The Rise and Fall of South Florida's Daily Newspapers | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


The Rise and Fall of South Florida's Daily Newspapers

A standing-room-only crowd attended the meeting where Rochelle Gilken decided to end her newspaper career. Behind the gleaming glass windows of the Palm Beach Post's headquarters in West Palm Beach on a June 2008 afternoon, hundreds of people held their breath.

Rumors of job cuts had been whispered around the newsroom for months. That morning, Gilken received an email on her BlackBerry from the Post's top editors. It explained that staffers with five or more years at the paper — Gilken barely made the cut — were eligible for a "voluntary separation package." Details were to be revealed at the meeting.

Editor John Bartosek didn't disguise the dread in his voice as he explained that 300 jobs would be lost, including roughly 130 from the newsroom — nearly half the current staff of writers and editors. Gilken, four-foot-11 and built like a fierce pixie, looked around at her colleagues and realized, with a sinking in her gut, how many of them would soon be gone.

"The way he said it made me feel like, 'This is going to be a bloodbath,' " Gilken says.

Manila envelopes were handed out, detailing how much money each employee would receive in his or her proposed buyout package. Staffers were offered two weeks' pay for every year they'd spent at the Post. Employees could decline the buyout, but then they ran the risk of getting laid off at a later date with severance packages not nearly as sweet.

Gilken was shocked. At age 28, she never imagined that the company's cost-cutting measures would impact someone at her relatively low end of the pay scale or in a job as essential as hers. As a crime reporter, she had covered some of the most exciting stories in the region. Her articles regularly landed on the front page, and she churned out copy for the paper's website. She'd trekked across the state to report on the destruction left by Hurricane Charley in Punta Gorda, wrote some of the first grueling stories about the gang rape at the Dunbar Village housing project, and covered a hanging in Belle Glade that made national headlines when some suspected it was a lynching.

In fact, she had moved to West Palm Beach five years earlier specifically so she could be part of the fast-paced, infamously weird, and hugely competitive news scene in South Florida, a scene that launched the careers of famous scribes such as Dave Barry, Leonard Pitts Jr., and Carl Hiaasen.

But by the end of the day of the fateful meeting, Gilken knew this particular dream was over. "I was like, 'Oh my God, I have to leave,' " she says. "If I stayed at the Post, the only direction my career could go was down."

Gilken and about 300 others who accepted buyouts from the Post last year were part of the first round of recent job cuts at the paper and a massive hemorrhaging of employees at all three major South Florida dailies. Among the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, and Miami Herald, about 1,000 jobs have been shed in the past couple of years (according to estimates by New Times media critic Bob Norman), and more layoffs seem to be announced every few months. With ad revenue plummeting and some newsroom staffs chopped roughly in half, the once-venerable dailies are shrinking so fast that, in the words of one Herald staffer, "our paper looks like a paper towel."

Their plight is hardly unique. The internet, the real estate crash, the recession, and declining quality have combined to decimate newspapers across the country. According to the American Society of News Editors, daily newspapers lost 5,900 newsroom jobs in 2008, reducing their staffs by 11.3 percent, to levels not seen since the early '80s. There are now 46,700 journalists employed at dailies, down from a high of 56,900 in 1990.

To many people, printed daily news has become as obsolete as a Discman. But the human cost of that evolution has rarely been chronicled. In South Florida, where corrupt politicians make headlines daily, scores of former reporters are now silenced, collecting unemployment checks instead of storming City Hall. It's the one story their former bosses refuse to tell.

The first time he walked into the Post newsroom, Tom Dubocq smelled the fuel on which newspapers run: coffee and ink.

Static buzzed from the police scanner; sound blasted from a cacophony of television screens and radios; phones rang wildly. He looked out on rows of gray cubicles, where someone was always complaining, someone else cajoling a photographer into taking a picture he didn't want to take.

"Ah, this is home," he thought.

