The Last Newspaper

Ken Tingley has written a love letter to the local newspaper.

A few weeks back, I wrote about cleaning out a junk drawer and finding an old Delray Times newspaper from 1995.

I worked for that paper for about a decade from 1987 to 1996 when I left to start my own education newspaper.

I’ve been blessed with a lot of interesting and great jobs/roles in my life, but none better than being a reporter for the old South Florida Newspaper Network.

It wasn’t the pay (we made very little money).

It wasn’t the perks. (There were none unless you count free parking).

It was the people and the job itself.

Newsrooms attract funny, smart, talented, creative, and idealistic souls.  It was a joy to work with them in a wide-open office where every day was an adventure.

You get to hear about the interesting stories your colleagues are working on, the colorful characters they are chasing and the “you can’t make this stuff up” things you see when it’s your job to report what’s going on in town.

I know it’s fashionable to bash the press these days. “Fake news” is the latest adorable saying meant to undercut the credibility of the only industry protected by our Constitution. It is protected because a free press is essential to a Democracy.

I’ve been on both sides of the pen so to speak. I spent years as a journalist covering people making news and I’ve been written about, which is far less fun.

I’ve seen amazing reporters and I’ve seen some bad ones, but there’s no doubt in my mind that a free press keeps us a free people.

I’ve been thinking about the role of local newspapers a lot these days.

When I moved to South Florida in 1987, Delray Beach was covered by four newspapers: The Sun-Sentinel, The Palm Beach Post, The Boca Raton News and the Monday-Thursday Papers (my alma mater and the precursor to the South Florida Newspaper Network). On big stories, the Miami Herald came to town.

You had to work hard not to know what was going on in Boca and Delray.

And the level of coverage spurred civic engagement. More people voted. More people attended Commission meetings (they weren’t at 4 p.m. when anyone who works can’t attend) and more people volunteered because they knew what was going on and when you know what’s happening, you’re more likely to want to be involved.

Everyone knew their city commissioners, county commissioners, school board members and state legislators. They attended charettes and visioning conferences, they showed up to protest or support projects and they relied on the local papers for information. In other words, there was a community  ‘water cooler’ and local reporters competed fiercely for readers, so you saw a lot of “enterprise” reporting not just dry meeting coverage.

In hindsight, it was a golden age. Not only for newspapers but for civic engagement. We never thought it could end.

But it did.

Not with a big crash, but with a slow-motion agonizing fade that saw newspapers shrivel up, or in the case of the Boca News—die. Even the vaunted Monday-Thursday Papers went away.

My friends in community journalism found other careers in public relations, marketing, advertising and sometimes in fields that had nothing to do with writing or communications. One former senior newsroom guy that I knew, ended up living in his car in a Boca Raton parking lot. The last time I saw him, he had his arm broken by someone who tried to rob him while he slept. We met and he was offering to sell me memorabilia from his career. It was a sad and terrible end to what had been a good run.

But as much as the people in the field suffered and were forced to reinvent themselves, the communities they covered suffered as well and continue to pay the price.

Today, there is no water cooler.

We have Facebook which often spreads misinformation, one monthly newspaper that has an odd bent (in my opinion), a few lifestyle magazines, a few newsletters (one is anonymous which undercuts its credibility) and a podcast or two with limited audiences.

We are poorer because our newspapers have gone away. The Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post are sad shells of their past versions, and the few reporters around don’t seem to have any history in our community. We lose something real and valuable when institutional memory becomes forgotten history. Coverage suffers without context; it’s like coming into a movie that’s half over and pretending to know the plot.

I recently finished a wonderful book called “The Last American Newspaper” by Ken Tingley. It’s a poignant book that tells the sad story of The Post-Star, an award winning newspaper in Glens Falls, N.Y.

The paper was a local powerhouse and even won a Pulitzer Prize for its editorials, an almost unheard-of victory for a small newspaper.

But the Post-Star was ambitious and committed to the community it served for over a century. The newsroom—led by Mr. Tingley— reported the news fairly and accurately, surfacing important issues from teenage drinking and domestic violence to homelessness and the financial troubles of the local hospital, which also happened to be a major advertiser.

Because the Post-Star did its job so well, the paper sparked important conversations that often led to meaningful change.

But over time, as the Internet came to dominate, the Post-Star lost revenue and no longer had the resources to produce the in-depth journalism that communities need to thrive.

