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How St. Louis Journalists Kept Print Alive As Pandemic Raged

Ursula Ruhl
The owners of Webster-Kirkwood Times include (from left) Randy Drilingas, Jaime Mowers and Kent Tentschert. The three employees purchased the newspaper from former publisher Dwight Bitikofer on Sept. 8 and relaunched the print issue of the Times on Sept. 25.

Both the Webster-Kirkwood Times and the Riverfront Times faced an uncertain future last March. As the coronavirus spread across the U.S., businesses closed — and management at both newspapers sought to suspend print editions.

“Once the coronavirus had kneecapped the restaurant and bar industry (our biggest advertisers), we and newspapers across the country found ourselves only a spot or two behind on the COVID-19 hit list,” wrote Riverfront Times Editor-In-Chief Doyle Murphy in a March 2020 editorial. One week earlier, he’d had to lay off all but two people in the newsroom.

But employees from both publications refused to move on.

After some staffers insisted on offering their services for free, the Riverfront Times was able to continue weekly distribution. The paper hired back several writers after a public fundraising campaign.

"Going from literally the worst day of my professional career to where we are now, where we’re adding pages back, building new sections, looking farther into the future — it’s really been amazing,” Murphy told St. Louis on the Air.

And in September 2020, after six months of publishing solely online, three Webster-Kirkwood Times employees purchased the community newspaper from longtime publisher Dwight Bitikofer.

“We just started talking to each other, and we’re like, ‘We have to keep this going. How can we do this? We want to do this [and] our community really is behind this,’” said Jaime Mowers, a veteran reporter who now serves as the Webster-Kirkwood Times’ editor-in-chief.

The first print edition under the new ownership was on doorsteps by Sept. 25, 2020. And today, both papers are going strong.

“For us, in our communities, print is where it’s at,” Mowers said. “We felt like this was worth the risk because the community just kept asking for it. … That makes all the difference.”

Doyle and Mowers joined Friday’s St. Louis on the Air to share how their publications battled back from the brink. Randy Drilingas, publisher of the Webster-Kirkwood Times, also joined the conversation.

Hear the discussion
Journalists from the Webster-Kirkwood Times and the Riverfront Times talk with host Sarah Fenske.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.