In today’s shaky media business climate, it’s a small miracle to get the chance to create a nonprofit news bureau in the nation’s third-largest state, and to offer quality reporting that’s free of advertising and free to readers. I am so grateful I was able to do it.
I am moving on to do environmental advocacy work (based in Tallahassee) at the national nonprofit law firm Earthjustice – work that’s near and dear to my heart and badly needed as the Trump administration tries to dismantle protections for our air, water, land, and wildlife. We need to keep fighting back in the courts.
Diane Rado – a great journalist who came to the Phoenix by way of the Chicago Tribune and the St. Petersburg (now Tampa Bay) Times – is the new Editor-in Chief. Rado has been our Deputy Editor since we launched in July 2018.
I started this venture sitting in a camp chair in an empty office in Tallahassee’s Florida Press Center, coming up with possible names and motto for our news operation, searching for good journalists to hire, and setting out our mission. I drew up a list of questions to guide our coverage of state policy: How does it affect the poor? How does it affect the rich? How does it affect the most vulnerable? How does it affect our shared resources?
So much political coverage focuses – naturally, I think – on the personalities who wield power or are vying for it. Some important ideas can get lost in the shuffle. The Phoenix tries to give exposure to some of those ideas to look more closely at how policies affect regular people. We also try to keep tabs on the special interests who drive state policy, and on those who use public office for personal gain.
State government reporting is more important than ever. The policies and spending choices that affect you the most happen in state government.
As I wrote in an earlier column, unlike many states, Florida has a pretty robust capital press corps, including the Miami Herald-Tampa Bay Times capital bureau, the News Service of Florida, Politico Florida, Capitol News Service, the Florida Channel, the Associated Press, Gatehouse Media, Gannett, public radio and TV, Florida Politics, and capital TV reports that feed news channels across the state. All are trying to survive with various financial approaches in this new, uncertain information landscape. And that landscape is changing.
The Florida Phoenix, along with eleven other editorially progressive state news operations and a Washington, D.C. bureau in the Newsroom network, with the motto “Relentless reporting, state by state,” launched to increase coverage of policy-making at state Capitols. The Phoenix is supported by reader donations and by the national nonprofit Hopewell Fund, which incubates projects and provides professional support. The Newsroom and its affiliates – all with different names – are independent, and each decides what to cover.
Nonprofit news organizations are growing. This is the third nonprofit news organization I’ve been lucky enough to work with – I was a capital bureau reporter for the St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) and a national commentator at National Public Radio. Local news nonprofits are now springing up all over America to fill the gap caused by shuttered newspapers. It’s also the model used by the invaluable national investigative reporting outfit ProPublica.
We have excellent watchdog journalists at the Phoenix: Reporters Mitch Perry, Lloyd Dunkelberger, Michael Moline, and your new Editor-in-chief, Diane Rado. We have two ace columnists, the legendary Florida journalists Diane Roberts and Lucy Morgan. We have the great Andy Marlette drawing occasional political cartoons.
I think we’ve built something pretty great for Florida. The best ways to help the Phoenix are to donate, and to click that share button on our stories on Facebook and Twitter. In this new nonprofit model, you are our publishers. Thanks for your support!