Shannon Howard has written professionally for fifteen years, publishing two books and earning bylines in Better Homes and Gardens and Midwest Living. But none of those opportunities prepared her for the vitriol that arrived in her inbox after she started NoCo St. Louis, or nocostl.com, an online magazine covering north county.
"I can get e-mails within seconds of publishing a post — and it's nice to be that accessible to the people who are reading you," she says. "But it's also kind of amazing, especially considering how positive I've intended my blog to be, how much anger I've received."
Part of that, Howard believes, is the nature of the Internet. But another part seems to be rooted in the history of the place she's writing about.
"Countless families in this area have followed the same path of migration — from north city to north county to St. Charles County," she says. "There are awfully strong feelings on both sides, from the people who stayed behind and the people who moved on. I'll hear from former north-county residents who want remind me that north county is a toilet. They left a long time ago — why am I wasting my time?"
But that kind of commentary only serves as a reminder of why Howard started her website in the first place. A north-county native who moved to Los Angeles just one day after graduating from Saint Louis University, she returned to her hometown in 1998. (She now lives in a "108-year-old pain the neck" in Ferguson with her husband, three cats and three dogs.)
"The reason I started NoCo is that up here, even when all these positive things are happening, it never makes the regular news," she says. "I don't promise I'm a full-service news source. I love architecture, history, being outdoors — and all these things are so prevalent here, but they're just swept under the rug, like no one ever talks about it. We have some amazing stuff here."
Readers are increasingly checking in to get the scoop. Howard's site snares roughly 30,000 unique visitors every month. Unlike a lot of neighborhood websites, it also has advertisers who want to reach those readers.
"There's a local paper in Ferguson, but it's not online at all," she says. "I'm sort of the only one doing this out here. I think people are eager for it."