The Ledger, Imperial Polk County’s newspaper of record, is run by a young woman from the Old School.
Editor Lenore Devore thinks reporters should look at the wheat to be found in public records, and not the chaff of press releases peddled by taxpayer-supported ministers of disinformation.
So when the Lakeland Police Department’s “public information officer” stonewalled a young police reporter looking to flesh out details of a local shooting, Devore did what good editors do. She refused to let her newsroom take “no” for an answer.
That was in the fall of 2012, when the community and its newspaper had high hopes for Lakeland’s new police chief, Lisa Womack. But Womack quickly proved to be Lakeland’s worst enemy, and her own, as The Ledger uncovered instances of the Department falsely claiming that records did not exist or could not be found, Womack candidly if stupidly admitted she plays a “cat-and-mouse” game with the press regarding Florida’s hundred-plus-year-old public records law.
The State Attorney asked the grand jury to take a look, and The Ledger took the unusual step of allowing Devore and five of her reporters to testify under oath and behind closed doors. Journalists usually resist being “part of the story,” and for good reason. A newspaper’s credibility rests entirely upon the public’s belief that the newsroom is working for readers, and not for the powers that be.
But The Ledger didn’t report anything to the grand jury that it had not already reported to its readers.
The grand jury issued a scathing report, expressing doubt as to Womack’s fitness to serve as police chief given her hostility toward her legal duty of candor with the press and public. The report remained secret for 10 months, as the city fought tooth-and-taxpayer dollar to keep it secret.
Meanwhile, honest people who knew things and trusted their newspaper to report them began to come out of the woodwork. The more The Ledger dug, the more “new sources provided information from right under the chief’s nose,” said Devore.
The Ledger’s front page was awash in stories of sex scandal cover-ups by higher-ups. A police captain, a city human resources chief, and 28 others were fired or forced to resign. There were reports of frat-boy “bra searches” designed to frighten and humiliate rather than to serve and protect.
One officer was arrested on charges of sexual battery and stalking. Another officer admitted to requiring DUI suspects to sign forms he had not yet filled out. The State Attorney was forced to drop dozens of that officer’s cases, and later concluded that “public safety is at risk in Lakeland.”
A year after The Ledger wrote its first story detailing problems with public records at the police department, the city lost its $220,000 fight to keep the grand jury report secret. A month later, the police chief resigned.
Lakeland’s credibility is in a mighty big hole, but the city fathers won’t stop digging. And neither will The Ledger, which recently reported that the city secretly hired a public relations firm and paid it $130,000 for fruitless and futile damage control. You don’t have to live and pay taxes in Lakeland to appreciate this kind of dogged, persistent, meat-and-potatoes local reporting. Every community deserves an editor like Devore, but far too few communities have one.
Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Photo Credit: Lakeland Local)
(Photo credit: Dennis Wilkinson)
(Photo credit: Dennis Wilkinson)
Here’s to the Town Hall. We are true believers. Town Hall Meeting Day gives us one more excuse to link to Maira Kalman’s NY Times “And the Pursuit of Happiness” blog for “So Moved:” HERE. It is must read.
From today’s Tallahassee Democrat, by TaMaryn Waters:
Forget about matchmaking: Thursday’s “Speed Date Your Local Leaders” event gave residents face time with some of Tallahassee’s most powerful leaders over pizza and cold drinks.
A bell dinged every seven minutes, signaling a table change for leaders. The setup — one table, one leader, seven citizens and seven minutes of civil conversation — created a low-key dialogue at St. John’s Episcopal Church downtown.
The free event was sponsored by The Village Square and Leadership Tallahassee. Last year, the unique concept attracted roughly 60 attendees. This year, coordinators were forced to cap registration at 120 people.
Read the entire article online at Tallahassee.com.
From today’s Tallahassee Democrat editorial:
How often have you wished for a few minutes with Tallahassee’s community leaders, to share an opinion, offer a suggestion or even learn more about them? Sure, you see them at community events, fundraisers or in the supermarket, but that’s not real access.
You get your chance tonight in “Speed Date Your Local Leaders” from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 211 N. Monroe St. It’s the second year for the event, which earned Tallahassee national exposure last year for its originality. This free event, sponsored by Leadership Tallahassee and The Village Square, follows the town hall forum earlier this month.
Read the rest of the editorial online at Tallahassee.com.
“Decisions made by local elected officials play a huge part in our everyday lives, but think about it: How often do you get to interact with these officials?
