Exploring St. Louis: Blockbusting, redlining and segregation

It’s a rabbit-hole, yes. But one that’s well worth going down in as I immerse myself in the racial past and present of St. Louis. It’s fascinating. It’s depressing. It’s a must.

As the editor of a new Corporation for Public Broadcasting-funded “diversity” coverage initiative, I am based at St. Louis Public Radio and supervise a team of four reporters: One is here; the others are in Kansas City, Hartford and Portland, Ore. While the paperwork for the CPB grant says “diversity,” I feel like this whole initiative will be more about identity: About how Americans think of themselves and about “the other,” in their communities.

In this regard, the issue of where St. Louis people lived and live looms large. The scars of redlining, blockbusting and segregation seem to be everywhere–once you know where to look. Could Ferguson have happened as it did elsewhere? Yes, certainly. But it happened here–how and when it did–for reasons that have to do with both race and place.

So here’s what I’ve been reading, watching and listening to:

SPANISH LAKE – Race, Class and White Flight in Missouri

Clayton was once home to a thriving African-American neighborhood. Now, it’s little-known history.

Pruitt–Igoe (The Wendell O. Pruitt Homes and William Igoe Apartments)

Kinloch connection: Ferguson fueled by razing of historic black town

St. Louis: A city divided

We Live Here: Out of The Ville

We Live Here: White Flight and reclaimed memories

St. Louis Is Growing More Diverse—Just Not in the Black Half of Town

These Maps Of St. Louis Segregation Are Depressing

VICE Abandoned St. Louis Schools

What else should I read, listen to or watch? 

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Credit: Wompum via Reddit
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Dateline St. Louis: Sometimes you just need to stop

ST. LOUIS–It’s a strange thing to be unemployed. Or partially employed. Even if by your own choice. There is both freedom and fear. A sense of excitement and moments of panic. There is time for naps. There is too much time to think.

I had to stop. I had to figure out what I was doing and, more important, what should I be doing. So, I did.

Scary, to say the least. I just knew that I could not continue doing the same thing and expect different results, to paraphrase a famous quote.

I applied for at least one job every day, even long shots. Even things I really didn’t want to do. I told people I trust about what I wanted. I had lots of coffee with people, made lots of phone calls and sent lots of emails in the name of networking. (It would pay off).

I wrote a ton of cover letters. I received a number of “Thank you, but…” responses. I came very close to accepting a job in an outrageously expensive city that someone I respect and I care about is preparing to leave (in part because it’s outrageously expensive). There was a close call with a job outside of journalism: The horror!

Then, I saw a job posting that really resonated; I mean from head to toe.

It promised a completely different direction, but one I was qualified for. I wrote the heck out of the cover letter. I applied. I heard nothing. I chalked it up to another one of those, “It would’ve been nice, but….”

Here I should say that this whole time (July to present), I’ve been encouraged, buoyed up by, given reality checks by, and received cheerleading from, my family. Not everyone has the kind of support system that allows them to keep their sanity while in transition. Also, there are friends who continued to think highly of me, even when I did not think highly of myself.

And then, after about two months, it came: A phone call about that job posting that really resonated. I could hardly believe it. Stars aligned. Things started to move. Interviews. Reference checks. More interviews. The offer.

So, I start on Dec. 11. Ain’t life Grand? (That’s a hint).

THANK YOU! Mom, Dad, Randy, Emily, Geraldine C., Kurt G., Allison H., Brian J., Jim S., Neil R., Eric K., and (for reals) LinkedIn

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Meet me in St. Louis. Under the Arch.

Don’t look now, Twitter: The world is turning to WhatsApp for news

Remember when Twitter was everything? It’s still got more than 320 million monthly active users, but it’s no longer the hot social media platform. While Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram continued to grow between 2012 and 2015, Twitter stagnated starting in 2014 (Pew Research Center).

RELATED: 24 slightly depressing stats on the ‘fall’ of Twitter

I recently heard a colleague describe Twitter as a kind of “echo chamber,” for journalists, pundits, news junkies and assorted fans of assorted sports teams and pop culture icons.

Hello, WhatsApp.

WhatsApp_logo
Source: WikiMedia Commons
When I spent six months in Belize last year, I began using WhatsApp to send free messages and make free phone calls to family and friends in the U.S. I also found that Belizeans use WhatsApp quite heavily to message and talk to each other within the country.

