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New mag editor signals change in content.

In the span of just over a year, Richard Byrne has gone from reporter and media critic for the Riverfront Times to academic to freelance foreign correspondent. But it's his latest transformation to editor of St. Louis magazine that might seem the most out of character.

Nationally, city magazines tend to offer an odd coupling of progressive politics and foppish reporting on style and fashion. A profile of an unsung community activist mighi be followed by a review of a tony condo development complemented by glossy Rolex and Tiffany ads. That's the nature of a city magazine, and St. Louis magazine isn't any different.

That Byrne, a mainstay of. local alternative journalism and longtime critic of the mainstream press, would find himself in the number one post at a city magazine is more than a little surprising, even to him.

"If you would have asked me a year ago, I would say no way would I be working in this direction," he said.

Byrne left St. Louis after receiving Pew grant to study international journalism in Sarajevo. When the fellowship was over, he quit the RFT and stayed on in the Balkans working as a freelance correspondent. His return to St. Louis coincided with Harper Barnes' decision to step down as St; Louis Magazine editor after nearly three years.

One of Byrne's conditions for accepting the position was that he could move the magazine to, what he called, "a newsier look." But this change will have to be accomplished on a smaller budget, one that Byrne himself had to slash after taking the job. In addition, the managing editor position has been eliminated after the magazine's number two, Julia Hanna, recently stepped down.

Although he took the top position at the struggling city magazine in mid-December, his editorial influence probably won't be evident until the March issue. He's keeping most of his new ideas for the magazine under wraps for the present, but readers are likely to see a younger, edgier St. Louis magazine.

Byrne plans on shortening regular features, giving Joe Pollack a high profile back page column and recruiting some younger writers. Fashion, style and celebrity stories will still be important to the publication, although expect to see more hard-hitting editorial creeping in the magazine during the next several months.

"There is a very specific form to city magazines and I think you really need to master the form before you can start tinkering with it," Byrne said. "What I'm not going to. do is eradicate what our present. readers like, but what you are going to see is a lot of change in the front of the book"

He added: "If I'm going to take a buzz saw to anything, I'm taking a buzz saw to editorial to lower [the age of] the demographic."

Despite the magazine's lagging circulation, especially among younger readers, Barnes says that the decision to step down as editor was entirely his own.

"My three-year contract was up in August, and I had never planned on staying more than three years anyway," Barnes said. "But I think that if I wanted to stay longer, I could have." He added that he wanted more time for writing, both for the magazine and an upcoming book.

However, Barnes says there was some difference of opinion with the owner over the magazine's direction. "I think Ray Hartmann wanted to make the magazine more edgy and I tried to make it more literary."

Matthew Hathaway is a free-lance writer.
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Author:Hathaway, Matthew
Publication:St. Louis Journalism Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U4MO
Date:Feb 1, 2000
Words:582
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