Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

It’s time to save local journalism, not do more useless studies

I’m going to say this, and I know it’s probably not a good idea, but I’m beyond caring.

The announcement below is all well and good, but while the reports and research are done and the meetings are held and the speeches are given, newspapers and websites are being destroyed by their owners.

Experienced, knowledgeable people are taking buyouts; skilled reporters, editors and researchers are being laid off; and the very people who make local news local are heading out the door of what’s left of the newspapers because they’re afraid of what’s next.

Every round of layoffs and cutbacks is pitched as “a pathway to growth.” Look, if there’s no one to write the stories, it doesn’t matter what you put on the website. Many local news websites are full of out–of-town stories that really belong under the “state” or “national” or “world” tag, but we pretend they’re local so the website doesn’t look empty.

In Manatee County, you know that the school district blew a computer upgrade out its rear end because we at the Bradenton Herald told you. The school district wasn’t about to tell you on their own about the Indians whose visas expired and that the company they hired was bankrupt. The Bradenton Herald told you that.

If we don’t have any reporters left, what’s the point of putting out a website with no local news or an online Xtra edition? I ache for newspapers around the country and for the residents who see their local newspaper shrinking as far-off corporate masters wreak havoc and destruction. Some of these papers once terrorized local government officials, and now the officials laugh at them.

I love journalism, and I love the news. We need the news. We’ll end up like Venezuela, not in the way President Trump says we will, but in the way of other countries where journalists are arrested, jailed, tortured and killed. You may hate the free press, but you’ll hate it more when the sole source of news is government press releases.

If Facebook, Google, Craigslist and the Knight Foundation want to do local journalism a favor, give all that money — that’s going to be wasted on local worthies to study local journalism — to local newspapers so they can keep their reporting and editing staffs intact.

Ecosystems, collaboration, partnerships. Knight Foundation, can’t you see that these newspapers are dying? Are you that blind? There are none so blind as those who will not see. You aren’t seeing the little picture that illustrates the big picture. Edward R. Murrow, who wasn’t a trained journalist, knew that and worked accordingly, and look at what he accomplished.

I know my career is doomed. I had a good run, and I wish I could do more. I hang on by my fingernails and hope for the best while fearing the worst. My community is being turned into a news desert, and if the feared merger takes place, you might as well stick a fork in Florida journalism, because it’ll mostly be over.

I will visit the grave, leave flowers and shed tears, but then I’ll have to move on.

For goodness’ sake, don’t waste this money. Give it to papers so we don’t end up an eight-page, one section sheet with five pages of ads for hearing aids. Please, do something good with the money. Please.

Or there will be nothing left to rebuild.

Knight Foundation putting $300 million toward rebuilding local news

On Tuesday, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced a $300 million commitment toward rebuilding local news ecosystems during the next five years, with details on where the first $100 million of that money would go.

“We’ve all been on the ropes for the past 15 years as news organizations are battered by declining revenue and declining trust,” said Andrew Sherry, Knight’s vice president of communications. “We and other foundations and news organizations have tried a lot of different things.”

What Knight sees now, he said, are both the greatest need to help local news and the greatest opportunity with strong, scalable organizations that can best transform the landscape.

(Disclosure: My coverage of local news is funded in part by Knight, and Poynter is a partner with the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, also known as Table Stakes.)

Since 2007, Knight has spent about $30 million a year on journalism initiatives. They’re now ramping that up, Sherry said.

Today’s announcement and the direction Knight’s heading was hinted at in an end-of-year Nieman Lab prediction by the Knight team entitled “A year of local collaboration.” The prediction noted many of the organizations getting funds today and the themes their work includes: local news ecosystems, national-local partnerships, multidisciplinary partnerships and collaboration among media funders.

“In 2019, we’ll see an increase in multidisciplinary collaboration among sectors, institutions, and news organizations working to better serve local audiences.”

Organizations aimed at strengthening and rebuilding local news are getting some of those funds. They are:

American Journalism Project: $20 million for this venture philanthropy initiative that will, according to the press release “provide transformative grants and support to local, nonprofit civic news organizations to ensure their long-term sustainability.”
ProPublica: $5 million to create more partnerships with local newsrooms and expand the Local Reporting Network.
Report for America: $5 million to grow the program that pairs young journalists with newsrooms that share the cost with the community to cover underreported issues.
Frontline: $3 million to help establish five geographic hubs in partnership with local newsrooms.
NewsMatch: $1.5 million toward a matching campaign supporting nonprofit newsrooms. Last year, NewsMatch raised more than $7 million for local news and investigative journalism.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: $10 million toward helping local newsrooms defend reporting.
Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund: $10 million, previously reported, toward helping newspapers transform for the digital age.