If you are unfamiliar with WhatsApp, here are the basics:

So, now you’re asking: How does WhatsApp, which sounds like a utility, qualify as a social media platform? How do people get news from such an app?

Percentage of people using each service at least once a week

Stats

Source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017

While in Belize, I was invited to join a WhatsApp group called Newz@Ur Finga Tipz. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was intrigued. Soon, I saw that the curators and users of the group were sharing details about car accidents, severe weather (flooding and tropical storm activity especially), missing persons, and other tidbits that you might normally expect news outlets to report.

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In Belize, where newsrooms are not always staffed to keep ahead of breaking and developing news (especially on weekends), Newz@Ur Finga Tipz was delivering information in a timely fashion to a group of “subscribers,” if you will. There were rumors bandied about, but the group’s curators and members took pains to debunk and/or confirm and then spread the news.

My job in Belize involved public relations and marketing for the nation’s leading cultural and historical institutions, including the Maya archaeological sites around the country that provide employment for Belizeans and draw tourists and researchers in (for Belize) huge numbers.

In the wake of August 2016’s Hurricane Earl, I jumped on Newz@Ur Finga Tipz as one channel for providing updates on which archaeological sites were closed due to storm damage, and which other venues (e.g. the Museum of Belize and Bliss Center for the Performing Arts) had been affected by the hurricane.

In Belize, WhatsApp is free way to inform and communicate, but the platform is even more widely used for sharing news and views in other countries–countries where tweeting or posting a news item could get you into trouble with government officials, religious authorities and others with the power to make lives uncomfortable.

Just take a read about how China has WhatsApp in its censorship sights.

WhatsApp is private. So, as long as you know and trust people you connect with, it’s a safe means for connecting.

For its latest Digital News Report, the Reuters Institute For The Study of Journalism worked with YouGov to survey people in across Europe, the Americas and Asia. The study was sponsored by the BBC and Google among others. A total of 71,805 people were questioned in January and February to generate the data.

Key findings

  • Facebook is still the most popular social media and messaging service for news engagement in all but two countries – Japan and South Korea – where, respectively, YouTube and Kakao Talk dominate.
  • Sharing news stories and chatting about them appears to be on the rise within private instant messaging apps, and WhatsApp in particular.
  • WhatsApp is now the second most popular social service for news in nine of the 36 locations, and the third most popular platform in a further five countries.

“Some of the biggest growth we’ve seen is in places like Turkey, where it’s positively dangerous for people to express anti-government preferences on open networks like Facebook…. As a result people are using closed groups where they are more confident of expressing their views.” — Nic Newman, Digital News Report

Another attractive quality of WhatsApp is that content is not selected by journalists. The gatekeepers are WhatsApp users. According to a BBC article about the Digital News Report, some news organizations are trying to jump on the WhatsApp bandwagon (of course), but: “….part of WhatsApp’s appeal is that users don’t get interrupted by brands, making it a very pure form of messaging. That’s something [its developers] will really try to hold to.”

Here’s a look at WhatsApp usage in many countries (Percentage of YouGov respondents who report using WhatsApp on a weekly basis)

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Source: Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2017

The Digital News Report survey did not include Africa (which is odd), but guess what? WhatsApp is huge there.

Facebook and WhatsApp

Wondering how Facebook feels about the rise of WhatsApp? The world’s dominant social network acquired the hot, new upstart in 2014. Now, naturally, Facebook is looking to monetize the app, so it will be interesting to see how that works out–given that WhatsApp users may be flocking to the service because it’s devoid of advertising and other money-making features.

Stay tuned.

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The Podcast: Auditory perfection? 

What is it that’s so cool about podcasts? The little burst of excitement I feel when a new one is ready reminds me of getting letters or cards in the mail back when people used to send letters and cards.


Perhaps podcasts are like magazines; so many subjects and themes that there is something for everybody. Even better, the podcasts you love don’t have annoying perfume sample inserts.

It’s not likely that most people who podcast will become overnight millionaires; advertising is sparse for the smaller players (which is part of the charm). Some podcasters get donations a la public radio; others sell swag like t-shirts. Crowdfunding is another option. 

Still, as it turns out, if you have an attractive concept and a devoted, growing audience, you might attract venture capitalists to back you.

An article at NiemanLab.org says “We can mark 2016 as the year the podcast business came of age.” Ad revenue is growing, according to stats in the article.

Podcasting is a form of story-delivery that accommodates a wide range of voices, as this article from the Knight Foundation describes. Anyone can do it. Not everyone will cash in.

