Saturday, July 12, 2008

Sentinel editors betray Central Florida

While you can't tell it from the Sentinel front page on most days, this is an election year.

Important offices from the Sheriff to the President will be on the ballot. The Sentinel's ability to cover these races in a meaningful way will demonstrate whether the paper can retain its credibility.

As a Sentinel alum I can tell you that in years gone by we took political coverage seriously. Every election cycle the editorial board interviewed hundreds of candidates for endorsements. Reporters wrote profiles on all candidates and really covered the hot races. While our coverage and endorsements were far from perfect, they did provide a service to voters who wanted to make responsible choices on their ballot.

After the Sentinel gets done with its cuts and buyouts in July, will it have the capacity -- in terms of staff and institutional knowledge -- to cover the elections?

I spent 18 years on the editorial board and I probably know more than most average people about government and issues, yet I'm hard pressed to find out much about the candidates whose names will be on the ballot. I count on the newspaper to keep me informed. Yet on most days the Sentinel averages six bylined stories in the local section. If the Sentinel's coverage area was the size of Key West, perhaps that would be OK. But the Sentinel covers a sprawling, diverse metropolitan area. Instead of news most days they give us celebrity gossip that's best left to Entertainment Tonight.

I feel awful for my friends who trudge to 633 N. Orange Ave. wondering if they will still have a job at the end of the day. I feel worse for my community. We really do count on the Sentinel to keep us informed and to keep heat on the politicians. Yet we've been kicked in the butt by Sam Zell and betrayed by his management stooges who call themselves editors.

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