The Little Paper That Couldn't

With shifting ownership, low morale, and conflicts of interest, the Boca Raton News continues to flail along

Sheffield, who says he is a News loyalist, even if he has "to go down with the ship," concedes the paper is still in an editorial state of flux. "I think we have some good editors who are working hard and are sincere," he says, "but we don't have the resources without Knight-Ridder. It's tough."

Reporters and editors alike agree that CNHI has renewed the paper's emphasis on community news, which means more local stories than before but less in-depth coverage. Unfortunately some of those same staffers say the paper's editorial stance -- although not its news coverage -- is too beholden to business leaders.

A prime example is the editorial board's strong stand in favor of a plan that some say would allow increased development at the Blue Lake industrial park, one of Boca Raton's prime real estate locations.

When Boca Raton Mayor Carol Hanson unsuccessfully opposed the plan, publisher Martin responded with a signed column, on November 8, contending that the mayor was aligning herself with "a bunch of losers" for opposing the project. The mayor, a 64-year-old career politician who says her skin is "as thick as an alligator," canceled her subscription in protest. Last week the News published an ingratiating editorial about Blue Lake and one other developer with the headline "Developers can be good neighbors, too."

"It is refreshing to find developers that are as interested in being good neighbors as they are in making money," the editorial opines.

The strong editorial stance on this significant local issue may be legitimate for a community newspaper. But one little fact went unmentioned in both Martin's column and the subsequent editorial: With the News' downtown Boca Raton property currently for sale, management is looking for a new, 70,000-square-foot home. One of the prime possibilities, Martin says, is at the Blue Lake development. But only if the price is right.

It seems a clear-cut conflict of interest if the paper promotes developers with whom it plans to negotiate. Martin claims he didn't begin to look for the paper's new digs until after the Blue Lake issue had already come to a head. News editors, including editorial page editor C. Randall Murray, refused to talk with New Times about the possible conflict.

"You're trying to create some issues where there are no issues, and I don't consider that appropriate journalism," growled editor Diehl. "And this conversation is concluded at this point.

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