"Hoffa'ed" Sentinel Columnist Back in Black (and White)

Spent yesterday afternoon at WXEL doing the Florida Forum radio show with former Sun-Sentinel columnist Ralph de la Cruz. We talked about the downward spiral of the newspaper industry. I think I hit most of my talking points:

1. Compare Tribune Co. to the Titanic -- check.

2. Try but fail to avoid using the term monetize -- check.

3. Make fun of Palm Beach Post Publisher Alex Taylor's "elevator speech" -- check.

4. Liken the pain felt by reporters these days to a beatdown by Brock Lesnar -- check.

De la Cruz, by the way, has started his own blog, called wheresralph.com. Take a click and look around. Here's a passage from his very first post:

After more than four months, I feel as if I'm walking back into the light from the darkness. Back from obscurity.

For 15 years I was paid by newspapers to share my musings and stories in a column, with the hope it might provoke thought and  discussion. Engage readers. And, of course, make money.

On March 25, I found out that apparently I wasn't making enough money for my newspaper.

I won't bore you fine folks with the details, but my newspaper column's demise was rooted in a dumb mistake by a smart millionaire who paid way too much for the newspaper chain that owned the paper that employed me. ...

We were family. And suddenly I simply disappeared.

I tell people  that I felt as if I was Hoffa-ed. If you saw the Jack Nicholson movie, Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa was taken out and hustled off so efficiently by the mob that the only trace left was a paper coffee cup left on the ground of a parking lot.

One afternoon, as I was finishing up a column on Bernard Madoff's mansion, I was called to the Human Resources Department, read my rights and told to leave the building. Or I would be escorted out. 

Ralph spoke on the show about the experience of being laid off, not only about losing his column and his paycheck but his sense of identity. The show is airing Sunday at 11 a.m. on 90.7 FM in Palm Beach County.

We don't talk much about the real pain people in (or now out) of the newspaper business are feeling. That seems somehow indulgent, considering people everywhere are going through the same thing. But it's there and it's real all the same.

My advice to those who have been laid off and want to keep their feet wet in the business: Find a niche and write the hell out of it online. Be the go-to guy in your town. Or buy a police scanner and start covering crime scenes, maybe with a camera in hand. Whatever you can come up with. Start as a hobby, don't put too much pressure on yourself, let it flow, develop sources, do what you know how to do, and maybe it will catch on. If it does, you'll have a viable little business at some point.

That sounds oddly patronizing to suggest, but it's exactly what I would do, so it's my truth. This journalism thing isn't going away; it's just in remission.  

(Compare my profession to cancer -- check).

-- Palm Beach Post owner Cox Enterprises is unloading three newspapers and a subsidiary is auctioning off the Travel Channel in order to pay off debt. Oh, if the three dailies down here were so lucky. All desperately need to be unmoored from their debt-ridden companies.

-- Keeping with the theme of this post, my good friend Tom Spalding is leading the union fight with Gannett at the Indianapolis Star. Proud of him. Somebody's got to fight these bastards right out in the open.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman