Holocaust Survivor Charles Klotzer Has Kept St. Louis Media Honest For 50 Years
Charles Klotzer fled Nazi Germany for the Jewish ghetto in Shanghai, only to wind up in St. Louis as a refugee after the war, choosing the city almost on a whim.
“Of course, we arrived in San Francisco” in 1947, Klotzer recalled, “and at that time had to decide where to settle. And we thought, ‘St. Louis is in the center of the country — if we don’t like it, we can get away.'”
It wasn’t long after his arrival in St. Louis that Klotzer began to notice something that would animate the next 50 years of his life: the need for media accountability.
Outlets in the 1960s “didn’t really reflect the concerns of the population,” Klotzer recalled.
The issues Klotzer identified a half-century ago sound sadly familiar today as journalists and the public at large reckon with systemic racism and classism within the industry. It’s worth remembering that the calls for action and change, though louder now, are not new.
In fact, in the wake of what he considered inaccurate mainstream coverage of protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, Klotzer started one of a handful of media watchdog publications around the U.S. He named it the St. Louis Journalism Review.
Fifty years after the first issue appeared in September 1970, the now-quarterly publication is still going strong — even as its contemporaries have long since ceased operations.
It’s now sponsored by the Southern Illinois University-Carbondale School of Journalism, and it’s been renamed the Gateway Journalism Review. But the mission remains the same, and Klotzer, now 95, remains involved in advisory and occasional writing capacities.
On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, he joined host Sarah Fenske for a closer look at his life as well as the history of the publication that he and his late wife, Rose, shepherded and subsidized for decades.
Rita Csapo-Sweet, an associate professor of media studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, joined the discussion. She is the director of a freely available documentary, “Who's Minding the Media: Charles Klotzer and the St. Louis Journalism Review,” which premiered at a St. Louis film festival in 2004.
Klotzer’s initial entry into journalism, predating the journalism review by many years, was an unlikely one.
“The job I had I didn’t care for, so I put an ad in the [St. Louis] Post-Dispatch looking for a job in journalism,” Klotzer explained, “and there was this young fellow from Troy, Illinois … he was 19, and we met downtown in St. Louis.”
That young man was Paul Simon, who would become a congressman and senator — and a lifelong friend to Klotzer (he died in 2003). During their first conversation, Klotzer was open with Simon about his inexperience as well as his political views.
“He said, ‘Great, I like your views,’” Klotzer recalled. “I said, ‘But I am a Jew.’ And he said: ‘Wonderful. We have no Jews in Troy, Illinois — they’ll all come to look at you.’”
Both men worked at the Troy paper until they were drafted into the military. They went separate professional ways from there. But for Klotzer, those early years as the assistant editor of the Troy Tribune were just the beginning of his contributions to the region’s media community.
During the talk show, Klotzer was quick to acknowledge Rose’s contributions to the Gateway Journalism Review’s long existence. She died last year at the age of 90.
The couple met at a student event at Washington University.
“I asked her for a date, and we met, and after a couple of months I was quite sure what I wanted to do and asked her to marry,” Klotzer recalled. “And she said, ‘No, I want to go to school!’ Well, I’m pretty stubborn. Five years later, I did marry her.”
“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 and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.