I’ll admit it. When I first heard St. John was starting a newspaper, I was skeptical. I saw a lot of obvious obstacles. First off, writing is not usually a trait associated with a police chief. Sure, police write reports and the like, but a newspaper, that’s a different ball game. Starting a newspaper requires an uncommon love for writing. It requires a willingness to spend all day of every day either writing or thinking about writing. It requires a person to eat, drink and sleep words. That’s quite a career change for a cop.
Then, there’s the business side. In a time where newspapers compete with free content on the Internet, starting a newspaper seemed like a risky investment. Plus, Columbus already has two well established papers, The Dispatch and The Packet. In a town with less than 25, 000 people, I doubted there was room for a third.
Of course, St. John had reason to feel popular after his exit. I witnessed the spectacle of people marching to his defense at his trial before the city council. But, after he was removed from the job, months later, would those people really be willing to buy his newspaper? And what about the vast majority that didn’t show up?
There were also rumors the paper was a publicity stunt to launch St. John’s campaign for mayor, and the billboards screaming “St. John is Back” added to the buzz.
But, after reading a few editions, I’m starting to think my suspicions may have been wrong. For starters, St. John can write. His style is conversational. He writes like he’s talking to a friend and the joke is on everyone not reading. The writing is personal and edgy. He combines this style with front page editorials that don’t shy away from controversy and criticism, two of the surest ways to keep a reader’s attention. He mocks and taunts city leaders, such as referring to the renovation of old highway 82 as “the bridge to nowhere” or calling city councilmen “frightened children.”
Smartly, St. John has made clear his paper will continue to focus on county and city politics. The Packet, as a friend recently told me, is best known for crime coverage, including the eye-grabbing, scene stealing front-page criminal shots. The Dispatch has a long history and reputation of covering a mixture of sports, life-style, crime and local government. St. John, though the paper has a sports and lifestyle section, mostly keeps his attention on politics. So far, the cover of each edition has had a political topic and catchy quote, followed by a story and editorial on the topic. The stories have ranged from a detailed description of the relationship between Supervisor Brooks and Supervisor Sanders to the infamous “illegal” paving for a private business.
While controversy and strong opinions sell newspapers, they also create enemies and critics. For a naturally gregarious and friendly guy like St. John, this must bother him, even if he claims otherwise. And if he is planning on running for office, these new-found enemies are not likely to forget his words. Plus, too much criticism of certain city leaders and the new police chief will start to sound like resentment and revenge, and hurt his credibility. To endure, St. John has to report all areas of politics equally and fairly, so his readers know his only agenda is reporting the news as he sees it.
Shortly after losing his job as chief, St. John, the Columbus import, reported that he wasn’t leaving. Months later, he’s written his way back into the spotlight. From conversations around town, his editorials appear to be getting people’s attention, even if that’s only because it upsets them. If he can keep this momentum, he may have found a niche in the local news market and a voice in the future of the city, regardless of if he’s elected to office or not.
Scott Colom is a local attorney. His e-mail address is email@example.com.
Scott Colom is a local attorney.
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