DeGroot, Vonnegut, and The Sun-Sentinel

Gonna kick into the weekend with a small piece from the great John DeGroot, the former Sun-Sentinel writing coach. It is inspired the death of classic American novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who was once DeGroot's occasional dinner companion. It was written yesterday and, sure enough, the Vonnegut obit didn't appear until today.


Kurt Vonnegut is dead. As today’s Miami Herald reported. And today’s Sun-Sentinel did not.

True, the scribes responsible for Sun-Sentinel did “help” readers with the latest details on the father of Anna Nicole Smith’s bastard daughter and the fate of radio shock jock Don Imus who was stupid enough to use words similar to those howled by

a legion of rappers.

“And so it goes,” as Kurt wrote in his Slaughterhouse Five, a literary classic on the meaningless horror of modern warfare and life.

It’s not that I fault the Sun-Sentinel for its failure to report the timely obituary of a literature giant who shared the same dark vision and voice as Swift, or Twain.

Truth is – and based on my 20-plus years with one of the Company’s most profitable cash cows – the surreal gestalt of a Kurt Vonnegut clashed with the Sun-Sentinel newsroom culture.

How so?

Years ago, the bitter bard of Baltimore H.L. Mencken said the sole task of a newspaper was to “stir up the animals.”

Today, however, the Sun-Sentinel’s Earl Maucker, as the current “Editor of the Year” according to Editor and Publisher magazine, has created a newsroom culture dedicated to “soothing the herd” – which it does brilliantly each day with its polished package of meringue and mediocrity.

For too many years, I wasted a great deal of psychic energy spent in righteous anger over the Sun-Sentinel’s cultural shift from public watchdog to corporate lapdog. But since leaving the paper a decade ago, time and tide have shown me there’s little profit in manufacturing bile and stomach acid just because some folk march to a different cultural dream beat than mine.

Fact is, and to borrow again from Mencken, “As the arteries grow hard, the heart grows soft.”

Oh yes. As an historical aside, I can recall the dark turning point in downward paradigm shift in the newsroom culture at the Sun-Sentinel some 20 years ago. And I was there at the historic meeting of newsroom “managers” when the newspaper’s then publisher Scott Smith (who is now publisher of the Chicago Tribune) announced that:

(A) As journalists, our primary responsibilities lay in meeting the needs of the Tribune stockholders and not our readers.

(B) As our corporate captain, Scott Smith cared squat about publishing a newspaper for readers who lacked the kind of disposable income needed to support our advertisers.

Ponder this and you will understand how and why the Sun-Sentinel has become the comforting voice of Moronia-by-the-Sea.

No matter

Come tomorrow and Florida’s most reader friendly newspaper will carry Vonnegut’s obituary a day late and dollar short – given that sometime today, someone at the Sun-Sentinel came to the startling realization that death of Kurt Vonnegut was newsworthy since it was reported on television as well as in virtually every “serious” newspape in the nation.

And so it will continue to go.

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