With little fanfare, earlier this month Gannett – the parent company of what remains of our hometown newspaper, The Daytona Beach News-Journal – announced an “evolutionary” change that will drastically cut daily opinion pages across its 45-state, 250-title megamedia portfolio.
The reduction in editorial content comes on the heels of a recent restructuring that split Gannett into two domestic business units – Gannett Media and Digital Marketing Solutions – which senior leadership hopes will drive “sustainable revenue and cash flow growth,” as the massive media conglomerate moves toward its goal of becoming a “…subscription-led and digitally-focused media and marketing solutions company…”
That’s corporate-speak for the transition from a newsgathering organization to a ‘heavy on pap, fluff, and advertising/light on local “news”’ online format as newsprint and independent journalism rapidly goes the way of the buggy whip. . .
I’m no expert – but as a voracious consumer of what passes for “the news” in this foul year 2022 – I worry about the future of print media here on this salty spit of land we call home.
While much of our daily newspaper is now filled with homogenized and regionalized USA Today style crapola – liberally peppered with Gannett’s frequent salvos from the frontlines of the partisan culture wars – we are fortunate to have some of the best local reporters in the business working hard on both sides of the Palmetto Curtain to bring us all the Volusia County news that is fit to print.
So why are these gifted reporters and investigative journalists being squeezed out of the Local section by dreck from the Tallahassee Democrat, Florida Today, or some syndicated “news service”?
My fellow News-Journal readers knew something was up last November when former editor Pat Rice sadly announced the departure of opinion editor Krys Fluker as she left for greener pastures at the Orlando Sentinel.
Then came the semi-retirement of the incomparable News-Journal fixture Mark Lane, who cut back to a once-a-week column last month. Now, his always excellent Footnote piece is the first thing I turn to in the Sunday edition.
Instead of filling these editorial voids, last week, we learned that the News-Journal has brought on restaurant and dining writer Caroline Hebert (which a staff report reminded all of us stunted dullard’s who have never been north of Bunnell or west of Deleon Springs is pronounced “A-bear”) whose beat will include Volusia and Flagler counties’ “…rich and varied culinary scenes…”
Wait. Say what?
Look, I want to be among the first to welcome Ms. Hebert to our sandy slice of heaven – and I wish her well as she launches on her gastronomic adventure – navigating the “rich and varied” epicurean delights here on Florida’s fabled Fun Coast – which she might find slightly ‘different’ than the eclectic offerings in her hometown of New Orleans.
I mean, beyond exploring the subtle differences in our corndogs and chicken wings – reporting on the number of failed health inspections and restaurant closings should keep a professional food journalist busy for, oh, a day or two.
I’m kidding, of course.
We have some of the best family owned and operated restaurants anywhere – and although our hoity-toity ‘fine dining’ options are limited, we have a few – along with enough casual chain restaurants, great fresh seafood offerings, steakhouses, food trucks, craft breweries, pub grub, international fare, donut shops, sandwich counters, and established neighborhood favorites to satisfy the tastes of locals and visitors alike.
In announcing Ms. Hebert’s arrival, the News-Journal asked that locals email her with your dining suggestions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gannett’s renewed focus on “empowering communities to thrive” through increased focus on advertising products and local business features is admirable – but who will ensure government accountability by investigating and reporting on the critical issues we face?
I am certainly not a “journalist.”
At best a dilettante polemicist, at worst, a blowhard with internet access. . .
In my view, independent journalism and community-focused editorial content is important to the checks and balances that ensure our elected officials – and those who seek high office – will act in the public interest, rather than feathering the nests of their political benefactors.
With the passing of Big John and Mark Bernier we lost two important voices. Their hyper-local radio forums provided a much-needed salon for the discussion of the issues and politics that affect our lives and livelihoods.
Admittedly, social media can be a daunting place to make your views heard in the politically charged static that often dissolves into ad hominem attacks rather than a competition of differing ideas. While Facebook and the Twitterverse may be ‘everyman’s soapbox,’ it is not for the squeamish.
In most cases, the only winners of these vitriolic online wars are the craven politicians (and those who run interference for them) who understand that when We, The Little People are bickering amongst ourselves – no one is watching them. . .
This election cycle, after you take a moment to direct our new food reporter to your favorite bistro, consider sharing your thoughts in an editorial comment or letter to the editor of a local news outlet like The Daytona Beach News-Journal, West Volusia Beacon, Hometown News, Ask Flagler, Ormond Beach Observer, or FlaglerLive! – then attend a candidate forum, look them in the eye, and let your unique opinions on the issues be heard.
Look beyond the tripe and hype of the ‘glossy mailer.’
I guarantee the election season is the only time those who are desperately groveling for your sacred vote will be listening. . .
In my view, we desperately need more community voices to ask the thought-provoking questions, engage in the authentic debate of competing ideas, and offer the honest criticism that ensures political accountability in a place that desperately needs all three.