Knight is also putting money toward news literacy initiatives ($5 million for the News Literacy Project); the expansion of solutions journalism ($5 million for the Solutions Journalism Network) and community listening at the local level ($2 million for Cortico.) It’s investing $35 million into researching and research centers that “will study the changing nature of an informed society in America and will help build an emerging field of study to address pressing questions about the health of an informed society and citizenry in the digital age,” according to the press release. Universities participating in that project will be announced mid-year, Sherry said.

Want more on the transformation of local news? Join the conversation in our weekly newsletter, Local Edition.

In January, Facebook announced $300 million over three years toward stabilizing local news. Partners include Report for America, the American Journalism Project and Table Stakes.

The Knight funding should be a boost to help programs working to rebuild local news scale, Sherry said, and a signal to individuals and foundations of where to contribute money to help local news.

Knight is concerned about declines in trust for media and other democratic institutions, he said, “but we think that local news is actually the best place to start rebuilding it.”


February 20, 2019 Posted by | Living in the modern age, The news business | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why people flee their homelands

Immigration is one of those topics where there is so much more heat than light that it can seem pointless to even weigh in on the topic, but here goes.

Most people in the United States have a view of immigration and it’s understandably negative. The perception that new arrivals to the country drive down wages, are a strain on social services and limit opportunity is not a new one. I was thinking the other day of the movie “Gangs of New York,” which I really ought to watch again, and how there was one scene where new arrivals to America in the Civil War era were greeting with the tossing of offal and filth, even as they signed up for military service in the Union Army.

Why do people leave the lands where they have lived, have family roots, speak the language, worship the same way as everyone else and subscribe to a strong set of traditions?

Beyond the legalities, I believe that it’s driven by a simple wish to have a better life than is available where they are, and they believe that such a life – despite many challenges and even the hatred of those already there – is possible even at the most basic level in the countries they are going to.

Look, the United States and Western Europe are pretty far from perfect, but when your country is basically self-destructing either through government action or inaction, or is completely beyond repair, you are willing to risk death and extreme indignity to come to a place like the United States or Germany and try to build a new life.

Subsistence in a democracy, even as you are hated, despised and used to generate extremist political rhetoric, has to be preferable to the hell-countries that many migrants are escaping.

I was listening to an NPR broadcast in which a young man educated in Syria described how he thought that he had a lot more to offer than just being cannon-fodder in the army. He had a degree in economics and believed that his life was worth something. He had tried and tried and tried to find some sort of life in his own country, torn apart by civil war and a mindless dictatorship, and just could not. Taking to a boat and trying to make it to Germany was, for him, a no-brainer.

Lots of young men have decided to basically vote with their feet if any sort of opportunity to affect conditions in their own country is lost.

For immigrants, it is a terribly dislocating experience to leave their country. “The West” has a lot of differences from the countries they are fleeing and an open society like the U.S.’s creates much tension.

Still, many people come here and want to stay. Why? Because we at least try to do more than just pay lip service to the idea of liberty and freedom. We may not always succeed, but immigrants are convinced that America and Western Europe are worth a try.

It’s easy to say to immigrants, “Just go back and try to fix your native land,” but the leaders of those lands often don’t believe that they need to be fixed. Seeing people leave makes these leaders very happy, as they figure that they are unloading troublemakers. The ones who stay will take up the slack for those who are gone.

My biggest decision
In 1985, I faced a situation that was akin to the one that immigrants faced. I had been working for the post office for a couple of years and (I know this sounds unbelievable) even had a girlfriend, and we were seriously discussing marriage. I wanted more than anything to make a life on Long Island but found the housing situation impossible at my wage level.

I cast about for ideas and finally one day a letter to the editor of Newsday opened my eyes.

There was much talk on Long Island 30 years ago about the need for affordable housing, and much of the effort to build such housing was opposed by those already there, who thought that it would not bring their children to the community but people of a different racial makeup who might then drive down property values.

There were many people complaining that the lack of rental housing and reasonably priced “starter homes” – as well as astronomical property and school taxes, and the scourge of the Long Island Lighting Company – would drive away people and businesses. Someone wrote to the newspaper and said, in effect, “If you can’t afford to live on Long Island, you should leave.”

It hit me like a punch between the eyes. The letter writer was right. Why was I killing myself trying to do what was pretty much set up as impossible?

I had served in the military and had seen many other places where people seemed to be making it or at least existing. Someplace else could hardly be worse than Long Island, I realized.

Unlike immigrants, of course, for me moving was a lot simpler and involved some pretty complex but very doable planning and then a long drive south on I-95. A year after moving to Florida, this immigrant from New York missed the family, missed the pizza and missed the Chinese food but had found a new life.

