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St. Louis Inquirer History

Inquiring Minds Want to Know – Again and Again

            A box in the upper left corner of the St. Louis Inquirer contains these words: “The best prophet of the future is the past.” This aphorism may explain why publisher Steve DeBellis decided to print only old news in his free monthly newspaper.

            “Why old news? Because it’s interesting and entertaining,” said DeBellis. “Besides, it’s new news for people who’ve never read it. If you see a headline like ‘Lee Surrenders to Grant’ how could you resist picking up a paper? In fact, that’s our biggest problem. The papers disappear from the stands too quickly.”

            For nearly a year, DeBellis has been printing 100,000 copies of the unique newspaper – named both for a defunct St. Louis daily and a fictional paper owned by Charles Foster Kane in the film “Citizen Kane.”

            Mixing fact with fiction or using artistic license may be the key to DeBellis’ success.

            “We don’t reprint old articles. It’s all new material compiled from various sources. It’s more accurate and more interesting that way,” he said.

            DeBellis, a former beer label designer, first became interested in his brand of historical journalism while a student at St. Louis University in the mid-1970s. He wrote for SLU’s paper on topics such as a profile of the 88-year-old porter at the pre-renovated Fox Theatre.

            Today, DeBellis publishes, writes, edits, and lays out his own paper. He researches the articles at local libraries but also relies on private collections. He will be working with Ring Magazine on his issue devoted to the Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling fight, and the material for the “Lee Surrenders” paper came from a friend’s three-volume history of the Civil War published in 1885.

            DeBellis also looks for old news that will have special meaning today: “Senate Wants To End U.S. Involvement in Nicaragua” reads one headline. The date? February 22, 1929.

            In the near future, DeBellis hopes to publish historical newspapers elsewhere. “We’re the only new publication in town with mass appeal,” he said. “As far as I know, no one else anywhere is doing what we’re doing.”

            DeBellis, 31, says the paper showed a profit with the third issue.

            “My friends in the journalism business are amazed that the Inquirer has been able to survive on its own this quickly. They say that a new publication can expect to lose money for two years.”

            (Originally published in the St. Louis Journalism Review 6/1987).

Name changed to St. Louis Globe-Democrat