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What defines “Indy” media in St. Louis?

November 16, 2006 Media 14 Comments

St. Louis has an abundance of publications beyond our sole daily paper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Other print media includes:, The Vital VOICE, The Riverfront Times, The Healthy Planet, Sauce, and others that focus on targeted areas such as The West End Word, the Webster-Kirkwood Times, The Pulse (Brentwood/Mid-County) and the Arch City Chronicle.

But which of any of these are independent media? The Post-Dispatch and Suburban Journals are now owned by Lee Enterprises, a publicly traded corporation, so clearly they are not so indy. The Riverfront Times was founded by local boy Ray Hartmann but is now owned by a Village Voice Media based in Arizona. A number of the above list are owned by single individuals — Pam Schneider owns the Vital VOICE, Jeff Fister owns The West End Word and JB Lester owns The Healthy Planet. These, in my view, all constitute independent media as no outside interests have an ownership stake — they are self supporting. Or perhaps they are now too mainstream to still be considered “indy?”

Which brings me to The Arch City Chronicle. While the publication started out small and truly independent its need to take on investors has, in my mind, called into question its “indy” status. This is not necessarily a bad thing, I get much information from non-independent media outlets. But publisher Dave Drebes and editor Lucas Hudson continue to cling to the labels “indy” and “alternative” for their publication. However, the ACC has some investors that help fund the paper — we don’t know who they are, what percentage they own or what kind of money we are talking about. Sorry guys, but independent you are not. I don’t care how many times you repeat it, the virtue of having secret private investors removes all chances of being independent in my eyes.

I’ve been critical of other print media in the past including St. Louis Magazine, the Suburban Journals and the Arch City Chronicle. The reactions, however, were quite different. The editor of St. Louis magazine emailed me after tearing apart an article they wrote, thanking me for the critical feedback. In doing the same with the ACC you’d think I dangled a baby over a balcony or something the way people reacted.

The lack of knowledge around the funders brings up my suspicious side — yes, a conspiracy theory (someone was bound to say it so I thought I might as well be the first). It is my belief the ACC has turned into a quasi front group for the local political establishment, seeking a hip venue for dispensing the status quo to the non-blue hair set. My proof? None. If I had any real proof you’d seen it in full glory here. What leads me to this, beyond the curiosity about the identity of the investors, are postings swayed toward a single candidate or the close association with political insiders like Lou Hamilton. I just don’t see the Post-Dispatch using images by Hamilton unless part of a press kit given to everyone.

The Arch City Chronicle has many virtues and many great individuals responsible for the final edition, but “indy” is just not something I can accept.


Currently there are "14 comments" on this Article:

  1. Brad Mello says:

    I can’t help but think that your issue is not that you disagree with the papers viewpoint — indy or not — but that you don’t know who OWNS them — it’s easy to criticize FOX or whomever considering we know who owns the outlet — it’s hard to criticize a media outlet with hidden funding. That leads credence to your front-group theory. I don’t mind individuals or organizations with differing points of view — I just want to know who I’m dealing with and your call for that is a good one.

  2. critical eye says:


    Even if the ACC is bought off by the local establishment (including whom?), we know that you’re not.

    Regardless, blog readership on the ACC and UR websites is probably about even. Folks have many sources available to reach their own conclusions.

    No matter how “indy” ACC is, or “alternate” UR is – and let’s not forget shows like “the Wire” on KDHX – doesn’t it seem that the machine cranks on and on?

    Consider Shrewsbury v/ Reed. Pick a winner, and you’re still picking establishment.

    Same with the aldermanic ward races.

    They’re all dems. It’s a clubby set, no matter who gets in.

    The independence of the media seems to have little to do with it.

  3. dave says:

    Couple of things:
    1. My effort over at ACC follows a pretty well-worn form. I’m not rich; I’m trying to do something I think is valuable and interesting. I need money, so I sell people a piece of my potential profits. Nothing more sinister than that. Just like Ray Hartman since he’s everyone’s example of a publishing god. He had investors when he started the RFT. He wasn’t the sole owner. His main investor was a well-known conservative; Didn’t affect his coverage it seems.

    2. It’s odd to create a post about my secret investors without having ever asked me who my investors are. Raising money for ACC was one of the hardest and most worthwhile things I’ve ever done civicly. I put it up there with being president of Metropolis. The process of writing a business plan, creating an offering document, doing loads of one-on-one meetings to sell my vision was enormously rewardingly.

