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Jeannette Cooperman Looks Back On 24 Years Of St. Louis Journalism

October 28, 2019 Jeannette Cooperman
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
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For more than two decades, Jeannette Cooperman has been one of the most insightful and elegant writers chronicling St. Louis. As a staff writer at the Riverfront Times for a decade, and then for the past 14 years at St. Louis Magazine, she’s explored everything from food to politics to con artists. And she’s done it all with sympathy for the human condition and breathtaking turns of phrase.

Cooperman joined St. Louis on the Air on her final day at St. Louis Magazine. She’s leaving for a job as a staff writer at the Common Reader, a journal of essays housed at Washington University. But first, she fielded compliments from listeners and questions about her remarkable body of work. 

Cooperman originally began at St. Louis Magazine as editor-in-chief. She explained, though, that she grew to loathe the job.

“I hated all the tugs on my sleeve, and I missed writing,” she said. “I would be assigning pieces, and I’d be jealous of the freelancers, because I wanted to meet people. … A friend of mine said, ‘Oh, I get it. You don’t want to tell people what to do. You want to go do it!'” She tried to quit, only to be persuaded by the magazine’s then-owner, Ray Hartmann, to instead become a staff writer. 

That was 12 years ago, and Cooperman has never looked back. She said she loves being a writer.

“Asking people questions is fascinating, and I get to learn things,” she said. “That’s what I liked the best.”

Other journalists revere Cooperman as a master at getting people to open up, to go past the sound bite to something authentic. She explained that her technique is simply to listen.

“I realized so many times, if you let people talk, and they’re going on about their gall bladder operation, and their pet peccadillo or something, all of a sudden they say something that you had no idea to ask about,” she said. “And they open up, and those are your best quotes and your best insights.

“And so,” she continued, “listening is sort of like gambling in Vegas. There’s a payoff you can’t anticipate. … Being shy, it took me a while to realize that people want to open up. As long as they can trust you. As long as you’re not judging them, they want to tell you even the most intimate things. And that’s a gift. That feels almost sacred.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Tonina Saputo. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.