I bought a house and did so much more with my life that I couldn’t have done in New York. The potential fiancée was gone, and I won’t get into that here, but I had found a new and better life. I am convinced that when I’m 95 and start toting up the things I did in my life, moving to Florida will be one of the best things I ever did.

Best of all, it made me open to moving within Florida later on, and I have sometimes entertained the idea of moving elsewhere, but that is far less likely now.

Still, I think what New York lost, Florida gained when I came here.

Those immigrants trying everything they can to get away from failed countries and despotic dictatorships are doing what they can’t do for real: voting.

They know they are hated, and they know they are symbols and they know they are creating a problem, but they also know that whatever’s waiting for them in their new land – if they survive to arrive – it has to be a damn sight better than what’s behind them.

Sometimes in a situation, giving up and moving on is better than staying and wasting your energy. Those folks escaping their countries have made a go of it, and they’re doing what so many of us and even our predecessors did before: taking a shot at a better life.

I may not agree with them coming here, but I can see why they’re doing it. If you can’t agree with them, at least try to show a little compassion and humanity.

You can’t expect that from politicians, who love to play to our basest instincts, so just do it because it’s the human thing to do. And it’s way beyond what these people got in their native lands.

October 9, 2015 Posted by | Living in the modern age, Politics | , , , , | Leave a comment

Community college is where your future can happen

When I heard about President Obama’s proposal for free community college, I knew that it wouldn’t go over very well.

Sadly, most folks despise the president’s ideas. If he recommended beating children bloody in school parking lots for rules infractions, people would come out against that.

Still, encouraging people to get a two-year degree, even if it costs a lot, has to be less expensive than incarcerating people. A community college president once told me that it cost the state of Florida about $50,000 a year to lock someone up in prison; by comparison, even the most costly state university was a bargain at about $25,000 a year, and community colleges cost about half that or less.

Unfortunately for Florida, the state’s leaders fell under the influence of a well-meaning but terribly wrong adviser who recommended preparing for a tsunami of violent youthful offenders on their way up from childhood. Seeking to be ahead of the curve, the state built several very expensive prisons and staffed them up, waiting for the surge of criminality that never materialized. Out in rural areas, the prisons are still there, but the youths never appeared in the expected numbers.

The reality is that we now live in a society where workers need education beyond high school to get a good-paying job, and those who drop out are going to find themselves in an impossible situation. Back when I was a youth, there were all these ads pushing “high school equivalency diplomas” and I remember the pitches: “He can’t get ahead in business because he lacks a high school diploma.” You could replace “high school diploma” with “two-year college degree,” and you won’t be far off the mark.

I know all this from personal experience.

For me, Palm Beach Community College (now Palm Beach State College) basically reinvented my life. I went into that place in August 1988 as a frustrated veteran and disgruntled postal worker whose dreams of career advancement had been dashed because I thought the Postal Service existed to serve customers.

I left the community college with a two-year (associate’s) degree in journalism, a new peer group of smart friends and the confidence to continue at the university. In April 1994, I graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in communications and within two years was working as a newspaper copy editor.

I worked hard in those years, taking night shifts at the post office and attending college during the day instead of sleeping. But my instructors at PBCC and my professors at FAU gave of themselves, and I am forever in their debt.

At community college, the confidence I gained was well worth the sacrifices I had to make.

I remember getting a variety of advice. Dorothy Martin, my second cousin Angelo’s sister-in-law, gave me so much encouragement. “Whatever you do there,” she said, “take Watson B. Duncan’s courses. He’s the greatest teacher.”

I took those courses, and Dorothy was right about him.

Others were less enthused. My postal bosses were downright negative, advising me that college was a waste of time, and wouldn’t help my advancement in the post office. “We don’t like to promote college people,” I was often told. “They think knowing things is the key to getting things done right.”

What they feared, I later learned, was the worker with a brain and the willingness to use it. I later used the skills I learned in community college to start my own underground postal employee newsletter, “Samizdat,” and even sent copies to the postmaster general. Unfortunately, they were written above his reading level, and his minions were not impressed with my brilliance.

The education I received at community college gave me the tools I needed to counter the anti-education rhetoric I heard at the post office, and I can still remember the last night I wasted at the post office, leaving that shithole facility in West Palm Beach with its cheating on the Price-Waterhouse testing, exaggerated mail volume reporting, mail destruction in the machinery and human destruction by managers such as Gary Miller and Terry Cahill, not to mention Barbara Shaler and Shirley Cordle.

I drove off to an uncertain future, but one that had limitless possibilities. On the way home to my house in Lake Worth, I drove on Congress Avenue in West Palm Beach past Palm Beach Community College.

It was on the left, and I remembered that first day when I had gone on the campus and requested a course catalog and began the process of getting myself admitted.

