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Best Newspaper Columnist 

Dolores Shante, St. Louis American

The best columnist in St. Louis isn't real. Giving someone a column may start out as a good idea, but too often the columnist drones on with his weekly, or thrice-weekly, chore long after the death of anything resembling a good idea. Every column, and columnist, has a half-life beyond which concept and execution disintegrate into jukebox journalism, giving the reader predictable, familiar tunes about the usual topics with little or no new reporting. This rule is particularly true with the Post's two high-profile columnists, Bill McClellan and Jerry Berger. McClellan has done fine work, but isn't it time for a sabbatical or a transfer into a new gig, such as covering the St. Louis County Council? Jerry Berger's space has devolved into a tea-leaf-reading exercise, trying to figure out how his column is being used, by whom and for what. With that type of mainstream disappointment, the St. Louis American, a free weekly aimed at African-Americans, offers two columns that deliver consistent amusement or new information: "Partyline" and the "Political Eye." Don't go trying to look up the Eye's author, Mark Wilson, or the exotically named Dolores Shante, whose byline graces "Partyline." Neither is real; each is a pseudonym used so a small collective of talents can write with impunity. Conventional wisdom has the "Political Eye" mostly penned by former St. Louis Comptroller Virvus Jones, with aid from other American staffers and even publisher Donald Suggs. Insider rumors about city politics dominate, but "Mr. Wilson" isn't afraid to take out after former mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. or Ald. Sharon Tyus, though the column is not without bias. During the mayoral campaign, one "Political Eye" column referred to Mayor Francis Slay's being Lebanese 11 times. For "Partyline," "Dolores" is also a fiction, and that may explain why a column by a "woman" publishes so many photos of babelicious females. But whoever compiles "Partyline" can turn a phrase, such as recently, when Ms. Shante said so many readers tried to reach her that it "blew my e-mail up like a 911 operator on a Friday night in North St. Louis." The moral here? The best columns are done by committee.

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