalism," said Riverfront Times editor and publisher Ray Hartmann, who served on an MPA panel about public journalism with Campbell.

St. Louis University's Pauly said he agreed with Campbell that the Post has yet to do any bona fide public journalism projects. He suggested that that situation could change as the Post gets closer to the November 1998 elections, since many public journalism projects are election-oriented.

"A lot of public journalism experiments have been projects that are concerned with elections or with a community taking stock of itself," explained Pauly. "But there are other avenues and I think some of the changes on the editorial page reflect that public journalism spirit. Now that Christy Bertelson is over there, I think we'll see some more of it."

"I do think the Post has done some things that are in the general spirit of public journalism," said Pauly. "Bringing in Chuck Stone as a reader's advocate or ombudsman was in the public journalism spirit, although it did not work out as well as was hoped..

Stone, a longtime newspaperman and scholar from the University of North Carolina, was brought to the Post ostensibly to play a role as ombudsman in monitoring the St. Louis mayoral primary in 1997.

As a highly credentialed and nationally respected African-American journalist, Stone was thought to be the ideal candidate as a reader's advocate and a catalyst for real conversation between the black and white communities in the city and the region.

Surprisingly, the all-important Democratic primary race between Freeman Bosley Jr. and Clarence Harmon and the subsequent election, billed as a turning point in St. Louis history, attracted far less interest regionwide than expected. Stone received far more letters on the Posts change on Saturday to a tabloid format than on the political future of St. Louis. And, early on, Stone found himself under attack by some segments of the black community.

The Post was suspected by some black leaders as intent on defeating Freeman Bosley Jr., the first African-American mayor in St. Louis. There were also charges of racism, although this was somewhat hard to reconcile with the candidacy of Bosley's opponent Harmon, who is also black. Nevertheless, the Posts arrangement to bring Stone in for a stint as reader's advocate quickly fell under suspicion in the black community.

Additionally, there was some discontent among Post staffers about Stone's role. …

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