    But it’s not a public event. People who have the cash to put into a risky venture don’t want to get a million solicitations from people who know you invested in Dave Drebes so why don’t you invest in me. Will I ever blog my investor list? No. That’s not what they signed up for. So ACC doesn’t get the Steve Patterson seal of Indy. I guess that’s the price of actually starting a paper out of nothing and treating your investors properly. Ironic, isn’t it?

    3. What I will say: My wife and I retain 80% of the ownership; We have a diverse group of investors – about 20 people – none of whom has ever pressured me about a story. What’s more, because of their political and demographic diversity, I can be certain that they have differing and conflicting opinions about every single issue. In other words, if I wanted to kowtow to them, I couldn’t.

    We have quarterly investor meetings that serve as my advisory board. I seek their input on major business decisions – going to monthly and color; expanding distribution etc. Those meeting have always been productive.

    I feel very lucky that St. Louis is home to (most of) these investors.

    4. Finally – I can’t make you not be paranoid and degoratory (with no proof), but in the future – when it’s someone else – I suggest you consider celebrating if they can cobble together a round of financing for a risky venture. It’s good for St. Louis. Raising capital, risking capital is the lifeblood of a vibrant economy.

    Okay, I’m done. Back to work.

    I trust you’ll let me know when you don’t have proof for something else…

  4. dave devore says:

    You failed to mention the Metropolitan Evening Whirl. Kind of a gritty crime reporting weekly newspaper. I enjoy it, they don’t pull punches. Very Independant!

  5. Dave, as someone who’s been there before, raising money for a small newspaper (not nearly as much or as successfully), I can attest that what you’ve done is commendable. You deserve much credit for keeping the paper around as long as it has been.

    But I also raised this issue of ownership a few months ago in an email to you, and recently with Lucas as well.

    The Arch City Chronicle has a policy, stated in each print edition, to clearly identify when a story includes a reference to an ACC investor. A couple of weeks ago, on your blog, Lucas mentioned something about the McDonald’s deal on South Grand — a deal involving John Steffen and Pyramid Construction. I emailed Lucas, as I had contacted you before, to ask whether your policy had been violated.

    I believe Steffen and Pyramid own the building that houses the ACC offices. It has also been rumored that Steffen or Pyramid are investors in your company — as well as the St. Louis Argus.

    Lucas said that while he could not say who does or does not own part of the ACC, I should rest assured that your policy had not been violated.

    It seems to me that those two policies are contradictory. Either you’re going to tell your readers if a story subject is an investor, or you’re never going to tell who your investors are. You can’t have it both ways.

  6. Maurice says:

    It must have been a slow news day to pick on a non-issue such as the ACC.

    Steve, by virtue of the web and its cheap access route to distribution, does not have to have a physical material to distribute. There are no advertisers to seek, no printers to argue with, no staff to pay.

    I guess Dave and the owners of the hard-print media should do it for free and all of their suppliers should donate their time/materials for the greater good of St. Louis or they get accused of a consipiracy theory.

    [UR – I’m sure if the Post-Dispatch tried to call themselves an independent paper someone would step up and say otherwise, that is all I was doing with the ACC. On their blog (one of those easy to publish without money types) they claimed to be “indy” media. If they claim as much they need to be able to back it up — but they could not. In fact, we now know they have 20 investors besides the Drebes. They can be many things to the community, but independent is not one of them.]

  7. Dummy Me says:

    What difference does it make? Seriously?

    You have artists doing creative work with funders in the background. We don’t challenge the original nature of their work.

    Dave gets help to carry on with his mission, yet we challenge the original nature of his work.

    Dave seems like a man of integrity. Why challenge the original nature of his work?

    What’s the point? What difference does it make?

  8. If the only way to be “independent” is not to have investors, then the only way to publish a viable, independent print publication is to be rich.

    I’m surprised Antonio is getting into this. He had investors for the short-lived print version of PubDef. Did he claim to be independent? Yes. Did he identify his investors when covering stories that involved them? No. Now some people are saying that his coverage of Jim Talent was colored by the fact that Talent advertised on his site. It’s an easy charge for people who hate Republicans to make, but that doesn’t make it true. (Substitute “Pyramid” for “Republicans” and the same sentence applies to the ACC.)

