January 04, 2006

Bloggers find niche in St. Louis information scene
Jim Merkel and Shawn Clubb
Of the Suburban Journals
Oakville-Mehlville Journal
01/04/2006

Politics and preservation, neighborhood news and restaurant openings, if there’s a topic that interests people in St. Louis, you can bet someone is blogging about it.

Bloggers, who write web logs or “blogs,” post a regular stream of information onto the Internet and St. Louis has its fair share of them. Regular Internet surfers have noticed them and just about anyone who regularly goes to the web for news can probably rattle off a list of his favorite blogs.

Although he only spends five to 10 hours a week on his urbanreviewstl.com blog, Steve Patterson is getting a lot of notice. Patterson said the blog, which he started in October 2004, got more than 273,000 hits and more than 21,500 visitors in December.

“The initial response was great and it’s been building ever since,” said Patterson, a real estate agent who made an unsuccessful run against 25th Ward Democratic Alderman Dorothy Kirner in 2005. “I’ve got readership all over the country, people who either are from St. Louis or had family here.”

Although Patterson writes about a number of topics, a main focus is architecture and buildings. A big topic lately is the effort to tear down St. Aloysius Gonzaga Catholic Church at 5608 N. Magnolia Ave. and build 24 new single family homes. He’s against it, and made nine entries from Dec. 11-Dec. 27.

Patterson made three entries about a developer’s plan to tear down the historic Doering Mansion at 5108 S. Broadway and replace it with townhouses on the Mississippi River bluff. Patterson says the building can be split off from the development and saved.

Patterson has written five articles in support of St. Stanislaus Kostka Catholic Church, but with a difference. His point is that the church’s existence under an independent board, rather than the Archdiocese of St. Louis, enabled it to survive many bad years in north St. Louis.

“For a lot of people living in St. Louis, my site gives people a voice,” Patterson said.

Dave Drebes uses his blog, archcitychronicle.com, as an online supplement to his twice monthly publication — the Arch City Chronicle. Drebes blogs mainly about politics, but also throws in a mix of other useful information. Recent posts include a link to a story that Jared Craighead is leaving a position as advisor to Matt Blunt to become head of the Missouri Republican Party, news about a new coffee shop downtown and a link to a job advertisement for a communications director for Grand Center, Inc.

“The blog is mainly linking and little blurbs. The print edition is articles and regular columns. There’s not a whole lot of overlap in the content,” Drebes said. “The Web site is a way to keep engaged readers throughout the month between editions.”

The Arch City Chronicle is headquartered at 3201 Arsenal St. and mainly serves readers in South St. Louis and the central corridor. Drebes said he believes blogs amount to journalism, although with a different audience than traditional media.

Fracturing the media

Don Corrigan, a professor of communications at Webster University and editor in chief of the Webster-Kirkwood Times, said blogging can be journalism, but in a loose sense.

“The people who commonly set themselves up as bloggers don’t have journalism backgrounds. They don’t understand the ethics of the profession,” Corrigan said.

Bloggers have come up with big stories in recent years, Corrigan said, including the information that Dan Rather’s story on George Bush’s National Guard record contained falsified documents. He said when bloggers break these stories, it keeps traditional media on its toes and keeps it from sitting on stories.

However, Corrigan said, “The vast amount of stuff that goes on blogs is just a lot of hot air.”

Corrigan said blogs have no checks on them to keep them accurate. He said they also are an example of fracturing in the news business, which lets people choose new sources according to their own prejudices.

“If we’re only choosing to select news products that conform with our own biases, we’re not as well informed,” he said.

Patterson agrees that his articles are more like editorials than unbiased news articles. But he says he offers ways to get the other side.

“I do link to other sites. If I’m criticizing a city agency, I will post a link to that (agency’s) site,” Patterson said. “They’re free to post comments on each of my posts. Many agree with me. Many do not. But I’m certainly editorializing.”