Here are the voices I am listening to:

  • Snap Judgment
  • LORE
  • Somebody Knows Something 
  • Crimetown
  • Moth Radio Hour
  • True Crime Brewery
  • New Yorker Radio Hour
  • Serial
  • Fresh air 
  • This American Life

Related: How to start podcasting 

Everybody hurts: 10 reasons journalists can have morale problems

Non-journalists are often surprised to learn that working in journalism is not all excitement, fun and a deep sense of fulfillment.  Working in television and digital news as I do, I find myself explaining that one of the biggest issues facing leaders is morale–and it’s one that often gets short shrift in the fast-paced, intense daily flow of work.

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As many corporations have learned, a workforce of frustrated, frightened and angry employees is bad for productivity. There’s a reason new companies place a high premium on workplace amenities, generous benefits and opportunities for training and growth.

So why are so many journalists bummed out?

1. We are constantly finding out disturbing information about human nature.

2. That ever-present, sneaking feeling that you just missed a very important story/scoop.

3. Highly competitive. Journalists are constantly sizing themselves up against the news operation “across the street” as well as against their own co-workers. This is a losing game, but we can’t resist playing it.

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4. Change. New technology, new platforms, new economic realities. It’s all scary.

5. With great responsibility and public presence come outsized egos. And, the flip-side is deep insecurity.

6. One minute you’re winning, the next you are down in the cellar.

A recent study looked at how constantly monitoring performance via metrics affects newsroom morale. No surprise, it found that simply checking how individual digital stories performed–or looking at daily television ratings–can be either be a huge downer or a massive upper–and both outcomes offer distortion that can feed into insecurity and frustration. MORE Study: Metrics have ‘powerful influence’ on journalists’ morale

7. Work-life balance. Say what?

8. Money. Unless you are a network anchor who writes a best-seller and marries money, you are unlikely to be rich. You will work very hard for long hours.

9. Love and hate from the public. When we give voice to the voiceless, expose the baddies and hold the powerful accountable we are heroes. When mess up, everyone knows and won’t let us forget it.

10. Bosses who just don’t get it.

Believe it or not, journalists are not always the best leaders! We tend to be impatient, cynical, skeptical and highly motivated by individual achievement. The qualities that make a reporter, producer or other newsie great at news gathering can make us terrible as managers. Recommended: What Great Bosses Know (podcasts)

As a newsroom leader myself, I find one of the toughest challenges is distinguishing between individual and organizational angst: There are people who have personal or professional problems unique to them, no matter where they happen to be working. Then are also low morale themes that permeate and fester. Tackling morale problems effectively requires leaders to correctly diagnose before taking action.

So why to we do it?

Remember that excitement, fun and a deep sense of fulfillment I mentioned earlier? It does exist! Also, we love being in the know and on the front lines of life.

There is no formula for all of this. But, we know listening and hearing are vital. We know that walking the talk speaks volumes.  Suggestions welcome!

journalists

“Too nice?” 3 reasons nice guys and gals often survive and thrive at work

“It’s easy to think of the workplace as something like a battleground—a place where only the tough survive. But what if the tables were turned? What if, instead of rewarding harsh and ruthless behavior, the most successful people among us were actually, gulp, kind?” — OPEN Forum (American Express)

From Dictionary.com
From Dictionary.com

I am a nice person. How do I know this? People having been saying it for years, in a variety of ways:

“Nobody doesn’t like Holly.” (Not true, by the way. One colleague of mine told another: “Talking to Holly gives me a headache”).

“Holly? She never says anything mean.”

“You’re so positive all the time!”

“You’re so nice!”

The first comment I take as an observation of fact. It was relayed to me by someone I trust and respect, and I believe he considers my like-ability an asset.

Otherwise, the implication about being nice is that nice guys and gals finish last; that being nice will get in your way, especially in journalism–where many professionals still pride themselves on being crusty, crude and cynical. And yet, here I am.

“Acting aloof, or above your employees, does not make a leader. Leaders have to be able to talk and listen to their employees on all levels of the company. At the same time, they must have the respect of their employees, the kind of respect that’s earned by being honest, having integrity, and being tough but fair.” Fast Company

Three ways in which–in my opinion–being nice is a winner.

