Yes, It’s a Smaller Herald, but It’s Also an Inferior Herald
Erik Bojnansky did a terrific job of researching the ups and downs, the good and bad, the past and present and future of the Miami Herald (“Farewell, My Lovely Miami Herald,” April 2013). It was, as they say, fair and balanced.
So why did Herald honchos and McClatchy executives refuse to be interviewed? Did they fear the worst? Maybe a hatchet job by a competing publication?
Or did they fear that Mr. Bojnansky might unearth the truth? Namely, that for many years the Herald was a bloated beast that sheltered and pampered burned-out, unproductive employees while the true journalism stars got out as fast as they could and headed for the Washington Post or the New York Times.
Instead of offering buyouts to the best and brightest reporters and photographers, the Herald should have held onto them at any cost. If you had to lay off people, cut loose the least experienced and least talented.
If the Herald had done that, today we’d have a smaller newspaper, yes. But it would be a high-quality newspaper that people would want to read.
Now the Herald is small and lousy. Who wants that?
Gerald Q. Johnson
One Word for the Herald’s Decline: Greed
Regarding Erik Bojnansky’s story on the Miami Herald, it was a good piece, but not great.
The problem that Erik had in analyzing the fall of the Herald and the rest of the newspaper industry is that he relied primarily on “expertise” from the very people who orchestrated the debacle. It’s like asking the captain of the Titanic or the CEO of the White Star Line about the disaster.
More important, the true reason for the Herald’s decline isn’t mentioned at all. And it seldom is, because the bandits are still describing the bank robbery.
One example: Closing the Miami News in 1988 was not (as Mike Lewis, whom I respect, suggests) the precipitating factor with the Herald’s demise. Indeed, keeping the News open for two decades after it basically failed gets closer to the problem. If the scandal-rocked News had exited the stage in the 1960s (despite the courageous journalism of Bill Baggs and some others), believe me, Miami would not have been without a “second voice” -- the alleged but despicably dishonest reason for the joint operating agreement (JOA).
An aggressive competitor would have emerged, and the Herald would have had to fight for its turf with continued great journalism. With the JOA, the Herald continued to be “good,” but the News truly wasn’t competition (financially), and the decline accelerated.
There is some interesting history that preceded this. The original call signs for Channel 7 and 610AM were WCKT and WCKR. “C” for Cox, “K” for Knight. I collaborated with Gene Miller and some others on tracking down why Knight and Cox were stripped of their broadcast licenses. Basically, Cox executives, including James Cox, had bribed a corrupt and alcoholic FCC commissioner to get the licenses. Jack Knight operated at a higher ethical plane than Cox, but both men believed in media monopolies; they wanted to wrap up Miami, undermine any competition (such as Wometco’s WTVJ), and then engage in an earlier concept of what became joint operating agreements.
Interesting, at about the same time, the News got caught in a circulation scandal, the beginning of its demise. The old News building, now called Freedom Tower, was a bold statement to the community, while the Herald’s old building was buried in the city’s back streets. The two events I mention, the scandals involving the FCC licenses and the News’s circulation problems, were sort of symbolized by buildings the two companies would build. Cox built a new building on the Miami River, hidden from view. And Knight built 1 Herald Plaza, a god-awful eyesore, but one that proclaimed, “We run Miami.”
The newspaper industry has failed because of the monopolistic strategies of the chains. Part of what Miller and I were intrigued about was the Herald/News JOA. A number of us had deduced that the federal legislation was tainted. It took Ben Bagdikian to uncover the letters from the CEOs of the chains, in which they promised Attorney General John Mitchell unanimous endorsements for Nixon in 1972 in exchange for the administration backing off in opposition to the JOA legislation.
My understanding is that Knight didn’t join the cabal, but Cox certainly did, and when it announced that its newspapers would endorse Nixon, Gregory Favre (then editor at the Palm Beach Post) quit and Sylvan Meyer (Miami News) was fired.
Thus the protracted campaign for monopolies and consolidation from the 1950s through today with “cross-ownership” is the real reason for the decline of newspapers. As the chains went public, the pressure on bottom lines soared from about 10 percent or 11 percent (what Jack Knight thought was optimum) to 40 percent to 50 percent or more.
Those margins could only be achieved by city monopolies; those monopolies would then be able to slash costs, which always meant gutting content, culminating today in no cop desk at the Herald (or, hell, the fact that the Herald found out about Miami’s insolvency by getting the news on TV). Readers noticed the changes, and the idea of “we’ll do more with less” was so pathetically false -- well, why pay attention to such rags?
Compare Lee Hills (or John McMullan) to the spineless editors at the Herald in recent years. During the 2000 election debacle, Florida’s “mainstream” media, notably the Herald, focused on the “hanging chad” issues. Trembling at their perceived potency of George and Jeb Bush, daily newspapers avoided the much bigger story, the determined Republican purge of as many as 90,000 legitimate, likely Democratic voters on bogus pretexts.
Only alternative media in Florida (me in Tampa, at least) and a BBC reporter (Greg Palast) seriously paid attention to the story. Today the dailies can’t avoid the truth of the story, so they act as if they broke the news. Put another way, a coup was successfully executed in the United States, and papers such as the Herald peed in their pants rather than call it what it was.
Rephrased: The newspaper industry knew decades ago that the era of big factories (printing presses), huge expenses on fleets of gas-guzzling trucks, etc. was going to end. The publishers consciously determined to go for quick profits at the expense of long-term viability.