Dubocq began his career in a cramped, closet-sized press room at the Broward County Courthouse. As a cub reporter for the Miami News in the '80s, he duked it out with competitors from rags that no longer exist — the Fort Lauderdale News, the Sun-Tattler. He would steal tips and news releases from a competitor's mailbox and stuff them in the trash. One reporter accepted cases of booze every Christmas from the county commissioners. "He was a little weasel of a man," Dubocq says. "Totally corrupt, right out of central casting."

When it came time to file a story on deadline, Dubocq knew he'd better have a roll of dimes for the pay phones. When covering a big trial, he'd hang an authentic out-of-order sign on the phone, removing it only when he needed to call the rewrite desk.

"It was just absolutely wild," Dubocq says of the competition among the papers at that time. "Failure was not an option."

The newspaper wars got especially fierce when a big story broke and he was forced to compete with the national media. He covered the 1997 slaying of Gianni Versace in Miami Beach and the 1980 race riots in Miami. He was part of the heyday of South Florida newspapers, a time when money was pouring in from the corporate offices to fuel the tricounty competition for readers and ad revenue. Smaller papers that published in the afternoon, such as the Sun-Tattler, Miami News, and Fort Lauderdale News, folded during the late '80s and early '90s, but the Miami Herald, Sun-Sentinel, and Palm Beach Post continued to boom in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach County, respectively.

Bill Rose was an editor at the Herald during those flush years, when "they didn't hesitate to throw money at stories," he says. The papers could afford to bring their readers a local twist on the biggest stories from the South or the world. For reporters, covering the Olympics or immigrant smuggling in Mexico was a dream job. For readers, who did not yet rely on CNN for national news, these stories were their window into foreign worlds.

Rose reported from Saudi Arabia, Haiti, and Mexico. In 1987, the Herald sent Rose to cover the 25th anniversary of James Meredith's pivotal civil rights victory as the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi.

That same year, editor Rose and a team of Herald reporters flew to Atlanta to cover the longest prison takeover in U.S. history. Cuban refugees were rioting because they were stuck in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary while the State Department tried to persuade Fidel Castro to take them back home. Upon landing at the Atlanta airport, Rose rented a van and parked it at a Kentucky Fried Chicken across the street from the prison. Handing the owner $50, he arranged to keep the van at the restaurant for the duration. Then, he called the cable and phone companies and had them set up lines from the van, creating a mobile news bureau for a pre-cell-phone world. When the refugees surrendered, a Herald reporter was on the scene.

By the late '90s, the spending spree at the Herald had ended. Rose's job as editor of the paper's weekly magazine, Tropic, was eliminated because the insert was a luxury the paper could no longer afford. The circulation slide that would put papers out of business a decade later had already begun. So he took a gig as metro editor at the Palm Beach Post and soon became managing editor, in charge of the entire newsroom.

When he arrived, the competition between the Post and the Sun-Sentinel was ratcheting up a notch. "It was almost a religious mission," Rose says. "And we succeeded big time."

During those years, the Post newsroom had the vibe of a football team that can taste a championship win. The air buzzed with communal excitement, a sense of fighting the good fight and feeling proud on the drive home. Coworkers became close friends, like an adopted family. Unlike the sweatshop atmosphere that pervades so many newsrooms, in West Palm Beach, reporters routinely left work at 6 p.m. and got paid enough to live comfortably in a booming real estate market.

As the Sentinel pushed its coverage north into Palm Beach County, the Post poured money into hiring more reporters to defend its territory. James Cox Kennedy, CEO of Cox Enterprises — which owns the Post, several other newspapers and television stations,, and the cable company Cox Communications — even came down to West Palm to affirm his commitment to this turf war.

Every story became a battle between the Post and the Sun-Sentinel, pushing reporters to dig deeper and find new angles on the news of the day. "If they had one word I didn't have, I was upset," Gilken remembers. "And that's often what made the stories so good down here."

Soon, the Post was sending reporters to Mexico to watch desperate immigrants jump on moving trains and cross the desert with smugglers to find slave-wage work in Florida's orange groves. During the 2000 presidential election debacle, the Post purchased two touch-screen voting machines so reporters could test them in the newsroom and see the flaws in the ballot counts up close.

