Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Once upon a time

(David Porter, a former Sentinel columnist)

There was a time when The Orlando Sentinel was a great newspaper.

Item: Back in 1984 when I came to work at the Sentinel Reporter Lou Trager uncovered a case of business fraud that sent one of Orlando's most prominent families to federal prison. The Champ Williams family controlled all food sold at the airport. Under their concession agreement with the city, which owns the airport, Champ was supposed to give the city a percentage of the airport sales. Instead they simply never rang up some sales and pocketed the extra money.

Actually they didn't pocket the money they converted it to gold coins in buried them in the backyard. As you might guess, they didn't count these`ill gotten gains as income. When Trager exposed the fraud the family ended up in the pokey.

Lou Trager and his editors didn't worry about byline counts, or blogs or writing the story in 10 inches. All they worried about was great journalism.

Item: A team of Sentinel reporters exposed a dirty secret in the local home building industry. Many of the newly built homes were poorly constructed and local building inspectors were doing a piss poor job of ensuring that the building code was followed.

Tens of thousands of Central Floridians were affected by problems with their newly built homes. Many home builders were so infuriated by being exposed by their stories that they canceled their advertising in the paper.

Sam Zell's gang has already proven that they care too much about advertising to allow crusading journalism get into the newspaper again.

Item: One of the proudest chapters of my career is when I got to work with Seminole County reporter Gary Taylor, who at this writing is still at the paper, when we exposed gross mismanagement and probable fraud at the Sanford Housing Authority.

Gary is an old time beat reporter who knows his city like the back of his hand.

The Sanford projects were just about falling down, the board overseeing the projects completely ignored the conditions. Gary wrote stories and I wrote editorials and columns about the horrible conditions in the projects. One day I accompanied a tenant on a tour of the projects. I brought a camera and photographed the horrible conditions that people were living in. We forced the federal government to come in, take over the projects and make badly needed repairs -- something that the federal government has done only a half dozen times in the past 20 years.

Through our actions we improved the living conditions for more than 1,000 tenants of Sanford public housing.

Sam Zell's crew shut down the Seminole County news bureaus so its impossible to do that kind of reporting in the future.

Too bad The Orlando Sentinel that I worked for no longer exist. It's not just bad for my friends who still work there. It's bad for this community.

Orlando Sentinel - R.I.P.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are SO wrong about Champ Williams. Your Orlando Sentinel reporter had NOTHING with Champ Williams or his family. It was their son, R. Bruce W illiams who got mad and decided to get even. I know because he sat down with me several times before he left in his office and later when he wanted to chat about how he would destroy them with his false accusations that NO one could prove because no business has records back 30 years or more, before computers existed.