St. Louis Beacon: Driven Journalism, Real Engagement

The editor of the St. Louis Beacon, Margaret Wolf Freivogel, spoke about the “Journalism of Engagement” and detailed the  ways in which the regional news organization she helped create strives to engage its audience.

Beacon and Eggs, barroom conversations, fundraising events, partnerships with local organizations and the essential use of social media.

What struck me during Freivogel’s talk was that the Beacon was not pretending to be a disinterested news organization simply covering the news in the community. Rather, she pointed out that one important part of a media start-up was having clear goals. The Beacon is deeply involved in engaging with the community and responsive to audience input. The emphasis is placed on engaging readers rather than getting a high traffic volume.

Which is not to say that there isn’t a lot of excellent journalism going on. Despite (because of?) having a narrower focus than a traditional news organization, the Beacon produces nuanced, quality journalism. One series, Race, Frankly focused on the issue of race in the St. Louis region. The multiple components involved synthesize into an excellent resource with fascinating stories weaved throughout.

I appreciated her answer to a question about the differences between a start-up, non-profit and her work for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. While she emphasized how much she loved the Post-Dispatch, she also noted it was more difficult to do some of the things that the Beacon is doing at an older, more established outfit. I took that to mean the layers of management and perhaps lack of willingness to change because everything’s fine outlook held back the Post-Dispatch from drastically altering its structure to move fully into the more engaged, digital environment. Which isn’t to say the Post-Dispatch is totally behind the times or anything. They just don’t have a focus as much on engagement with readers.

Engaging with the audience might not draw big numbers and lots of traffic, as Freivogel indicated when talking about the small percentage advertising revenue draws in. Engagement can, however, lead to better journalism and help reporters cover the issues that citizens really care about – which is what the public service facet of journalism is really all about.

Fun fact: Her name, in German, means ‘free bird.’ Thanks Caroline.


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