In 2004, Gilken reported on the wreckage of Hurricane Charley with a team of reporters and photographers who drove rented SUVs and lived in a trailer home stocked with food. With the phone lines dead, she filed her stories by giving her laptop memory card to a courier in a waiting helicopter. "I just figured that was what it cost to cover a hurricane," Gilken says.

But of course, such extravagances were possible largely because the Post was swimming in cash from South Florida's housing boom. Rose says that the illusion, long cherished by some reporters, that their employers would always go to any length to get a good story was never realistic. That's why, when bad times struck, "everybody was just in shock. Like, 'What? We have to make money?' "

With the growth of the internet over the past decade, newspaper circulation declined and revenue streams began to dry up. Around the country and the world, car companies, department stores, and job recruiters stopped relying on daily papers to promote their products. Craigslist made classified ads essentially obsolete. Without the steady income from advertising, profits plunged.

According to figures compiled by the Newspaper Association of America, a nonprofit industry group, this trend hit with full force in 2007. Until then, revenue from print ads at papers across the country was still growing, albeit slightly, during normal economic times. But in 2007, revenue dropped by 9.4 percent, then by 17.7 percent in 2008.

The ad implosion coincided with the collapse of the real estate bubble, which hit South Florida especially hard. Real estate ads — for homes and brokers — had been a cash cow for newspapers. In South Florida, where the building boom was more dramatic than in other parts of the country, the bubble had insulated newspapers from some of the hardships faced by their colleagues in, say, Philadelphia or Cleveland.

"The real estate boom created a kind of fool's paradise," says Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit teaching and research school for journalists in St. Petersburg.

Rose remembers annual corporate meetings in Atlanta at which CEO Kennedy would say that there were problems but that he had patience. While papers nationwide were doing what Rose describes as "Machiavellian things" to cope with plummeting ad revenue, the Post was making record profits.

Then sometime in 2007 — Rose is unsure of the date — Kennedy announced: "My patience is running out." Rose remembers, "All of a sudden, seemingly overnight, the bottom fell out."

Since Cox Enterprise is a private company and its spokesman declined to comment for this article, it's tough to verify Rose's version of events. But this much is clear: The Palm Beach Post buyouts were announced in June 2008, shaving 22 percent of the entire newsroom, advertising, and production staff of 1,350 at the paper. Two months later, Cox said that it was selling some of its papers and that 80 percent of its revenue would now come from the company's websites, car auctions, and auto publications rather than traditional media such as newspapers, radio, and television.

Meanwhile, over at the Sentinel, the outlook was even worse. In 2007, real estate mogul Sam Zell bought the Tribune Co. — which owns the Sun-Sentinel and WSFL-TV (CW), along with the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, two dozen TV stations, and, until recently, the Chicago Cubs — and made an infamously ill-advised deal to take the company private. To finance the $8.2 billion "deal from hell," as Zell now calls it, he borrowed heavily against the future of Tribune employee pension plans.

Staggering under the ballooning $13 billion debt from the deal, Tribune couldn't handle the sharp drop in advertising revenue that soon hit all newspapers. Tribune declared bankruptcy in December 2008. About 2,000 employees at the Tribune's papers lost their jobs in 2008, including at least 167 at the Sentinel. Yet the company, which recently sold the Cubs for $740 million, still has some cash on hand. In October, Tribune execs were in federal bankruptcy court proposing to give $66 million in bonuses to the company's top 700 managers.

Gregory Lewis, a Sentinel reporter, gives an understated sense of how insulting this felt for the rank and file. "We think it would be really nice if those managers who got bonuses would share it with people who helped them get their bonuses," Lewis says. "It's like a Jerry Maguire movie: Show me the money."

At the Herald, some measure of chaos had been brewing for years. McClatchy Co., a small California-based publishing chain that owned a dozen dailies, including the Sacramento Bee, bought the Herald when it swallowed all 32 of Knight Ridder's papers in 2006. But the height of the real estate boom was a terrible time to buy papers in the housing-bubble states of California and Florida. McClatchy's stock price fell from a high of $63 in March 2005 to 49 cents in February of this year. Buried under $2 billion in debt, McClatchy is now trying to sell the Herald's ten-acre parking lot, which looks out on Biscayne Bay. But a deal has yet to close.

