Papers still source for local news

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 1, 2011


If you think newspapers are dead or dying, let me suggest a few places to take a pulse.

Try former Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom, a man who didn’t believe newspapers had any power left until the St. Petersburg Times started looking at the new job he accepted on the same day he assumed office as speaker. Cleared of state criminal charges after being forced from office, Sansom now out of public office, awaits the conclusion of a federal grand jury investigation in Pensacola.

Or talk to the judges at the 1st District Court of Appeal, the folks who gave us a $50-million courthouse commonly known around the state as the “Taj Mahal.’’ One of those judges is facing charges that could remove him from the bench, and the act of building a courthouse filled with granite and mahogany has become a symbol of excess in tight budget times.

Or talk to those around Gov. Rick Scott, the new governor who initially refused to talk to newspaper editorial boards and shied away from serious interviews with print reporters for his first eight months in office. Ask them how that worked out for him.

Newspaper investigations of the insurance industry, crooked politicians, spendthrift political party officials and phony fundraising organizations for veterans are among the many news stories that began with good solid reporting in Florida papers. Indeed virtually all serious investigative news reports have surfaced first in the print press.

On the National front the New York Times and Washington Post continue to set the table every day for the nightly news we see on major networks and thousands of blogs.

Drawing on the additional reach of the internet and tips frequently posted on websites, newspapers are alive in Florida despite dire predictions that we would be out of business by the turn of the century.

We have learned to tweet, blog, take videos, develop phone “apps’’ and post stories on Facebook, changing as technology moves the ball.

Most of us are operating with smaller staff and less travel and expense money, but the blockbuster stories are still coming. And the nightly news in every community remains a reflection of the morning newspapers.

Things are not perfect. Too many small towns in Florida exist in dark corners where there are no daily newspapers and no investigative reporting. Too many newspapers are skittish about taking on the powerful world of business and politics lest they face lawsuits in the midst of a very bad economy.

But most of us are alive and lively in a world where readers are getting their information from hundreds of different sources. A few have succumbed to puffy journalism that takes few risks and they may pay for it in the long haul with a continuing loss of readers.

But I suspect most of us will survive this economic downturn and come out stronger than ever before if we continue to adapt to demands for the delivery of information in many different ways.

Some predicted that newsprint would no longer exist by the year 2000 as readers turned away from paper to electronic devices. There is no question that we will be delivering information in various ways as time goes on, but that doesn’t mean we won’t continue gathering news, investigating government and business and delivering news to readers. Some may receive their news on personal computers, laptops, Ipads or cell phones, but the most reliable information continues to come from newspapers that are learning alternative ways to deliver a product.

Lucy Morgan continues to keep Florida politicians on their toes – and has won the Pulitzer Prize in the process. She writes for the St. Petersburg Times.