Please, no “oh, woe” crocodile tears from the publishers. They could have avoided this Götterdämmerung, but instead the industry betrayed America’s cities, its employees, itself, and in a real sense, democracy.
John F. Sugg
Blue Ridge, Georgia
Editor’s note: John F. Sugg is a former reporter and editor at the Miami Herald, Tampa Tribune, and Atlanta Constitution. He also worked as senior editor at the Creative Loafing chain of alternative newspapers.
On the Record, Off the Mark
Thanks to Adam Schachner for a well-written piece on the annual Ultra Music Festival and the many benefits that it brings to our local economy (“And the Beats Go On,” April 2013).
The article quotes William Plasencia, a senior staffer for Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, as saying that “the commissioner has gone on the record opposing the second weekend.” Yet Sarnoff voted to allow the second weekend.
Isn’t Commissioner Sarnoff’s vote considered “the record”?
Biscayne Landing: An Architectural Insult
Mark Sell’s article “Unnatural Disaster” in the April issue is right on. I could not agree more with his critical assessment of the situation with Biscayne Landing.
It is insulting to the rest of the architecture community that a plan such as the one put together by the Kobi Karp team is placed in front of a planning and zoning board for consideration. Having experienced firsthand the dynamics of how the KK office works, I would agree that “childish” is the accurate description of their operation.
RooTS DNA Architecture
Biscayne Landing: One More Nail in the Fox’s Coffin
I’m writing in response to Mark Sell’s April article, “Unnatural Disaster.” As someone who has lived in North Miami for almost two decades, I found the piece very disheartening. I remember biking along the Biscayne Corridor in the late 1980s, and back then there was very little development east of the Boulevard, besides the courthouse and a gas station.
What I remember is a barrier of mangroves lining the street. Slowly but surely, strip malls started replacing the greenery. FIU eradicated many more mangroves and built that monstrously unnecessary Kovens Conference Center.
More green was cut down to build a high school on 151st Street. Now it seems the profit-mongers behind Biscayne Landing want to develop some 190 acres wetlands, and for what? Car dealerships?
Pretty disgusting. On top of that, there’s talk of turning the wooded area at the end of NE 135th Street into an access road to FIU.
Anyway, the reason I’m writing is foxes. I remember biking to classes on the FIU north campus in the early 1990s and occasionally seeing a fox dart into the woods. Well, the other day my girlfriend and I were going for a stroll through Arch Creek when we spotted two foxes running through the brush.
I’d like suggest that Biscayne Times write a story on how all the development in the Oleta/Arch Creek area is impacting the fox population. In all my years of living in North Miami, I don’t think I’ve ever seen any media coverage of foxes in that area. I’m pretty sure most residents would be shocked to learn there are foxes are out there.
Anyway, that’s my two cents.
Gaspar, Maybe It’s Time You Moved to Chicago
Gaspar González says he deliberated carefully before deciding to live in Biscayne Park. Having reassured himself it was the place to be for himself and his family, he began a relentless campaign of trashing it as a Biscayne Times correspondent.
Now he’s telling us how much better Chicago is, and Pittsburgh, too, than Miami (“Taxi to the Bright Side,” April, 2013). And one of his citations is culture and art, which he’s decided we don’t have here, but which he also seems not to want (“…why not build an…art museum, and worry about the art later,” he writes facetiously).
But ask Gaspar to help promote and provide art in Biscayne Park, and he gets surprisingly skittish. Can we count on you for a donation to public art here, in Biscayne Park, and maybe a positive word in Biscayne Times, Gaspar? No, I don’t like the process, and I don’t like the art, and it’s raining today.
How about helping us develop a process you like, and finding art that appeals to you, and maybe waiting for a sunny day? No, I don’t get mixed up in activism like that, says Gaspar. I just criticize whatever anyone else does.
It’s not clear to me that Gaspar is helping himself, but I can tell you with conviction, he certainly isn’t helping anyone else. If he’s still grousing, he may be unhappy.
Maybe he’d be happier if he moved to Chicago or Pittsburgh.
Dear Mr. Ross: If We Give You the Needed Ingredients, We’d Like a Piece of the Pie
Frank Rollason (“Pigskin Politics,” March 2013) writes about one possibility I’ve also considered, should the public end up subsidizing improvements for Stephen Ross, the billionaire owner of Sun Life Stadium: Have the county take an equity interest in the stadium’s income stream. Good idea! Fat chance of it happening!
However, the bottom line is that tax money should not be used to fund professional sports facilities. The majority of studies I have read conclude that the long-term economic benefits are nil or negative. Isn’t Miami an attractive enough venue to earn a Super Bowl every so often without taxpayer money?
Perhaps the reason Norman Braman isn’t thrilled about a referendum is that he’s had it with the low quality of governance here. There are exceptions, of course, but the ongoing sleaze among public officials in the City of Miami and the county never fails to amaze me. It’s far worse than the District of Columbia.
I still would favor having ten Bramans in the mix.
Miami and Falls Church, Virginia
Dear Mr. Ross: The Answer Is No
Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins, is stuffing our mailboxes, asking for millions of taxpayer dollars to subsidize his stadium.
Say no to corporate welfare. Remember the Marlins! Vote no on May 14.
An Insightful Christian on Christianity
I really enjoyed reading Christian Cipriani’s “Rethinking Religion” (March 2013). What a great read.
Thanks to Mr. Cipriani for being so insightful.
Volume 12, Issue 8. October 2014
The Smithsonian honors a local documentary photographer
Sales, special events, and more from the people who make Biscayne Times possible