On Volusia: We need community journalism now more than ever

On Sunday, The Daytona Beach News-Journal ran a cogent and touching piece penned by editor Pat Rice entitled, “We’re your local paper, and we need your support.” 

The op/ed ran following a particularly difficult week  during which six more professional journalists lost their jobs at the News-Journal in a corporate “restructuring” that apparently originated in a stale conference room of some faceless media conglomerate that trades in newspapers like a cheap commodity.

Frankly, the cavalier attitude exhibited by Mike Reed, CEO of GateHouse Media, which owns The Daytona Beach News-Journal, who called the cuts ‘immaterial’ was, in my view, particularly despicable.

Love it or hate it, the News-Journal truly is our “hometown” newspaper and those who work hard to report the news and provide entertaining features day-in-and-day-out deserve our support as they work hard to figure out the dynamics of a changing culture and the often-fickle wants and needs of an evolving readership.

As a long-time resident of the Halifax area, I’m old enough to remember when the News-Journal put out a morning and evening edition – and having spent over three-decades in law enforcement – a pursuit often considered a “newsmaker” – I got to know many reporters who later became life-long friends.

When I hear people say, “I wouldn’t wrap fish with that paper,” I understand the frustration – but I also know that if you take the time to turn the page – everyone can find something of substance in the News-Journal.

For instance, Dinah Voyles-Pulver is one of the finest environmental journalists working anywhere.

I felt her exhaustive reporting on the gross conflicts of interest at the St. John’s River Water Management District – and the on-going violations of environmental regulations at local residential and commercial developments – were worthy of the Pulitzer Prize.

And Elaine Zaffiro-Kean’s outstanding 2017 exposé, “Tarnished Jewel: Daytona’s troubled beachside,” which dove deep into the myriad issues that continue to plague our core tourist area, epitomized community journalism at its finest.

The five-part series examined how $120 million in Community Redevelopment Funds seemingly evaporated in the Main Street area – and exposed the continuing struggles of Ocean Walk and our desperate Boardwalk.

In fact, the News-Journal’s work spurred the Volusia County Council to commission a working group of our ‘best and brightest’ minds to study beachside redevelopment initiatives – and a series of informative Town Hall meetings that gave a voice to the many residents and entrepreneurs who have suffered in silence for far too long.

Unfortunately, as often happens once the political insulation provided by these exploratory committees has been realized by our elected officials, the resulting report is now collecting dust on the groaning credenza of some do-nothing bureaucrat wherever expensive, time-consuming “studies” go to die. . .

I also like the day-to-day local reporting of the intrepid Dustin Wyatt, and I try not to think about what would happen in the halls of power without Dustin and others in the ever diminishing newsroom who ask the difficult questions and stand as a silent sentinel for the rest of us.

In his article, Mr. Rice cited a note he received from New Smyrna Mayor Russ Owen, which read:

“’The Internet’ will not attend hours of local commission meetings and provide a (usually) fair and balanced article about what went on.

‘The Internet’ won’t come sit on my porch and get to know about my candidacy for Mayor and share that with the community. ‘The Internet’ doesn’t have long and deep connections in town with enough trust to learn about a city manager’s departure days before it was anywhere close to public knowledge.

These are things only a local reporter that is a part of the community can do. I don’t always agree with how things are portrayed by The News-Journal as a whole.

But when compared to the reams of misinformation, rumors, hearsay, and half-truths found on Nextdoor and Facebook every hour, The News-Journal stands as a gold standard of journalistic integrity for our community. I am glad it was there for administrations before me, and I hope it remains in place long after me.”

Unfortunately, it appears Mayor Owen has succumbed to that age-old close-minded mentality that invariably consumes politicians who fail to realize there are many “realities” in the information black holes that local governments have become.

The “reams of misinformation, rumors, hearsay and half-truths,” Owen’s rails about are mirror images of the same “misinformation, rumors, hearsay and half-truths,” We, The People are routinely subjected to by those we have elected to represent our interests – yet, over time, increasingly serve an oligarchical system more focused on billionaires with a profit motive than the true wants and needs of their long-suffering constituents.

A place where expensive impact fee studies are purposefully withheld from policymakers and the public – yet no one was ever held accountable for this almost criminal cover-up of a tax funded report.

Where a shadowy alliance of millionaire government contractors and business owners hand-craft public tax policy in backrooms – then privately pay for an extensive marketing campaign supported by county and municipal governments – designed to ramrod an asinine sales tax increase down the throat of every man, woman, child and visitor to Volusia County.