Now I was heading into a future that that wonderful place had opened up for me, and I gave the place a hand salute as I drove by.

Today, I read about community colleges like State College of Florida (formerly Manatee Community College) and I wish I could go back there, take classes, sit in the sun before the classes start, talk with my fellow students, pull all-nighters at home, spend lots of time there on the student newspaper and just be a part of the academic community.

Community colleges are wondrous places, and I’m not the only one who got a life-course correction in those classrooms.

So let’s support community colleges and get behind plans, no matter where they come from, to get more people to attend community college. Our nation will benefit, of course, but so will the many people who find a new life and a new career in a place where learning is treasured, and students matter.

That’s what happens at community colleges.


January 12, 2015 Posted by | Education, Life lessons | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why Americans won’t take certain jobs

Recent debates over immigration have gotten a lot of attention in Florida and Georgia because of the possibility of more intense enforcement of rules regarding who can and cannot work in the U.S.

Oddly enough, the main group that is condemned is not those who are in the country illegally and trying to work with falsified papers, but rather those who are “legal” but will not take certain jobs, especially on farms. In states with large agricultural operations, including but not limited to Florida and Georgia, “illegal” workers are considered an integral part of the labor force because they are supposedly willing to take the jobs Americans won’t do.

Many employers claim that Americans won’t take jobs at resorts, hotels and other places where wages are low and benefits are mostly non-existent. The freedom to change jobs for a better opportunity bothers many employers in that part of the economy, and they dream of a workforce that cannot move to another position.

The thing is, most American employers follow the law in hiring, making certain during the process that potential employees are eligible to work in the U.S. During my bout with unemployment, I was asked multiple times for my Social Security card and was advised to fill out the I-9 form accurately and completely when applying for jobs, and on those occasions when I was successful, like with the Census, The Bradenton Times and the Gainesville Sun.

As a proud American citizen, it would be a crime for me to work under another’s Social Security number, even if the dreaded “no match” letter was somehow ignored by the employer. Paying into the system with the right number means that when I retire, I will get the benefits to which I am entitled. The fact that I could get into serious trouble for using someone else’s Social Security number is a motivation to stay on the right side of the law, too.

Employers caught in the web of Immigration and Customs Enforcement routinely claim that so far as they knew, their workers had legal status to work, and they had no way of knowing that the Social Security numbers didn’t match. Considering that certain industries – agriculture, but also hospitality and meatpacking – have devoted decades of effort to driving down workers’ wages and eliminating health and other benefits for the regular line workers, it boggles the mind as to why those in high positions in those industries would be surprised if Americans did not want such jobs that place them at a serious and devastating economic disadvantage, unless they were beyond desperate. And even then, if a better job comes along, most folks will take it.

That’s the American way, and not just for the economic, social and political elite.

“They’re doing jobs Americans don’t want to do” is something you hear in the news media all the time about people working illegally, but no one wants to explore why Americans don’t want to do those jobs.

Here in Florida, it’s pretty much an open secret – often revealed by newspapers – that while President Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, and the 14th Amendment made it the law of the land, in some parts of Florida the word hasn’t arrived yet. A few years ago, The Palm Beach Post published an investigative series that noted that slavery was being practiced in the Glades. My paper, the Gainesville Sun, revealed that a local farmer had contracted with a labor contractor who allegedly enslaved Haitians who escaped from their earthquake-ravaged land. That case has yet to go to trial.

And there have been many stories about wage theft, where employers simply hired workers, promised them a pay rate and failed to pay them that rate or at all, citing a poor business climate. Businesses from the smallest mom-and-pop to even some technology firms that ran out of money would run payless paydays. I worked at a newspaper that twice failed to make payroll. Not only were people laid off without severance or vacation payouts, let alone their final paychecks, they were walked out the door in a humiliating manner.

This, oddly, led to them having to hire people because so many others suddenly quit, fearing they weren’t going to get paid. I left soon after the payless paydays and layoffs. A worker on a migrant work visa might not have that option to change jobs that I had, or might be dragged back and forced to work, even for no pay.

When I moved to Florida in 1986, there was talk about how the sugar industry in the Glades hired Jamaicans to cut sugar cane for them because we stupid, lazy Americans didn’t want to do it. No one seemed concerned that the “H-2 workers” (there was a documentary film of the same title in the late 1980s) were mistreated, lived in miserable conditions and often had their pay rate changed at the whim of the sugar companies. The area around the southern tip of Lake Okeechobee in Florida has some of the worst living areas in the state, with cities destroyed by political corruption and dominated by agri-businesses that depend upon poverty wages paid to workers.

It would be a small wonder to a normal person why someone would not take a job out there, but it was a mystery to politicians, whose idea of hard work is taking a job shuffling paper with the United Way or another useless nonprofit.

