The imminent death of America’s daily and weekly print newspapers is being reported with regularity and as a former daily newspaper reporter I would hate to see them disappear.
However, when I read papers such as the local News-Leader, I can understand why its name may soon appear in an online obituary. Like an alcoholic who won’t stop drinking and morbidly obese people who continue to gorge themselves on ice cream and doughnuts, the paper won’t help itself. Once it hits rock bottom it’s over. There are no 12-step programs for the News-Leader.
But unlike the alcoholics and the fat folks who are poisoning themselves, the News Leader is feeding others a steady diet of bias and gibberish as it watches its readership and advertisers dwindle while at the same time raising the price of its deteriorating product, a strategy that isn’t exactly a Best Practices study for a Harvard Business School case study.
During a talk to the Nassau County Democratic Party last month recently retired News-Leader Editor Michael Parnell pretty much confirmed the sad plight of the local News-Leader revealing that his former employer is losing money faster than Black Lives Matter supporters fleeing a Ku Klux Klan rally.
According to an article by former Chicago journalist Karen Thompson in the online Fernandina Observer, Parnell said the News-Leader has lost one-third of its revenue since 2008. It’s only the statutorily required (Chapter 50, Florida Statues) legal notices and city and county ads keeping the paper afloat as I’m convinced that if they were ever pulled the News-Leader would be toast.
The state requires attorneys, courts, municipalities, etc. to publish certain notices in general circulation print publications and the print newspaper lobby in Tallahassee wants to keep it that way. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of legal notices ranging from tax claims and zoning issues to bankruptcies and foreclosures take up page after page of paid space in the News Leader while the City of Fernandina Beach and Nassau County spent close to $50,000 — split almost evenly between them — in News-Leader ads their last fiscal years. But the online publication lobby is making headway in Tallahassee and if the plug is ever pulled, the News-Leader will be history.
During his talk Parnell also said something many folks hereabouts probably already knew and that I’ve long suspected — he has never, and never will vote for a Republican for president. His mind is closed and he intends to keep it that way.
Parnell’s comments also confirm what UCLA political science professor Tim Groseclose wrote in his book, Left Turn, where he quotes a poll in which Washington correspondents declared that they vote Democratic 93 percent to 7 percent, while the nation is split about 50-50. As a result, Mr. Groseclose says, most reporters write with a liberal filter. “Using objective, social-scientific methods, the filtering prevents us from seeing the world as it actually is. Instead, we see only a distorted version of it. It is as if we see the world through a glass—a glass that magnifies the facts that liberals want us to see and shrinks the facts that conservatives want us to see,” says Groseclose.
When questioned about the length and content of some of the letters in the News-Leader, Ms. Thompson quoted Parnell as saying: “I tried to give a voice to all. With all the economic cutbacks since the recession I, honestly, didn’t have a lot of time to spend editing letters. They fill space.”
He didn’t have time to spend editing letters? Why not? It was obvious he didn’t spend time editing the rest of the paper. So what did he do?
Under Parnell and continuing under its new editor, Peg Davis, the News-Leader’s editorial pages display a greater similarity to psychological disorders than they do to rational public discourse. Following Parnell’s departure the news pages have improved somewhat over the massive redundancies and typos that filled them when he was editor and when they were chock a block full of word-for-word press releases, stale news, boring, and unedited drivel.
At the Democrat’s meeting Parnell said he welcomed the competition from on-line publications but said they don’t aspire to do what the News Leader does but instead ‘have a cause.’ “The blogs have no filter,” he says. “They talk past each other with the louder voices getting the most attention. I’d rather read a story by a paid professional than a story by someone unpaid with a biased opinion.”
Really Mr. Parnell? Paid professionals? Where? I know for a fact that most of the columnists in the News-Leader are not paid a dime, and the ones that are receive a stipend, equaling the price of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. I wrote a column for it for two years and never received a nickel in compensation, not even a newspaper.
Many readers I’ve talked to with a taste for schadenfreude are getting a kick out of watching the News-Leader thrash around like a hooked flounder on the dock. Parnell retired as editor a couple months ago and I don’t envy his replacement as she attempts to edit the paper into one that advertisers and readers respect, particularly with Foy Maloy, a man with no journalism background and axes to grind, sitting in the publisher’s chair.
Local online news publications — the Fernandina Beach Observer (fernandinaobserver.com) and the Nassau County Florida Independent (ncflindependent.com) newspapers — have helped expose the paper’s shoddy editing, reporting and demonization of those not in its publisher’s favor. More and more people are foregoing the $1.00 news stand price and annual subscription cost of the News-Leader for these two timely and accurate free online local news sources. Their “cause,” Mr. Parnell, is unbiased precise reporting. My satirical News-Wrecker had more accurate articles in it than the News-Leader contains and that was by accident.
