I Loved Those Days

It’s not been a good moment for the news media lately.
Fake News has become a hash tag and public opinion polls consistently rank journalists low on issues of trust. But I’ve seen both sides.
I’ve watched lousy reporters botch or miss stories and I’ve seen great ones illuminate our understanding of the world. Broad labeling of people and institutions is the lazy way out–life is much more nuanced.
Readers of this blog know I spent my early career working—very happily– in newsrooms.
Today, I have an ownership interest in the Delray Newspaper and Boca Newspaper but because of a hectic schedule and a day job I don’t get to spend as much time as I’d like “newspapering.”
I miss it.
Especially newsrooms, which are just magical places filled with smart, funny, talented and colorful people.
My favorite newsroom was at the old Monday-Thursday Paper’s on East Rogers Circle in Boca Raton which was later relocated to Fairview Drive in Deerfield Beach.
Those newsrooms were filled with editors, reporters, photographers and assistants and they crackled with humor, activity, the clacking of keys and a fair amount of profanity.
I loved it.
The Monday Thursday Papers (later renamed the South Florida Newspaper Network) was one of the largest community newspaper groups in the country and the largest in the southeast.
We were big. We were good. We were relevant and we covered the news in a slew of cities from Dade to Port St. Lucie.
It was a blast because of the people. I loved coming to work because I was surrounded by talented characters who told stories that were often better than the ones we wrote. Why? Because the stories behind the stories were always better. We live in an area rich with characters and chasing them down often led to some great adventures.
Not that our news stories weren’t good.
They were and we regularly walked away with lots of hardware at Press Association gatherings.
We had grizzled editors, oddball reporters, incredibly inventive photographers and colorful people who designed the pages of the papers  on “flats” using glue, pica poles and exacto knives.
This was all before the advent of desktop publishing which revolutionized the industry and cost a few people their jobs.
We also had a huge printing press, a large circulation department and across the wall sat the advertising sales staff. We believed in a separation of church and state– so to speak– so while we were friendly, those of us on the news side were decidedly our own team.
We ate lunch together, gave each other space “on deadline” and served as each other’s human thesaurus when we found ourselves at a loss for words. After work, we hung together in places like Dirty Moe’s, sharing stories about the people and places we covered.
We had a managing editor named Tom Sawyer, who had a heart of gold but could be a curmudgeon of legendary proportions. We took pride when he praised us and also when we made him turn red with anger. He would chase us out of the newsroom with the famous words: “no news happens here. Get out of the newsroom. Go to your cities.”
And we did.
We hung out at lunch counters—the Green Owl, Ken and Hazel’s, bars—The Frog Lounge, Paradise Club, Powers Lounge, we rode with cops and firefighters, embedded ourselves in ERs and Trauma Centers and spent long nights at city commission meetings writing the first draft of local history. It felt like important work and twice a week our  stories ended up on thousands of driveways.
It felt like we were making an impact. And I think we did. We created a narrative for the cities we covered.
For me, covering Delray Beach, the narrative was of a fascinating and complex city that was determined to rise above its challenges and work together to build a brighter future. There were bumps along the way, but the arc was steady and it was fun to write about the progress and the challenges. It was my graduate education and what I learned from watching mayors, commissioners, department heads, business leaders, detectives, paramedics, volunteers and road patrol officers was invaluable.
Sometimes I find myself missing those days and especially those smart, vibrant and funny people who worked alongside me in the newsroom.
So I went online  to “hear” their voices, and I was able to find some of  their words on the Internet.
While it wasn’t ideal and there were many I couldn’t locate (Jim Baker, sportswriter extraordinaire, where are you?) I did find a few and I managed to enjoy their writing once more.
Here are a  few snippets:
From an editor I learned a lot from…

“As someone who loves history, particularly American history, I have long been astounded by the brilliance of our Founding Fathers. They gave serious thought not only to whether they were being unfairly taxed or lacked fair representation, but to the  question of what rights naturally fall to individuals of our species in the natural order of things — the very essence of liberty. They studied Greek and Roman history, read the works of those civilization’s great orators. And a central ingredient of the philosophical stew which became the spiritual and civil framework for our country was the inherent right to stand up against injustice — even to the point of taking up arms. Patriotism in their eyes was not flag-waving and anthem-singing, but taking bold action, whether on the battlefield or the halls of Congress, to ensure that every citizen be guaranteed fundamental rights associated with “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (Those words were not just a political catch-phrase to the Founders.)  As an ardent fan of these great thinkers, I support every citizen’s right to protest in whatever manner he or she feels appropriate (and doesn’t physically harm others) and I consider those acts of protest patriotic. Even if it means allowing moral degenerates to peacefully espouse racial and ethnic hatred.”  

