Recently, on one of the few sunny mornings we have had this Spring, I had coffee at Techartista with CWEnder Jack Grone to learn more about his new independent journalism outlet McPherson, of which he is publisher and editor. Though we’ve been aware of each other for several years—we seem to pick the same nights to attend St. Louis Actors’ Studio performances—I never had an opportunity to learn more about him. What follows is another example of why I love writing this blog.
The first topic Grone introduced is why he chose the name McPherson, which is also the street where he lives with his husband Al Anderson.”I hope my new venture won’t be confused with ‘The McPherson’ ” (the CWE’s new event venue). The choice of title is explained on his website: “The changes underway on the street (McPherson) reflect not only the ongoing evolution of the CWE but raise important questions about the city’s past and the shifting demographics of large cities across the United States. I plan to address some of these questions in a future post.”
Grone, who has returned to journalism after a recent stint working in public relations, is realistic about the challenges of attracting readership to an online publication, but feels he will add a fresh voice to a field crowded with many choices for local and national news “via a mix of analysis, investigative reporting and commentary.”
One of his first moves to garner attention was to partner with more established news organizations, including NextSTL and The Atlantic’s City Lab, which snapped up A Towering Disparity. The Park Plaza is worth more than some neighborhoods in St. Louis… 45 minutes after he pitched it. That article, which was published on April 3, traveled around the neighborhood like wildfire and, serendipitously, offers an interesting counterpoint to my recent posts about what’s happening north of Delmar—Kevin Bryant’s development plan for the Kingsway District, and STL Village’s panel discussion on Bridging the Delmar Housing Divide.
Grone, who grew up in Kirkwood, earned a degree in English Literature from Washington University in 1988. While there he developed a passion for journalism and was a contributor to the university’s Student Life. Following graduation he worked as a reporter for the St. Louis Business Journal. In 1993 he left St. Louis and joined the Peace Corps to teach English in Hungary. Following that assignment, he stayed on in Budapest to work for an English language newspaper—”without a work permit,” he added—and later joined a 2-person office there writing for Dow Jones Newswires.
In 1999 Grone was transferred to the London Bureau of Dow Jones, where he lived and worked until 2005. There he met his future husband, “a red-head from South Africa,” who now runs a private investment firm. “That was a very exciting time to be a journalist working in London, as I was covering the new member states of the European Union such as Hungary and Poland, and the founding of the Euro.” He left journalism to work in public relations for Credit Suisse in London & then New York. After he and Anderson moved back to St. Louis to be closer to Grone’s mother, he continued commuting to New York until 3 years ago when he began working for Wells Fargo Advisers here in St. Louis. Grone found that he missed journalism, so he decided to dive into the online publishing world and launched McPherson in March of this year.
Grone said the stories he is eager to explore are those that were front and center 6 months ago, but now seem to have been forgotten. “The best stories are hiding in plain sight. Wherever there is lots of noise, or lights and cameras, I want to be elsewhere.”
The Park Plaza piece originated from a deep dive into 2016’s PFM Report (Public Financial Market) commissioned by St. Louis Community Development Corporation (SLDC). PFM partnered with St. Louis University and University of Missouri-St. Louis on some facets of the report. The introduction (here) explains why the report (which covers the period from 2000 to 2014) was commissioned. It seemed to Grone there was a lot more to this story.
During his research he found figures showing that some St. Louis neighborhoods have seen big increases in the total assessed value of their commercial and residential real estate, while other neighborhoods have seen the opposite. “Certain neighborhoods seem to be booming while others are sinking,” he added.
Grone explained that this particular part of the PFM report did not include data on taxes or incentives, but incentives can truly be the spark that get a project going. The Chase-Park Plaza project is an example. “There’s lots of rehabbing and new business evident in the city of St. Louis—the Tower Grove neighborhood, Tower Grove East and Fox Park, are prime examples. Those neighborhoods were beginning to show up on the PFM Report, which is where you’ll find a real example of the huge value created in the city over the past 30 years.”
Jack Grone is realistic about the significant challenges we face in St. Louis, but wants McPherson, Independent Journalism for the Public in St. Louis and Beyond to focus on more positive, nuanced stories about our city.