How Florida’s newspapers grew, prospered and struggled

Editor’s be aware: This text was initially revealed in FORUM: The Journal of the Florida Humanities, Fall 2021, problem. It has been edited for size.

It was 1782, the final yr of the American Revolution, when British loyalist Dr. William Charles Wells arrived in St. Augustine. The South Carolinian introduced with him a pressman, a “appreciable quantity of printer’s kind,” and a dream.

On Feb. 1, 1783, Wells launched Florida’s first newspaper, The East-Florida Gazette.

In its third problem, readers realized a couple of new liquor regulation, the standard of native bread and “riotous issues” that precipitated “the morals of most of the individuals” to be “corrupted.”

So started Florida’s wealthy newspaper historical past.

Gary Mormino [ Times (2018) ]

Newspapers mattered. For generations of Floridians, a morning with out a newspaper was empty. Entrance-porch supply got here with a “thwack,” a sound as reassuring because the clinking of milk bottles or a percolating espresso pot.

Newspapers have recorded the mundane: weddings, births and funerals. And so they’ve stood sentinel as Florida watchdogs. From the Apalachicola Instances to the Zephyrhills Information, mayors have been uncovered, public schooling has been championed, and soccer coaches have resigned due to the Fourth Property.

David Sheddon
David Sheddon [ Provided ]

The Tampa Tribune, established in 1895 by Wallace Stovall, was the primary newspaper to open a capital bureau to carry state leaders accountable. In 1954, state Sen. Harry Stratton of Callahan admitted the Tribune “is nearly the very best newspaper revealed in Florida.” Stratton, nevertheless, wished it have been revealed in Russia “the place no one would learn the rattling factor!”

If, as Ralph Waldo Emerson believed, “an establishment is the lengthened shadow of 1 man,” newspapers embody generations of printers and proofreaders, photographers and cartoonists, and supply girls and boys.

Like most newspapers, the St. Petersburg Instances’ household tree is difficult. Debuting in 1884 because the weekly West Hillsborough Instances, the newspaper (circulation 480) was revealed behind a Dunedin pharmacy. The paper moved to Clearwater in late 1884 after which within the early Nineties moved to St. Petersburg. Beneath the management of editor W.L. Straub, the newspaper pleaded for prohibition and the liberation of the Pinellas peninsula from the tyranny of Hillsborough County.

Paul Poynter, a veteran newspaper writer, bought the newspaper in 1912, shortly after Pinellas County was based. His son Nelson grew to become editor in 1939. Nelson Poynter, expressing concern for the independence of native journalism, bequeathed his Instances inventory to the Fashionable Media Institute in 1977 to maintain his newspaper domestically owned and unbiased. (It’s now the Poynter Institute.)

The Stevens household typified the mobility of journalists. Will Stevens moved to Florida from Illinois, the place his household ran a newspaper. In 1913, he launched the weekly Stuart Instances. “It didn’t take a lot to begin a newspaper,” remembered his son, Wallace Stevens. “My father bought the loyalty and assist of the individuals in the neighborhood who realized that the city wanted a paper.” Stevens by no means graduated from journalism faculty; certainly, he by no means bought previous the sixth grade. “Dad was the very best speller I ever knew,” his son mentioned, a useful talent earlier than spell checker.

In 1903, Frank B. Stoneman moved the Orlando Every day Herald to Miami, renaming it the Miami Night Report. In 1910, after monetary setbacks, Stoneman bought the paper to Frank B. Shutts, an affiliate of railroad magnate Henry Flagler. The paper grew to become the Miami Herald. In 1915, Stoneman employed his daughter Marjory Stoneman Douglas as a reporter. She fell in love with the Everglades, already threatened by draining and human avarice.

Throughout Florida’s Nineteen Twenties land increase, the Herald gained fame for publishing extra promoting area than some other paper within the nation. In 1937, Shutts bought the Miami Herald to the legendary newspaperman John S. Knight.

Newspaper rivalries have been as private and contentious as their cities and publishers: the Miami Herald vs. the Miami Every day Information and the Tampa Tribune vs. the St. Petersburg Instances.

The St. Petersburg Night Impartial created an irresistible promoting gimmick. Proprietor and writer, Kentuckian Lew Brown, offered St. Petersburg with its nickname, “the Sunshine Metropolis.” He famously assured a free newspaper on daily basis the solar didn’t shine. In 1936, after virtually 500 sun-drenched days, the publicity genius John Lodwick and Brown packed a room with 18-month-old infants and revealed a gaggle {photograph} captioned, “Sunshine Infants — by no means have identified a cloudy day.”

