I Miss the Water Cooler

Where have you gone?

Where have you gone?

Often, I find myself sitting at meetings when someone will say the following.

“Can we get any press on this?”

“This is awesome, people ought to know about it.”

As an old newspaper guy who has dabbled in public relations, I really sympathize with the desire to spread the news.  There used to be a community water cooler, but sadly it is gone.

That does not mean that content is gone, or that news is no longer being made, it just means that the outlets have changed or gone away, the audience is fragmented (drinking from a wide array of water coolers) or tuned out completely.

It wasn’t always like this.

I have absolutely no beef with change or with technology; wouldn’t matter if I did, but I generally embrace both. I like social media, can’t imagine life without the Internet and love that I can read the New York Times on my phone at lunch.

But I also miss community journalism and feel that somehow we have been diminished as locals when the water cooler went away.

Pre-Internet and for a few years after Google,  if you lived in Boca Raton or Delray Beach you could keep up with the local news by reading the Monday-Thursday Papers, the Sun-Sentinel, The Boca News and the Palm Beach Post. There was also Boca Magazine, The Beachcomber, Native Sun and a few other local magazines that seemed to come and go.

When I served on the City Commission from 2000-07, we were regularly covered by three daily newspapers and sometimes four (the Miami Herald) if something big was happening. We were also covered by a few weeklies.

The coverage was abundant. If you wanted to stay informed, you could easily do so.

When I moved here in 1987, I took a job at the old Monday-Thursday Papers which was one of the largest chains of community newspapers in the country and the largest in the southeast. We had papers from Jupiter to Miami with the Delray and Boca Papers printed twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays.

It was a great job if you like to work hard and make little money; which was fine when you are in your 20s and looking for adventure. I wrote between 5-7 stories a week, with a set of news briefs and a police blotter. This was done in the days when you had to go to the Police Department and ask for the blotter and sift through reports looking for interesting or noteworthy crimes. Today, it’s all online as are the backup materials for City Commission meetings, Planning Board meetings etc.

I liked to get out of the office and frankly we had no choice—our City Editor a grizzled veteran named Tom Sawyer –(yes his real name) would bark at us if we were hanging around the newsroom after deadline.

“Nothing newsworthy is happening here,” he would remind his young charges. “News doesn’t come in here and find you, you have to find it.” And so we did.

We sat at the counters at Ken’s and Hazel’s, visited barber shops, talked up HOA presidents and rode with cops and detectives and cultivated sources at City Hall.

We covered the news and also prided ourselves on doing what they call “enterprise” reporting, covering trends, writing features, doing investigatory pieces and in-depth journalism.

Much to my wife’s chagrin, I still have lots and lots of those old newspapers sitting in boxes in my garage. Sometimes, if I’m bored or nostalgic, I’ll pull a few out and they never cease to amaze me.

Details you forget, stories that were big at the time that were soon forgotten (Jacobson’s anyone?) and quotes from people who have long left the scene and were once so important and influential.

It’s great fun to read and its local history too.

The papers were pretty good back then. The Boca News had Darcie Lunsford and Wayne Tompkins and Skip Sheffield and Vin Mannix and they were all great reporters. We had Larry Kahn, Debbie Stern, John Dichtl, Stacey Trapani, Eva Fellows, Judy Vik, Kate Confare and Jim Baker writing sports. They were great writers and smart people too.

On Friday nights, we would meet at Dirty Moe’s in Boca and tell war stories from the week that was…what politician hung up on us, what well-known name we saw in a police report, what the local gadflies said at that week’s Council meeting.

Darcie and I used to sit in the back row at Delray City Hall and fantasize about Darcie running for mayor someday.  I would be her campaign manager.

We would look at all the faces of the old mayors that lined that walls of City Hall- the décor dated even back then -and tried and imagine Darcie’s portrait up there.

But Darcie was smart. She went on to marry a high ranking Delray police officer and began covering the real estate beat for the South Florida Business Journal before going into the field herself.

We used to compete back then, but we were friendly. I used to go to dinner with the Sentinel and Post reporters at the old Delray Mall before commission meetings. We would be upset if we were scooped, but we were friends too.

I think civic life was different back then. Citizens seemed more informed. The space devoted to local news was larger and people read what you wrote.

More people voted back in those days too and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. When you are informed you vote. When you don’t know what’s going on, local elections can pass you by. And that’s a shame.

Here’s an example, in 1990 over 10,000 voters (41.5 percent of registered voters) went to the polls in Delray to elect a new mayor (Tom Lynch) and two city commissioners. Delray was a lot smaller town 25 years ago so 10,000 voters is an astonishing figure.

Can you name the Delray candidate who received the most votes in history?

Betcha can’t, but if you guessed David Randolph you’d be correct. Mr. Randolph got 7,720 votes in ’90.

In March 2015, about 16 percent of the city’s voters showed up, or 6,944 people. The winning mayoral candidate earned 3,703 votes, less than half what commission candidates polled in 1990 and about 2,000 votes less than Mayor Lynch received in a heated three way race.

I think the water cooler has something to do with that.

Sure, there are some local publications out there, but the dailies have really retrenched, the Monday Thursday Papers (which used to be on everybody’s lawn) are long gone and the monthlies are just not frequent enough.

The irony is…even with technology there is a bigger need and niche today than ever.

To paraphrase Simon & Garfunkel “where have you gone Boca News? A community turns its lonely eyes to you.”




  1. Betsy Hodde says

    Enjoyed the read and the memories. Tom Sawyer?

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