Saturday, August 2, 2008

Fix The Sentinel

My 18 year old daughter started this blog because she has deep respect for the institution and mission of the Orlando Sentinel.

Please note what she wrote in one of her earliest posts:
"Despite how it may seem this blog is not a Sentinel slam party. We are not calling for the Sentinel to cease its existence, but rather to cease its existence as a shoddy paper. The things that are said in this blog are said in hopes of sharing frustration, calling out for change, and calling out the Orlando Sentinel (and its owners) on its current product in hopes that they will take a little notice of the city.
That said, all people posting here want very much to have a local paper and think it would a travesty for the city to be without one. But, we don't want just any scraps of newsprint to call itself our paper. The authors of this blog want a paper that cares about the community enough to investigate, cares about journalism enough to report real news and cares about the residents enough not to insult our intelligence with a tabloid-esque newspaper."

Having spent 22 years on the Sentinel staff I'm very passionate about the institution. So what I'm about to write is intended to help, not hurt.

During the past three years The Sentinel has lost many talented staffers, but it still has the ingredients to put out a good strong newspaper. That is not what they're giving readers today. They're feeding us crap and expecting us (the readers) to say it tastes delicious. It's not. It's crap!

But here is what the Sentinel leadership can do:

1. Lose the front-page ads, stickers and fold overs. They're cheesy and remind me of a really bad pennysaver. I assume those front page ads make money, but there are some things you don't do for money, such as make your daughter wear a micro mini and send her out to trick on The Trail.

2. Dial back on the celebrity gossip in the A section. I respect the financial need to reduce the newshole. So please don't waste that valuable real estate on celebrity news. If I want the latest on Tom and Katie I'll look at the Star while waiting in the checkout line at Publix.

3. Tone down the graphics. Please don't read that as me dissing Bonita (I've never worked directly with Bonita so I'm not qualified to criticize her). Good graphics and design certainly help tell an important story. But a story is about the reporting and the writing.

4. The Sentinel still has many great reporters who know this town. Get out of the way and let them do their jobs. Turn them loose, back them up and encourage them.

5. Make the Sentinel essential. Make it so smart people would not consider leaving the house in the morning until they have read The Sentinel.

6. Focus on the Sentinel's strong suit -- local news. I can find out about Iraq and Washington on or CNN. Only the Sentinel is in a position to let me know what's happening at city hall or in Pine Castle.

For 24 years I counted on the Sentinel to help me learn about local candidates running for office. No other institution in Central Florida has the capacity to do that.

I'm depending on the Sentinel leadership to produce a newspaper that this community deserves. And we don't deserve crap.


Anonymous said...

Wise words from and 18 year old.
Good advice from a good newsman and very good editor.
Unfortunately I believe in the case of the Orlando Sentinel their train has left the tracks and until the ownership and management of the newspaper changes it will continue down this path of self destruction. There are still many good people left at the newspaper and they are there for their own various reasons but they are honestly helpless to turn this around. There is no vision left to follow but that of a menopausal old lady allowing herself to be jerked around by her superiors just so her ego will remain intact.

rknil said...

"3. Tone down the graphics. Please don't read that as me dissing Bonita (I've never worked directly with Bonita so I'm not qualified to criticize her). Good graphics and design certainly help tell an important story. But a story is about the reporting and the writing."

Don't take this the wrong way, but the fact your point even needs to be written that way speaks volumes.

If we always have to cloak the need to focus on writing in some velvet glove to avoid offending the poor designers, then something is wrong.

Anonymous said...

You're choosing your words very carefully to avoid offending anyone.

And all you're doing is just adding more noise.

Do you think this is stuff nobody has ever thought of? Or suggested to Charlotte et al?

It's time to do more than "suggest" things. If you really care about journalism, it's OK to be ROYALLY PISSED OFF right now that the profession has been flushed down the toilet and is not coming back!

Not much you can do about it. But it's OK to criticize. Since when did criticism become such a bad thing?

Anonymous said...

Just got back from vacation on the gulf. If they are looking to improve the Sentinel, they need to look no further than the St. Pete Times. Good local news, good reading, no dumbed-down blurb stories.

Anonymous said...

Talk about hopeless... Read this from a BusinessWeek story about Zell and Tribune:

And so the layoffs will keep coming.Tribune has axed 1,100 people thus far, with newspapers bearing the brunt. On July 2 the Los Angeles Times scrambled to cut 150 people, or 17% of its staff. It happened so fast that one editor said he didn't know whether to nod sadly or smile to his own staff members in the hallway because he couldn't recall who was on the list.

One wonders what might have happened had someone else bought Tribune. Zell and his team have limited flexibility, but a different buyer might not have taken on so much debt. Zell says the casualties will be "significantly greater" by yearend, and he's unapologetic about that. "I knew that I needed to act as both the grenade thrower and the bomb deflector if we were going to get from here to there," he says. Getting "there," of course, would mean a big payday for Sam Zell.

zanne said...

If Sam Zell just wants to ax the whole editorial staff and just print AP news, why print the paper at all. Pretty soon the East Orange Sun will be the newspaper to get all your local news at. Thanks Zell for killing The Orlando Sentinel.