Martin Andersen perfected the position of newspaper impresario. A near-penniless highschool dropout, Andersen change into a powerbroker. When he died in 1986, the Orlando Sentinel eulogized him as “powerful, savvy, blunt … and one of many final two-fisted publishers of the outdated roughhouse faculty of one-man-newspapering.”

With Olympian ambition, this threadbare Citizen Kane took over two struggling Orlando newspapers with a mixed circulation of 10,000. A showman, he as soon as bought gallons of orange fragrance and poured the liquid into the ink spouts of the press. Over the course of a half century, Orlando leaped from a metropolis on the crossroads of an agricultural area to a metropolitan heart and vacationer mecca.

A lot of America’s main environmental writers hewed their craft in Florida.

Ernest Lyons was a 25-year-old reporter when he joined the Stuart Information in 1931, shortly realizing that progress threatened Florida’s extraordinary surroundings. He noticed:

There was by no means something extra lovely than a pure South Florida River, just like the North and South Fork of the St. Lucie and the winding cypress bordered Loxahatchee.

Their banks of cabbage palms and stay oaks draped with Spanish moss and studded with crimson-flowered air vegetation and delicate wild orchids have been scenes of tropical surprise, mirrored from the mirror-like onyx floor of the water.

Newspapers captured probably the most pivotal moments in Florida historical past. The Civil Warfare left Florida desolate and destitute. The Florida Peninsular, a Tampa newspaper, documented the implications, noting on Jan. 23, 1871, “We now haven’t any Sheriff and are on the mercy of the lawless, the rowdy, and the drunkers. Firearms are freely used on the street and the lives of peaceful residents are in peril every day.”

African American leaders courageously based their very own newspapers to hunt justice and serve their neighborhood. In 1873, Josiah Partitions launched Florida’s first African-American newspaper, the New Period, revealed in Gainesville. Writer Partitions additionally grew to become Congressman Partitions, serving three phrases in Washington.

World Warfare II represented journalism’s best hour. Newspapers helped the general public perceive the faraway struggle. On April 10, 1945, a letter appeared within the Fort Meade Chief: “I’ve seen probably the most horrible factor possible. … Buchenwald Focus Camp No. 12, because the Nazis known as it. … Something you learn concerning the horrors perpetrated by these fiends is true — and double — I’ve seen the horrors myself.”

Newspapers coated the struggle’s ending. “Many motorists began their automotive horns tooting,” reported the Tarpon Springs Chief, “and plenty of others add nonetheless extra clamor and din to the event, tying tubs, cans, and boilers to the again of their cars.” The Tampa Tribune recalled gingerly, “Younger and outdated joined the kissing contests. Acquaintance was not crucial, though some ladies insisted on kissing solely sailors.”

The state’s newspapers mirrored Southern attitudes. In a 1909 editorial, the Tampa Morning Tribune candidly outlined the state of race relations:

As at presently located, the negro is a political asset of the South. He’s virtually disfranchised. He’s permitted to make use of the poll very sometimes and, even then, his vote is perfunctory, ineffectual train of an empty proper.

However newspapers additionally offered hope for justice, because of the work of the state’s crusading reporters.

In 1949, 4 Black youngsters have been arrested, falsely accused of raping a 17-year-old white girl in Groveland, in Lake County. Sheriff Willis McCall was a die-hard segregationist and sadist. McCall shot two of the lads once they have been handcuffed.

Because of the persistent work of Mabel Norris Reese, proprietor, editor and reporter for the Mount Dora Matter, historical past has redeemed the Groveland 4.

In 2019, the Orlando Sentinel apologized for its Groveland protection. “We’re sorry for the Orlando Sentinel’s position on this injustice. We’re sorry that the newspaper on the time did between little and nothing to hunt the reality.”

Fueled by the skills of its acclaimed reporters and editors, Florida newspapers skilled a golden age between the Forties to the early twenty first century. Miami Herald journalists Carl Hiaasen, Edna Buchanan and Gene Miller have been amongst those that received Pulitzer Prizes for his or her achievements.

Lucy Morgan lived the credo of Mr. Dooley, the Peter Finley Dunne character, who defined that a fantastic newspaper “comforts th’ stricken and afflicts th’ snug.”

Morgan wrote with full-throated readability and goal. Her profession started unexpectedly in 1965. “A girl knocked on my door and requested if I’d write for the Ocala Star-Banner. I used to be a stay-at-home mother with three little youngsters. … The lady mentioned the native librarian instructed her that I learn extra books than anybody else on the town and she or he thought, if I might learn, I might write. They paid me 20 cents an inch.”