The diminishment of local journalism is an important issue that needs to be addressed by every community in America. But especially here, in fast moving complicated South Florida.

I’ve long believed that it is easier to find out what is going on in Kabul, than it is to find out what’s happening at City Hall. That’s not good if you value community and if you care about your tax dollars.

Rogues thrive in the darkness where brave reporters once shined a light.

I don’t have any answers. In my opinion, nobody does.

I keep tabs on my old profession and see a few promising seeds: local newsletters that sell subscriptions, online newspapers, city-oriented podcasts etc. But there’s nothing like a newspaper. The magic of opening something you can touch and discovering something interesting and noteworthy.

We will lose a lot when the last newspaper vanishes. We already have.



Photographs & Memories

A newspaper from 1995 and an old Flip digital camera were some of the treasures recently unearthed.

We replaced our bedroom set recently and that prompted a long-delayed dive into my dresser’s junk drawer.

You know, the drawer where you throw change, store greeting cards and keep things that don’t quite fit anywhere else.

The exercise was hard for me. I’m sort of… kind of… borderline-ish…. a hoarder. There, I said it.

I think it’s my sentimentality and my desire to someday revisit these treasures although I hardly ever do. So, opening that drawer and confronting what to do with its contents was a challenge for me.

What to keep?
What to toss?

I found a 27-year-old Delray Times newspaper featuring a front-page story I wrote entitled “The Delray Decade.” The subhead read: “In the past 10 years, the city has gone from pauper to prince.”

That was interesting, but more on that in a later column.

I found a keychain with a picture of Diane and I after one of our memorable outings—a visit to “Capone’s Dinner Show” in Orlando where we dined on spaghetti with a ketchup like sauce while watching actors and actresses dressed as 30s era Chicago gangsters ham it up.

I loved it!

Diane? Not so much.

Granted, the show wasn’t “Hamilton”, but Hamilton didn’t have an Italian buffet either. Regardless, they must be doing something right.  I looked up the show and it’s still running 30 years after its debut. Maybe it the music or the period dress.  Or, maybe it’s the Italian buffet. (I kept the keychain).

I also found an old “Flip” digital camcorder. Remember those? They were hot for about 10 minutes in 2006. They were discontinued in 2011. But I have one. According to eBay it’s worth about $24.99. I’m going to hold onto it a little longer. Someday it could be worth $30.

Besides when I looked at the digital videos I found one of my late cockatiel Butters singing the tarantella. I also found a slew of material that captured the day we filmed a commercial for Celsius featuring Mario Lopez. Heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko showed up that day—as a surprise. We quickly wrote him into the commercial. Today, Mr. Klitschko is in Ukraine fighting the Russians. I find myself thinking about him from time to time. He was a very nice man. I’m going to hold on to my Flip.

There were more treasures, an old business card from Gov. Charlie Crist (no comment), an All America City pin from 2001 and a photo marking Plastridge Insurance’s 100th birthday—all keepers for sure.

But the best treasure was an autograph book I found dated June 1975.

We were moving from South Setauket N.Y. to Stony Brook, and I would be leaving my elementary school for 6th grade at William Sydney Mount.

Apparently, I had my 5th grade friends sign the book so I would remember them forever. I’m not sure kids do that these days, but autograph books were all the rage back in the 70s. I signed a bunch, and I kept this book for the past 47 years. It’s in great shape.

Unfortunately, most kids signed the book with bad poetry—the roses are red, violets are blue style prose that usually ended in some sort of insult. The nicer kids said they were only kidding. I think all of them were, but it was interesting to see a book of sophomoric insults written in ’75 that referenced Nixon and Kennedy, divorces, horses and The Fonz.

Here’s an example:

“The Nixon’s had their Richard. The Kennedy’s had their Jack. The Perlman’s had their Jeff and want their money back.”

That gem came from a girl named Pam, who happened to be the heartthrob not only in the class, but the whole school. Knowing me, I probably was thrilled that she took the time to sign my book—the actual content wouldn’t have mattered. I’m shocked I had the nerve to ask her to sign.

Apparently, I took the autograph book to my new school. Because there were a few 6th grade classmates who signed as well.

The most poignant signature was from Mike Boyle, a friend of mine who would later join the FDNY and perish in 9/11.

