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Pulitzer Center Update February 28, 2006

"Media Misfires: Lessons from a Troubled Time" Jon Sawyer addresses The Roundtable


The following is an excerpt from "Media Misfires: Lessons from a Troubled Time," an address by Jon Sawyer delivered to The Roundtable on February 28, 2006.

It's a great pleasure to be here, and such an elegant occasion. It was at a dinner nearly this elegant, not so far from here and some 30 years ago, that I first met Joe and Annie Schlafly. It happened that my wife's mother and Ellen Conant, Annie's mother, had mutual friends from college – and so Ellen and George organized what they called an "informal little dinner" to introduce us to St. Louis.

We were just a few months married then, and just a few months out of college -- and while I had what was to me the unbelievable job of Post-Dispatch editorial writer we nonetheless qualified for subsidized housing at the old Laclede Town townhouse apartments off Olive Street in midtown. At the time we didn't even have a car, and George Conant drove in from Ladue to pick us up, in a fire-engine-red Cadillac convertible. He had just outfitted the car with a Citizens Band radio, as I recall, and entertained us by chatting with truck drivers all the way home.

When we got to the house we discovered that the "informal little dinner" was a sit-down affair for 24, with something like six or seven courses and all served, so far as I can recall, on sterling silver. No one remarked on the fact that I was the only man present not in coat and tie. What I remember is the splendid toast by George Conant, all about St. Louis being the finest place imaginable and that everything possible would be done to make us feel welcome. "Except that I have to tell you this," he added. "I have never allowed the Post-Dispatch in my yard - - and I never will."

I think George was exaggerating a little – he did that, on occasion – but all the same it was my introduction to one of the most fiercely competitive newspaper towns in America, where every day you had the opportunity to see how the world looked to one of the most conservative newspapers in America – and to one of the most liberal. That sort of competition was already gone in most cities, by the mid 1970s, and even in St. Louis the Post-Globe rivalry was a pale shadow of the raucous newspaper wars from a generation or two before. But it was a privilege all the same to start my career in a city where arguments mattered, and your perspective on events was challenged – and tested – every day.

Continue reading the full address by downloading the PDF below.