Hedge funds now own most of the biggest newspapers in Florida, and the latest edition of “Political Party with Adam Smith” features some of Florida most prominent journalists weighing in on what that means for their future – and Florida’s.
“We’re very worried about the future for sure and how this will effect new coverage and frankly our ability to serve our communities,” said Orlando Sentinel higher education writer Annie Martin.
Employees at the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun Sentinel last week saw one of their biggest fears realized: Their outlets had been purchased by Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund notorious for cutting news operations to the bone.
Another private equity firm, Chatham Asset Management, last year bought the bankrupt Miami Herald, and Herald Tallahassee Bureau Chief Mary Ellen Klas said that actually brought some stability to the beleaguered Herald. Klas, like Martin at the Orlando Sentinel, is a leader of a recently formed newsroom union.
The picture is not entirely bleak. Outstanding journalism continues even amid diminished news staffs across Florida, and unlike other regions, the Sunshine State is a growth area with millions of consumers keenly interested in news.
“As long as we have a lot of old people moving into Florida it’s going to be good for legacy media, because they’re the only people that read the news,” said Klas. “The bad news is they aren’t going to last forever. That’s where the future doesn’t get very optimistic.”
Consolidation already has had a huge impact on the newspaper landscape in Florida. Gannett capital reporter John Kennedy is arguably the most influential journalist in Tallahassee, serving 20 Florida newspapers, including Palm Beach, Sarasota, Jacksonville, Naples, Tallahassee, and Gainesville.
While dozens of reporters today cover state government, including relatively new outlets including Politico, Florida Politics, News Service of Florida and Florida Phoenix, Kennedy said competition is not was it used to be. Smaller staffs require reporters to pick and choose what stories they cover, and mean outlets much less frequently follow up on and amplify important news broken by competitors.
“I absolutely think it has gone downhill,” Klas said of the changing nature of Tallahassee news coverage. “And that is because there is subscription-only journalism and there is pay-to-play journalism. When you are appealing to the lobbyist crowd, you are appealing to an audience that wants their name in their paper. That’s not accountability journalism.”
Martin remains hopeful she will continue reporting on her Orlando-area community for years to come, speculating that philanthropic investors could protect it from crippling Alden hedge cuts, as occurred with the Baltimore Sun.
“I worry about the impact that Alden is going to have on our newsroom, and I worry about my future as far as being able to spend the next five or 10 or 15 years of my career here, but certainly I want to do journalism until I’m ready to retire if that’s possible,” she said.
“My colleagues are still doing great work. People still trust local newspapers.”
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Adam Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org