In November 2005 the St. Louis Post-Dispatch cleared its North Tucker Boulevard headquarters of proverbial deadwood when it offered longtime staffers a buyout package worth tens of thousands of dollars. From the editorial department alone, some 40 staffers all age 50 or older took the bait.
Now a few of those early retirees are planning a return to journalism and they're taking aim at their former employer. By early this fall, they plan to launch St. Louis Platform, an online paper they believe will one-up the Post-Dispatch in both content and technological savvy. Heading up The Platform are former Post editors Margaret and Bill Freivogel, ex-managing editor Dick Weil, former features editor Dick Weiss, and ex-writers Robert Duffy and Laszlo Domjan.
"We feel the public will benefit in having more reporters covering St. Louis," says Margaret Freivogel. "The illusion is that because of the Internet you have all this news out there, but in reality the amount of people gathering and reporting the news is shrinking."
Freivogel and Duffy, the Post's former architecture critic, plan to work full-time on the online paper, with the other founding members contributing as needed. The group eventually plans to hire a small staff of full-time writers and editors, and is hoping to raise $2 million in start-up capital from donors and investors.
The Platform, named in a nod to Joseph Pulitzer's platform that runs each day on the opinion page of the Post, will model itself after a similar online paper in California, the Voice of San Diego (www.voiceofsandiego.org). That paper operates as a nonprofit, allowing it to solicit contributions from the public and sell sponsorships and other advertisements.
Since its founding in 2005 by former San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Neil Morgan, the Voice of San Diego now employs a half-dozen reporters and boasts 10,000 site visits per day. Voice executive editor Scott Lewis says he met with Robert Duffy last year to discuss The Platform but didn't know the group had moved forward with the project.
"It's great [that] it's coming to fruition," says Lewis. "I think we've proved that the nonprofit model can work and provide competition to the existing media."
Similar online news sites have launched in other cities as well, including Crosscut (www.crosscut.com) in Seattle and Gotham Gazette (www.gothamgazette.com) in New York City. Earlier this year The Platform secured domain names for both www.saintlouisplatform.org and www.stlplatform.org, but has yet to decide on a URL for the site. Freivogel says the group is also in discussion with the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri about providing design and content help for the site.
"Our goal is to incorporate the traditions of journalism with the technology of new media," says Freivogel. "If we can do that, we're on to something."