Public Insight Network

Sherry Branham, 55, panhandles at the eastbound I-64 exit ramp onto Grand Blvd.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Morning rush hour brings lots of cars to the I-64/Highway 40 exit ramp on Grand Boulevard. Most pass Sherry Branham by without pause, unheeding of her cardboard call for help.

Working on new chandelier from "Phantom"
Nancy Fowler

A new chandelier, updated special effects and a sense that the main characters have spent some time in a therapist’s chair: these are all changes included in Cameron Mackintosh's new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Dave Peacock and Bob Blitz show off a drawing of a proposed stadium on St. Louis' riverfront.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

When Dave Peacock stepped before a crush of reporters at Union Station last week, his main purpose was to showcase the potential of a new football stadium on St Louis’ riverfront. 

Part of his pitch was economic, which is a typical tactic to gather support for expensive sports facilities. After all, a new stadium could lead to thousands of construction jobs and continued business for surrounding bars and restaurants.

But for Peacock, there were more intangible reasons for the city to pursue the project — something beyond just dollars and cents.

Kevin Rejent
Provided by Mr. Rejent

After the announcement last week of a plan to build a stadium on the Mississippi riverfront, pundits and politicians were quick to react with assorted pros and cons.

Likewise, St. Louis Public Radio followers were eager to share, through the Public Insight Network, just what the plan — introduced by a team appointed by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon — means to them.

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger delivers his inaugural address on Jan. 1, 2015. Stenger is coming into office with an ambitious agenda to change St. Louis County government -- and the legislative alliances to help him out.
File photo by Bill Greenblatt | UPI

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger came to prominence by being a critic. 

From his perch as a county councilman, Stenger aimed unrelenting salvos at then-St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley. That served as the backbone of a campaign that ultimately ousted Dooley in a Democratic primary — and narrowly outflanked state Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, in the general election.

As 2014 draws to a close, “St. Louis on the Air” looked back at the biggest local and regional stories of the year.

Topping the list was the August shooting death of Michael Brown by Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson, and the protests, demonstrations, grand jury announcement, and conversations that have followed. Leadership has repeatedly come under fire regarding Ferguson, at the local, state and national levels.

The Public Insight Network helps St. Louis Public Radio tell stories that include the perspective of those most affected.

From the voters who showed up at the polls for the lackluster elections in November, to faithful and sometimes over-the-top fans of entertainer Weird Al Yankovic, PIN sources shared their particular insights on many stories in 2014.

Logos of the St. Louis County and St. Louis Metropolitan Police.
St. Louis County website / file photo

Thousands of people in St. Louis and St. Louis County are a hundred dollars richer after police in both jurisdictions handed out $100 bills Tuesday as part of a one-day Secret Santa blitz.

Joseph Higgs from south St. Louis was one of the people who received the cash.

Higgs said that he has had more negative than positive experiences with police in the past so this experience has helped improve his opinion of law enforcement.

Circus Harmony performers join with members of the Galilee Circus in July in Haifa, Israel.
Photo provided by Jessica Hentoff

Jessica Hentoff has gone all the way to Israel to bring people of markedly different perspectives together. This summer, Hentoff, artistic and executive director of Circus Harmony, took members of her tumbling group, the St. Louis Arches, to the Middle East. There, the Arches joined with Arab and Israeli youth from the Galilee Circus, where they worked and learned together, setting aside religious, political and cultural differences.

Adrian Clark | Flickr / Flickr

Even though open enrollment doesn't start for several days, began on Monday to allow visitors to take a peek at the individual health insurance plans and rates that will be available for 2015. 

In the St. Louis area, two additional insurance companies  — Cigna and UnitedHealthcare — began offering plans on the federal exchange. For zip codes in St. Louis, the marketplace lists 41 plans with varying monthly premiums, co-pays and deductibles.

Ryan Barker of Cover Missouri said the additional competition likely led to a slight decrease in plan prices.