Other companies found a way to import slaves through student work visas, where naive students from other countries would be brought here after borrowing money at usurious interest rates to work during the summer break, and learn about America. Well, what some learned is that America is the land where businesses can exploit workers like animals. As for the cultural exchange, well, I guess there was being cursed at in a language you don’t understand.

To politicians, whose immediate family members usually can find work at local nonprofits shuffling paperwork and making photocopies, it may seem that Americans are lazy because they won’t take labor that might not pay or pay very little, destroy their health, ruin their lives and turn them into little more than chattel.

But it’s because we value ourselves and our own lives, as far as we possibly can, that we will not take jobs that are degrading. The employers know this, but still have worked to make jobs low-wage and no benefits, and then blamed the unemployed for not giving up their dignity.

We are still people, despite the claims of those other people (aka corporations) that we are not, and we will stand up for our dignity.

September 20, 2011 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age, The jobless chronicles | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hurricanes are a serious threat to anywhere

In 1985, I was still smarting over a lost love when Gloria came into my life.

There was a song called “Gloria” that was popular on the radio, but the Gloria that everyone had on their mind was a tropical storm system that seemed to be headed right for Long Island.

I lived in Coram and worked for the post office in Garden City back then. I had a 40-mile commute each way but was doing it the reverse of the normal commute, heading west in the late afternoon and east in the morning.

Back in the days before the Internet and websites, newspapers, TV and radio were the only source of news about approaching weather, and you had to be pretty oblivious to not understand that this was a terrible threat. Gloria was a powerful storm and it seemed to be headed straight for Long Island.

I was living in an apartment complex, and felt pretty secure. I worried about my car, of course, but I didn’t own much stuff. I can recall going shopping and seeing an argument in the store breaking out, mainly because a very fat woman on line at the cashier was smoking a cigarette, and a man complained about it. She told him to f— off, and that it was allowed. Remember, this was 26 years ago, when smoking indoors was very common, though some places were beginning to put in place rules about smoking.

The folks who owned homes were very scared, and for good reason. A hurricane tests a home’s structural integrity to its limit, and back then the building codes weren’t like they are today. It may amaze people to see Florida homes, especially those built since the mid-1990s, are like fortresses, with concrete-block construction and hurricane straps to keep the roof on. In some counties, including Manatee, where my house is, aluminum hurricane shutters are mandatory.

It may seem like overkill, but I’ve been through two hurricanes in such houses and we came through fine. Still, there’s no defense against an embedded tornado, as happened in Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Whole neighborhoods were eradicated by the storm, and showed the folly of light building codes.

I believe that I was off from work on the day when Gloria hit Long Island as a Category 2 hurricane. Me and my cat at the time, Tiger, were hunkered down in the ground-floor apartment and I watched the weather deteriorate out the window. In the middle of the storm, there were people running around outside, which I thought was nuts. I was inside, and at one point someone rang the doorbell and asked if I would let in my upstairs neighbors and their dog, because the roof was coming loose from the apartment building. But they preferred to go with another neighbor, so I didn’t have to let them in.

The wind and rain lashed the complex, and soon the eye passed overhead and things calmed down. Radio announcers repeatedly told people not to venture out during the eye of the storm, but the people I saw did anyway, and it appears that the storm mostly petered out over Long Island and the other side was nowhere near as violent. Soon, the storm was heading across the Long Island Sound to Connecticut and we were in the clear.

We had lost power, of course, and had only battery-powered radios. I ventured outside and saw some damage, including a car that had had a tree fall on top of it. But we seemed lucky.

The trouble was that the power was off, and I even drove out in a traffic jam that developed in Coram. After that hellish experience, I went back to the apartment and stayed until I had to go to work again.

In Florida, we’re used to hurricanes for the most part, especially after 2004’s Charley, Francis and Jeanne. The latter two hit my house in Vero Beach and I managed to survive fine and move on to a new job in Sarasota. You can get through a hurricane OK, if you prepare and follow the path, something that’s a lot easier to do nowadays with websites and The Weather Channel.

Hurricanes are not fun, but they are definitely survivable. Just be prepared.

August 26, 2011 Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stadium game is now the youth sports field game

Ten years ago, in July 2001, I was a newly minted copy editor for the Vero Beach Press Journal on Florida’s east coast. Fresh from a second stint with the dying Boca Raton News, I immersed myself in the wonders of a new city, an apartment and the rough and tumble of city and county politics.

I parachuted into town amid the discussion and debate over the “Dumb Dodger Deal,” as local opponents dubbed it. The Los Angeles Dodgers had a tradition of spring training in Vero Beach since, well, forever, it seemed. There was a Dodgertown, a Dodgertown Elementary School, a Dodgertown Golf Course and a horde of folks who retired to be near their beloved team in the city that proclaimed itself “Dodgertown” in its flights of fancy.

