This has been a dynamic time in South Florida politics, but you’d never know it from reading the local papers.
In the runup to last week’s Fort Lauderdale mayoral election, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel provided scant analysis of how incumbent Jack Seiler differed from his challenger, Earl Rynerson, on issues that faced Broward’s biggest city.
The paper devotes an entire blog to Broward politics, but all that blog did to inform voters prior to the election was post a couple videos from a candidates forum.
After county voters cast ballots, the Sun-Sentinel generously devoted several paragraphs of editorial copy to the outcome, one of which even mentioned an issue! Namely, that Seiler’s landslide victory was an indication that the voters didn’t agree with Rynerson’s claim that Seiler was a spendthrift. (Seems voter apathy is an even bigger issue, although that would implicate the Sun-Sentinel.)
West Palm Beach has a new mayor for the first time in nearly a decade, with Jeri Muoio having replaced Lois Frankel. But in the nearly 11 months since Muoio took office, the Palm Beach Post has given perfunctory coverage to the culture changes at city hall and how Muoio’s vision for the city contrasts with the path it was on with Frankel.
The paper showed up for Muoio’s State of Our City address on January 18, but based on searching Google and the newspaper’s own archives, the mayor hasn’t been mentioned in the three weeks since. Quite a drought for the chief executive of the county’s biggest city.
In fairness, those two papers as well as the Miami Herald have had to slash payroll in order to stay afloat, meaning the reporters who stayed have to cover for the departed. Since it takes a long time to do in-depth reporting, that’s become a luxury they can’t afford. The deplorable state of South Florida media isn’t the reporters’ fault.
Rather, everyone shares the blame: the South Florida residents who don’t read their hometown paper; the readers who don’t click on issue-oriented news stories. And the news figures for not participating — for example, when the Sun-Sentinel finally did embark on an issue-driven story, mayoral challenger Rynerson didn’t even bother to give the reporter an interview.
But a disproportionate amount of blame goes to the owners and news executives who are the true custodians of our local media.
They have a virtual monopoly on local news, and yet they have largely abandoned the franchise. Rather, the prime real estate on the front pages of South Florida newspaper websites is given to celebrities, sex, and sensational news stories that have little-to-no personal impact on the reader.
That’s not to diminish the allure of celebrites, sex and, sensational news — but if a reader wanted those quantities, why on earth would he go to his local paper as opposed to TMZ or PerezHilton or any number of porn sites?
It defies reason. It’s cynical. And it’s rotten business.
I think the pendulum will swing back, however. Next week, I’ll roll out an ambitious, starry-eyed vision for a renaissance in local news. (Hint: It does not involve Maria Menounos stripping down to a New York Giants bikini in Times Square — you’ll have to go the Sun-Sentinel for that.)