Sunday, May 31, 2009

SJR's Latest Edition: "Sylvester Brown Silenced by the Post"

Much of the latest edition of The St. Louis Journalism Review is dedicated to my departure from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

SJR gives an in-depth analysis of the story, complete with brief comments from Post editors Arnie Robbins and Adam Goodman. Retired Post-Dispatch reporter Roy Malone and Mark P. Barnett, an adjunct instructor with St. Louis University's communications department, examined the allegations regarding my dismissal from the newspaper in April and speculated on some of the motives behind what had become a contentious relationship between me and some editors.

Barnett describes, for example, how Mayor Francis Slay's chief of staff and campaign manager, Jeff Rainford, called editors to convince them to change the late edition of the Feb. 15 issue which contained my "unflattering" column about Slay. After much "hand-wringing by Post editors," Barnett wrote, "the column was not changed."

I had to chuckle as Barnett wrote about my use of late rapper Tupac Shakur's lyrics, "Shorty's gonna be a thug," to describe what I considered Slay's heavy-handed tactics.

The song, Barnett wrote "... contained a double-whammy that could be interpreted that Brown believed Slay was a thug and vertically challenged."

I stand by the "thug" part, though I honestly hadn't even considered the "shorty" reference relating to Slay's height.

I was "a marked man" Malone wrote, as he detailed the Post-Dispatch's attempts to survive after it was bought by Lee Enterprises in 2005. The article relates that the struggling newspaper entered into a contradictory relationship with Slay after publisher Kevin Mowbray set out to "smooth things out" with the mayor who, at the time, described the Post as "a poor editorial product..."

Charles Klotzer, SJR's editor and publisher emeritus, really sliced through the fog and pinpointed reasons why the Post might have let me go.

"While Brown certainly discussed racial issues, his underlying theme was not 'blackness' but liberalism. You found in his columns a progressive, open-minded and balanced discussion of core issues that beset our society.

So to become more acceptable to the conservative segment of our community, the Post had to get rid of the most outspoken liberal writer on its staff ..."

SJR's coverage brought back memories of my interactions with editors shortly before we parted ways. In retrospect the brief, stilted, non-news related conversations and hesitancy to look me in the eye spoke volumes.

The editors and I weren't buddies but, in the past and on occasion, we talked -- about our kids, our spouses, and the challenges within our industry. Despite our differences, I considered them colleagues. I'm still stunned how quickly those "colleagues" threw me under the bus. Since their tissue-thin allegations make no sense, as evidenced by the latest SJR and investigations by the St. Louis American Newspaper, I can see that something was in the making long before I was forced out of the newsroom.

About a year ago, at an ACLU event featuring singer, actor and activist Harry Belafonte, I bumped into Klotzer. The experienced media watchdog, whom I've always respected, asked how I managed to keep my job while being so outspoken.

I don't recall my exact answer, but Klotzer said I implied, "as long as it lasts, it lasts."

Sounds like something I'd say.

It's easy to get angry and worked up all over again after reading the account in SJR but, thankfully, I have met and interviewed people who have made far greater sacrifices for their non-traditional positions.

At the ACLU event, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Harry Belafonte. I asked if he regrets the respect, rewards and recognition denied him due to his years of in-your-face activism. The seasoned humanitarian looked me in the eyes, smiled and shared words that give me solace and direction today: "I've been blessed. At 80, I'm learning all over again. Life is sparkling clear for me because I'm fully engaged."

It's weird, "fully engaged" describes my feelings since leaving the Post. As long as that lasts ... it lasts, I guess.

The St. Louis Journalism Review is available at Left Bank Books. For details on other area locations and/or subscription rates call the SJR at (314) 991-1699 / e-mail: or visit

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