Sunday, November 22, 2020

What Ever Happened to The St. Augustine Record?



Will the last reporter to leave the Record building please turn out the lights?  Are nascent hedge-fund newspaper monopolies a threat to our democracy? 
What ever happened to the St. Augustine Record (SAR),  formerly our "newspaper of record?"  It once enlightened us on chicanery, e.g, Sunshine violations, $1.8 million luxury no-bid helicopter.  It once listed big-money campaign contributions to local candidates.  

Under Gannett\/GateHouse oligopoly penny-pinching/profiteering, our SAR's news/editorial has been slashed, with little investigative reporting on corruption, clearcutting, wetland-filling and secretive landowners.  

Three successive absentee corporate owners dumbed down SAR, slashing local news, eliminated political candidate interviews/endorsements, while extravagantly raising the price of our subscriptions, even as the newspaper's news "product" declines.

SAR no longer covers money in politics, no longer listing big money contributions to campaigns.  SAR neglected its duty and refused to ask candidates about the Michelle O'Connell homicide coverup by Sheriff David Shoar, et al. exposed by 2013 and 2017 New York Times investigations.  SAR empowers one-party rule.  Corruption festers. SAR rarely quotes public comment speakers at meetings, aligning itself with corporate interests, cutting off the news at its source.

Nashville Tennessean newspaper Pulitzer Prize winner Nat Caldwell was one of my coolest mentors.  Nat exposed a coal cartel that destroyed UMWA jobs in Appalachia while creating massive strip-mining. Nat was called "crazy"  when he reported misuse of UMWA pension funds to start non-union mines.  Nat was vindicated by UMWA disclosures under the Labor-Management Relations Disclosure Act. 

Nat egged on my investigation of Tennessee Valley Authority and stripminers.

Nat told me that we would regret the day that Gannett bought the Tennessean.  Nat was right.

Nat helped inspire me to help create the Appalachian Observer (AO).

Our AO reported on a corrupt sheriff (he went to federal prison for drug trafficking).  AO exposed a mendacious school superintendent  (who chose not to run when voters chose to make the position an elected one).  AO won declassification of massive, illegal, toxic pollution at the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Plant, where Union Carbide "lost" 4.2 million pounds of mercury, into creeks and groundwater and into workers' lungs and brains.  

One wag compared AO to The New York Times, saying my writing was too scholarly for  "hillbillies."  But "hillbillies" loved the AO, which reported government secrets long ignored by what AO called "Chain Gang Journalism."

Today, Gannett's SAR falls short of fulfilling American newspapers' fundamental watchdog function.  When SAR's building was sold, SAR did not even report who bought it.  SAR's lack of curiosity is notorious.   Barry Mark Benjamin, Chair of the St. Augustine Port,  Waterway and Beach Commission Chair, served illegally for years while living outside the District and outside St. Johns County. SAR did not report his resignation for months, briefly mentioning it in one paragraph in a "hit piece" on whistleblower Port Commissioner Sandy Flowers. 

Photojournalist J.D. Pleasant says, "if you want something covered up, tell the Record."   How many knowledgeable citizens shared gnarly information with SAR, only to have those stories "spiked," unpublished -- not even online?

Judge Learned Hand observed: “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.” Neither should we ration news.

Under Gannett, is SAR informing its readers?  Is slothful, status quo journalism undermining democracy, as Tom Wicker wrote in his book, On Press (1978)? 

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln dispatched a telegram to irresolute U.S. Army General George McClellan: “My dear McClellan: "If you don’t want to use the Army[,] I should like to borrow it for a while.” 

If Gannett's SAR won't report local news any longer, will Gannett management kindly let us "borrow it for a while?"  

Let citizens be heard and heeded.

When will SAR restore our Sunday Op-Ed section to its former two-page space?


With kindest regards, I am,

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