All three of South Florida's daily papers have watched their circulation numbers nose-dive and even trimmed them intentionally to save money. This September, the esteemed Herald's Sunday circulation fell to 238,600, down from 353,000 in 2006. The Sun-Sentinel's Sunday circulation, at 239,200, is now higher than the Herald's but still down from 304,800 three years ago. The Post's Sunday circulation is just 143,600, down from 184,440 in 2006. As an alternative-weekly paper, New Times is not immune to the financial troubles affecting the industry. In recent years, its newsroom staff has been cut from 17 to 13, and its print circulation has fallen from around 80,000 to 54,500.

Anders Gyllenhaal, executive editor of the Herald, is quick to point out that his paper still has an edge in terms of actual readers in print and online. According to the September numbers, it had 5.2 million unique web users a month. "We reach more people than we ever have in our history," Gyllenhaal says.

Still, more web readers don't necessarily translate into more money. Online ads generate just a fraction of the revenue of print ads.

"There are virtually no online news operations that are really, fully supported with ad revenue," says Edmonds.

Newspapers are struggling to cope with the massive shift in the way people get their news. Since 1992, the proportion of Americans who say they read a newspaper regularly (in print or online) has fallen from 71 percent to 46 percent, according to a 2008 survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Meanwhile, the percentage of people watching cable-TV news has continued to rise — 39 percent of the public was watching last year, according to the Pew survey.

Then, of course, there are those who prefer to get their news online. A December 2008 Pew survey found that a whopping 40 percent of Americans said they got most of their national and international news online. However, a 2009 report by Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism points out that "virtually all of the most popular news websites are those associated with traditional news organizations... or are aggregators, which collect content from traditional newsrooms and wire services rather than produce their own." In other words, traditional journalists are still producing the news people seek on the web.

As for why families stopped bringing the paper to their breakfast table, some say it's the quality of the news being delivered.

Since the '90s, publicly owned media companies have been cutting their newsroom budgets to preserve high profit margins on Wall Street. This tactic hit investigative reporters especially hard, since they earn higher salaries and write stories that take longer to produce. But without good muckrakers on staff, the quality of reporting went down and drove away customers, says Eleanor Farnen, president of the media consulting firm Strategists LLC and a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

"If you're going to protect your brand in the newspaper business, you have to protect your content," she says. "The people in the newsroom, they keep the content alive."

Still, a lack of investigative journalism doesn't explain why USA Today, until this year, had the highest circulation of any paper in the country. Its short, simple news stories and fluffy celebrity pieces could hardly be considered hard-hitting journalism.

Perhaps there's a simpler explanation for the death of the fish wrapper. If people can hear about the latest murder trial online or on TV, they don't need to read a summary in the next day's paper. "If it doesn't surprise you," Dubocq says, "nobody's gonna buy it."

In 2006, Rose asked Dubocq to start digging into rumors about corruption on the Palm Beach County Commission. Dubocq combed through then-Commission Chairman Tony Masilotti's divorce files and land records, piecing together a panorama of questionable deals and missing money. Every day, his discoveries got more alarming.

"Have I told you how good I am today?" he'd ask Rose. "Let me tell you what I found today."

Before his first story on Masilotti broke, Dubocq called an old friend, John Kastrenakes, then an assistant U.S. attorney in West Palm. "Hey, Johnny," Dubocq remembers saying. "Take a look at the paper on Sunday."

The story explained how Masilotti used a secret land trust to make $1.3 million off the South Florida Water Management District's purchase of 3,000 acres of land in Martin County. Dozens of follow-up articles chronicled more land deals that netted $10 million for Masilotti, while then-County Commissioner Warren Newell also raked in about $500,000 by voting for deals that benefited him — including the water district's $190 million purchase of rock pits in western Palm Beach County.

Soon, the federal prosecutor indicted Masilotti and Newell on corruption charges, along with prominent lobbyist William Boose III and real estate consultant Daniel Miteff, who were involved in some of the tainted deals. All four landed in federal prison.