In 1967, she joined the St. Petersburg Instances, working a beat she described as “roam round Florida and trigger hassle.” In 1973, she was convicted of contempt for refusing to reveal a confidential supply and sentenced to jail. A Florida Supreme Courtroom ruling overturned her conviction. (In 1985, she and colleague Jack Reed received the Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting for, because the Pulitzer board put it, “their thorough reporting on Pasco County Sheriff John Brief, which revealed his division’s corruption and led to his elimination from workplace by voters.”)

Florida’s biggest afternoon newspaper was the Miami Information. In 1923, former Ohio Gov. James M. Cox bought the newspaper. In 1925, Cox erected the enduring Miami Information Tower. The construction grew to become the well-known Freedom Tower within the Nineteen Sixties, a logo of liberty for Cuban émigrés. The Miami Information and its journalists acquired 5 Pulitzer prizes, together with the primary ever received by a Florida newspaper.

However thunderclouds have been forming. “Unexpected by those that celebrated Miami’s fiftieth birthday in 1946 have been social forces at play that will ultimately kill the Miami Information,” wrote Tom Fiedler. In 1946, new municipalities — Bal Harbor, Surfside, Bay Harbor and others — sprang to life. People and Floridians might now stay within the suburbs and work within the cities.

However at a price. “For night newspapers just like the Miami Information,” wrote Fiedler, “it could ultimately imply loss of life. The time subscribers dedicated to studying earlier than dinner was eaten up by the commute.”

Afternoon newspapers couldn’t survive: The Tampa Instances revealed its remaining version in 1982, adopted by the St. Petersburg Impartial in 1986 and the Miami Information in 1988.

Starting within the Nineteen Nineties, media analysts famous troubling traits. Solely the St. Petersburg Instances, among the many giant dailies, was domestically owned. Nonetheless, the newspapers have been worthwhile as a result of Floridians relied on them to discover a home, clip a coupon and examine sports activities.

New applied sciences reworked the printed newspaper. People first heard about Pearl Harbor over the radio and President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on tv. Newspapers rallied with “Additional” editions. The 9/11 tragedy performed out on stay tv. Newspapers have been experiencing an Indian summer season — a fleeting second when most readers most well-liked the paper copy to on-line variations.

But, sadly, 9/11 was exactly the kind of story that exposed the approaching obsolescence of printed information. Hereafter, readers and viewers, accustomed to years of 24/7 cable information, most well-liked to know what occurred 5 minutes in the past, not yesterday.

Florida every day newspaper circulation declined by almost 50 % between 2004 and 2019. Different troubling indicators appeared: younger individuals have been largely detached to printed newspapers and, for probably the most half, grocery shops and purchasing malls not marketed in newspapers.

Traders and chains devoured up Florida papers. In 2012, the New York Instances Firm bought the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and different papers to Halifax Media Group. The New Media Funding Group, which owned Gatehouse Media Inc., acquired Halifax in 2016 for $280 million. In 2019, Gatehouse Media merged with Gannett, turning into the most important U.S. newspaper chain, proudly owning 18 Florida papers.

Throughout Florida, newspapers started promoting their landmark buildings, profiting from rocketing actual property costs to assist maintain their companies afloat. The destiny of the constructing at One Herald Plaza symbolized the altering newspaper panorama. A Malaysian gaming firm bought the 12-acre headquarters of the Miami Herald in 2011 for $236 million. Andres Viglucci eulogized, “Who might miss its commanding presence and the purplish nighttime glow of its large neon letters suspended over Biscayne Bay? — and of the facility of these presses within the affairs of town.”

However journalism isn’t merely a constructing and even within the tactile really feel of a printed web page. The golden age of Florida newspaper historical past could also be over, however journalists throughout the state proceed to inform the tales that change into the primary draft of Florida historical past, irrespective of how these tales are delivered.

Gary R. Mormino serves as scholar in residence at Florida Humanities. His first job was delivering the Wooden River Journal. David Shedden is the particular collections librarian on the USF St. Petersburg campus library and former archivist and analysis librarian on the Poynter Institute, which owns the Tampa Bay Instances, winner of 13 Pulitzer Prizes.

The award-winning journal FORUM is revealed by Florida Humanities, the statewide, nonprofit companion of the Nationwide Endowment for the Humanities devoted to preserving, selling, and sharing the historical past, literature, tradition, and private tales that supply Floridians a greater understanding of themselves, their communities, and their state. Present and previous problems with FORUM can be found at

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