On Daytona: Bring Back “Chatterbox”

I enjoy reading the news.

It’s how I learn.

In days gone by, I used to like the feel of newsprint in my hands – the smell of the ink and shiny black residue that would appear on your fingers gave the feeling you were part of things.

The consumer.  The last link in the chain.

Back in the day, it took a symphony of professionals – reporters, editors, layout specialists, typesetters, pressmen, distribution and delivery folks – everyone coordinating against the clock to get it right and get it to your door.

Those who grew up in the Halifax area might recall getting both a morning, and an evening, newspaper.  We even had a “society column” known as “Chatterbox” written by the inimitable Margie Schlageter.

How things have changed.

Today I take my news almost exclusively online.  I can read an aggregate of trending articles from around the world, three or four national newspapers, a few digital opinion sites and finish up with our local paper in the time it takes me to finish a couple-cups of coffee.

I read it all.

A check of my browser bookmarks finds an eclectic list of hard news, editorial, national politics and alternative opinion blog sites that I frequent – everything from The Economist to obscure New Orleans street-sheets.

But I always return to my favorite – The Daytona Beach News-Journal – the paper that first fueled my obsession with current events, gave my father and I a point to connect, helped teach me to read analytically and think critically, and brought the latest news of the day to our doorstep every morning.

It still fascinates me – and the newspaper continues to provide for my on-going education.

For instance, just last week I learned that an Osteen man found a human skull in a bag while mowing his lawn.

Oddly, I wasn’t surprised by that.  You probably weren’t either.

After all, this is Florida – the sight of an alligator walking through a crowded parking lot with a corpse clamped firmly in his jaws is almost commonplace – and dinner table conversations often start with, “Honey, I heard the neighbor found a set of human feet in a Publix bag on the side lawn.  I wish people were more considerate. . . How was work?”

No, I just took another sip of coffee and moved on – reading the latest How Great Thou Art piece on yet another member of Daytona’s uber-elite – then perused the most recent installment of the Who Bought the France Manse? series.

I also learned that a recent study of financial hardship conducted by the United Way found that 89,476 Volusia County households are considered impoverished or “asset-limited, income constrained.” 

It goes by the cute acronym – ALICE.      

The term represents those among us who are working, but due to child care costs, “transportation challenges,” high cost of living, food, fuel, taxes, etc. are living paycheck-to-paycheck – just above the poverty threshold.

You read that right.  42% of our families are impoverished.

The study also found that Volusia – the second highest taxed county in Florida – has an average household income that is a dismal $7,000 less than the state average.

Go figure.

Over the weekend, I also learned of a plea agreement with a convicted felon who was in possession of a firearm and shot a young man in the chest – killing him in the street – as the two argued over some frivolous issue on Garden Street last year.

Page C-3.

Apparently, the State of Florida and the accused killer’s defense attorney reached an agreement which will have him serve just 15-years in prison.

The victim was 25-years old.

Life gets cheaper everyday here on the Fun Coast.

Not a lot of outcry from that ugly news either.

I guess we’ve become desensitized – comfortably numb – to violent crime, political corruption, neglect and abject poverty in the Halifax area.

I mean, we’ve had so much smoke pumped up our ass by the chamber of commerce set and our local elected and appointed officials that our basic human emotions of shock and empathy have developed a thick mahogany bark.

To assist our collective anesthetization, local media outlets on the Fun Coast put great emphasis on the frivolous.

Meaningless, empty issues become “big news” – such as making a pulp fiction mystery series out of the identity of a recent homebuyer – someone who paid less than $5-million dollars for a home real estate experts say would have brought $20-million anywhere in South Florida (you know, a place where the newspaper of record doesn’t waste a good reporters time trying to publicly identify a buyer who wishes to remain anonymous. . .)

Perhaps you’ve enjoyed the fourth or fifth installment of the News-Journal’s in-depth exposé on a carnival vendor erecting transitory midway rides in that ugly scar on the City’s boardwalk – a temporary spackling to cover that gaping hole – at least until the Shriner’s mega-convention is over, anyway.

Or the fact that the ‘powers that be’ in Port Orange are still hung-up on who they should name the old police department building after.

Man, that civic conundrum has provided weeks of diversion for the masses, eh?

Apparently, the number of residents who submitted facetious names to point out how ludicrous these things become – such as “Building McBuilding Face,” “Little Trump” and “The Forgotten One” – was lost on their elected officials, folks who take these things very seriously.

After all, what good is public service without getting your name on one of those ubiquitous bronze plaques that prominently grace every public works project in every city in the world – a goofy monument listing the name of every politician and appointed official associated with the thing except those who paid for it?

I’m often taken to task for being negative about everything – nothing ever seems to measure up in my world – and well-intentioned people say that Barker’s View should spend more time looking at the positives, you know, “building up” our areas “renaissance” instead of constantly pointing out our faults and blemishes.


But my legendary hypocrisy only goes so far.

In my view, contributing to this smokescreen of positivity is a disservice to those intrepid citizens who have taken the blinders off and are working diligently to bring attention to the serious social, economic and civic issues that face communities throughout the Halifax area.

Grassroots efforts that are gaining true momentum in stimulating those in City Hall and beyond to begin the arduous and expensive process of tackling blight, dilapidation and the feeling of hopelessness that has hampered true revitalization for years.

Apparently, regular readers of this forum feel the same way.

I’m extremely pleased to report that this experiment in alternative opinion continues to post impressive numbers, with thousands of readers seeking out these amateurish screeds monthly.

Maybe our local media could take a hint?

Look, we are hungry for hard news – we need the good, the bad and ugly – and the incredible response to solid, in-depth reportage, such as the News-Journal’s “Tarnished Jewel” series, demonstrates that.

If our politicians and the “Power Brokers” who control them need their ego stroked – let them join a Country Club.  The rest of us need objective reporting to form solid opinions – and develop our situational awareness on the important issues of the day.

Perhaps it’s time for the Daytona Beach News-Journal to resurrect Chatterbox and get the society gossip – and self-important blathering’s of enthusiastic millionaires telling us how wonderful we all have it – off the front page.

What do you think?

By the way – please join Barker’s View this afternoon beginning at 4:00pm on GovStuff Live! with Big John on WELE 1380am, or online at http://www.govstuff.org (listen live button) as we discuss the topics important to our lives and livelihoods in the Halifax area.





6 thoughts on “On Daytona: Bring Back “Chatterbox”

  1. Thanks for the mention. It’s always nice to see Chatterbox has not been entirely forgotten. I wrote it for 30 years, but my predecessor, Liz Eastman, established it as a favorite place to read the comings and goings. I didn’t like to think of it as a “society column,” though some called it that. I thought of it as news of a social nature that made us a little bit closer as a community. And regardless of what anyone thought, people were always included regardless of their social status or bank account.


    1. Margie–

      Your work is remembered by all! People have mentioned to me all day how much they wished Chatterbox would come back – and some recalled when they were mentioned!

      Thanks so much for reading!



  2. I was blown away by the 42 percent living at or below the poverty line. Grandma isn’t retired she’s running one of the cash register at Mc Donald’s. I’d like to agree with you that it’s the big four or the top County officials but I believe there’s more to it. The latest statistics say that we are the 4th largest growth area in the country. Doesn’t some of that growth allow for a reversal of those in poverty to those entering the middle class?


  3. Mark,
    My aunt was Margaret (Mickey) Eastman Massfeller and her sister Liz did a wonderful community service with this column. It was equally well represented by the efforts of Margie Schlageter who carried on a rich tradition of “everybody makes a difference in this society”. Bring it back I say!!!

    Gus Massfeller


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