Based in St. Louis, Missouri, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is a major regional newspaper that serves the St. Louis metropolitan area. While the Belleville News-Democrat, Alton Telegraph, and Edwardsville Intelligencer also publish in the era, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is the largest in the region. As well as this, the newspaper has received an outstanding 19 Pulitzer Prizes over the years and remains to be a prominent voice of the Lower Midwest. 

Joseph Pulitzer and Early History

The St Louis Post Dispatch’s history goes all the way back to 1878, when Joseph Pulitzer bought the St. Louis Dispatch at an auction after the publication had gone bankrupt. He merged it with the St. Louis Evening Post to create one newspaper called the St. Louis Post and Dispatch, which was later shortened to its current name. 4,020 copies of four pages were printed for the newspaper’s first edition on December 12, 1878. 

Joseph Pulitzer remained in control of the newspaper until his retirement in 1907, after which the newspaper remained in the Pulitzer family for generations to come.

 

statue of joseph pulitzer

Statue of Joseph Pulitzer
Image: Wikimedia Commons 

John A. Cockerill, First Managing Editor

John A. Cockerill was appointed the managing editor of the newspaper, and he ran the newspaper into some trouble in 1882. Cockerill decided to publish some articles on James Overton Broadhead, who was running for Congress against John Glover. There was an ongoing lawsuit between the city and a gaslight company, and the articles were questioning the role of Broadhead in the lawsuit. 

While Broadhead didn’t respond to the charges, his law partner Alonzo W. Slayback called the newspaper a “blackmailing sheet” and criticized its discussion of Broadhead. The following day, Cockerill republished an offensive “card” by John Glover that was originally published in November, 1881. A furious Slayback then burst into Cockerill’s office, demanding that Cockerill apologize for the publication. Cockerill then retaliated by shooting Slayback, killing him there and then. Cockerill claimed the act was self-defense, which was supported by the discovery of a pistol on Slayback’s body. 

The economic consequences for the newspaper were serious, and a grand jury would not indict Cockerill for murder. As a result, Cockerill was sent to manage the New York World for Pulitzer in May 1883. 

The Publishing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

The newspaper gained recognition in 1946, when it became the first edition in the world to print the secret procedures for the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

The Pact was a non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, enabling them to divide Poland between them. Signed on August 23, 1939, it was terminated in 1941 after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union known as Operation Barbarossa. 

At the request of a reporter for the newspaper, Thomas J. Dodd, American deputy prosecutor, managed to get hold of a copy of the terms in the Pact and translated it into English. The protocols of the Pact were published for the first time on May 22, 1946 in a front-page story, and were later published by the Manchester Guardian in Britain.

 

1930s radio advert

Advertising for 1930s RCA radios in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 14, 1935
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Views on President Harry Truman

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch was particularly outspoken about President Harry Truman, being the most critical of his presidency throughout his time in office. His integrity was consistently attacked and the newspaper associated him with the Pendergast machine in Kansas City – when Tom Pendergast was convicted of income tax evasion, Lloyd C. Stark, a Missouri governor, attempted to use this to unseat Truman in the U.S. Senate election of 1940 since Truman had been good friends with Pendergast’s son Jim. 

International Reporting

International coverage in the newspaper was improved greatly when the second Pulitzer family member gained ownership. Usually, newspapers improve their international reporting by establishing permanent bureaus in various capital cities, but the St. Louis Post-Dispatch did so by sending reporters around the world to report on events. 

Alone at the 1950 World Cup

The 1950 FIFA World Cup was a memorable moment for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, since it was the only newspaper in the United States reporting on the event from Brazil. The reporter, Dent McSkimming, paid for his own travel expenses to cover the event.

Partnership with the St. Louis Globe-Democrat

A joint operating agreement was made between the Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, which merged their advertising, profits and printing functions. The partnership worked with the Globe-Democrat publishing each morning and the Post-Dispatch publishing in the evenings. 

Production of the newspaper was halted for six weeks when a Teamsters union, representing both Globe-Democrat and Post-Dispatch workers went on strike in August 1973. The Post-Dispatch became the only major newspaper in the area a decade later when the Globe-Democrat closed in 1983.

st louis post dispatch building

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch building in St. Louis, Missouri
Image: Wikimedia Commons

Current Ownership 

The Pulitzer family ownership continued throughout the 20th century until Joseph Pulitzer’s great-grandson, Joseph Pulitzer IV, left the company in 1995. Pulitzer, Inc. had control of the paper until 2005. Lee Enterprises of Davenport, Iowa is who owns the St. Louis Post-Dispatch today, after purchasing the newspaper for $1.46 billion.

When Lee Enterprises bought the newspaper, it became the fourth largest publisher of newspapers in the United States in terms of the number of daily newspapers owned. With regard to circulation, Lee Enterprises was then the seventh largest in terms of circulation, and the company also got a stake in the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. After the purchase, the newspaper was, for the first time, no longer a St. Louis-owned publication. 

Political Stance 

When Joseph Pulitzer was in charge of the newspaper, it was established with an independent, liberal outlook and it took a heavy stance against public office corruption. It was from its early civic crusades and exposés that the readership of the newspaper began to grow. The newspaper continues to promote this independence and supports Democrats or Republicans variously. It tends to exert a liberal persuasion. 

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch became characterized by a liberal editorial page and columnists. Political cartoons by Daniel R. Fitzpatrick appeared on the editorial page, becoming a noteworthy aspect of the newspaper. These cartoons won the newspaper the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartoons in 1955. The same award was later won by Bill Mauldin in 1959. 

Weatherbird 

Weatherbird was a stand-out front-page feature of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch when it was introduced for the first time on February 11, 1901. Weatherbird was a cartoon bird printed on issues that told the daily weather forecast to readers. In the United States, Weatherbird is the oldest continuously published cartoon. The original cartoon was Harry B. Martin who would draw Weatherbird until the end of 1903, and it has been taken over by various artists since. Albert Schweitzer was the first cartoonist to draw the bird in color, and Dan Martin is the current cartoonist who has been drawing Weatherbird since 1986. 

Post-Dispatch Circulation Figures

DateCirculation
2004 281,198
2010 213,472
2011 191,631
2013178,801
2015124,712
2018103,773

St. Louis Post-Dispatch circulation has decreased over the last decade in regards to daily print circulation. However, this decrease has also been common among other publications, since online subscriptions have become more and more popular with the rise of the internet and the way people consume their news today.

With online readers taken into consideration, Lee Enterprises stated in a 2017 press release that the newspaper reaches more than 792,600 readers each week along with their website, stltoday.com, obtaining around 67 million page views a month. 

It’s clear that the Internet is changing the way the public receives their news, with online figures much higher than print figures.