The future of news

I’ve been a newspaper man my whole professional life. Now, at the age of 73, I often consider that I got into journalism – and more or less out of it – at just about the right times.

I was fresh out of the Navy and attending Broward Community College when Watergate broke. Even before that I knew I wanted to be a newspaper man. But no question, Woodward and Bernstein gave my long simmering desire to be an ink-stained wretch a boost.

While I was writing for the Florida Alligator, in the mid-70s, I actually got a chance to meet Woodward and Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee during a winter break trip to the D.C. Swamp. Turns out that Woodward didn’t look a bit like Robert Redford, but then, I didn’t exactly look like Dustin Hoffman either.

By the late 1970s I was Tallahassee Bureau Chief for the New York Times Florida Newspapers.

Those were heady times. Bob Graham was governor. Dempsey Barron bossed the Legislature around and nearly every daily newspaper in Florida had a Tallahassee presence. Including several that no longer exist.

By the early ‘80s I was back in Gainesville to begin a three-decade stint as editorial page editor of The Sun. We were still downtown, but soon moved into the new building on SW 13th Street (1984 if I remember correctly).

And, yes, I still call it the new building nearly 40 years later.

I decided to retire after The New York Times sold The Sun and its other Florida newspapers.

By the time I left, in 2013, I was a Halifax employee. Since then The Sun’s been passed on to Gatehouse, which rebranded itself Gannett.

Still, except for a short stint as executive director of Bike Florida, I’ve managed to keep busy writing columns, theater and book reviews and features for The Sun, Forum magazine and a handful of other Florida publications.

Not to mention my blog. The doing of which has been more fun than a barrel of city commissioners.

I bring all this up, not to take a stroll down memory lane, but because lately I’ve been talking to several former colleagues who have similarly left – or been downsized out of – their old papers.

Barry Friedman, used to work with me at the Alligator and spent decades at the Lakeland Ledger. Pierre Tristam was a fellow editorial writer at the Daytona Beach News Journal. Craig Pittman wrote environmental stories for the Tampa Bay Times. Diane Rado is also a Tampa Bay Times alum. And Dan Christensen cut his journalistic teeth at the Miami Herald.

None of them are retired. All are still working their trade. But now they are working under a different business model.

Turns out that old newspaper persons don’t just fade away. They migrate to someplace where they can still do what they’ve always done best…report the news.

Barry is founder of LKLDNOW. Tristam used his severance pay to start FlaglerLive. Craig writes for and Rado edits the Florida Phoenix. Christensen runs the Florida Bulldog (news you can sink your teeth into).

Two things about their new “newspapers”:

First, there is no newsprint or ink involved. The prohibitive costs of printing actual newspapers means that all of the above “publications” are digital and circulate largely via social media.

The Institute for Nonprofit News has about 300 members across the U.S. But there are only a handful here in Florida…thus far.

“The local news digital startup sector continues to surge as legacy newspapers decline. One new census of the field found 704 of them in the U.S. and Canada, and that is probably an undercount,” writes Rick Edmunds, media business analysis for the St. Petersburg-based Poynter Institute.

He continues, “Funding and training are plentiful and displaced journalists are eager to recommit to a community news mission, but the picture is not all sunny. As the sector matures, pain points — difficulties and some outright failures — are emerging, too.”

On the other hand, traditional for-profit newspapers haven’t been doing all that well lately either.

It’s no secret that these are tough times for newspapers.

A lot of newspapers are already gone. And a new term, “news deserts” has been coined to describe communities that no longer have a daily newspaper to keep residents informed.

All of which is to say that while non-profit news may still be in its infancy…and the whole concept of donating to journalists the way you give to, say, your local blood bank or community theater may seem a bit strange…

…the day may come when no-longer ink-stained journalists are very much going to depend on the, um, “kindness of strangers” in order to keep your town from turning into a news desert.

Listen, it’s a brave new world out there, journalistically speaking.

Hey brother, can you spare a dime for a cup of news?

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