Reporter Feel-Good

John DeGroot used to make everyone read them and weep. Now he's exposing the cottage industry of holiday weepers you're going to come across this season in the South Florida media:

It’s that time of year when the ghost of Tiny Tim will return as South Florida’s media launch their annual campaign to trumpet the needs of the deserving poor come the Holiday Season.

Time was when the Holiday Season and the needs of the poor were linked to Christmas and the lowly birth of the baby Jesus with wisemen bearing gifts to the poor babe in the manager and so on. But all that became politically incorrect and thus loudly offensive to those seeking offense. Which is how we got the annual Season of Giving now celebrated for its “goodness” and “spirit” – whatever the hell that might be.

No matter.

As a journalist for nearly a half-century, I wrote way more than my share of stories detailing the plight of various children and families in need at “this time of year.”

On my best day, my Plight of the Poor (POP) stuff could give Charles Dickens a run for his money.

No brag. Just fact. As the late Walter Brennan used to say.

Like the Devil, Dickens’ trick was in the details. Which I figured out early on. Like it or not, there’s a Dickensonian secret to causing your average TV viewer, or newspaper reader to donate guilt money for people living in neighborhoods into which only a crack buyer would willingly venture.

Or, more to the point, it’s all in how you “package” the poor to spark the spirit of guilt and giving in response to your POP story.

First, as Dickens knew and wrote, the poor must be portrayed as tragic victims of vast and mysterious forces far beyond their control. Like if they’re not victims….then where’s their plight?

Which means any disease or disability will add stunning vulnerability (and middle class guilt) to a Holiday POP tale told by the media.

And there must also be faith in either God, the basic goodness in people, or a better tomorrow. Take your choice.

Finally, their meager abode must always be humble and neat – or un-described if not.

Oh yes.

Minority status is a real biggie. In short, what we’re talking about here is an African American, or Hispanic Bob Crachit family – ideally with some suffering version of Tiny Tim – to get those checks in the mail.

Trouble is, South Florida is saturated with all kinds of mass media. Which means we’ll soon be up to our ass in a Guilt Storm of POP tales – each urging us to give with our hearts to a growing legion of

our worthy poor neighbors in need during this Special and Politically Correct Time of the Year!.

Fortunately, given South Florida’s emerging Third World economy, there’s a glut of poor folk. And certainly more than enough for the local media to capture as Trophies of Tragedy during this Joyous Season of Giving. However, for diverse reasons, there has always been a puzzling shortage of poor Jews, Asians and Gay children – which has vexed the local media for years in their quest for racial and ethnic “balance.”

But I digress.

By chance, or design, the search for needy POP story subjects begins several weeks before Halloween when the drug stores are still filled with blood-dripping skulls, vampire masks, transistorized witches and specially bagged candy. – all of which will soon be replaced by battery-powered Santas, plug-in Holy Families and Menorahs from the People’s Republic of China.

Make no mistake.

POP stories are not a product of journalistic whim. Nor do reporters bag the needy at random. There’s a system at work. Like you wouldn’t believe!

Come October, editors and TV producers launch a blitzkrieg of emails, faxes and phone calls to scores of charities and social services agencies requesting a list of potential POP story candidates.

Hence, the responsibility for selecting the lucky Hard Luck falls on a host of over-worked and under-paid social workers. And God help any hapless social worker who gives the same sad Jimmy, Jose or Towanda to the Sun-Sentinel, the Miami Herald, and Channel Four.

Because each client in need must be an Exclusive – whose plight is detailed in no other media.

Having received an adequate pool of POP story candidates, the process enters Phase Two – when reporters and editors gather to pick and chose the winners and losers.

Call it a Glory Train driven by diversity, with each passenger chosen to insure the right “mix” of ethnicity. Like six of These, four of Those and so on. Then, there’s the question of “art.” Like which POP candidate will be visually appealing. Wheelchairs and crutches make for good art.

Finally, there’s the matter of geography: Like one from Hollywood, two from Fort Lauderdale, another from Coral Springs and so on. On larger newspapers, this is called “covering your zones.”

Oh yes.

Unlike the Miami Herald, the Sun-Sentinel does not do Holiday Season POP stories about impoverished adults in need of help at this Blessed Time of Year.

Which is why the newspaper today labels its Annual Festival of Guilt “The Sentinel Children’s Fund.” Back in The Day, we called it the “Sun-Sentinel Santa.” But then Tribune Corporate decided Santa’s religious taint MIGHT offend certain Non-Christians. Sic Transit Santa. . It was never fully explained why Tribune Corporate banished poor adults in need from the Sun-Sentinel’s Holiday Poverty Parade. But it certainly reflected the Chicago Tribune’s historical Calvinistic Republican values. Like adults are poor out of laziness and choice -- or God’s will. And thus not worthy subjects of Seasonal charity.

But poor, suffering children ….?

God and Tribune Corporate love them.

Trouble was, Tribune Corporate was vexingly vague when it came to impoverished youth nearing adulthood. For example, poor teenagers who’d dropped out of high school and had breasts and body hair could eat dirt and live in the bushes come Christmas morn according to the dictates of the Corporate Calvinists high atop the Tribune Tower in Chicago Land.


To be fair, the Sun-Sentinel will occasionally publish the plight a young and needy borderline adult during this Blessed Season – provided they (a) suffer from an incurable disease (b) blame no institution, person, or deity for their fate, (c) are POP-certified by a Sentinel-approved social service agency (d) are dedicated, hard-working Icons of bootstrap Calvinism and (e) make for good art.

Which is enough to make the baby Jesus puke in his manger. Not that the Tribune’s Corporate Calvinists give a Flying Whatever about some poor kid born in a manager 2,000 years ago. Especially given the baby Jesus’ politically incorrect religious taint.

But not to worry.

Any donation you make to the Sentinel Children’s Fund does not go to a 21st Century of Tiny Tim come Christmas morn. Hell no.

Because the Blessed Bottom Line during this Season of Giving guarantees your heartfelt gift will be sliced and diced into loose change to be shared by a hundred-plus Sentinel-approved agencies. (God knows what the Sentinel would have done with Jesus’ loaves and fishes.)

No matter.

Here, based on the latest 990 tax returns filed by the Mothership Tribune, is how it works.

In 2005, the Sentinel Children’s fund donated some $3.8 million to 123 South Florida’s deemed worthy by the newspaper’s powers-that-be. Broken down from data at, we find:

-- Broward’s 64 Sentinel-approved agencies averaged $38,500 each. -- Palm Beach’s 53 Sentinel-approved agencies averaged $25,700 each. -- Miami-Dade’s 6 Sentinel-approved agencies average $21,700 each

Or, to be more specific, let’s say you were so moved by the Spirit of the Season that you gave $10 to the Sentinel’s Children’s fund in response to the Print Parade of needy children.

Again, broken down, your $10 gift – plus a “matching” $5 from the Mothership Tribune’s McCormick Foundation -- would have resulted in:

$7.80 divided among 64 Broward agencies. $6.46 divided among 53 Palm Beach agencies. $0.73 divided among 6 Miami-Dade agencies.


In the Spirit of Impersonal Systemized Giving by Corporate Journalism at its shameless best -- HO-HO-HO!

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Bob Norman
Contact: Bob Norman