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Sep 2002 / media shoegaze :: email this story to a friend

Power (of the Press) to the People
By Antonio D. French

Who speaks for the People anymore? This was the question I posed to a friend as I read through the pages of a local black weekly newspaper some time ago. It was around the time of the redistricting debate, after the public urination episode on the floor of the Board of Aldermen.

Antonio D. French For me, Alderwoman Irene Smith's action was a heroic demonstration of self-sacrifice, completely uncommon in this time and place. For me, and for most people I knew — black and white — the redistricting politics of a year ago were no more than an act of passive-aggressive bullying on the part of newly elected Mayor Francis Slay and his Southside political machine. This simple act of bullying would ultimately result in the weakening of black political power and the worsening of already poor race relations in a city known for its poor race relations.

But reading that paper, touting itself as the City's Black Weekly, you would've thought St. Francis was indeed the most holy of characters in this play, fighting off the evil of the devil personified: Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, the most immediate victim of the new ward boundaries.

What a shift I was witnessing. Before my eyes, the instrument that used to be poor people's microphone to the world had suddenly turned into the Elite's one-way transmitter to their City's lower class.

With the American completely compromised, the Suburban Journals purchased by the parent company of the Post-Dispatch, and the Riverfront Times sold to out-of-town New Times, Inc., my question rang in my own ears for weeks to follow: who speaks for the People anymore?

In a nutshell, that's where Public Defender was born — from that episode and nearly identical experiences with the debates over the Cardinals' proposed ballpark, the proposed destruction of the Century building, the proposed blighting of nearly ten blocks of occupied homes on Natural Bridge, et cetera, et cetera.

Public Defender is my answer to my own question. The answer is that no one speaks for the People anymore. No one articulates the opinion of the local working class and the poor anymore. Not yet, at least.

But in a few short weeks, the St. Louis political machine will be getting a swift kick in the ass. And will never be the same again.

Pub Def is designed to be a courageous, controversial, investigating behemoth, with attitude like Tupac and Eminem and smarts like Woodward and Bernstein. If you can't imagine that, don't beat yourself up — it's never existed before.

Public Defender is a new weekly publication with one mission: to move this City forward by giving our people what they do not have now — accurate information (the truth).

Pub Def Pub Def is a news source, informing and educating the public about the issues that affect them. We will do this in a manner that is very distinct from other local media. Pub Def is written from an entirely "bottom up" perspective; that is, we tell our stories from the perspective of the People — average St. Louisans, equally black and white, mostly middle-class to poor — in the language of this mostly young majority. While other publications reserve themselves to being papers for Black St. Louis or Liberal White St. Louis, we see the richness of culture and experience that our City's unique racial divide offers and, feeding from its tension and promise, seek to give back to our readers a product that more perfectly reflects our City as a whole.

Pub Def is also a weekly call-to-arms, advocating issues and daring to propose solutions to public problems, encouraging participation by our readers in government, City social life, and urban cultural happenings. This is the fine line we walk, between journalism and activism. It is a line that is often blurred in modern American journalism. We go that extra step to clearly identify to our readers what is pure journalism and what is opinion. Arguments and counter-arguments are regularly presented and continued debate by readers is encouraged on our companion website (

Lastly, Public Defender is a chronicle, detailing our journey as young, socially and politically active St. Louisans simply trying to make sense of our environment and, by doing so, changing it.

Changing our immediate world, nothing less: that's Public Defender's long-term goal. Speaking for the People is just our day job.

Look for Public Defender soon.

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