33 years of Miami Today: What would you do without it?
Written by Michael Lewis on May 31, 2016
Thirty-three years ago this week the first copies of Miami Today rolled off a press downtown. That was the easy part of starting a newspaper to serve a growing cosmopolis. The harder parts came both earlier and later in our third of a century and counting.
Months earlier we had walked every delivery route with a stopwatch to make sure you’d get your paper on time. Next we persuaded businesses who had never seen a copy of Miami Today that advertising in it would make them money. And in news we set out to provide a new newspaper for a new Miami, supplying context for events, an international outlook, and a focus on Miami’s successes and opportunities, not its failures.
Then, that first press night, both typesetting machines failed. Technicians were in Georgia. So we got on the phone with them, dug out spare parts and worked through the night to get the hulking blue monsters running ourselves. We did, though we were hours late. Beginner’s luck.
Such behind-the-scenes toils to start and then run any business are common. After all, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
But in the news business, it has become so hard that almost nobody is doing it anymore – at least, not with credible reporting of impactful information curated by responsible gatekeepers who function as a community conscience.
Last month Tampa became the largest Florida city to lose its daily newspaper. The papers in Fort Lauderdale and Orlando may soon belong to the national Gannett chain, which plans to fill more than 100 newspapers with identical national and global content. News staffs at other dailies like the Miami Herald have been decimated.
We are rapidly headed to the day when only a handful of national newspapers and targeted local papers like Miami Today will remain to meet a vastly increased need for reporting of significant information as urban issues become even more pressing.
Ironically, as digital media become ubiquitous, fewer trained journalists remain to provide serious news feeds. While national and global news flows in profusion, web sites fall all over themselves to pass along the latest local press releases as fast as possible but with little validation, background, editing or context. Speed is all there is, because every site has the same release.
Almost all local stories that require real reporting come from a handful of remaining mainstream media that transfer it in bite-size pieces to the web. As newspapers disappear, so will the reporting that takes time and expertise – serious reports of community, arts and culture, government, business and civic affairs. Think of Miami Today’s reports: about 85% never appear elsewhere. If we didn’t report it, nobody would.
Also endangered is the institutional knowledge of editors who have monitored over time not only a news story but the institutions that the story affects. These are the same professionals who instantly recognize “known names” – persons and companies whose involvement is news in itself. If it’s not a rock or sports star, the name may slip past web workers whose jobs consist of posting press releases.
Those same print-based editors also monitor promises from government and business, making certain they are in fact kept and what the outcomes were.
Miami has long been the best US community for local news. But there is already a shortage of persons who recognize that news and present it dispassionately and fairly for you to use.
As we forge into our 34th year, Miami Today faces the same forces that are grinding down the news industry as a whole. The fact that our print circulation in Miami remains strong at 28,000 copies a week even while our MiamiTodayNews.com is read in an average of 138 nations every month seems remarkable after that first 7,000-copy press run a third of a century ago.
We remain a newspaper company – unlike others, we don’t refer to ourselves as a media company that happens to have a dying legacy newspaper. We are a newspaper that also produces a global website, a digital replica edition, a digital headline service and more.
But like the disappearing daily newspapers, we also rely on advertising. Digital and print advertisers alike are achieving success with us – success in their terms meaning more profits for them, and in our terms meaning support of an institution that functions like a public utility, spitting out not electricity that a community runs on but the vital information that becomes an economic engine of its own.
To publicize their message, we offer those advertisers print and digital media built on public respect, reputation and credibility, media that continue to work with community leaders toward a better future for Miami
After all, after 33 years of Miami Today, what would you do without it?