But that was about to come crashing down to earth, because the Dodgers’ ownership wanted to leave. Its problem was that it owned the baseball complex on which the major league team trained for its season and on which the Single-A Vero Beach Dodgers of the Florida State League entertained fans over the summer.

There was even a Rookie-level Gulf Coast League team on the site.

The trouble was that the Dodgers had heard the siren song of Arizona, and wanted to do spring training there. There were plenty of local governments just aching to be screwed over in unfavorable “incentive” deals and dying to build stadiums, and Florida was just, well, so Florida.

Plus, it was hard to find a buyer for the complex.

But when you need a sucker for sports, the nearest city council or county commission or local sports authority is just a phone call away.

The Dodgers made it clear that they wanted to make a long-term commitment to the Vero Beach area and were eager to stay, but that the city and county had to help out. The plan was that the city and county would float bonds to buy the entire complex, then lease it back to the Dodgers. Of course, local government officials were loath to believe that the Dodgers might then be more inclined to leave because they’d promised to repay the bonds if they broke the iron-clad 20-year lease on the land.

Of course, if the Dodgers took the land back, they might then sell it to (gasp!) developers who might build houses on it, something the laid-back small town wanted no part of.

The Dodgers threatened to leave if they didn’t get the deal. Hint: They got the deal.

I remember going to Vero Beach Dodgers games that summer and reading in the game programs that the Dodgers had gotten out of the real estate business in Vero Beach and now could focus on developing players. There was a lot of bad blood, and talk of possible economic consequences if the Dodgers then left, now that they could go in a hurry.

After the season ended and the 9/11 attacks happened, the first hints that things were not quite going as planned began to appear. The golf course closed down, the convention center shut down and there was talk that the Dodgers were going to leave anyway.

In fact, the first two above items had been threatened if the deal hadn’t gone through, but had happened anyway.

In the ensuing years, the Dodgers eliminated operations at Holman Stadium and Dodgertown, moving spring training to Arizona, eliminating the Gulf Coast and Florida State League teams and eventually leaving town. The local elected suckers (oops, officials) decided not to invoke the take-back provision and decided to pay the interest on the bonds and find a new team to occupy the site.

There was no success, and today the site is run by an outfit called MiLB: Minor League Baseball. (See stories related to the operation here.)

My former Stuart News colleague Ray McNulty pointed out in his July 26 column:

Not to be a pessimist, but, frankly, I have my doubts about Dodgertown’s future.
Serious doubts.
Worrisome doubts.
I see what’s happening with the Minor League Baseball group — which, it seems, can’t get out of town fast enough — and I can’t help but wonder if the folks in Indian River County are going to be stuck with a once-hallowed, now-vexing piece of property it can’t lease, can’t sell and can’t afford to maintain.
There are just so many what-if scenarios, most of which end badly.
What if Soapy Immell, the 79-year-old local businessman who has been negotiating with MiLB to take over the operations at what is now known as the Vero Beach Sports Village, doesn’t deliver the $1.2 million the county wants by Friday and plans to place in escrow to protect itself in the event the lease is broken?
What if MiLB, which says it lost $1 million here last year and expects to lose another $500,000 this year, can’t find anyone else willing to assume what’s left of the five-year lease that doesn’t expire until May 2014?
What if the MiLB bunch bails, choosing to pay the $300,000 buyout required by the terms of the lease, rather than risk losing millions more across the next three years?
What does the county do then?
At the moment, a more pressing concern is the cloverleaf of youth baseball fields MiLB wants the county to build, at a cost of $2.5 million, on land acquired from the city of Vero Beach.

Having failed to attract adult baseball to their towns, I think that local government officials in Florida have discovered a new way to be screwed by businesses: Bring in companies to build baseball fields for youth sports.

This kind of game just seems to be busting out all over, with cities like North Port and Newberry (near where I live in Gainesville) falling for the fields of schemes. North Port recently got screwed out of $450,000, according to my former paper, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, and the Gainesville Sun is reporting that Newberry is dreaming youth sports dreams.

The usual clichés of “young families” and “teenagers” are invoked, as well as the ubiquitous “Build it and they will come” meme, which has been so overused as to be capable of making me physically ill. If I hear a project called a “Field of Dreams” one more time, I swear I’m going to walk east until my hat floats.

As with the stadium game I’ve mentioned, these companies prey upon economically desperate Florida municipalities who think sports and youth baseball tournaments are the answer to all their problems, and thus have to put multimillion-dollar fields on the credit card to avoid having the next town down the road steal their glory.

All that’s happening is that they’re lining up to be taken for a hell of a ride, in my view.

And no one is listening, it seems, to the lessons of the past.