“Roses are reddish, violets are bluish,” Mike wrote.

“In school you are newish.” In parentheses, he said to stick with him, and I did.

I was the new kid in school andMike was popular and athletic. He welcomed me into his circle of guys who had been together since kindergarten and all was well, even though our 6th grade teacher was a dead ringer for Nurse Ratchet, only meaner.

The book was also signed by two of my oldest friends—Scott Savodnik and Howie Cohn. We didn’t go to elementary school together, but we did spend summers at the “pool club” in Stony Brook. Both signed the book and said we would always be the best of friends and 47 years later—we are.

In many ways, the book was prescient.

In the front of the book, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire:
Favorite authors: C.S. Lewis and Jack London (Not bad, young Jeff).

Favorite Saying: “Walk softly and carry a big stick.” (Odd choice)

In the future I will be a: Journalist (Bingo!)

Favorite Song: “Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” by BJ Thomas (very odd for an 11-year-old) and “Philadelphia Freedom” – by Elton John (good choice, big hit during those patriotic bicentennial days).

I’m keeping that autograph book, bad poetry, and all.

Roses are red, violets are blue.

Let’s give old memories—and junk— their due.


History Before the Digital Age

An ad from 1995 for Caffe Luna Rosa..wonder if Fran will honor the coupon?

An ad from 1995 for Caffe Luna Rosa..wonder if Fran will honor the coupon?

It’s hard to throw away your history.
But sometimes you have no choice–especially if you are building a new kitchen and losing closet space in the process.
And so part of Thanksgiving weekend was spent deciding what to keep and what to ditch. It was agonizing–for me anyway.
I was a newspaper reporter for the old Delray Times back before the digital age and since 1987 I have lugged my old newspapers to various addresses. They take up shelf space and some of the clips are yellow but they represent an important part of my life–they also cover a pivotal period of Delray’s history.
I covered Delray from 1987 through 1997 from the Doak Campbell era through the Tom Lynch and Jay Alperin mayoral terms of office.
It was an important era, representing the beginning of Delray’s revitalization highlighted by Visions 2000, the Pineapple Grove Main Street designation, the Decade of Excellence and the first All America City bid.
There were lowlights too–political infighting in the 80s, a revolving door of City Managers and key city staff until 1991 and lots of controversy over issues such as race, drugs, crime, policing and labor relations.
But it was mostly a progressive era, marked by progress, relative unity and vision.
I wrote about it all; issues large and small and it was a great job giving me a bird’s eye view of how a city works.

I rode with police officers, followed a young father through drug rehab, interviewed criminals, artists, entrepreneurs and even actor Burt Reynolds who filmed an episode of his detective series “BL Stryker” at the Cathcart House on South Swinton. His first words to me: “I hope you’re not with the Enquirer.”

It was a great ride, writing about efforts to get something going on Atlantic Avenue, sitting through strategy sessions about the future of North Federal Highway (rife with prostitutes, an adult bookstore and vacant lots at the time) and rejoicing when a coffee shop opened downtown.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that decade spent writing about Delray was great training for my tenure on the City Commission, enabling me to see how issues emerged and requiring me to find sources on both sides of the issue.
Our newspaper came of age after the demise of the respected Delray News Journal and we “competed” against the Post, Sentinel and Boca News.
But we wrote more–at least 6-8 stories a week, plus restaurant reviews, school news, social calendars and local sports. We covered Delray like it was the White House beat. It was fun and never boring.
So it’s sad that the paper never had an archive or was digitized.
Because while I successfully “saved” a few (ok more than a few) papers, even I –a notorious pack rat– have to admit that I can’t keep it all and have a…..oh a new kitchen.
So….they will be recycled.
A decade of local history, arguments over whether to build a golf course clubhouse or a hot dog stand, debates over replacing Ken and Hazel’s with a movie theater, stories about the beginnings of Pineapple Grove, efforts to buy the Paradise Club, stories about MAD DADS, the beginning of community policing, the early years of the CRA, the beginning of legendary careers–Chris Brown, Rick Overman, Joe Gillie, Bill Wood, stories about Banker’s Row, protests on the beach, the first Art and Jazz on the Avenue and the purchase of a 100 foot Christmas tree will live on in our memory and oh yes the several hundred papers I managed to squirrel away. Shhh..don’t tell my wife.