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A Conversation On The State Of Journalism In South Florida

Gerard Albert III

South Florida has long been a hotbed for notable news stories. The region is multilingual and multicultural, a Democratic stronghold in a swing state and ground zero for climate change and hurricanes. 

In recent years, media outlets in South Florida have faced increasing pressure from dwindling advertising revenues, threats to public records laws and declining trust in the media. Layoffs have affected reporters across the region. And we've been rocked by national stories like the Parkland shooting and immigrant children at the Homestead detention center.

Monday morning brought the consolidation of the country's two largest newspaper chains, GateHouse Media and Gannett, which means 260 daily newspaper operations across the country are now under one owner. That includes the Palm Beach Post. 

Sundial recently gathered a panel of reporters, editors and hosts to talk about the state of journalism in South Florida, what our audience thinks about us and the future of the industry. Our panelists included: WLRN reporter Nadege Green; Miami Herald senior investigative reporter Carol Marbin Miller; Miami Herald reporter Monique O. Madan; editorial page editor of the Sun Sentinel Rosemary O'Hara; and the host of NPR’s 1A, Joshua Johnson.

This has been edited lightly for clarity. 

WLRN: How unique is it to report in South Florida?

JOHNSON: As a journalist there is so much of a pipeline that runs directly from South Florida to the entire country. When you are in south Florida you get to cover everything. We are the bright blue tip of a very purple state. Climate change makes that even more important. We were the site of the MTV Video Music Awards for two years, the Latin Billboards and everything culturally that involves that, the Miami Heat winning championships... and the enormous gigantic government corruption that runs up and down South Florida and never seems to stop. I worked six years here. I don't know how I'm not scarred - but you spend time in South Florida and you learn to deal in a multilingual and multicultural community that is not forced to homogenize.

How do we convince people who are losing faith in journalism to continue to support us?

MADAN: I think it's important to really watch out who you consume. I think a lot of people don't know the difference and it's really easy to cloud what you're reading and what you're listening to and knowing the difference between what's credible and not. I have found in Facebook groups that ... people [are] posting blogs that are two years old and inaccurate. People don't know the difference so I would plead for people to really try to educate themselves on who is credible.

GREEN: To be very clear communities of color have been saying [they don't trust the media] for a long time. I mean newspapers used to advertise lynchings. Newspapers were complicit in so many different things when it comes to the black community in the U.S. Today you can go to Liberty City, Overtown and they would tell me 'I don't speak to the Miami Herald' and the question is why. Because how they were covered in the past. That stays with you. The stereotypes and all of those things because you were not represented... I think that needs to very much be a part of the conversation when it comes to what voices do we hear. How are communities represented - immigrant communities for example. I mean it is different to go out into a community and you speak their language right. It is different. It matters what we look like as media and in who we are. And when you look at newsrooms sometimes the answer you is no there yet. 

You hear this news (about GateHouse and Gannett). What do you think?

MILLER: I cringe and I get very fearful. The GateHouse papers... It's a terrible chain. The debate is whether it is the worst in America, maybe the second worst. And by the way again it is not a great newspaper chain. The problems are multifold. One of them is that consolidation is terrible for journalism because what these entities are going to do is not keep the jobs and branch out in their beat structure. You won't have more reporters doing more things. You will have fewer reporters because they're going to lay people off. The second problem I would argue and I really don't care who hears me say it is it's a terrible chain. They just don't have a tradition of doing great journalism, great community minded journalism where they do it. And I would argue (and people are studying this) the consequences of this are going to be catastrophic.

Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.