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McCormick can't count on the Westside Gazetteto come to his defense. Members of the black press have historically shied away from appraising one another. Despite Clayborne's evisceration of him, Gazette publisher Bobby Henry refuses to criticize the Times. "I just want to stay focused on what I'm doing. I want to stay positive," he says. "I can keep a disagreement between two men between two men. I don't need to air my dirty laundry in a newspaper. The Times can continue to do their thing. I'm going to let it stand at that."
Even a top editor at the 79-year-old Miami Times, one of South Florida's oldest black papers, declined to be quoted by name when asked about the Broward Times. "You won't find too many black newspapers talking about what's wrong with the others," he says. "It's just bad for business. It cuts into what we're all trying to do, on a very basic level, and that's to advocate."
Mike McQueen, chairman of Florida International University's journalism department, grew up reading paragons of the black press such as New York City's Amsterdam News and the Chicago Defender. He has reported for the Florida Times-Union, the Associated Press,and USA Today and spent eight years with the Miami Herald as a reporter and editor. He founded the South Florida Association of Black Journalists and has written media criticism for the American Journalism Reviewand Quill. New Times recently gave McQueen four months of the Broward Times to evaluate.
"The Broward Times doesn't practice journalism. In journalism, you have a verification process," he says. "The Times is trafficking information. They are saying, "Here, dear readers, this is what I hear, and it may be relevant to you.' My experience is that readers know the rules of the road when it comes to the ethnic press. That is, you add a little gossip, turns of phrase that aren't fair journalistically, and that is how you signal to your audience that you're an advocate for them."
The mainstream press made it clear years ago that it is not interested in thoroughly covering news important to minorities, says McQueen. "You'll find that many people, blacks especially, think that the bigger media outlets are only interested in reporting crime because that's the most obvious, in-your-face thing that's going on in cultures that people with gate-keeping positions recognize as news."
According to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the industry's standard resource, minority recruitment at mainstream papers across the country is abysmal. Since Clayborne quit the New York Times Company, numbers haven't improved much. From 1989 to the present, minority hiring for reporting or editing positions is around 11 percent. Minorities made up only about 12 percent of newspaper staffs at the 1446 mainstream newspapers interviewed by ASNE in 2000.
Perhaps acknowledging its shortcomings on this front, the Sun-Sentinel entered into a one-year contract with the Broward Times in August 2000 to share ads and stories. But the union was doomed from the start, like a marriage between Al Sharpton and Martha Stewart. The Sentineldecided last August to end it. Asked about the arrangement, Sentinelspokesperson Kevin Courtney responds, "We had an experimental one-year business relationship with the Broward Times and decided not to continue it. To comment beyond that would be inappropriate."
Clayborne blames its demise on the Sentinel's unwillingness to understand the black press: "It's one thing if you do a Jewish paper, but they always see blacks differently."
According to McQueen, black papers must differentiate themselves from the daily mainstream press -- including the Sun-Sentinel and the Herald -- to have business value to advertisers. Black publishers are in a precarious position because historically the black press has drawn fewer advertising dollars than daily newspapers. So buzz must be created -- often by ratcheting up editorial voice.
"Keith's a former executive," says McQueen. "He knows that he has to remain politically relevant and make money at the same time. He could put some real pressure on the county and city elected officials with hard, in-depth investigative stories. But that takes money that the Times probably isn't willing to invest. And it's a mistake to think that successful, talented black reporters are so uppity that they don't want to write for small papers. It's that a lot of credible journalists of color don't want their byline next to a lot of junk. I would guess that Mr. Jones isn't a classically trained journalist."
Elgin Jones is the Broward Times' primary reporter. He writes a weekly collection of short items called "Around Broward." Before joining the paper as a freelancer two years ago, the city employee wrote a weekly newsletter about Fort Lauderdale's union. "I got tired of what I like to call the city's misinformation office," he says. "Keith was prodding me to write for him, but I wouldn't." Jones says he finally joined the Times in early 2000 and works on the weekends and at night so that his journalistic work doesn't interfere with his day job. He sometimes e-mails Clayborne at 5 a.m. and meets with the publisher weekly to discuss possible stories.