As for the possibility of more layoffs, "that's in the hands of the economy," Gyllenhaal says.

Perhaps the most telling analysis comes from Abrams, Tribune's chief innovation officer. In his quest to make notoriously bureaucratic newspapers "evolve" and "get people to challenge the playbook," he can sound like a foreigner to cherished tenets of journalism.

"Integrity is so important," he says. "But so is staying in business."

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.

Meanwhile, many of the reporters who have left South Florida's dailies have given up on the fish wrapper.

Christensen, the Miami Herald investigative reporter who was laid off this spring, launched a nonprofit investigative news site called Broward Bulldog. He's applied for tax-exempt status and is hoping to run on donations and even hire a staff.

"I'm not ready to stop doing this," he says. "I enjoy it, and I also think there's a need for it. But will it work out? I don't know."

Dubocq is now a private investigator, working for corporations who need someone to dig up dirt on competitors and helping criminal defense lawyers flesh out their cases. He says the job is "almost exactly the same as my old one," and he's making more money. The only difference is that now, when he's done crunching numbers and combing through court records, he winds up back home, alone. There's no editor to brag to, and his exposés never make the front page. "I don't leave my house that much," he admits.

Mary Kate Leming is betting on a different kind of journalism. After 22 years at the Palm Beach Post, she took the buyout and started a monthly newspaper. She and her husband, Jerry Lower, a former photography director for the Sun-Sentinel, created the Coastal Star, a nostalgically quaint publication that covers only the towns along the coast from Delray Beach to South Palm Beach. Hiring laid-off reporters as freelancers, the paper features well-written stories and magazine-style photos while filling in the gaps left by the Post's diminished local government coverage.

This kind of "hyper-local" paper may be the future of journalism. Still, after a year in business, Leming and Lower are not making money. Leming is the only full-time employee, and she and Lower deliver the paper themselves. "I hope that we're thinking outside the box," she says. "We're trying to see where the vacuum [in coverage] is."

Rose has moved to Oxford, Mississippi, where he's teaching at the University of Mississippi, working on a book, and serving as editor at large for a new, local weekly newspaper.

Gilken, meanwhile, is pursuing a lifelong dream of working in television news. As a nighttime assignment editor for CBS affiliate WPEC-TV, she's still listening to the police scanner and sending reporters out to chase the latest shooting victim, just as she once did at the Post. But now she can use her own news judgment to pick the most important stories of the day instead of having to post everything on the web immediately.

Of course, reminders of the life she built at the Post linger. Her dining room features a framed copy of a feature story she wrote about being an amateur boxer. When she got married four years ago, the wedding guest list was full of friends from the newsroom, and her party favors included a fake newspaper page called the Palm Beach Toast.

But Gilken says she has no regrets. She's glad to be able to keep telling compelling, visual stories in a medium that's highly competitive. And at least in television, she can see that her career has a future.

"When I see the paper, I think... I'm not missing anything," she says. "I never once, since leaving the Post, even considered applying for a job at another newspaper."

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