With the outstanding exception of nature columnist, Pat Foster-Turley and outdoors editor Terry Lacoss, the rest of the News-Leader’s columnists are examples of unashamed advertising for their products and services or just plain incoherent gibberish. Rick Keefer, writes a decent automotive column and occasionally comments on marketing concepts, but his company name, logo, etc. are all part of the column. Steve Nicklaus, a former News-Leader editor, writes a financial column and guess what? He’s a financial consultant whose contact information is boldly printed in every column. They promote cars and financial services respectively. Good for them as they get away with it.
However, do you remember when you were in elementary school and one of your classmates was called to the front of the room to read out loud, and when that kid pathetically stumbled over the words, you began slinking lower and lower in your seat because you were so painfully embarrassed for him or her? Well, that’s how I feel when reading Dickie Anderson’s “From The Porch” columns where her only topic is Dickie Anderson. Does anyone actually read this pathetic amateurish gibberish that appears weekly? Initially I thought it was a word jumble puzzle to be deciphered. If it wasn’t so awful it’d be funny in a camp sort of way but it’s obvious she lacks any journalism training, and as Parnell said about the paper’s letters to the editor, it’s obviously used to “fill space.” At the end of this weekly unfathomable nonsense is an email address where she says readers can buy one of her books of these columns. What? Someone would actually buy a book full of this blather? She has the forum. All she needs are ideas and talent. There’s the rub.
Obviously my respect for the paper, its management, and Ms. Anderson is nonexistent and for good reason. When I was writing my Dave’s World column for the News-Leader, some island restaurant owners personally told me that Ms. Anderson actually had the audacity to approach them and ask: “How many free meals has Dave Scott asked for here?” Whether she pursued this contemptible line of questioning on her own or at the direction of Maloy or Parnell I don’t know, but too many reputable people I respect have relayed this to me for it to be untrue. I wrote to Maloy and copied Parnell and Ms. Anderson asking for an explanation. Maloy responded by denying it. I never heard from Ms. Anderson or Parnell. I defy any of them to produce one restaurant owner, manager or employee who claims I requested anything besides an extra napkin or a glass of water, just one! They can’t, because they are nonexistent. The fact that she performed such an outrageous and disreputable act is beyond despicable and did more damage to her and the News-Leader’s reputation than to me.
Based on today’s reputation of the paper and the twaddle that Ms. Anderson writes, if I owned a bar or eatery hereabouts I’d provide her and the paper’s editors free stuff if they promised NOT to mention my establishment in her column or on its pages.
It’s sad that the paper’s news pages are edited to paint a picture preferred by a stridently prejudiced publisher, an incompetent, no-talent and incoherent columnist and an editor on a personal vendetta, who knowing they can’t win intellectual arguments, seek to influence opinion by portraying those they oppose using bias, innuendo, and slander.
A perfect example of its shoddy and blatantly dishonest “reporting” took place when the paper edited then City Commission candidate Tim Poynter’s press releases to reflect its prejudice against him while printing his opponents releases verbatim. And it got worse. In an above-the-fold front page piece headlined “Restaurateur seeks commission ‘seat'” bylined by the paper’s then Editor Parnell, there was a detailed story about all the laws, permitting rules, and regulations that Poynter meticulously followed while opening and expanding his downtown eateries. Parnell tried his best to portray Poynter as someone who took advantage of his commission seat to get around the various permitting and regulations and came up empty handed. The story was total nonsense. So is the newspaper.
Speaking Of Lousy Newspapers: If you were looking for college football results in the Jacksonville-based Florida Times-Union Sunday morning, October 4, you had to wade through four pages of Jaguars’ football twaddle to get to them even though the NFL’s worst football team wasn’t scheduled to lose its game against Indianapolis until later that afternoon. Then on Monday morning, October 5, with the Major League Baseball playoff pairings buried on page C-13, the sports section devoted six full pages of excessive claptrap about the Jaguars loss to the Colts while every other NFL game, with the exception of two stories (Page C-7) were buried on page C-8 with a single paragraph. All this as T-U Editor Frank Denton’s Sunday, October 4 editorial “Everyone ‘Reads’ the newspaper” tried desperately to explain why — despite polls saying otherwise — newspapers, particularly his, are relevant. As an editor, Mr. Denton, aren’t you supposed to edit the entire paper, including the sports section? If this keeps up I’m convinced we’ll soon be reading the T-U’s obit online alongside that of the News-Leader.