Dubocq kept writing, winning national recognition for his investigation. In June 2008, he was still detailing the widening federal probe surrounding the County Commission's plans for a new convention center hotel.

Two months later, he was gone.

At age 55, with a salary approaching six figures, Dubocq could see it was best to retire. Investigative reporting jobs were being axed all over the country, and he wasn't willing to find out whether his was next. His buyout package from the Post included health insurance — a perk he wouldn't get if he waited for a layoff — and eight months' pay. It was a generous sendoff, especially considering what happened after he left.

Suddenly, South Florida newsrooms became the kind of offices that journalists normally ridiculed in print: corporate and obtuse, with a layer of fear and dread hanging over them like smog.

At the Palm Beach Post, managers were shifted and reporters taken off beats they had covered for years, spurring resentment, confusion, and inconsistent coverage. Thanks to a series of newsroom "re-orgs," some reporters were drowning in work while others wasted hours reading magazines and applying to grad school. The south Palm Beach County bureau was reduced to a ghostly room full of empty cubicles where a few stray reporters tried not to think about how long the lights would stay on.

At one point, a memo went out saying the paper would no longer provide free coffee. After mass protests, this directive was rescinded — but employees still had to buy their own creamer.

Things got even weirder last winter, when Cox sent a fresh-faced 34-year-old publisher named Alex Taylor, nephew of CEO Kennedy, to run the Post. The new boss seemed a tad insensitive to a staff that had just been unceremoniously chopped in half.

Last July — one year after the buyouts — Taylor announced that another management shakeup and job cuts were on the way. This time, there would be layoffs, not buyouts, meaning workers had no choice in the matter and received just one week's pay for every year of service.

Taylor chose this moment to send out an email urging staffers to brush up on their customer service skills and not act so glum about the death rattle of their industry.

He wrote:

"If someone says to you, 'I hear things down at the Post are tough. How are you doing?' you could say, 'Yeah it stinks, no one knows what's happening,' (not good) or you could say 'It's a fascinating time to be in the business. Things are changing quickly and dramatically and I think it's exciting to be on the leading edge of how media is evolving,' (good, positive). Two ways of looking at the same thing, but one is just a lot more uplifting."

In preparation for the next round of layoffs, which arrived this September, Post reporters and editors spent a harrowing few weeks receiving formal job evaluations for the first time in years. They scurried to apply for different posts in the newsroom and worried themselves sick. On the last day, they waited at their desks for phone calls informing them it was time to pack a box and go home. By then, Taylor had already announced he was leaving for a new job in Ohio.

Meanwhile, a new brand of electronic cheerleading was invading the Sun-Sentinel's newsroom. Lee Abrams, Tribune's new chief innovation officer, had begun sending out "think pieces" designed to help usher in a new era of profitability.

These memos are long, exhaustive, seemingly steam-of-consciousness missives littered with Abrams' catch phrases like AFDI — Actually Fucking Doing It.

One famous "think piece" told people to evaluate their offices and rid them of "traits" that make them "average" such as "UPTIGHT/PARANOID: You know the drill. You can FEEL the fear."

Another suggested adding more "man on the street" segments to the company's TV news shows. He considered this concept a revelation:

"Every day, an average person is interviewed about top stories," he wrote. "We've heard what the experts think, let's open it up to REAL people. This could be red hot. What the average citizen's take on the topics is."

These memos were not exactly welcomed in the newsroom. In fact, they made some people wonder why the Tribune spent money to hire a memo writer. "We found the memos absurd," says one ex-Sentinel employee, who did not want to give his name. "To me, he [Abrams] wasn't grounded in reality."

In a phone interview, Abrams said he just wants to get people to be more open to evolving and reinventing their industry. The memos are meant to "get people thinking and talking and debating" about new ways to serve readers.

But with so many staff cuts, who has time to read them?

"I was too busy working," says Mc Nelly Torres, a recently laid-off Sentinel reporter.

At the Herald, editors are constantly huddled in meetings, leaving reporters in the lurch and creating a sense of fear and mystery, according to one current staffer who wanted to remain anonymous. "I don't know what the fuck they're doing in the meetings," he said.

