"A newsroom is a place where you get paid to have a cup of coffee and think about the world," Minor says. "To work in a place that is humming with that kind of intellect — it's a real high."

Now, Minor works part-time at a retail clothing store, which for confidentiality reasons she can't name but calls "a hilarious adventure." She still freelances for the Post and other smaller papers and says she has no regrets about leaving her full-time job.

Still, starting over at 53, with her husband still working and her kid off to college, is not easy. When she gets a little extra freelance work, Minor's days look brighter. "And then there are days when you can truly watch all the first season of Mad Men," she says.

Rochelle Gilken was one of 300 people who accepted buyouts from the Palm Beach Post.
C. Stiles
Rochelle Gilken was one of 300 people who accepted buyouts from the Palm Beach Post.
After a 30-year career in newspapers, Tom Dubocq is now a private investigator.
C. Stiles
After a 30-year career in newspapers, Tom Dubocq is now a private investigator.

The disappearance of bylines like Minor, Dubocq, and Gilken may have slipped by many readers, but the overall change in news coverage at the three papers is hard to miss.

Stories often read like news releases, parroting what politicians say because there's no time or physical space in a shrinking paper to interview more sources. Instead of dedicating their days to pissing off the powers that be, reporters at the Post are urged to attend "customer service" training sessions and do everything they can to please an ever-shrinking audience of readers. The mandate is to break news on the web, not find an in-depth scoop. "The real problem was you had no space and you didn't have as many reporters to go out and find those really good stories and develop them," says Bill Rose, describing his last days at the Post.

With more experienced reporters getting laid off, institutional knowledge is lost. More articles are written by rookies or even college interns. "They can't report their way out of a fucking paper bag," says the Herald staffer.

Meanwhile, many of the reporters who remain are overworked.

As protests erupted this fall over increased testing for kids in Palm Beach County schools, one Post reporter, Laura Green, was responsible for writing a front-page story every day — down from a team of three education reporters a few years ago. Stacey Singer, the Post's lone health reporter covering the swine flu pandemic, says she writes four to five stories a week, plus as many blogs. "There's no air in my day anymore," Singer says.

Dave Barry worries that investigative government stories, such as the Herald exposé this summer on Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez's quietly doling out raises to his top advisers while proposing layoffs for other county workers, will soon disappear because no one has time to dig through county records to find them. "That's what I fear will be gone," Barry says. "It's the stuff that nobody would know."

Perhaps the most vivid example is the lackluster way the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald have handled the recent corruption allegations against Broward County School Board member Beverly Gallagher, County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, and former Miramar Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman. The dailies waited to report on the scandal until federal charges were filed against the politicians, even though rumors of upcoming indictments swirled for months.

The recent staff cuts at the papers couldn't have helped. There's now only one reporter covering Broward County government for both the Herald and the Sentinel, says Dan Christensen, a reporter who covered the Broward beat for the Herald until he was laid off this spring.

"It's painfully obvious that the Sun-Sentinel has no federal sources," Christensen says.

Just a few years ago, covering a political scandal meant digging deeper to find a new angle every day to beat one's competitors. Now there's a comfort in knowing no one else will write what one paper misses. "I'm not getting a sense that there's a real kind of competition going on," says Dubocq.

Top editors at the dailies dispute this gloomy version of events. Gyllenhaal, the Herald executive editor, says that sharing content with other papers has allowed the Herald to increase its state coverage from Tallahassee, as well as breaking news, such as the smuggler's boat full of Haitian refugees that drowned off the coast of southern Palm Beach County earlier this year.

He says the papers "go separate ways" when covering the Broward County corruption scandal. As for critics who say that coverage has suffered, "There's always going to be concerns," he says. "I think the history of this partnership has shown that it's working pretty well."

Nick Moschella, content editor for the Post, says that after all the layoffs and management changes, the paper is now "trying to bring back a watchdog approach across the board. We want to write more in-depth."

The paper's trying to cover more small municipalities with a "community beat," he says. Meanwhile, he acknowledges that many reporters feel overworked. "I think we do the best we can to not wear people down," he says.

None of the editors say they foresee a complete merger between the papers or an end to the print editions any time soon.

"We're putting a good amount of attention online, but I think we haven't given up on the print readership," Moschella says.

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