July 28, 2011 Posted by | Living in the modern age, Politics, The business of sports | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HBO has its mojo back

Watching the latest episode of “Treme” on Wednesday, I was thinking that there was a time when it seemed that HBO’s original productions were going straight down the tubes.

Everyone remembers “The Sopranos,” “The Wire,” “Deadwood” and “Six Feet Under” as great shows, and rightfully so, but let’s remember that HBO has some barking pooches in the back catalog, like “John from Cincinnati,” “Family Bonds,” “The Mind of the Married Man” and others.

I once commented on a newsgroup for “The Wire” that it was a sign that HBO was willing to take a chance that sometimes, it created a barker of a show that needed to die quickly. Still, shows like “Deadwood,” “Carnivale” and “Rome” were awesome, with production quality that was far above ordinary network fare, but died due to production costs. I mourn them all the time.

After “The Corner” and “The Wire,” I didn’t know if David Simon had another great show in him, but “Treme” has proven to be another star in HBO’s pantheon. The absolute tragedy of seeing Creighton commit suicide in despair was multiplied with the death of Harley Watts, who is gunned down in a senseless murder following a violent mugging. Oh, Harley, why’d you have to tell the armed mugger that he was making a mistake? And right in front of beautiful Annie, who was almost Harley’s protégé in a way.

As someone who’s been through a couple of hurricanes and seen the destruction they can bring, I do wonder about why the people of New Orleans are in such a state, both in reality and in the show. Look, there are areas in Florida that took a beating in 2004, including the Treasure Coast region, which got hit with two hurricanes in the space of five weeks. Hurricane Charley caused a disaster from Charlotte County up through Arcadia, and I remember driving to my job interview at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in September 2004, thanking fortune that we’d not been hit in Vero Beach (yet, it turned out) and being stunned at the damage in Arcadia.

Maybe Florida doesn’t have the unique culture of New Orleans, or maybe we’re used to loss and rebuilding, but we seem to take hurricanes better. New Orleans people, just weeks after the storm, seemed to be in a state of shock that everything was disordered. Well, it took months and sometimes years before areas of Florida recovered, and most of us cursed FEMA and the insurance companies, but eventually things came together for us.

I remember when I was working for The Bradenton Times and covering a hurricane drill, and someone mentioned that the last lawsuit over 1992’s Hurricane Andrew had just been resolved, nearly 18 years after the storm.

“Treme” got a well-deserved renewal for a third season, and I look forward to seeing the characters continue to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The ‘Game’ is afoot!
I have not been recording “Game of Thrones” on Sunday night due to the need to record “Treme” and “The Killing,” but picked it up on my days off from work (Wednesday and Thursday) on HBO’s OnDemand service.

I was a little antsy about this series but have changed my mind. It’s great! And the absolute horror of seeing Ned Stark summarily executed – even after swearing fealty to the boy-king – made me shake with rage. The Starks are not happy with the way things turned out, and the Lannisters will pay, as well as Joffrey, the king, who seems to take delight in visiting so much horror on his older daughter. The younger daughter, in disguise, is having to fight to survive now.

Daenerys, who was sold by her brother to the Dothraki and is now the leader of the remnant, will no doubt be a major factor in season two.

There’s so much coming that makes HBO the best network, though AMC is not far behind. With “Breaking Bad” on the verge of coming back and “Mad Men” scheduled for 2012, there’s much to look forward to.

With “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “True Blood” in the wings, my TiVo will be getting a workout this summer and fall.

June 24, 2011 Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A cold view of the night sky

“It is very cold in space.”
Khan, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”

And it’s cold on Earth, too, even in Florida.

On Saturday night, I set up my trusty C8 and did some observing. Since buying the CG-5GT mount, I haven’t had great success with getting it aligned and finding objects, but it’s better and more reliable than the former mount. And someday, maybe it’ll find the Andromeda Galaxy on its own.

It was a “severe clear” day that became a very clear night. I aligned with two stars and three calibration stars, did some observing, then got a better polar alignment and did a couple of alignments and calibrations. I saw Jupiter, M37 in Auriga, failed to find the Andromeda Galaxy (it was almost at the zenith), then the crown jewel, M42 in Orion.

All in all, it was a good night, and it took me about a half-hour to thaw out. I bought some new eyepieces, and they worked great, especially the new 40mm Orion Plossl. I also used my 32mm eyepiece.

In other news, I’ve been busy as heck at work, and will soon be busier. I am starting the alternative teacher certification program at State College of Florida, and those classes start Jan. 12. I hope to teach middle to high school English, and maybe get some people launched on journalism careers.

That’s why I haven’t written in this blog in nearly four months.

Other than that, everything’s good, the cats are fine and I’m a little sad about the holidays being over, but it’s back to the grind.