The staffer says that he's still proud to be at the paper but that the newsroom has dramatically changed. "It seems post-apocalyptic to me half the time... Overall, you just feel that the air has been let out of the balloon."

"Everybody's scared," adds Torres, describing the vibe at the Sun-Sentinel. "I'm so glad that I'm out of that environment. It's just a very toxic environment."

Many reporters are simply demoralized. They're accustomed to using their best stories to climb to a better beat or to a more prestigious newspaper. But with papers like the New York Times struggling, there's nothing left to aspire to.

To top it all off, the vicious competition that used to be the lifeblood of all South Florida newsrooms has vanished. Now the papers save money by doing what was once unthinkable: sharing stories and photos. Furthermore, the Sentinel prints the Post on its presses, and the Post has surrendered its turf war in southern Palm Beach County, letting the Sentinel cover breaking news in the area.

Dave Barry, the humor columnist who launched his career at the Herald, summarizes the mood this way: "If I were a young journalism school graduate, I would just take my diploma and kill myself."

Emily Minor cried the day she walked out of the Palm Beach Post headquarters for the last time. After 30 years in journalism, 13 of them as a feature columnist in West Palm Beach, she felt the loss keenly, even though it was her choice to accept the buyout.

"A newsroom is a place where you get paid to have a cup of coffee and think about the world," Minor says. "To work in a place that is humming with that kind of intellect — it's a real high."

Now, Minor works part-time at a retail clothing store, which for confidentiality reasons she can't name but calls "a hilarious adventure." She still freelances for the Post and other smaller papers and says she has no regrets about leaving her full-time job.

Still, starting over at 53, with her husband still working and her kid off to college, is not easy. When she gets a little extra freelance work, Minor's days look brighter. "And then there are days when you can truly watch all the first season of Mad Men," she says.

The disappearance of bylines like Minor, Dubocq, and Gilken may have slipped by many readers, but the overall change in news coverage at the three papers is hard to miss.

Stories often read like news releases, parroting what politicians say because there's no time or physical space in a shrinking paper to interview more sources. Instead of dedicating their days to pissing off the powers that be, reporters at the Post are urged to attend "customer service" training sessions and do everything they can to please an ever-shrinking audience of readers. The mandate is to break news on the web, not find an in-depth scoop. "The real problem was you had no space and you didn't have as many reporters to go out and find those really good stories and develop them," says Bill Rose, describing his last days at the Post.

With more experienced reporters getting laid off, institutional knowledge is lost. More articles are written by rookies or even college interns. "They can't report their way out of a fucking paper bag," says the Herald staffer.

Meanwhile, many of the reporters who remain are overworked.

As protests erupted this fall over increased testing for kids in Palm Beach County schools, one Post reporter, Laura Green, was responsible for writing a front-page story every day — down from a team of three education reporters a few years ago. Stacey Singer, the Post's lone health reporter covering the swine flu pandemic, says she writes four to five stories a week, plus as many blogs. "There's no air in my day anymore," Singer says.

Dave Barry worries that investigative government stories, such as the Herald exposé this summer on Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez's quietly doling out raises to his top advisers while proposing layoffs for other county workers, will soon disappear because no one has time to dig through county records to find them. "That's what I fear will be gone," Barry says. "It's the stuff that nobody would know."

Perhaps the most vivid example is the lackluster way the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald have handled the recent corruption allegations against Broward County School Board member Beverly Gallagher, County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion, and former Miramar Commissioner Fitzroy Salesman. The dailies waited to report on the scandal until federal charges were filed against the politicians, even though rumors of upcoming indictments swirled for months.

The recent staff cuts at the papers couldn't have helped. There's now only one reporter covering Broward County government for both the Herald and the Sentinel, says Dan Christensen, a reporter who covered the Broward beat for the Herald until he was laid off this spring.

"It's painfully obvious that the Sun-Sentinel has no federal sources," Christensen says.

Just a few years ago, covering a political scandal meant digging deeper to find a new angle every day to beat one's competitors. Now there's a comfort in knowing no one else will write what one paper misses. "I'm not getting a sense that there's a real kind of competition going on," says Dubocq.