  1. Nice does not equate to weak. A person can be polite and friendly without being a pushover. In fact, being amiable can work wonders in an environment that requires collaboration and teamwork.
  2. Nice does not equate to fake. Believe it or not, there are many journalists who genuinely like people! We can be very effective in working with sources and stakeholders, and we have a built-in toolkit for conversations and decisions that require a degree of delicacy.
  3. Nice + knowledge = power. People who are genuinely pleasant, kind and generous and who are also great at their jobs are often those who go the distance in their careers.

To what degree can “nice” be learned?

I am not sure. But, for people are genuinely nice and have been advised to dial back the amiability, it could be time to re-evaluate. You can be both nice and successful at work.

TIP: Nice people are often humble and modest about their achievements. Show your “wins” by sharing examples of your work and ways in which you successfully collaborated with others to complete a project; improve a process; or solved a problem. Email, much-maligned, is good way to let your boss and colleagues know what you’ve been up to and puts these victories on the record. Compile your wins throughout the year, so you have them handy at annual evaluation time!

Read more:

At the intersection of Ferguson, Shaw and Klemm

There is a one-way street in the Shaw neighborhood of St. Louis called Klemm. It runs between DeTonty and Tower Grove Park, just south of I-44. At the intersection of Klemm and Shaw Boulevard (about two blocks from the Missouri Botanical Gardens) sits a little grocery store.

The arrow points to the corner of Klemm Street and Shaw Boulevard. (Google Maps)
The arrow points to the corner of Klemm Street and Shaw Boulevard. (Google Maps)

On the morning of Oct. 9 (a Thursday), NPR’s Morning Edition headlines reported that a young man named VonDerrit Myers Jr., 18, had been shot by an off-duty police officer in “South St. Louis” the previous night. The report itself mentioned “the Shaw neighborhood.” That’s when I started looking up St. Louis reporters I follow on Twitter. A web story I found cited the “4200 block of Shaw Boulevard” as the location of the shooting. Then, finally, I read “corner of Klemm and Shaw.”

READ MORE: Fatal Shooting By Off-Duty St. Louis Police Officer Sets Off Protest In Shaw Neighborhood

My heart moved into my mouth. I live in Cincinnati, while my parents and brother (and his family) live in St. Louis. In fact, I have walked and driven around the very corner at issue more times than I can count. It lies at the midway point in the five-minute stroll from brother’s to my parents’ house. In fact, I had made the walk just a few days before the shooting, after saying goodbye to my sister-in-law, my niece and my two nephews. We had spent a very pleasant late morning at an arts and crafts fair on Flora Avenue (which I think of as the Park Place of Shaw), four blocks away.

On Oct. 5, just a few days before the shooting of xxx, I hung out with Isaac, Sophia, and Simon (and Tsunami, the dog) at an art fair along Flora, just four blocks from where it happened.
On Oct. 5, just a few days before the shooting of VonDerrit Myers Jr., I hung out with Isaac, Sophia, and Simon (and Tsunami, the dog) at an art fair along Flora, just four blocks from where it happened.

Talking to my mother by phone the next morning, I learned that she had not known about the shooting at 7:30 p.m.–no sounds of gunfire had reached her, no sirens either–until protestors started streaming along Shaw Boulevard in front of the house. I learned my brother considered going over to her house, but then thought better of trying to walk or drive through the throngs of angry, dismayed people who were filling the streets. My mother wasn’t particularly worried about her safety, but she consented to stay on the phone with my sister-in-law until late that night. (My father watched it all on television in his room at an assisted living facility in Chesterfield, a suburb of St. Louis that is actually light years away in many respects. But that’s another blog).

Meanwhile, my nephews (ages 11 and six) and niece (age 10) slept. In the car a few weeks later, I asked if they knew about the shooting. They did. The consensus among the two older children was that the young man was probably up to no good, but he didn’t deserve to die. The subject quickly changed when the six-year-old asked how far away we were from Sonic, our destination.

Since that night, protestors have continued to materialize in the neighborhood. There is a memorial on the corner of Klemm and Shaw: A giant mound of stuffed animals, signs and other tokens has formed around a tree. On recent visits to St. Louis, I’ve seen small groups of people gathered there, some bringing items to add to the memorial. Normally, I would take a photo and post it on Facebook, but I can’t quite bring myself to do so.

On the night the Darren Wilson grand jury decision was announced, my mother was at my brother’s house for several hours. I was here in Cincinnati, glued to my Twitter feed. My overriding emotion was–and remains–a kind of queasy and icky sensation that reminds of the days and weeks after the O.J. Simpson verdict. I am reminded that all is not right in the United States of America, especially when it comes to race and class–especially in St. Louis.

