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Editor's Weekly: Defining Who We Are By What We Are Not

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What kind of news organization are you? That question has been on my mind recently as our newly merged newsroom finds its rhythm and as other news organizations rise and fall around us. It might be on your mind, too, as you face the daily challenge of sifting valuable information from a deluge of  chatter.

Until a few years ago, the answer was simple. A news organization was defined by its means of communication -- as a radio or television station, a newspaper or magazine.

No more. In the digital age, anyone – and not just journalists -- can potentially communicate with everyone. And  everyone can use any means of communication – image, audio or text.  These days, a news organization must distinguish itself not just by using tools well but also by providing a distinctive service that people value. Of course, this was always true, but it used to be easier to pretend it was not.

A look at the constantly shifting news ecosystem shows that it’s a challenge to embrace this truth. Patch aimed to provide hyperlocal news. It has folded, here and nationally -- and with it, I would conclude, the misguided notion that you can provide great community coverage without establishing deep community roots.

Look at the Webster-Kirkwood Times for one example of what it takes to deliver hyperlocal coverage with real understanding and commitment, or to the St. Louis American for another version. Doug Miner, one of Patch’s local editors, has launched 40 South, and it draws strength from the roots he developed. Perhaps he can succeed as an individual where Patch faltered as a corporate effort.

Kurt Greenbaum, Patch’s regional editor, is helping to run a new aggregation site, RealTime/St. Louis. The idea originated with the founder of INFUZ, a social media marketing firm, Greenbaum said. The site relies heavily on software to determine what stories are being talked about in the virtual world and serves up a constantly changing smorgasbord of links, so far heavy on sports.

Nationally, the journalistic brainchild of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and advocacy journalist Glenn Greenwald has been in the spotlight. The new venture is built on the idea that objectivity is a fiction and that a more personal approach connects with readers better and provides sharper journalism.

What kind of news organization is St. Louis Public Radio and The Beacon? None of the above. Perhaps it’s easiest to understand what we are and aspire to be by explaining what we’re not.

In contrast to Patch, our community roots are decades deep; our focus is regional, not hyperlocal. Figuring out how one part of a fragmented region affects another and how the whole relates to the world are among  the toughest challenges in journalism. Yet our region’s future depends on understanding these complex truths. Our value to you lies in exploring them.

In contrast to RealTime/St. Louis, we put our faith in journalistic judgment rather than algorithmic aggregation. Less chatter, more insight is our goal. Instead of repeating what people are already talking about, we aim to report what people will be talking about and to be part of thoughtful conversation about matters of lasting significance.

Like Omidyar and Greenwald, we appreciate the value of a journalist’s personal reputation and expertise. Yet we remain committed to reporting all sides fairly and questioning every side’s assumptions. We want to catch public officials and powerful interests when they do wrong; we also want to catch people doing right.

At St. Louis Public Radio and The Beacon, we focus on news that matters to St. Louisans. We hope you’ll let us know how to make that service more valuable to you.

Margaret Wolf Freivogel is the editor of St. Louis Public Radio. She was the founding editor of the St. Louis Beacon, a nonprofit news organization, from 2008 to 2013. A St. Louis native, Margie previously worked for 34 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a reporter, Washington correspondent and assistant managing editor. She has received numerous awards for reporting as well as a lifetime achievement award from the St. Louis Press Club and the Missouri Medal of Honor from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She is a past board member of the Investigative News Network and a past president of Journalism and Women Symposium. Margie graduated from Kirkwood High School and Stanford University. She is married to William H. Freivogel. They have four grown children and seven grandchildren. Margie enjoys rowing and is a fan of chamber music.

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