ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI — Dave Drebes didn’t take the most conventional path into journalism. Originally a stockbroker, the St. Louis native decided to jump into newspaper publishing in 2001. Drebes and a friend wrote several articles and opinion pieces about the flaws in the St. Louis Board of Aldermen’s contentious, racially charged redistricting plans. They printed the articles on a broadsheet and sent the publication to about 100 people. (The redistricting process went on as planned, Drebes says, costing one African American Democratic incumbent her seat.)
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That experiment was the progenitor of Drebes’s Arch City Chronicle, a collection of state and local political news and opinion writing that circulated throughout the St. Louis area—sometimes monthly, sometimes bi-monthly. Drebes ran the publication, which employed freelance writers, a succession of people trying to sell advertising, and various individuals who helped with distribution.
But while the free publication was popular, the costs of producing and distributing a newspaper proved unsustainable. For his next venture, Drebes decided to take things in a simpler direction. He says he got the idea for what is now Missouri Scout, a subscription-based news service that follows the goings and happenings of Missouri politics (MoScout for short), while having a drink with a friend at a St. Louis bar.
“For Arch City Chronicle, I’d written a fifty-page business plan,” Drebes says. “Then, after like ten minutes at the bar, this person was like, ‘Well you know, you should try a subscription service—just over the Internet. Don’t worry about paper or anything.’ Basically, in the course of ten or fifteen minutes [we] sketched out what MoScout would be.”
Founded in 2007, Missouri Scout is now a key source of information for politicians, consultants, staffers, and lobbyists involved in Missouri politics. Drebes says the service has a little over a hundred annual subscribers, as well as a fluctuating number of people who subscribe monthly.
For $795 a year or $69 a month, subscribers get “Daily Updates” every morning chronicling big news and smaller bits about the Show Me State’s vibrant political universe. It’s managed to break some major news, including the bombshell announcement last year that House Speaker Steve Tilley would not be running for lieutenant governor.
At the end of the week, Drebes condenses his updates into a PDF. He says the summary can assist lobbyists with sending out reports to certain clients. While Drebes works from his home in St. Louis, he occasionally makes trips to visit sources in the state capital in Jefferson City.
“I try to have a few things each day that aren’t going to be anywhere in the paper and a few things each day that maybe are in the paper—but [add] ‘Here’s what I think they mean,’” Drebes says. “I usually try to hit about 1,000 words. And then I send it off, and I start working on what I’m going to do the next day.”
In addition to the daily e-mail blast and weekly PDF, another focus for the service is handicapping competitive elections. Drebes recently put out two reports providing detailed analysis of the more high-profile contests for the Missouri House and Senate. In a nod to his stockbroker days, Drebes says he is inclined to pick winners and losers based on a district’s political lean and demographical data.
Missouri Scout is effectively a one-man show, but Drebes doesn’t discount possibly hiring somebody to do bookkeeping in the future. He adds, though, that he doesn’t plan to bring in a lot of people to contribute with content, mainly because such a move would clash with his desire to keep overhead as low as possible.
“If I had grandiose plans, I’d have two or three people working for me and we’d be at every committee hearing or something—but that’s just not going to happen,” Drebes says. “After having lost lots of money doing paper, I don’t want to do that.”
One possible expansion opportunity might involve covering niche areas of the legislative process—reporting on Missouri politics geared towards business interests, for example. Another potential long-term plan is to cultivate other “one-man” subscription sites that focus on legislative activity in other state capitals.
“There are probably states that don’t have any,” says Drebes, adding that the chances of pulling off such a thing aren’t that high at the moment.
In the meantime, he’s focused on the task at hand. “I feel like I’ve come a pretty long way with five years of slowly building up these readers,” he says.
Missouri Scout Data
Name: Missouri Scout
City: St. Louis
Principal Staff: Dave Drebes, founder, publisher, and editor.