Wilkenson waves at a police car as it cruises down the block. An active member of his neighborhood's crime-watch group, Wilkenson stops to chat with the officer. He taps the cruiser's hood, and the cop rolls on. "I could tell some stories about Fort Lauderdale," Wilkenson says. He has lived here his whole life. Been to a lot of city meetings to keep up with what's going on. He joined a low-income housing association, Dorsey-Riverbend, years ago. He used to own his own clothing shop, he says, before heart bypass surgery slowed him down last year. This Sunday, he just wants to sell some shirts and read the paper. Gesturing toward the Times and the Gazette, he chuckles, "Nothing a working man can trust in the news today."
Front-page news January 20, according to Broward County's top black weeklies:
Westside Gazette: U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings speaks at a national town meeting about voter reform; a Hallandale teacher is nominated as Florida's Teacher of the Year; a replica of the Amistad slave ship visits Miami.
Broward Times: A story exploring segregation between white-owned and black-owned funeral homes; and a column by owner and publisher Keith Clayborne titled "Wimps and Pimps..." devoted to criticizing Gazette publisher Bobby Henry for his comments in the Sun-Sentinel about Times columnist Elgin Jones. Henry had questioned whether Jones's dual role as a Fort Lauderdale city engineer and journalist affects his ability to report government news objectively.
"Some of our Negro critics who are totally ineffective like to cast us off as self-serving -- people like Bobby Henry, who embarrass the tradition of the Black Press -- having failed to lead or support any issues to better the lot of black folks in this community but yet will come out talking doo-doo to white folks about people who are making a real difference.... How in the hell would he know what ethical journalism is? He can't write."
Clayborne accuses Henry of printing press releases rather than reporting news and of showing favor to the City of Fort Lauderdale because the Gazette's offices are city-owned. Closing with a mano a mano challenge to Henry, the Times publisher writes, "If you can't help the cause -- stick to playing golf or whatever it is that you do, but making things happen ain't one of them."
Wilkenson eyes the column. "Now that's the Broward Times," he laughs. "I don't know if you'd call that journalism, but it sure is entertaining."
The 12-year-old publication, which is distributed Fridays and Saturdays to churches, shops, restaurants, and beauty parlors, is a proudly brash mouthpiece. Typically ten pages, it criticizes public officials -- usually black politicians -- with the zeal of a playground bully. Its editorial voice, amplified by Clayborne's front-page column, "Off the Vine," is rife with the kind of name-calling one might hear in a World Wrestling promo. This morning, copies are flying from a Mount Hermon Sunday-school table. As one elderly parishioner testifies, the paper indeed seems to "have a fire."
Clayborne estimates that about 60,000 people read the Times. That's 21,000 copies printed and dropped at 3000 places around Broward, then passed among an average of three people each. The paper's circulation isn't audited, though, so his claims are unverifiable.
The most convenient way to find old issues of the Times is to visit the Broward County Public Library, which keeps three months' worth of issues and then discards them. Unlike most papers, the Times has no archiving system. A review of past issues by New Times reveals a provocative, journalistic Frankenstein. Start with a dash of reactionary language, add a few attempts at investigative reporting, sew together with sensationalism, and electrify with a heavy dollop of social-niche coverage that caters to the county's largest minority group.
"If you look at the black press, most of them don't stand out or have the notoriety," Clayborne crows. "I talk to my colleagues at the Sentinel and the Herald, and they will do stories that piggyback on what we do."