As the Whirl Turns

St. Louis' crime tabloid is still dishing the dirt after 66 years -- and the cops love it

"It's all supposition," says Sanders. "We get the same information that everyone else gets. We just know how to fill in the details to make them interesting. For example, say you got a guy nicknamed 'Bobo' who pulls a gun on the police and gets himself shot. Now, you got to ask, 'Why the fuck would anyone pull a pistol on a cop when they are trained to kill your ass?'"

Still, for all its "genius," there are those in the African-American community who claim the Whirl serves to perpetuate stereotypes of black men as violent criminals -- an argument Sanders dismisses outright.

"The reality is that 99 percent of this is black-on-black violence perpetuated by drugs," Sanders says. "I'm giving readers the same thing they could get in the news briefs of the Post-Dispatch,but instead of giving it to you in tiny teaspoons, I'm giving it to you in a whole goddamn scoop. If you're choking on it, it's because it's there."

Produced in the basement of Sanders' Central West End home, the Whirl is a bare-bones operation; Sanders is the paper's only full-time employee, while two freelance writers compile police reports and press releases into stories that Sanders drops into the paper's formatted pages.

Sanders isn't sure how the Whirl got its name, "but I always thought 'whirl' was like kicking up the dust of the night."

Roughly 47,000 papers are sold each week at 400 outlets for 50 cents a pop. For each paper sold, ten cents go to the paper's retail distributors, and ten cents go to independent distributors. That leaves the Whirl with 30 cents in the black for each tabloid sold -- or some $14,000 a week before counting the paper's revenue, which comes from such advertisers as Mobil Mart on Kingshighway and the 7-Eleven on St. Charles Rock Road. It makes for a pretty good living, says Sanders.

"I think if you took the Whirl to the Harvard School of Business, it would be lauded as one of the slickest businesses in America. We've got no overhead and we're making money selling newspapers in 2004. I take great pride in that."

As resolute as Sanders is in defending the Whirl, he admits he does wrestle at times with the paper's legacy of sensationalizing crime -- a key reason why Sanders will not attach his face to the paper and declined to have a close-up photograph taken for this story. His friends know his crime-racking occupation, but he'd prefer to keep his anonymity among the general public.

"I inherited a reputation as a bully when I took over this paper, and I've tried to dispel that," he says. "We're sensitive to black people. I don't want to make my people look like hoodlums."

Sanders says he's tried to soften the paper's look by featuring more white criminals, but such moderate facelifts didn't make financial sense.

"If I do anything other than what I'm currently doing, the sales would suffer. I'd have to take a big financial hit. There's a demand for this paper. Fuckers just can't wait to get their hands on it."

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