Visiting St. Louis on Sept. 6, I drove the 15 minutes or so from my family’s neighborhood in the city to Ferguson and took this photo along West Florissant Avenue. Darren Wilson had killed Michael Brown just a month before.

I am still worried about throngs of people showing up near my mother’s house. I jokingly tell her not to answer the door on those occasions, because the person on the other side might be a… journalist.

Since I last blogged…

It’s been a while since I blogged. I have a good excuse: Been busy with the paradigm shift in local journalism.

In February, WCPO became the first local broadcast news operation (as far as we know) to implement a subscription option. Call it a paywall, if you will. There is a bit of a difference with WCPO Insider, though.

  • Most content on WCPO.com remains free. Like what? Read more here
  • There is no meter or wall; many visitors to the site may never choose to click on a headline with the plus sign and therefore never encounter premium (paid) content
  • We are offering content and more: deals, “bundles” (e.g. a digital subscription to the Washington Post)

WATCH: “There’s always more to the story”

In terms of the role of the community team (myself and two community managers), this initiative has meant answering emails and social media posts that range from angry (News is free! What happened to the free press! I hate you!), to thoughtful (Here’s why I think what you are doing is a bad idea), to technical (How exactly do I subscribe?).

It also means finding ways to put our arms around our members; connect them to what they care about in the community; and, connect them to each other.

I could tell you what we are planning in this regard, but then I would be spoiling the surprise. WCPO Insiders who attended the TEDxCincinnati Main Stage Event, “Vibrant Curiosity,” in October, got a taste of what’s in store, though.

WCPO Insider become the media sponsor of the event, which expressed itself like this:

  1. We partnered with TEDxCincinnati organizers to offer early access to an annual subscription “bundle,” which included two tickets to the event, and drink tickets and an invite to a WCPO Insider reception before the event.
  2. Yours truly took part in the auditions as a judge to select potential speakers.
  3. We created a calendar of editorial content about the event. From August through October, we published stories at WCPO.com. There were also three television stories.
  4. WCPO news anchor and reporter Chris Riva served as emcee for the event

Check out the TEDxCincinnati Flickr page for photos from “Vibrant Curiosity”

My colleagues tease me, but I can honestly say I felt a bit emotional as the 200+ Insiders and their guests arrived at Cincinnati’s Memorial Hall for “Vibrant Curiosity.”

This is what the intersection of journalism and engagement can look like. It feels very good.

Here are some items you can read about what we’ve been up to:

Stay tuned!

Stop with the handwringing: One more example of why these are not the worst of times for journalism

Sign of the times.

“I’d never seen a story that had such a high degree of importance and such a low degree of understanding.” — Lara Setrakian, News Deeply

When people wring their hands about the future of journalism, I like to point to real examples about why these are not the worst of times for our industry. This morning I came across a great story about a woman whose digital news initiative is cause for celebration and optimism.

Not only is Lara Setrakian making us smarter and better informed about Syria (among other things), her own career journey shows how a journalist can and must evolve to survive and thrive in the 21st Century.

She’s the founder of News Deeply, described as “a new media startup and social enterprise based in New York. We are registered as a B Corp, or Benefit Corporation, with the stated mission of advancing foreign policy literacy through public service journalism.” Out of News Deeply came Syria Deeply.

From FastCoExist.com (Fast Company):

In December 2012, Setrakian launched Syria Deeply, a single-topic news site that’s changing both the way journalists cover a global crisis and the way the global news audience receives information. It’s also just the first in what Setrakian hopes is a series of “Deeply” sites to come, tackling everything from Congo to the war on drugs.”

The FastCoExist.com article traces Setrakian’s career trajectory from TV news correspondent to niche topic journalist. Of the smaller audience she reaches today Setrakian says:  “I’m very satisfied serving the niche,” she says. “I love the niche. Let me live in the long tail the rest of my days. I felt only abundance, not scarcity.”

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Here’s what Arianna Huffington had to say as everyone was wondering what the purchase of the Washington Post by Jeff Bezos might mean for journalism. I like it.

“After all, despite all the dire news about the state of the newspaper industry, we are in something of a golden age of journalism for news consumers. There’s no shortage of great journalism being done, and there’s no shortage of people hungering for it.”

Amen, sister. Amen.

Read more (if you want)

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