Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Death of Boca Raton News sad … but anticlimactic

The news came in Friday, as I did my daily perusal of Romenesko: the Boca Raton News is dead.

There’s talk of a Web site, but let’s face it folks, a former newspaper that’s now a Web site is not much. The dead tree edition brings in the revenue, with its coupons, full-page ads and more; most folks just try to avoid the online ads.

I work at a place that’s been a Web site from day one, though people insist on calling to complain when their Bradenton Herald isn’t delivered. I explain gently that we’re new and different, and direct them in the right direction.

I learned journalism in college, and on the first Web sites The Palm Beach Post did (the hurricane, Marlins, business section and ValuJet Flight 592 sites), but the Boca Raton News was where I really learned journalism. I worked there twice, from September 1996 to November 1998 and from January 2001 to July 2001.

It was fun, infuriating, awesome, frustrating, nerve-wracking, joyful and more to be in that newsroom. The 25/43 project hadn’t increased readership all that much, but it was a boost to me to know that some people were loyal, and I tried to earn my wings every day. Some days I did a great job; others, well, I showed up and something landed in people’s driveway.

My brother Robert thinks we’re all communists and socialists in the news business, America-haters all, who weigh each story according to our liberal bias and then put all the stuff we want on page one and bury the rest. Believe me, it’s a more complicated process, with stories coming in on the wires and local news. The positioning of every story is seen as proof positive of our socialist tendencies.

Some people read too much into the positioning of stories.

The Boca Raton News’s death is, to me, like hearing that my old Marine squadron, VMA-513, is being disbanded. Sure, the folks in it are not the folks who were in it when I was there (save for Skip Sheffield), but those folks are going to lose their jobs and be ejected into the market at a bad time.

Here are my top 10 moments from both my times at the Boca Raton News:

10. The night I left early and we reported that “lightening” had hit the Boca Police Department building. (First tour.)

9. Being advised by Phyllis Gilchrist that “Fuck!”, “Shit!” or compounds thereof were not appropriate language among the young ladies on the copy desk. (I resorted to “Aw, cat food!” or “Cat food and canaries!”, even at my later jobs.) (First tour.)

8. When the features editor brought her cat into the newsroom, and he ran under a desk and I had to retrieve him. (First tour.)

7. Just seeing the features editor, who tended to wear skirts with dark pantyhose, which were sometimes torn or with runs. Sometimes she’d leave and there would be problems with her pages, and no one could reach her. (First tour.)

6. The night a violent thunderstorm’s lightning knocked out our power and we had to work very late to get the paper out. And the emergency generator was locked and no one nearby had the key. (Second tour.)

5. Rebooting the server for AP photos. Had to do this at least once a night. (First tour.)

4. Putting out the first Web site for the paper, then going home and finding something messed up so I came back at 1:30 in the morning and fixed it, and getting told not to come back after leaving because it could be fixed in the morning. (First tour.)

3. Thinking I had 1A put to bed on a Saturday night, then hearing John Futch, who was the editor and would help out on the desk very often, announce: “Uh-oh, Princess Diana was in a car accident.” We didn’t have to stop the presses, but I had to re-do page one, of course, with two black plates. On the first, the headline was: “Princess Diana injured in Paris car crash.” For the second, the headline was: “Princess Diana killed in Paris car crash.” We actually had the first one plated and on the press but the press was about 30 minutes from starting when it was confirmed that she was dead. So the first one never ran; that plate was pulled and the new one with a new story was substituted. I thought our headline was better than another paper, which had “Di dies.” (First tour.)

2. Working with Randall Murray. My mentor in journalism. A beacon of cynicism and inspiration in the newsroom. He’d write little “It Occurred to Us” pieces on the editorial page, and one time when President Clinton pardoned the Thanksgiving turkey I told him, as a joke, that I heard the turkey was seen in an office surrounded by Clinton administration officials and signing a check for $50,000 made out to the Democratic National Committee. He knew it was a joke by me, but he acted as if it were real and wrote about it. Some people even thought it was real. (First tour.)

And the No. 1 event I’ll always remember at the Boca Raton News:

1. The busy night during the Christmas season when the city editor came up to me and asked me if I was OK. He was worried that the news that someone had gone berserk in a postal facility and shot a manager might give me some wacko ideas. From then on, whenever anyone in the post office shot someone or acted up, a person at the news meeting would always say, “Someone went Vinny at a post office somewhere.” (First tour.)

There were some not-so-fun moments in that first tour, like the time we heard the paper was for sale, then found out some outfit we never heard of was buying us (we were hoping for Gannett; yes, we were very delusional from the stress).

The changes when CNHI took over were just awful, like when they took away the Mac used by our wheelchair-bound copy editor, when news that a local theater nonprofit was about to go bust was buried because the proprietor was a friend of the publisher (one of the infamous Martin brothers), when I could see that it was time to move on and more.

In my second tour, the bad times were the times when there was no paycheck, the day a whole lot of people – including Randall Murray and Sandy Wesley – got laid off, and how the editorial pages and so much else at the paper went to pieces after that.

Ralph Martin was very understanding when I left, and even helped me get paid up in full after I was gone. I always thought that he was an OK guy.

One time, I was looking for something and stumbled on Google’s images of newspapers. Suddenly, I was reading an old Boca Raton News from when I was doing the A section. It was weird to see my work 10 years later.

Goodbye Boca Raton News. You may not have been much at the end, but when I was there, you were some place to be.

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August 23, 2009 - Posted by | The news business | , , , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

  1. That was a remarkable gang at the BRN during the mid- to late-90s, a talented and fun bunch, even if I did hire most of them.

    Remember the night I was proofing the obit page. There were 11 and I asked the desk what they thought the average age was. No one came close — it was something like 96. Only in Boca.

    And Vinny was one of the good guys, even if he did require a little counseling from our den mother, Phyllis.

    Comment by John Futch | August 23, 2009 | Reply

  2. And who could forget:

    — Randall and his therapeutic day-glow colored chair, a favorite retreat and hiding place for many.
    — Scott Burgess editing on the bench outside, cigarette ablaze.
    — Kim Rutledge getting hoisted to the ceiling when her James Bond-equipped wheelchair shorted out and launched her.
    — Kim leading the charge to the latest party site.
    — Phyllis riding herd on her charges with the steel of a drill sergeant and the touch of a saint.
    I could go on all night with tales from the Indian Burial Ground but I have some pages to check out. And the late lamented are much younger out here on the Left Coast.
    JCF

    Comment by John Futch | August 23, 2009 | Reply

  3. I wasn’t there the night the wheelchair sent Kim high in the air, but I heard about it.

    After you were let go, John, the sports editor got it. Let’s face it, he was drunk a lot. Anyway, they kept telling him not to use the previous day’s sports page front as a template for the next day’s page. So the night of the party for an editor who was leaving for the Miami Herald, he left a deck head from the previous day in place. I caught it on the press and redid the page.

    I still remember how Andy Kent, on his first night on the job, had to cover a football playoff between three teams. A parent had complained to the Sun-Sentinel that a high school in Boca used an ineligible player, and they lost a win, dropping the teams into a three-way tie. Parents were encouraging kids to throw stuff at the reporters, and I think Andy had to run for his life. I remember that a TV cameraman got roughed up by one of the teams. (That was a rough year for TV cameras. A crazy candidate for U.S. Senate smashed two WPTV cameras after he didn’t like the questions he was asked about his time in prison.

    Comment by Vincent Safuto | August 23, 2009 | Reply

  4. I believe the features editor was totally hot –then again we all were 20 years ago.

    Comment by Burgess | July 11, 2016 | Reply


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