Among the regular readers of Patterson’s urbanreviewstl.com is Scott Kolbe, an alderman in Dardenne Prairie in St. Charles County.

Kolbe figures he looks at blogs daily, He looks at Patterson’s, stories about boating and blogs about urban planning.

“I just feel like I get a different perspective on things,” said Kolbe, 34, who owns a marketing company with his wife.

He realizes what he reads is biased. “I read it with a grain of salt. I know it’s biased,” Kolbe said.

Personalized news

Chris Westmeyer, editor of the praxairwatch.blogspot.com blog, already has been changed by blogs. He estimates he gets 70 percent of his information from blogs and 30 percent from traditional media. “I think it will become essentially the equivalent of personalized news,” he said.

Started in October, the praxairwatch blog is a project of the Praxair Neighborhood Task Force, an organization formed to fight the efforts of Praxair Distribution to reopen its industrial and medical gases distribution facility at 2210 Chouteau Ave. A series of explosions at the plant June 24 rocked the neighborhood.

“Not everyone can go to every hearing. Not everything’s reported in the newspaper,” Westmeyer said. “It allows a way to communicate with the whole neighborhood and anyone who has an interest.”

Westmeyer manages the content, which is provided by a committee.

Westmeyer freely admits that his site is one-sided. But he also said a person looking at the blog could get the other side by checking news releases on Praxair’s web site. “You’d have to go back and forth between the two sites,” he said.

On another local blog, joefrank.blogspot.com, Washington University political science graduate student Joe Frank makes general comments about city issues.

“I’ve always been interested in how technology can help people work in the neighborhood and community,” said Frank, 27, of the 3200 block of Oregon Avenue.

Frank posted an article noting Metro’s delay in reopening Forest Park Parkway after construction of the Cross County extension of MetroLink. But he noted that a city street construction project caused the closing of the parkway from Euclid Avenue to DeBaliviere Avenue. That could reopen separately from the MetroLink project, he wrote.

Blogs are another way for people to get information, said Frank, who formerly worked on the city’s website, the Community Information Network, at stlouis.missouri.org.

“The sort of interactive capability is great. . . .You can get a pretty rapid discussion going,” Frank said. “The potential I think is to help people know a little bit how their government works.”

Reading the voters

Helping people know how their government works is the purpose of Mayor Francis Slay’s “Mayor’s Desk” blog in his web site, www.mayorslay.com.

Financed by his campaign committee, the blog recently offered commentary on notable people of 2005, the amount of investment in downtown, the delay in reopening of the Forest Park Parkway and problems with the petition to recall 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd.

The blog – and the Web site – are outgrowths of the site the Slay campaign had during the mayor’s re-election effort in the spring of 2005. While the site’s address was advertised in that campaign, more people are visiting it now than in the campaign, according to statistics provided by the website’s editor, Richard Callow. There are nearly 40,000 visits each month, compared to 9,000 during the campaign.

Slay finds the people who visit a web site interesting for an elected official.

“Increasingly, the crowd is made up of people who are never together in any other place,” Slay said in prepared remarks given at a seminar of corporate public relations professionals at Webster University in October. “A Web site is a great way to speak to a crowd.”

Josh Wiese of the Clifton Heights neighborhood has been using his blog, stlouis24thwardpolitics.blogspot.com, to post about the special election of Bill Waterhouse as alderman in the ward. He also uses it to lobby to replace Waterhouse as Democratic committeeman for the ward. Wiese devotes little time to the blog, because he is busy working for the Circus Day Foundation at City Museum.

“I was trying to find a way to kind of get my name out there,” he said. “I would like to be committeeman for my ward. (The blog is) a good way to network, if other people are out there writing about St. Louis politics. I want it to be about the neighborhood as well.”

Wiese said he won’t be likely to seek out the Republican viewpoint and he sees the blog as a reflection of his interests.

“I think blogs in general, they are pretty much a vanity project. They are obviously going to have a slant their way,” he said.

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