    Just because you disagree with someone’s editorial stances doesn’t mean he’s been paid off.

    [UR — I’m not going to defend Antonio — I don’t recall ever reading a print edition from when he started so I can’t comment on coverage of investors. You may be right, I can’t make that call.

    I can, however, make the call today on the ACC. For the most part I don’t disagree with the editorial content and I think the writing is excellent. I just don’t like the lable “indy.”]

  9. Brian, my question to Dave (then and now) isn’t a personal attack. It’s a serious question about two apparently contradictory policies.

    On my site, all my advertisers — including Republican Jim Talent, Democrats Mike McMillan, Jeff Smith, Yaphett El-Amin, Gregg Daly, Jamilah Nasheed, and Progressives David Sladky and Terry Bunker — have their smiling faces right their on their ads for all readers to judge for themselves.

    And for the record, my “investors” totaled about $2,500. Not quite the same thing.

  10. Josh says:

    Dummy Me,

    The fact is that it may make no difference at all. But the reality is that there is a great difference between “artists” being backed by funders and NEWS media being funded that way.

    Historically mainstream/corporate news outlets have sold out countless times, dropping serious and important stories for fear of offending one of their major investors. How many “artists” do you know of that have to worry about finding something seriuosly wrong on an investor and publishing that to the world?

    It is unrealistic to criticize anyone for trying to make a living off of what they do. So I’m not disagreeing with you entirely. I’m just saying that THIS is the difference that it makes.

  11. lucas says:

    The idea of us being a “quasi front group” is x-files fodder, Steve. Dave and his family have one car. It doesn’t even have power windows. He used to take the bus to work when they had to live in West County. My bumper is rusty and about to fall off of my car. I have ramen in my pantry, not because its campy, its because its in my budget. I think you and everybody else gets the picture. If we are a “front”, it wouldn’t come so cheaply. This is a hard-fought labor of love Steve, and what I don’t get (like I said to you in your insulting post about an announcement I made) http://www.archcitychronicle.com/archives/002165.php) is why we all can’t get along. I love Antonio’s work, I love your work, (even if I disagree sometimes), but there just isn’t any reason we all can’t coexist in complementary harmony. I would actually like to work with you, Antonio and other prominent bloggers if the chance presented itself.

    It really doesn’t matter to me who threw the first stone, or who doesn’t like who for whatever reason; we are all in the same boat because we want to see St. Louis thrive. We should be able to disagree one day, and have a beer the next.

    Regarding the “Indy” label, Dave has NEVER pushed a story on me, nor even hinted we shouldn’t pursue something. That’s why I have continued to work for the paper, because nothing is out of bounds. Having non-disclosed investors may not mean we are independent in your eyes, but it hasn’t hampered the development of any story–which, I would think, is the point.

    [UR — Political machines have for years given out patronage jobs to keep folks loyal. These have not, historically, been high paying jobs. So while your ramen and rusty bumper story is sweet it does not prove your point.

    I defined “independent” as I see it, undisclosed investors equals non-indy. You are to offer a different definition.]

  12. Lucas, Dave, keep doing your thing. F*ck it.

  13. Newspapers are not going to make their money on subscriptions alone, which is why they sell ads and have investors.

    The more money they accquire the more they can expand, hire more staff writers, and increase their marketshare.

    Usually these ads/or investors are corporate because these people have money.

    These investors, such as the people on the board of directors/investors, may seek to filter the content of the media. I cannot say where this happens in the smaller St. Louis newspapers, but something clearly has gone wrong at the Post and the St. Louis American.

    Personally, I don’t see why it’s necessary to attack the ACC. If you do not like what the ACC does, then don’t read the ACC. If they are reporting misinformation, then do a story exploiting their factual errors.

    Personally I commend the ACC for posting the opinions of those who were against the McDonald’s and for the Recall of a certain 15th Ward Alderwoman. They could have easily decided to censor these opinions, yet they didn’t. If Steffen and Pyramid is their landlord, then I suppose they do not try to censor the ACC.

    Either way, I think calling the out the ACC as “not indy” is basically moot. First its the readers job to sift through the spin. Also, being “indy” does not work for everyone. Besides, where on the ACC have I seen “We are indy, so don’t send money!”

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