Friday, July 04, 2008

Room at the top...

...or the incredible shrinking masthead...

Broward New Times blogger Bob Norman has posted a list of many of the Miami Herald staffers whose last day at the paper was Thursday.

More than a few of them devoted most of their adult lives to making the Herald what it is...or once was. I'm not sure if it's possible to say goodbye to all that experience and still put out a quality paper. We'll see.

Miami New Times editor Chuck Strouse also weighed in with a brief tribute.

However, what Chuck didn't write about, are his own troubles at Miami New Times, a paper which some in Miami say, has seen better days.

Over the past year or so, Chuck has watched his masthead shrink as one experienced writer after another has left. Some of those who've left include writers Joanne Green, Rob Jordan, Emily Witt, Calvin Godfrey, Tamara Lush, Isaiah Thompson, and most recently Janine Zeitlin whose last day was yesterday.

Zeitlin's resignation leaves the paper with just two staff writers, one of whom is a restaurant critic.

Associate editor Frank Houston has also announced his intention to leave the paper.

Chuck's not a happy man these days. At a recent going-away gathering for a departing staffer, Chuck was described by one New Times insider as "looking like someone had just run over his puppy."

But while the Herald is letting people go, New Times is looking to hire new people to replenish its masthead.

They're looking for full-time staff writers and a managing editor.

Whether those new hires will be enough to lift New Times out of the morass that it now finds itself in remains to be seen.

Not only is feisty paper losing people, it's also losing pages and advertising. Not too many years ago the weekly's page count was usually 132 pages or more. The page count these days barely climbs over 80.

The physical dimensions of the paper have also been pared down in the wake of a recent re-design.

Chuck isn't the only editor at New Times to experience problems.

Managing independent-minded journalists has always been a task akin to herding cats as Chuck's predecessor at New Times, the legendary Jim Mullin, would attest.

In the summer of 2005 Jim had his hands full of problems, caused by an out of control managing editor.

The July 22, 2005 issue of the Daily Business Review reported in a story about the managing editor that "more than a dozen editorial staffers reportedly have left the newspaper over the past 17 months."

However, things were about to get worse for Mullin.

Less than a week after that story appeared in the Daily Business Review, Art Teele walked into the lobby of the Miami Herald, put a gun to his head and splattered his blood and brain matter all over the Herald's polished marble floors and towering glass windows.

That same day an issue of New Times had just hit the streets with a story titled “Tales of Teele: Sleaze Stories.” The article contained excerpts from police reports accusing Teele of corruption, drug use and paying prostitutes for sex. Some say the New times article pushed Teele over the edge.

A month later Mullin announced his decision to step down as editor of the paper after 18 years.

Over those 18 years Mullin labored mightily to shape and mold New Times until it became an integral part of the South Florida journalism landscape, breaking stories that the Herald couldn't or wouldn't do.

It was must reading for many in power in South Florida; one reason being just to see if they were a part of the current week's issue.

If they did end up in the paper more often than not it wasn't good. New Times didn't do many puff pieces on politicians.

And Mullin didn't just go after politicians.

And once, after a classic New Times piece that made fun of the very unfunny Dave Barry, a Herald executive said "...he wanted to squish us [New Times] like insects."
There was even talk of legal action against New Times.

But now, some in South Florida say that New Times is not the same paper it once was.

"The paper has deteriorated greatly from a few years ago," says a veteran Miami journalist.

The paper which once carried such journalistic heavyweights on its masthead like Kirk Semple, Tris Korten, Robert Andrew Powell, Rebecca Wakefield and no pun intended, Jim Defede now has a stable of unknown contributing writers that apparently no one reads.

Recently Herald managing editor Dave Wilson told an incredulous Isaiah Thompson, that he hadn't read Thompson's gritty New Times story on sex offenders prior to his own paper publishing a similar story.

When I pointed this out to a former New Times staffer he responded: "Wilson may not be far off the mark; from what I hear, not many people are reading New Times these days."

Maybe with an infusion of new blood Chuck Strouse can rebuild New Times into a respectable semblance of its former self. Or maybe not.

In the meantime Jim Mullin has moved further up the boulevard, buying the monthly paper Biscayne Times early last year.


DISCLAIMER: I worked as a freelance photographer for New Times during the Mullin years and most recently wrote articles for his new paper, the Biscayne Times.

1 comment:

  1. I wrote on the old Stuck on the Palmetto blog about the decline of the New Times (and the raise of the SunPost, which now a year later has lost its edge as well). To me, it seemed it had abandoned hard-hitting and relevancy in favor of strident news and yellow journalism, the Teele piece just being the most glaring example. Francisco Alvarado, who I actually like, wrote me a couple defensive emails.


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