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Sun-Sentinel: Really, Really Bad

A Real Front Page

Okay, the newspapers had some 'splaining to do this morning for overhyping Ernesto -- and the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald had exactly the same idea. Blame the science -- and don't even mention that the newspapers and TV stations and governments behaved like this was a monster Cat 5 rather than a struggling possible Cat 1 (if that) all along.

The Sentinel's front-page headline: "INEXACT SCIENCE." The Miami Herald's: "'NOT A PERFECT SCIENCE."

The Sentinel had a huge, difficult-to-read graphic with a silly chart and examples of different tracks for Ernesto. It looked a little like their absurd Lifestyle fronts, where, apparently in a misplaced desire to be youthful and hip, they make the thing so busy that it's

nothing but a chaotic mess.

The Herald, on the other hand, had a whimsical photograph of a couple looking out to sea and a couple of stories, one of which was damn interesting. Here's my favorite part of the story by Fred Tasker (with assists from Ashley Fantz and Luisa Yanez):

The morning of Sept. 17, The Miami Herald carried a single Page One story -- very unlike this year's multi-page coverage. That story said there was a big storm in the Caribbean, but it would miss Florida. That afternoon, The Miami News reported storm warnings and said ''destructive winds'' were expected that night.

At 11:30 p.m., the U.S. Weather Bureau's office in downtown Miami hoisted a pair of hurricane flags atop its building. But it was dark, and few saw them.

The storm killed more than 240 people and changed Miami's history.

Ah, the good old days.

But didn't anybody tell Tasker that intelligence and depth aren't part of the new newspaper paradigm?

That's apparently the memo floating around the Sentinel, anyway. The front page was all Ernesto -- a do-nothing storm. The other story on the front -- that's right, there were only two -- was a Help Team special telling people to use their extra gasoline so their homes wouldn't become fireballs. Seriously. That's right, the Sentinel is apparently hell-bent on refusing to let Darwin do his work. When do we get the Help Team's three-part series about running with scissors?

The Herald, on the other hand, had a real front page. John Dorschner had a strong report on a dispute in the health care industry that's going to raise health care costs for a sizable chunk of South Florida's population. Steven Dudley had a great story about the fate of Colombian soldiers who kept $16 million they had found in a guerilla stash. And Beth Reinhard and Marc Caputo tell us of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rod Smith's latest dirty ad that even his apparent one-time ally Freddie Pitts condemns.

That's all good stuff, a newspaper to be proud of. The Sentinel, on the other hand, looks like theirs came out of a middle school project. Note to Earl Maucker: Please listen to the Pulp and stop the Help Team garbage and redesign the front page (again) to make it worth a damn.

Oh, and what about the Palm Beach Post. Well it was a little more laid-back and positive. It's headline: "A good practice run." Call it a second-place finisher, with the Sentinel a distant, abysmal third. The Post disqualified itself from the running for first since it also ran a story on the front page telling people to get rid of their gas. Mention it somewhere, yes. Put it on the front with a headline? You have to be kidding.

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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

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