We tore up the newsroom organization within the first few months, and the new structure was a more traditional one. But nothing was to move backward, as far as I was concerned.

There were respected veterans who would note that the P-D was no longer read in the White House, as it was reported to have been by President Kennedy. The implication was that if in 2001 we re-created the newspaper of 40 years earlier, we would be great and successful again — as though times had never changed.

About how many reporters and editors were working in the newsroom when you took over?

I think it was 290-something. Later, we were able to add a few staffers to expand Business and start the Health & Fitness section. [According to the stltoday.com website, the newsroom population now numbers 150.]

Does that include the Suburban Journals staff? How much content migrated from those bureaus into the pages of the Post?

No, the Suburban Journals' operations were kept strictly separate. As part of the regional strategy we developed, I hoped to make use of their community reporters as P-D stringers, but no one in top management would touch this. They were afraid it could create an opportunity for the [St. Louis Newspaper] Guild. The Journals' pay was considerably less than the P-D's, as you might imagine.

You were at the helm for nearly five years. What, would you say, were the Post's five proudest moments during that time period?

I can't say there were five "moments." There were many good moments. I loved working there for most of my tenure.

Certainly, I was proud of the changes we were able to bring about in the focus of the paper — making it more timely, interesting, competitive and relevant to readers. This culminated in the dramatic reshaping of local-news strategy, and the design finally launched in 2005. This initiative, combined with a smart marketing push led by circulation director Steve Helms, showed that it was still possible to gain readers and advertisers with a strong, relevant product. That effort gained the P-D nearly 14,000 new home-delivery customers, many on the East Side, which is the most competitive part of the market.

I am also proud of how we were able to increase diversity among the news staff: Minority-group representation grew by 30 percent. The staff also became more diverse in terms of age, interests, background, expertise.

The business sections became a source of pride under Andre Jackson and a talented staff, many of them new hires. Kathy Best and Adam Goodman brought aggressive enterprise to metro news.

We had some real high points in public service, such as Deb Shelton's and Greg Freeman's work on organ transplants; Elizabethe Holland's and Susan Weich's work uncovering manipulation of suburban fire-department salaries and taxes; investigations of nursing homes, Madison County courts, dangerous floodplain building and many other good projects. The new Health & Fitness section was a big success. The photo work was consistently excellent. Our guys who went to Afghanistan, Iraq and other danger spots did a superb job.

Overall, we learned how to put the readers first and to understand more of the region, especially St. Charles and our Illinois territory. The staff brought to bear energy, creativity and enthusiasm.

The Post experienced enormous changes — as did the entire newspaper industry — during your tenure. Some of those changes — the newsroom's courting of its (nonpaying) online readership, an extensive print redesign completed not long before you left — you spearheaded. What are your thoughts regarding what has transpired since you left, and about the ongoing evolution of the daily "newspaper"?

I don't know what the Post-Dispatch will become over the long term, given its ownership problems and the continuing overemphasis on short-term returns versus long-term investment. This emphasis was not new to Lee, but it has intensified.

I am worried overall about the future of metro newspapers. They are like the big department stores that used to be one of any newspaper's cash cows: Both businesses were big something-for-everyone, one-size-fits-all operations. A lot of people don't want or need that anymore.

I think that the handful of national newspapers — like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal — will survive as solid journalism entities for a long time to come, in whatever formats come along. Small-town news media will, too, where no one else offers the information they can provide.

It's the traditional metro newspapers such as the Post-Dispatch, the Miami Herald and so on that worry me going forward. I hope I'm wrong.

Newspaper companies (TV, too) got very spoiled. They were such dominant, lucrative operations for so long. They and Wall Street got addicted to ever higher, outrageous profit margins. These margins are no longer attainable because of the collapse of the news media's traditional revenue cash cows — department stores, help-wanted ads, real estate and car dealers — combined with their inability to replace these revenue levels with significant digital-media income.

I'm "platform agnostic." Give folks good journalism in whatever media format they prefer. Digital media allow us to do some very creative things. But we have to find new ways to pay for the journalism. Hey, I'm a kid from East St. Louis — I can't afford to work for free.

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