Dispatches from the Fifth Estate

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In 1969 the Chicago Journalism Review reported a story that had been ignored by the mainstream press, alleging that the political machine of Mayor Richard Daley had covered up the murder of two members of the Black Panther Party at the hands of police. The article led to a grand-jury indictment. It also ushered in the popularity of local "journalism reviews" as a check on the credibility and ethics of the hometown press.

Inspired by Chicago, Charles Klotzer founded the St. Louis Journalism Review in 1970. Among more than 30 journalism reviews that sprang up across the nation in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it stands today as the sole print-based survivor. (The Columbia Journalism Review and the American Journalism Review continue to critique media on a national level.)

It's debatable why other media reviews failed, but it certainly doesn't help matters that most cities now feature just one daily paper -- making for less "mainstream press" to evaluate. Also, with the advent of the Internet, anyone can hold the media's feet to the fire. Did anyone ever hear of Matt Drudge before he published the story Newsweek refused to run -- a sordid tale involving a White House intern and a sitting U.S. president?

The prohibitive cost of newsprint may be another factor. For the past eleven years, Webster University has subsidized the production costs of the SJR -- spending $30,000 to $40,000 to print and distribute the (by and large) monthly publication. Those subsidies end next month, and the SJR will once again land in the hands of its founder, Charles Klotzer.

In its heyday the SJR had nearly 5,000 subscribers. Klotzer won't say how many current readers there are, but he acknowledges that it's a much smaller number. Still, he promises that the March issue -- the first sans Webster U.'s support -- will be the biggest and best SJR to date, with 48 pages and a glossy cover.

The SJR archives some of its articles online, but idea of making the review solely Web-based remains anathema to Klotzer.

"Webster wanted to reduce the paper to a blog," Klotzer says. "There are a number of people who feel strongly, as I do, that print is the better solution and they've stepped up financially to ensure it remains in its current form."

Meanwhile SJR's split from Webster University seems to have created a revival of sorts in local, media criticism. Klotzer says former editor Ed Bishop will soon launch a blog through Webster University that focuses on monitoring the media. Last week Mike Anderson, host of the online chat room stlmedia.net, announced that he too plans to launch a local journalism review.

In an e-mail sent to media types last week, Anderson set the stage for a subscription-based multimedia Web site that will "replace the failed, dead-tree STL Journalism Review with politically and socially balanced print, audio and video commentary and coverage of all media from a local perspective."

Anderson further suggests that as long as Klotzer -- who declines to divulge his age but lets on that he fled his homeland of Austria in 1939 -- runs the SJR, the publication will remain woefully behind the times.

"The St. Louis Journalism Review is moving into the 20th century when they should be moving into the 21st," Anderson delcares. "I provided them with a package that would help them move online, but I got the feeling that Mr. Klotzer is mired in the admiration people have in print. Clearly the future of media is online."

Klotzer says news of Anderson's Web site came as a shock -- considering the two met for the first time last week (though Anderson has managed SJR's Web site for a number of years).

"I'm flabbergasted," says the SJR founder. "Mike went on and on about how honored he was to talk to me and what a privilege it was to meet me. He had some ideas about the future of SJR, but I said for the time being it was still under control of Webster."

Lest you think a war may be in the making, Klotzer says there's no such thing as too much competition -- especially when it comes to media criticism.

Sure, more media-saturated cities (Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., to name but a few) long ago abandoned their journalism reviews. But in St. Louis, says Klotzer, the need remains -- regardless of whether anyone is paying attention.

"The point is not whether there's a public demand," he argues. "The question is whether there is a need for a public watchdog. We could have three or four more journalism reviews in St. Louis and still not cover everything out there."

-Chad Garrison

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