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Undercurrents

Just the other day Undercurrents received a letter from Paul Anger, Broward publisher of The Herald. We tore into the missive eagerly, hoping it was the job offer that would finally give us a chance to do some real journalism. We long to work cheek by jowl with these lords of the ephemeral, to spend our days examing chads and filing 18-part stories about the presidential election, to write in a manner that is, if nothing else, objective. Aye, a daily journalist's life for us!

Unfortunately Anger did not want to bring us aboard. He simply wanted to thank us for subscribing to the Broward version of the once mighty Miami Herald. Given the newspaper's pathetic circulation figures in Broward, we figured somebody had better subscribe. Then we noticed a bold statement in the letter that sent us scrambling to the Web to do a little research. And we deduced that The Herald, a bastion of journalistic integrity, is guilty of Pulitzer Prize puffery.

A quote from the letter: "We have the most circulation (by nearly one-third) south of I-595 -- and here are some of the reasons: Our quality and our 16 Pulitzer Prizes, more than all other papers in the Southeast United States combined."

Now it may be true that The Herald has the largest circulation for the slice of Broward south of I-595, but that's kind of like being the best ballerina at the bowling alley. Everywhere else in Broward, the Sun-Sentinelis giving that paper a drubbing. And don't even mention Palm Beach County to The Herald, because its editors get all sad and misty-eyed.

We agree The Herald is a quality newspaper and give it credit for persevering even as tightwad Tony Ridder squeezes it, and every other Knight-Ridder paper, until it squeals. Where we take issue is with the claim that 16 Pulitzers are more than all other papers in the Southeast combined. It's simply not true.

If you divvy up the country the same way as Editor & Publisher magazine -- the bible of the newspaper industry -- the Southeast includes Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida. By our count newspapers other than The Herald in those states have earned 43 Pulitzer Prizes since the contest's inception in 1917. The Herald has earned 16. Math was never our strong suit, but we postulate with some authority that 43 is more than 16.

Anger signed the letter, but he's on vacation. So we called The Herald's Broward managing editor, Rick Hirsch, who couldn't really help us much. "I didn't compile [the letter], and I don't know where it came from," says Hirsch. Not one to forgo a dig at the competition, Hirsch adds, "The only count I keep in my mind is sixteen to zero," the latter figure being a reference to the number of Pulitzers won by the Sun-Sentinel.

Undercurrents suggests The Herald revise the letter to read as follows: "We have won more Pulitzer Prizes than all newspapers south of I-595 combined." Now that's impressive.


The goings-on at Hollywood's Apollo Middle School since March 29, when New Times published a cover story about the place, have driven home the story's point: This is one seriously dysfunctional school.

The article by Emily Bliss described a school where petty politics and personal vendettas have poisoned the educational climate and driven faculty and staff away in droves. Bliss also noted the school's PTSA president, Maria Farrell, videotaped filthy restrooms and hallways. Sources, including nine teachers who didn't want their names used, pinned responsibility for the school's literal and professional squalor on Principal Aimee Zekofsky.

Some at the school disagree with this assessment. New Times has received a copy of a letter sent to Broward County Schools Superintendent Frank Till that decries the "misguided actions of those staff members who contributed to the article" and asks Till to conduct "an investigation with regard to the resulting article." About 70 teachers and administrators signed the missive. (Zekofsky does not appear to be among them.) The letter, dated March 30, is copied to Broward Teachers' Union president Tony Gentile, South Area Superintendent Sam Gregg, and the school board members.

We don't know who wrote this correspondence, but the author's intent is clear: a witch hunt to expose the anonymous teachers who spoke to New Times. The call to arms is a bit ironic, a little sinister, but mostly just goofy. On what grounds would such an "investigation" be based? Talking to the press? What law does that violate, exactly?

To their credit, the higher-ups don't seem to be taking the letter too seriously. Board member Lois Wexler, whom Bliss interviewed for the story, finds the letter's intent particularly risible. "Would I turn to the superintendent and say, "Gee, there needs to be an investigation?' Of what? To validate that nothing is wrong [at Apollo]? Not on my shift," Wexler scoffs. "I was going to throw this [letter] in the garbage. I don't want to play this game. We have enough serious things going on in our schools."

Till had not read the story when Undercurrents talked to him, but he had spoken with Gregg about the letter. The latter plans to visit Apollo to find out "what the issues are," reports Till. The superintendent won't speculate about launching an "investigation." He notes that, as far as he knows, nothing in the teachers' contract prohibits them from talking to reporters.

To help bolster their call for a witch hunt, the letter writers attached a draft copy of the school's latest peer review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). The four-member review team visited Apollo March 27, the day before the New Times story went to press, and gave the school a generally positive assessment.

Does that kneecap the story? Undercurrents says no. SACS reviews are rarely negative, because administrators long ago figured out how to dupe the reviewers. Besides, as Bliss wrote, this year has been tranquil compared with last year -- perhaps because most of Zekofsky's enemies are gone?

Then there are the bathrooms. About three weeks before the story was published, Farrell informed Bliss the school had been thoroughly cleaned, and that fact was included in the story. Undercurrents suspects the cleanup was motivated less by a desire to create a healthy environment for students than by fear of the impending SACS inspection. Looks like we still have a problem.


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