From another editor, who I thought was an exceedingly cool human:
“Summer 1985 and I have  press passes at SPAC to interview Aimee Mann and Til Tuesday. I wander off backstage to look around, make a quick turn around a sharp, dark corner, and run smack into this skinny guy with stringy blond hair, who I assume is a roadie until he says in a rich baritone drawl, “Hey, watch where you’re going there.” Realizing that it’s Tom Petty, I fire off an apologetic retort, something akin to, “Uh, oh, you homma, eya, yah,” and run away. I’m relatively certain he secretly dedicated “Even the Losers” to me later that night. (We get lucky sometimes.)
From a reporter who left for a big gig in The Keys.

“We are going to make it. We’re the Keys. We’ve done this before (though not on this level). We know our collective community character, and it is strong. We are going to make it, with all of us helping each other.’

From an editor who became a dear and lasting friend and confidant:

“Yeah, back in the day, there were no helmets or heart guards – just pure unadulterated playing. Our game was kickball out in the street. No helmets, no any kind of guards, and certainly no helmets when we rode our bikes. I actually had a hard time learning how to balance my two-wheeler, so I can’t imagine what it would be like if my head was weighted down with a helmet too. The only game I would admit could use some sort of protection was Dodge Ball – which I’m guessing is probably outlawed these days. Who would sanction kids throwing a big, round hard ball at someone – just for fun? And it was okay to get dirty, roll around in the grass and scrape knees. There wasn’t a lot of germ-a-phobic behavior – no hand sanitizer, for sure. But we all survived.”

From a reporter who spoke with a great Irish accent.

‘Time traveler’ says aliens are coming next year but he has no info on who wins 2018 world cup, clearly a fraud.’

 

I think my old friend from Belfast was reacting to a tabloid headline. He always had a razor sharp wit–most of the journalists I know do. Spend some time in that environment and you either develop one or get cut to pieces.

My great buddy Perry Don Francisco texted me last week to alter me to a story on NPR about community newspapers.

That’s how I met Perry, the legendary owner of Boston’s on the Beach.

I was a reporter. He was making news by doing great things in the community. He never wanted the attention but he liked that the causes got ink. We became close friends over the years and he has taught me a lot.

So following Perry’s advice I caught an NPR podcast last week about newspapers. It was a solid piece.

And it made me think about my newspaper days and all of those great voices who served this community so eloquently. Newspapers were better than tweeting, deeper than Facebook and the photos were better than what I find on Instagram (and I’m a fan and user of all three platforms).

And that’s why I’m so reluctant to recycle the old copies of those papers in my garage. I’m just not ready to say goodbye.

Comments

  1. Kelly Barrette says:

    I agree Jeff, “Fake News” abounds and the public’s trust of media outlets is at an all-time low. As a part-owner of The Delray Paper, why don’t you lead the way and come clean about the political agenda behind your paper?

    The members of Four Story Media – publishers of The Delray Paper – contribute financially to the campaigns & PACs of commission candidates that have been pre-selected by the publishers. The Delray Paper conveniently “endorses” these candidates. Unlike legitimate newspapers, like the The Palm Beach Post or The Sun Sentinel – there is no structured interview process with the other candidates in front of editors to compete for the endorsement of The Delray Paper. But given the predetermined outcome, that would constitute a complete waste of everyone’s time.

    Your fellow publisher, Ryan Boylston, has recently filed to run for the open seat on the city commission. No doubt Ryan has your full support, but your readers may be a bit skeptical if The Delray Paper endorses it’s publisher! The Coastal Star, a well-respected local paper, covers local elections but does not endorse candidates. I suggest you follow suit, that way you can spend more time “newspapering” and less time “endorsing.”

    • Jeff Perlman says:

      Thanks for reading Kelly and taking the time to write.
      Newspapers have been endorsing candidates since the earliest days of the Republic and we intend to run our business as we see fit.
      We beg to differ with your recollection of our process. We did interview candidates (I didn’t but others on staff did) and we did ask candidates to submit answers to the same set of questions. Again, we reserve the right to have a voice and I wonder if you would feel differently if we had endorsed your candidacy and your preferred set of candidates.
      Unlike larger newspapers, we are close to our community and tend to know the politics of the candidates who run. So it is therefore impossible for candidates to come in and spin us–voting records, civic involvement, stances on issues and how people get along with others matter to us and so we call it as we see it.
      I do not see us endorsing our founder and publisher because of the obvious conflict, so please don’t assume because you truly don’t know who we are as evidenced by your campaign rhetoric and your social media posts.
      As for the Coastal Star, one could argue that they have a bias too–which they are entitled to have. I happen to think they do a fine job overall, but I also think they have a defined voice that differs from ours. That’s a good thing for the community since readers can look at both papers and make up their minds.
      I will also note that owners and investors in the Coastal Star give generously to candidates–just check the most recent reports.

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