Post-Dispatch Video Goes Up, Comes Down as Newsroom Fumes

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PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/PAUL SABLEMAN

Last Thursday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch unveiled a video modeled on the New York Times' "truth" ad. Unlike the Times, the St. Louis daily had no plans to pay big money to air the spot during the Academy Awards — but the video was clearly meant to boost the paper's image, and self-esteem.

"Click on www.stltoday.com/truth to see the inspiring video — images and words that say it all," wrote Publisher Ray Farris in a memo to staff on Thursday. "Share the link and help us get the message out: We deliver stories ... wherever, whenever. What we do matters."

But there was precious little sharing on Thursday, and if you clicked the link Friday, you'd be out of luck. The video had already come down.

As it turns out, praise for the Post-Dispatch's video wasn't quite as unanimous as the Times' TV spot. In fact, journalists on staff at the daily couldn't help but note that the fresh-faced crew shown gathering news and telling stories seemed right out of central casting and not, well, their own newsroom.

Indeed, while the spot showed well-scrubbed reporters in various newsy poses (asking questions! typing thoughtfully!), as best anyone could tell, only a single image originated with the actual reporters and photographers in St. Louis: a still photo from the Ferguson protests. Other than a one-second clip of Editor Gilbert Bailon, the footage didn't feature a single face from the newsroom, much less highlight the stories broken by staff. For all anyone could tell, the whole thing was shot in ... Iowa. Or something. (One screen grab from the video, captured before the takedown by Teak Phillips, editor of the Archdiocese-backed St. Louis Review, seemed to show models reading newspapers in Polish.)

Tracy Rouch, the newspaper's director of public relations, confirmed the takedown in an email to the Riverfront Times Monday, saying, "The video to promote our business was released to employees on Thursday. We did take it down on Friday to adjust a few of the images. We hope to have it back up shortly." Rouch did not respond to a follow-up question about what specific "adjustments" were underway.

The takedown spoiled what was clearly meant to be a celebration for the paper, a way to talk about the good things it's doing and the importance of truth in a fraught time. The day before the blowback began, publisher Farris concluded his email with an invitation. "[W]hat would a campaign launch be without some treats? You're invited to stop by the second-floor mezzanine tomorrow from 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m. for snacks. Happy Employee Appreciation Day. What YOU do matters!"

Yet even if the video had been welcomed with open arms, it's hard to imagine a happy gathering on the mezzanine, at least when it comes to the news staff. In the two days leading up to "Employee Appreciation Day," editors unceremoniously reassigned some of their better-known reporters — and, rarely for the daily, the grumbling that followed was so loud as to go public.

The reassignments came in the wake of a round of buyouts that removed yet more familiar bylines from the newsroom — Steve Giegerich, Tim Bryant, Tim O'Neil, Jim Gallagher, Pat Gauen and Dan O'Neill. But rather than sit down with the staff to figure out how to shuffle staff to fill the newly open beats, some reporters were simply told they had new jobs.

Those reporters, suffice it to say, were not happy about it — and made that clear on Twitter.

Among those moved were Fashion Editor Debra Bass, who's been reassigned to the business desk, and Nancy Cambria, whose children and families beat was killed. Cambria was then reassigned to the breaking news beat. Mike Faulk, who covers public money and private-public partnerships, has also reportedly been reassigned to the business desk.

The paper's deputy managing editor, Adam Goodman, referred questions about the moves to Rouch. Rouch did not respond to our follow-up request seeking comment about the reassignments, either.

In Cambria's case, the timing was particularly galling. On Wednesday, she was informed about her new beat. On Thursday, her package on toxic stress (written on, yes, the now-eliminated children and families' beat) won a "sweepstakes award" from the APME, which is basically the highest honor given to a piece of daily journalism in the state.

And yesterday, Cambria wrote her first story on her new beat: A post about Girl Scouts getting kicked out of a Wal-Mart in O'Fallon. A good story, but not exactly an award-winner, and not the stuff inspirational videos are made of. But hey, who needs real success when there's stock footage to offer a facsimile?

Editor's note: We updated this post after publication to embed one additional tweet.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com


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