When Davenport, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises (owner of the Missoulian) unexpectedly purchased the historic Pulitzer newspaper chain back in January, the balance of power in the newspaper world shifted dramatically, if quietly. For one thing, Pulitzer accepted Lee’s $1.46 billion offer over a bid from industry heavy Gannett, the largest newspaper publisher in the U.S., marking Lee as a player. The acquisition of Pulitzer’s 14 dailies, including the flagship St. Louis Post-Dispatch, founded in 1878 by Joseph Pulitzer himself, made Lee the fourth-largest publisher of newspapers in the country in terms of papers owned. Lee now owns 58 newspapers in 23 states, with a combined circulation of 1.7 million daily, and Lee’s revenues, based on both companies’ 2004 results, are expected to jump to $1.14 billion.

One thing that won’t change, at least for five years, is the venerable Post-Dispatch’s left-leaning editorial page. According to a purchase agreement mailed to Pulitzer shareholders May 13 and described in Editor & Publisher, Pulitzer’s owners took the unusual step of including contractual language guaranteeing that “For a period of at least five years following” the purchase, Lee Enterprises “will cause the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to maintain its current name and editorial page platform statement.” In other words: no tinkering with the reliably liberal, and often Democrat-leaning, editorial page.

That might seem a strange thing to include in a sales contract, but remember, this is now a country in which Baptist pastors kick Democrats out of the church and Red State military bases are expanded while Blue State bases are put under the knife.

The Pulitzer platform statement, adopted in 1911, pledges that the Post-Dispatch “Will always fight for progress and reform, never tolerate injustice or corruption, always fight demagogues of all parties, never belong to any party, always oppose privileged classes and public plunderers, never lack sympathy with the poor, always remain devoted to the public welfare, never be satisfied with merely printing news, always be drastically independent,” and “never be afraid to attack wrong, whether by predatory plutocracy or predatory poverty.”

Stirring words, those, and they’ve served the St. Louis paper for 94 years. We wish the citizens and the editors of St. Louis the best, but let it be duly noted: “Always” isn’t what it used to be. In fact, St. Louis could get to the end of it by 2010. The clock is ticking.

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