There’s A New Sheriff In Town: Smoky & the Bandits is a new band in town is adding something lacking to the island’s current musical mixture — a country outlaw sound mixed with rockabilly. The group is led by 84-year-old rhythm guitarist Smoky Coe who penned the smash hit “Good Intentions” for Randy Travis that is on his best-selling album “Always & Forever,” which remains Travis’ best selling album to date, with more than five million copies sold. Texas native Coe, who, with his white Stetson, western attire, and chiseled features, bears an uncanny resemblance to late blue grass legend Bill Monroe, bought his first guitar at a Texas pawn shop for $2.50 at the age of 10. He taught himself to play and began performing in public at 14 at local rodeos, fairs and festivals and even performed backup with the legendary Jim Reeves as well as on a number of radio and TV stations. The Korean War in the early 1950s altered the course of Smoky’s musical career as like many young men of that time, he joined the Army. Shortly after his service stint, he moved to North Carolina, married, and began a career with Ford Motor Company. Following a number of musical gigs and after leaving Ford, Smoky moved to Fernandina Beach with his family in the summer of 2014. Smoky and his local band have everything required for that unique “Outlaw Sound” including a fiddle, as portrayed in Alabama’s “If You’re Gonna’ Play In Texas, You Need a Fiddle in the Band.” Other band members (pictured here) include Brett Welsher on Dobro, Steve Mason, lead guitar, Lori Flemming (Smoky’s daughter), slapping the upright bass and little Jan Flemming (granddaughter) on fiddle. Restaurants and bars interested in booking Smoky & the Bandits can call them at 704/953-9780 or mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out this soon to be very popular group at www.facebook.com/smokyandthebandits. As they say themselves they produce a “4/4 foot stompin’, house rockin’, diesel truckin’, beer drinkin’ sound.” And please let me know when they’ll appear as I don’t want to miss any of their performances.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: If it isn’t already sold out A Taste of Wine by Steve (Raszkin) at 4924 First Coast Highway, is planning an Antinori Dinner Saturday, October 17 beginning at 6 p.m. with Italian native Eric Saccomani, the Antinori representative, showcasing what else — Antinori wines! Steve says the dinner will be white tablecloth with Courtney Thompson, owner of Horizon’s Restaurant, providing the food featuring the following menu: Pass Around Appetizers – Brie and Raspberry beggars purses and grilled prosciutto wrapped cheese straws – Guado al Tasso Verminto Wine; Salad – Caprese Tower with aged Balsamic glaze and opal basil – Bramito Chardonnay; Entrée – Braised Osso Bucco with duchess potatoes and roasted vegetables – Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Guado al Tasso II Bruciato; Dessert – Steve’s sister Fay will provide homemade NY cheesecake. Steve’s cozy wine shop can handle up to 26 people at $65 per person. Call ’em at 904/557-1506 to see if there are still any seats left or stop by there this evening between 5 and 7 for their weekly wine tasting and ask ’em. The newly renovated Seabreeze Lounge at the 2707 Sadler Days Inn will be hosting an 80’s Night Saturday, October 17 starting at 9 p.m. so dig through your closet for those old leggings and tube socks and tease your hair Texas style. There’ll be drink specials, prizes and entertainment by Band on the Run. It should be fun as new Sales & Marketing Director Kari Gardner really knows how to throw a party. Oh, did I Mention that guitarist Dan Voll plays there every Monday evening beginning at 6 and the place filled up fast last Monday so get there early for a good seat and ask bartender George Morris about the beer specials. Call ’em at 904/277-8625. The 7th Annual Butts & Brisket BBQ competition will be held tomorrow, October 10, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Main Beach with live music, beer and BBQ plates for just $10. If you’re looking for a bargain one of the best in town is still the North 2nds Street’s Crab Trap’s $20 twin lobster tails every Sunday. Call ’em at 904/261-4749. The 316 Centre Street Alley Cat will begin serving its delicious shrimp corn bisque in freshly made down the street’s Chez Lezan’s sour dough bread bowls, a treat that you will be coming back for very often .Call ’em at 904/491-1001. And for the best bagels, among other baked goods outside of New York check out 1014 Atlantic’s Chez Lezan or call ’em at 904/491-4663. Fresh off their well-attended and enthusiastic performance during Sounds on Centre last Friday the Crescendo Amelia Big Band will perform this evening beginning at 7 at the Fernandina Beach Golf Club with a cover of $10.
Dave, without passing judgment on your opinion of the News Leader, I want folks to understand that for about four years they regularly printed Viewpoints I wrote about the City’s unlawful impact fees and the dismal deal Mr. Gerrity imposed on the City when he bought the water system from FPU. I did not pull any punches in my criticism of the City and its officials and the News Leader printed it all. That’s the same City, as you point out, that the News Leader is so dependent on for its ad income. During that same time, as the City faced costly defeat after defeat in the courts the Observer handled the matter with kid gloves if at all. When it comes to local governance, I came to think the Observer’s slogan should be “all the news that’s nice to print”. Okay, Mike Parnell did make one change I remember. My first Viewpoint was titled “The City’s Impact Fees are Illegal”. Mike changed that to “Are the City’s Impact Fees Illegal?” Many times I had others review the Viewpoints before they were submitted and often I was told “they will never print that!” But they always did and in doing so I thought they were alone in doing an important public service.
Hi Dave – great blog, as always, but …
Question – how do you REALLY feel about the Newsleader and the Times Union?
Hi Dave, as part of the Butts and Brisket BBQ – tonight at 8 PM there will be the very first Steak Cookoff in the state of Florida sanctioned by the Steak Cookoff Association (SCA). It will be fun to see what gets turned in and possible there may be a few samples.