Ask a bunch of voters why they bother, especially when there are no “big races,” and Election Day is rainy and cold, and you’ll get answers like “I just always vote” or “I believe it’s important for my voice to be heard.”

Voters such as these don’t care that records show that in off-year or non-presidential elections, voter turnout is generally low, with fewer than half of registered voters bothering to show up.

Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

The World Series is over and the Cardinals will have to wait until next year to contend for another title.

But the Redbirds’ lack of championship success didn’t stop Joe Smart from venturing down to Ballpark Village this week to watch the Royals battle it out with the San Francisco Giants. Smart is hardly a newbie to Ballpark Village; he’s visited the entertainment complex 15 times.

So what keeps Smart coming back for more?

Danielle and Adam Dowd with their daughter, Alice.
Provided by Danielle Dowd

Like talking about the “facts of life,” or “the birds and the bees,” many parents and teachers know that discussing race and racism is necessary in helping young people learn about life.

St. Louis Public Radio reporter Tim Lloyd presented “A Teachable Moment,” a three-part series that examined how area teachers are leading discussions in their classrooms about issues raised after Michael Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer in August.

Steve Stenger, Democrat, left, and Rick Stream, Republican, are running for St. Louis County executive.
Photos courtesy of the candidates

St. Louis County executive candidates Steve Stenger and Rick Stream will face off in a public debate Oct. 14 hosted by St. Louis Public Radio in partnership with the University of Missouri–St. Louis. It is the first planned debate ahead of the Nov. 4 election.

chef taste 2014
Provided by Taste of St. Louis

Taste of St. Louis begins today and closes Sunday. This year, the festival announced a change in location from downtown St. Louis to Chesterfield. The event’s relocation has been a hot-button issue for some St. Louis residents. Former school teacher  and lifelong Ferguson resident Jerry Benner, 70, believes the change redefined the event.

“It’s not taste St. Louis. It’s taste of Chesterfield,” Benner said.

Provided by Katie Borders

Until recently, you may have considered Weird Al Yankovic to be that fading parody singer who turned “Beat It” into “Eat It” before sliding into relative obscurity in the 1990s.

But Weird Al’s not only sustained a 35-year career, he was just showcased at the Emmy Awards. And there’s a grassroots movement to get him on stage at the Superbowl.

jay nixon 81814
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

Gov. Jay Nixon is defending his decision to deploy Missouri National Guard troops to Ferguson.

Nixon issued a statement earlier this morning, announcing his decision to send in the Guard after what may have been the worst night of rioting since the protests began a week ago. Nixon explained his decision by citing "violent criminal acts of an organized and growing number of individuals, many from outside the community and state, whose actions are putting the residents and businesses of Ferguson at risk."

/photo by Kathryn Banks

Emotions continue to run high as people throughout the greater St. Louis area try to process the fatal shooting by police of an unarmed young man.

Peaceful protests that followed the death of Michael Brown, 18, at the hands of a Ferguson police officer on Saturday turned to violence on Sunday. And the chaos continued early Wednesday, when a St. Louis County officer shot and critically injured a man authorities say pointed a gun at officers near a protest site.

Berkeley website

A town hall meeting called by the NAACP in the wake of the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson was urged Monday evening to channel anger into productive change, but not every member of the overflow crowd seemed ready to leave the community’s rage behind.

For about 90 minutes, speakers at Murchison Tabernacle CME Church at 7629 Natural Bridge Road talked about what some called an “unfolding tragedy,” reminding everyone that the real focus should be on the fatal shooting of Brown by a Ferguson police officer, not the disturbance and looting that followed.

Courtesy of the Charlie Menees Collection, UMKC.

It spanned less than three blocks at the intersection of Olive and Boyle. And it only lasted about ten years.

But the arts and entertainment district known as Gaslight Square flourished in the 1950s and '60s, making St. Louis a national destination for music and culture.

In honor of St. Louis' 250th birthday, I took a little detour off my usual science beat to explore this extraordinary time and place in our city's history.