An environment where local government officials no longer present themselves to the working press – scurrying like diseased rats and hiding like the cowards they are behind paid mouthpieces and canned “press releases” that seek to spin the facts and avoid any semblance of accountability or responsibility.

The result is that taxpayers who are fed up living in the information desert that local governments have created will obtain their “news” anywhere they can find it – and express their opinions and frustrations on social media – which is now established as the digital “Town Square” of the new epoch.

Mayor Owens and his colleague need to understand that whoever controls the message, controls the masses – and the masses are sick and tired of being kept in the dark.

I’m an admitted hack – a dilettante who pens a goofy opinion blog, so hyper-political and regional in nature that one really has to search for it.

Yet, as of today, this site has generated 312,005 views – with thousands more each month –  including international visitors from some 121 countries around the world (ever heard of the Kingdom of Benin?  Me neither.  It’s a small country in West Africa – birthplace of the vodun (or “voodoo”) religion and home to the former Dahomey Kingdom from circa 1600–1900 – where some folks clearly enjoy reading Barker’s View!  Shout out to my peeps in Benin!)

But this forum is not a “news outlet” – it is a cheap opinion blog that voices my personal and political frustrations, rants and delusions – an often humorous, always irreverent take on the news and newsmakers of the day – and most smart people enjoy it for what it is: an alternative take on the issues that face us here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast.

We need daily local newspapers – staffed by professional journalists who live in the community, know the players and can feel the results of their important work up close and personal.

In my view, reading the daily paper should stir the complete range of emotions – from breaking  local news, to in-depth series on the issues of the day and well-written editorials that spark a greater discussion in the community – and I am invariably moved (sometimes to rage, sometimes to laughter) when I digest the news of the day as reported by The Daytona Beach News-Journal.

I happen to subscribe to the News-Journal’s online content, because I like the up-to-the-minute news feature – coupled with the ability to read a digital version of the print edition each morning with coffee.

I couldn’t tell you what I pay for the subscription  – but whatever it is, it’s worth it.

Look, I know nothing about reporting the news – or what it takes to eke out a profit in an environment where traditional paper and print newspapers are quickly going the way of the buggy whip.

But I know that ‘our’ newspaper is as relevant and necessary today as it always has been – perhaps more so – and it deserves our support and defense.

 

 

6 thoughts on “On Volusia: We need community journalism now more than ever

  1. I am a 7 day print subscriber. I enjoy the paper with my morning coffee. The left wing slant on the headlines and articles is ridiculous some times, but for local news you can’t beat it. The most aggravating thing are the special editions that cost 6.50 or 7.00 dollars each. Each one reduces my subscription one week. In the past 3 months there were 4 special editions. Enough already. I know newspapers are barely hanging on but stop screwing the subscribers.

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  2. I to was glued to Pat’s piece and my first reaction was that I hope Tony who covers OB is still on board. It was due diligence and sincere approach as well as offering up his journalistic prowess that had me as a supporter of the paper. They unlike the OB Observer were fair and balanced and for that I thank them and their staff. I of all folks understand corporate behaviors and know first hand what transpires in nicely decorated conference rooms, and with recent price increases and the efforts to find those that can deliver the news on the “Porches” there is no easy business model to follow. Mark is correct, it is our “Hometown” news format and I have no answers to stimulate more readership. It is at Christmas that I can only show my appreciation. Tony, I hope you are still on board!

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  3. It’s not a soap opera for right wing media opinion. That is more like fake wrestling or reality tv shows which I understand that’s what our President was but that is not what the country is. There is no left wing bias in our local news, there is the need for right wingers to be hand fed baby food because they can’t handle the truth or anything that makes their views wrong.

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  4. I agree that the “special editions”, generally a bunch of collected racing fluff, constitute taking unfair advantage of subscribers. Particularly for those who care little for driving around in circles, this seems anomalous. Back in the day, newspapers promoted the special content which was occasionally included, rather than using it as an excuss to shorten subscriptions.

    On the other hand, that is hardly the only insult to subscribers. They now seek to charge $9.00 extra for the privilege of receiving a bill so one can send them a big stack of money for the coming year’s [less special edition depredations] delivery.

    Yes, I’ll probably re-up. But most likely at a special event where I can hand over a check and avoid the extra $9.00 insult. And you may need to wait a little for the soreness to die down.

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