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Nonprofit news site, the St. Louis Beacon, shines with quality reporting and thoughtful discussion.

St. Louis Beacon

When her 34 years with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ended in a buyout in 2005, then-Sunday Editor Margaret Freivogel looked at the state of America’s shrinking newsrooms and decided something important was being lost.

“There were about 40 people who left the Post-Dispatch newsroom at the time I did, and we looked around and tried to put what had happened in perspective. What we saw was that what happened at the Post-Dispatch was happening all over the country, and it amounted to less reporting,”" Freivogel says.

She and several colleagues decided they were in a position to do something about it. In April, they launched an online news site, now called the St. Louis Beacon (stlbeacon.org) to cover the Gateway region. “We saw this as a service to the community, to provide the kinds of in-depth reporting and context..that is being cut back all over the country,” Freivogel says.

When creating the Beacon, the staff drew inspiration from Web-only local sites like Voice of San Diego (www.voiceofsandiego.org), Gotham Gazette (gothamgazette.com) and MinnPost.com (see Drop Cap, February/March). Freivogel hopes to make community interaction central to the operation as those sites do. The Beacon allows comments on its work, and frequently receives story ideas and other suggestions from its audience. The site has a presence on social media sites Twitter and Facebook and has sponsored events such as a book signing by Beacon contributor Harper Barnes, author of “”Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement.”" Whether in person or in the digital space, Freivogel says, audience interaction is the key to “”trying new things, pushing the envelope on things you can do.”" The nonprofit has been largely funded by donations, including a $500,000 challenge grant from Emily Pulitzer that requires the Beacon to raise an additional $1.5 million from other sources. The Pulitzer family owned the Post-Dispatch until the summer of 2005, when it sold the daily to Lee Enterprises.

The choice of nonprofit status is part ideology, part necessity, says Richard Weil, chairman of the board that runs the Beacon. “”We all have a not-for-profit mentality, because quite a lot of us have long thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a nonprofit newspaper?’ But we couldn’t be for-profit if we wanted to,”" he says, laughing. “”If we at the Beacon say to investors that we’re going to be a for-profit organization, can you imagine all the investors breaking down our doors to give us money?” SourceAmerican Journalism Review

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