Top editors at the dailies dispute this gloomy version of events. Gyllenhaal, the Herald executive editor, says that sharing content with other papers has allowed the Herald to increase its state coverage from Tallahassee, as well as breaking news, such as the smuggler's boat full of Haitian refugees that drowned off the coast of southern Palm Beach County earlier this year.

He says the papers "go separate ways" when covering the Broward County corruption scandal. As for critics who say that coverage has suffered, "There's always going to be concerns," he says. "I think the history of this partnership has shown that it's working pretty well."

Nick Moschella, content editor for the Post, says that after all the layoffs and management changes, the paper is now "trying to bring back a watchdog approach across the board. We want to write more in-depth."

The paper's trying to cover more small municipalities with a "community beat," he says. Meanwhile, he acknowledges that many reporters feel overworked. "I think we do the best we can to not wear people down," he says.

None of the editors say they foresee a complete merger between the papers or an end to the print editions any time soon.

"We're putting a good amount of attention online, but I think we haven't given up on the print readership," Moschella says.

As for the possibility of more layoffs, "that's in the hands of the economy," Gyllenhaal says.

Perhaps the most telling analysis comes from Abrams, Tribune's chief innovation officer. In his quest to make notoriously bureaucratic newspapers "evolve" and "get people to challenge the playbook," he can sound like a foreigner to cherished tenets of journalism.

"Integrity is so important," he says. "But so is staying in business."

Meanwhile, many of the reporters who have left South Florida's dailies have given up on the fish wrapper.

Christensen, the Miami Herald investigative reporter who was laid off this spring, launched a nonprofit investigative news site called Broward Bulldog. He's applied for tax-exempt status and is hoping to run on donations and even hire a staff.

"I'm not ready to stop doing this," he says. "I enjoy it, and I also think there's a need for it. But will it work out? I don't know."

Dubocq is now a private investigator, working for corporations who need someone to dig up dirt on competitors and helping criminal defense lawyers flesh out their cases. He says the job is "almost exactly the same as my old one," and he's making more money. The only difference is that now, when he's done crunching numbers and combing through court records, he winds up back home, alone. There's no editor to brag to, and his exposés never make the front page. "I don't leave my house that much," he admits.

Mary Kate Leming is betting on a different kind of journalism. After 22 years at the Palm Beach Post, she took the buyout and started a monthly newspaper. She and her husband, Jerry Lower, a former photography director for the Sun-Sentinel, created the Coastal Star, a nostalgically quaint publication that covers only the towns along the coast from Delray Beach to South Palm Beach. Hiring laid-off reporters as freelancers, the paper features well-written stories and magazine-style photos while filling in the gaps left by the Post's diminished local government coverage.

This kind of "hyper-local" paper may be the future of journalism. Still, after a year in business, Leming and Lower are not making money. Leming is the only full-time employee, and she and Lower deliver the paper themselves. "I hope that we're thinking outside the box," she says. "We're trying to see where the vacuum [in coverage] is."

Rose has moved to Oxford, Mississippi, where he's teaching at the University of Mississippi, working on a book, and serving as editor at large for a new, local weekly newspaper.

Gilken, meanwhile, is pursuing a lifelong dream of working in television news. As a nighttime assignment editor for CBS affiliate WPEC-TV, she's still listening to the police scanner and sending reporters out to chase the latest shooting victim, just as she once did at the Post. But now she can use her own news judgment to pick the most important stories of the day instead of having to post everything on the web immediately.

Of course, reminders of the life she built at the Post linger. Her dining room features a framed copy of a feature story she wrote about being an amateur boxer. When she got married four years ago, the wedding guest list was full of friends from the newsroom, and her party favors included a fake newspaper page called the Palm Beach Toast.

But Gilken says she has no regrets. She's glad to be able to keep telling compelling, visual stories in a medium that's highly competitive. And at least in television, she can see that her career has a future.

"When I see the paper, I think... I'm not missing anything," she says. "I never once, since leaving the Post, even considered applying for a job at another newspaper."

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Lisa Rab
Contact: Lisa Rab