January 4, 2010 Posted by | Observations with Vinny | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Waiting for the weather to break

It’s been a while since I posted to the blog because I’ve been so busy with work. My new job is great, and I’m doing more writing than ever before. I never thought I’d land back in journalism, and it’s sure a good feeling.

I took the plunge a couple of weeks ago and ordered a new mount for my telescope. I guess being around those new-fangled “GoTo” setups infected me with “gotta-have-it-itis.” So I placed the order, helped stimulate the economy a little, and finally on Wednesday UPS dropped off a big, heavy box.

I’ve been assembling and tinkering with a new Celestron CG-5GT equatorial mount. I also bought the Celestron GPS device, polar alignment scope and the Losmandy dovetail to adapt my C-8. It’s all hooked up and ready to roll, and I even practiced with it in a bedroom – where the GPS naturally did not work – and confirmed that the mount works.

So what’s the problem? Well, when I finally got everything assembled and ready to go, my part of Florida entered the summer weather pattern of wind and rain in the afternoon and clouds in the evening. I thought Saturday night (May 16) would be a good time for me to align the polar scope and try to go through the hand controller and mount alignment, but Mother Nature had other plans. It rained in the afternoon and when it got dark, there were still plenty of clouds around.

On Sunday night, I tried again and again I had it all set up and ready to roll, and even had neighbors over, but the clouds rolled in again.

I’m kind of anxious to see how it performs, though I know I have plenty of time.

Will I ever see the stars again?

May 17, 2009 Posted by | Observations with Vinny | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vero Beach got burned in the stadium game

Sarasota is getting nervous, and what happened in Vero Beach is what’s got some elected officials hopping around like they’ve got fire ants in their pants.

Many a tear has to fall, the saying goes, but it’s all in the stadium game.

See, the city of Vero Beach and the county of Indian River in Florida were treated to a Dodger-blue screwing by the team from the city of the angels, and now the spring training complex that served the Dodgers for decades sits empty. Since the leaders of the city feared development, instead of letting the Dodgers pay off the bonds on the site and then sell it they kept it and are paying the interest on the bonds.

I remember back in 2001 when the “Dumb Dodger Deal” was being debated at government meetings and in the pages of the newspaper where I worked. The team’s owners waxed poetic about how much they loved Vero Beach and how the spring training tradition was so strong and they wanted to keep it, but the city and county needed to reciprocate or they would enact the nuclear option, and move to Arizona.

Oh, but there was hope! If the city and county floated bonds and bought the complex for a couple of tens of millions of dollars, then leased it back to the team for a buck a year, why, they’d ink a deal to stay in Vero Beach for 20 years.

Those in favor believed that whatever it cost, it was worth it to keep the Dodgers’ spring training in Vero Beach until 2021. After all, many people had moved to Vero Beach to be near their beloved Dodgers, and you didn’t want some shortsighted cheapskates let the team head off to the land of cactus when some tax money could keep them here. The money borrowed could have gone to libraries, schools, roads, etc., but the idea of Vero Beach without a team was like cats without cat litter.

Opponents were vocal, and made some good points. Their ads against what they termed the “Dumb Dodger Deal” were in the paper and the letters column. They said there was a lot in Vero Beach already, and if the Dodgers left, well, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Ultimately, the Dodgers played the “amateur baseball” card. They’d let school teams and tournaments use Holman Stadium, they promised, and the city and county would make money hosting tournaments and other events.

The deal went through, and I went to “A” games and read in the scorecards how the Dodgers’ ownership and the city and county leaders had secured the future of spring training in Vero Beach with the deal.

So I recently read a few stories in the media about how Dodgertown is now a ghost town and local businesses are suffering. The Dodgers are not having spring training in Vero Beach anymore. What happened? What awful offense did the city of Vero Beach and the county of Indian River commit that caused the team to leave?

Well, nothing. The team announced that it had decided that it was more logical to have spring training close to its L.A. base in Arizona, and since it didn’t own the Dodgertown complex, it could just walk away. Of course, the political leaders figured they’d better try to grab another team, but that hasn’t worked out.

So articles in the national media have told of the empty stadium, which is making Sarasota worry about what will happen in 2010, after the Reds are gone. The Reds had made some pretty hefty demands and were turned down, so they are off to Goodyear, Ariz. Some in Sarasota are worried about the city becoming a ghost town next spring.

I don’t think that will happen. There are lots of people in Sarasota who don’t come here for baseball.

When it comes to the stadium game, though, cities in Florida have to beware of the “We love it here but we’ll leave in a half-heartbeat if we don’t get what we want” game. Vero Beach played the game, and got screwed anyway. That’s baseball.

March 20, 2009 Posted by | The business of sports | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment