Disruption in the news business, for good and ill, in St. Louis and across the globe, proceeds apace with the steady drip of reports and rumors of seeming instability, as news properties consolidate, attempt to refinance mountains of debt, their newsrooms contracting and reorganizing, and experienced journalists steadily leaving the business.
A growing canon of business analysis endlessly parses the reasons. Much of it revolves around how ad revenues, long the economic backbone of the extremely lucrative news business, collapsed when the industry's near monopoly over distribution was destroyed by digital delivery of information.
But, none of that is news. What is news is what hasn't changed.
People remain every bit as much attuned to the pulse of their community. Their eyes are drawn and ears are perked to the latest developments of local pathos, progress, scandal, and celebration.
Fewer St. Louisans may hear the early morning thwap of a rolled newspaper tossed on their front steps. But those who do still number in the hundreds of thousands each week.
More, still, continue to be dedicated self-aggregators of local news.
Back in the day, families took home-delivery of the Post-Dispatch and Globe Democrat. A weekly labor paper and church bulletin also were required reading. As people perused these offerings, many would tune their table radios to the Voice of St. Louis -- and catch the television news at dawn, dinner time and 10 p.m.
These routines persist in the digital age. The Post-Dispatch newsroom is smaller, but no less talented. Pound-for-pound, its reporters are as potent and imaginative as in the paper's mythic heyday. Indeed, the editorial page arguably is at its historic apex in national stature, having just this month won both the Walker Stone (Scripps Howard) and Burl Osborne (ASNE) awards.
(What's missing, damnably so, is a daily local editorial cartoon. This is an unforgivable loss.)
Here's what else is news: Competition between news organizations once quickened the metabolism of news reporting. In an era of smaller reporting staffs, an infectious camaraderie has emerged. Smart young reporters now swap stories and compare notes across platforms - inviting their readerships and viewerships into the conversation.
Millennial newsies have come to understand, in healthy and constructive ways, how they are better together. Bright young beat writers from the Post-Dispatch constantly are chatting up trends and breaking news with respected peers at the combined KWMU-Beacon Newsroom, with the part-time analysts like nextSTL's Alex Ihnen and Geoff Whittington;and with lively reporters from the Business Journal, Riverfront Times, Missouri Scout, KMOX, and television news teams.
Amid the dynamism and diversity, though, St. Louis would benefit from the continued presence of an authoritative, comprehensive traffic manager of daily news, a leading news organization that respects and recognizes the multitude of high-quality local news sources, but one with sufficient scale and heft to pull the elements together - to hold up a Mirror, each day, that provides the community with the daily miracle of a true and compelling reflection of itself.
Old school tabloid journo Pete Hamill made the case that daily newspapers are best positioned to fulfill this role today across many media platforms. He posed the following challenge - to us and to our papers' editors:
It's "no accident," he said, "that many of the cities that buried newspapers have never themselves been the same. Healthy cities are essential to newspapers, but healthy newspapers are also essential to cities. They supply the context for individual lives. They record change and offer visions of the future. They separate facts from rumors. They are the place to which hundreds of thousands come every day for a sense of connection to others."
But they "must be the medium that people believe. They don't have to be first. They can even be last. But they must be right."
(The photo included is the Post-Dispatch newsroom in the 1950s. At the time, the Post-Dispatch was located in a building at Tucker Boulevard and Olive Street. The newspaper later moved up the street to Tucker and Martin Luther King Drive; the former building currently houses the St. Louis Board of Elections Commissioners and other office space. This photo is courtesy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)