‘MySpace suicide’ columnist leaves St. Charles Journal

Steve Pokin

In 2007, St. Charles Journal columnist Steve Pokin broke the “MySpace Suicide” story, about a 13-year-old girl who took her life over emails from a fake boyfriend created by a 49-year-old woman.

Pokin doesn’t mention the story that made him famous in today’s “Pokin Around” column — his last one for the St. Charles paper. He tells readers he’s leaving the Journal to cover higher education for the Springfield, Mo.-based News-Leader. He writes:

I came to the conclusion a few years ago that 1,000 columns would be a worthy goal. Alas, this is only No. 597. I leave behind 16 pages of story ideas I’ve accumulated since I started Pokin Around on Nov. 13, 2005. …When I look at that list I feel regret and guilt. I’d told myself I’d get to all of them. Eventually.

News-Leader executive editor David Stoeffler, who worked with Pokin in St. Louis five years ago, tells Romenesko readers that “Steve and I have kept in touch over the last couple of years” and they started talking about working together again after the News-Leader lost its higher education reporter to the Associated Press Beijing bureau.

“Steve has a unique knack for finding the kinds of stories that get people talking about what’s in their paper or on its website,” says the editor. With the MySpace suicide story, “the real trick was getting people to talk about it. That’s where his talent is — making people feel comfortable and getting them to tell their story.”

Here’s what Pokin writes in an email:

I’m proud of the reporting I did on the Megan Meier [MySpace suicide] story. I’m proud that my small paper paid to fly me out to California to cover the Lori Drew trial. I’m also proud that Tina Meier has kept her word and to this day is still traveling the country and warning school children about some of the dangers of cyberspace.

It is difficult for me to claim that story as a highlight of my 8 1/2 years at the Journal because, at its core, it is about the suicide of a 13-year-old girl, and that’s a sad story.

To be honest, I’d rather not be known for a particular story. I’d rather be known as a reporter and columnist who was versatile, who could one day write a humor column and the next do a watchdog investigation.

It was difficult for me to leave the Journal. I loved being a columnist and I love the city where I live — St.Charles, MO.

First, I think I’ll like the higher ed beat because it will require a range of reporting from features to watchdog, which I like.

Second, I’ve worked for David Stoeffler before. He was the publisher at the Journal for a while and he is the executive editor of the News-Leader in Springfield. Working for David is a wonderful opportunity.

Third, I became very comfortable at the Journal, which is a good thing and a bad thing. I think I can become a better journalist by making the change.

Fourth, and this is the reason why I was willing to look for a new job in the first place, my wife has been unemployed for over a year. She had earned two-third’s of our family income. My new job provides a higher salary.

* From a grateful columnist: Thanks for reading
* 2007: MySpace hoax ends with suicide of teen girl
* 2007: Pokin talks to NPR about the decision not to name Lori Drew



  1. Steve Pokin said:

    I wrote a farewell column in the Journal and I did not mention the MySpace story.
    Jim Romenesko contacted me via email and asked me, among other things, why I did not mention the MySpace story in my farewell column.
    I responded to him. I don’t see any contradiction in my actions.

  2. rknil … it’s fun to criticize other people, but you’re wandering toward crankland here, deliberately (I assume) misreading the usage of “difficult” so you can sound smug and burble about some “rogue blogger,” whatever that means. This guy deliberately skipped a chance to revisit a moment of glory while up on his biggest stage, and did it out of principle. Not bad.

  3. Jim said:

    rnil — People warned me that you had been kicked off of other journalism boards for being… well, an ass. Do you not have a civil remark for anything? Steve is right — I did ask him about not mentioning his MySpace story, and he gave me an answer, which I published. There’s no contradiction in his comments.

    I want to also state that I will soon be getting rid of the WordPress comments section and only using Facebook comments. Have two comment boards on one site doesn’t make sense, IMHO.

  4. “I want to also state that I will soon be getting rid of the WordPress comments section and only using Facebook comments. Have two comment boards on one site doesn’t make sense, IMHO.”

    Absolutely right. So why not get rid of Facebook comments? Not everyone uses Facebook. I understand using Facebook comments reduces the spam burden and provides some level of accountability, but it also cuts off all those people who have opted out of Facebook for one reason or another.

  5. Jim said:

    Dwight — I currently have 1,756 WordPress spam messages waiting to be individually deleted and, frankly, I don’t have time to do that. I’m aware that not *everyone* is on Facebook, but the vast majority of my readers are.

    Again, I just don’t think it makes sense to have two comment platforms on one site.

  6. Jim:

    I understand and agree with you, both on the “two comment platforms” issue and the spam issue. My own blog doesn’t get nearly the level of traffic yours does, and I find the spam almost overwhelming.

    But I really wish there was a better way to handle this than cutting off access to comments for everyone who doesn’t do FaceBook.

  7. Dan Mitchell said:

    Where’s the difficulty in signing up for Facebook just to comment on sites, etc.? You don’t have to otherwise use it intensively or anything.

  8. “Where’s the difficulty in signing up for Facebook just to comment on sites, etc.?”

    Not trusting Facebook and what they’ll do with the information I provide? Not wanting to deal with Facebook drama and spam just to comment on someone’s web site?

  9. Dan Mitchell said:

    Fair enough, I guess. But if all you use it for is to comment, I’m not sure what Super Secret information they’re really going to get that you aren’t already dispensing just by being on the Internet. And I see very little drama and not much spam even as an active user.