Usually, it’s not until there’s some crisis like a rezoning issue, a fee-increase proposal or a looming decision affecting canopy roads or recreation.
And in how many of those cases did you help set the agenda?
Well, you get your chance Thursday night by participating in The Village Square’s “Our Town” forum co-sponsored by the Tallahassee Democrat and Leadership Tallahassee. It runs from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 211 N. Monroe St. There still are seats available, so go to http://tothevillagesquare.org to register and print your free ticket.”
Read the rest of the article online at Tallahassee.com
THE VILLAGE SQUARE CONTINUES ‘OUR TOWN’ FORUM SERIES
Leadership Tallahassee and Tallahassee Democrat partner in Tallahassee Town Hall
(TALLAHASSEE, FL) – February 10, 2014 – If you want to participate in civic life in Tallahassee but aren’t interested in preparing a three-minute speech for a commission meeting, what options do you have? Thursday night, February 13, citizens will have a rare opportunity to talk informally with both Tallahassee City Commissioners and Leon County Commissioners.
“OUR TOWN: Tallahassee Town Hall” will be moderated by the Tallahassee Democrat’s Politics and Policy Editor Paul Flemming. The program will pair commissioners from both the city and the county for a cross-governmental discussion about where Tallahassee is as a community, where we’re going, and what challenges we face in getting there. Scheduled to join the conversation are City Commissioners Andrew Gillum, Scott Maddox, Nancy Miller and Gil Ziffer; and County Commissioners John Dailey, Bryan Desloge, Kristin Dozier, Mary Ann Lindley and Nick Maddox.
The town hall program is a continuation of an ongoing series of unique local forums sponsored by The Village Square, a nonprofit formed by local leaders – from both sides of the political divide – to improve the civility and factual accuracy of the civic dialogue. The forum, co-sponsored by Leadership Tallahassee and the Tallahassee Democrat, is part of a grant funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Fund at the Community Foundation of North Florida to foster an informed, engaged community. Programming continues on Thursday, February 27 with “Speed Date Your Local Leaders.”
The program is from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at St. John’s Episcopal Church at 211 N. Monroe Street (use rear Calhoun Street entrance). It is free and open to the public, but a reservation is required. Participants are welcome to bring a take-out dinner and a drink.
Those who are unable to attend can watch the program livestream at www.Tallahassee.com or follow an online discussion on Twitter, hashtag #TDvsq.
For more information and to reserve your seat and print your ticket, go online to www.tallahassee.tothevillagesquare.org or call 850-590-6646.
Muckraking matters, but the true test of a newspaper’s mettle is its day to day commitment to telling ordinary stories in extraordinary ways.
Florida lost one of its most gifted—and beloved—storytellers Saturday when Tim O’Meilia, 65, succumbed to cancer.
O’Meilia leaves behind wife Debbie, sons Rolly and Casey, and generations of Florida journalists who took instruction and inspiration from the body of work he produced for The Palm Beach Post from 1972- 2008.
A look at the guest book for people wishing to leave condolences on The Post’s website could double as a textbook for what makes a great reporter.
“I had the express joy of knowing him for a decade,” wrote Elizabeth Dashiell of Jupiter. “He covered the Science Museum, and came out for all of our major (and minor!) events. He was a gentleman, brilliant writer and warm caring person. I loved reading his articles and loved even more spending time with him, talking about local places and strange things. He shared my love of the unusual and knew the best way to describe Florida’s uniqueness.”
O’Meilia was a low-maintainence general assignment guy who could always be counted upon to produce a high-impact story.
“Because of his ability to turn a non-story into a great read for the front page, Tim was always picked to handle the quirky piece. He was the “go-to guy” in the newsroom. He never complained — not once — and always turned the story into something worth taking the time to read. He was a real pro, a great guy and I don’t know anyone who didn’t enjoy working with him,” wrote Pete Ebel, one of the many editors who loved to handle O’Meilia’s consistently close-to-perfect copy.
Kathryn Quigley of Deptford, New Jersey “…had the pleasure of sitting next to Tim in The Post newsroom from 2000-2002. I loved seeing his sly smile and hearing his confident, quiet way with sources on the phone. ”
Investigative reporter-turned filmmaker Gary Kane weighed in from New York: “…..Yes, you CAN believe everything he wrote, whether it was a story about a Lake Worth zoning squabble or the mating rituals of turkey vultures. No factual errors. No misquotes. He wrote with a clear, concise style. His storytelling was honest, thoughtful, clever. I imagine that countless stories carrying the Tim O’Meilia byline have been clipped and pasted in scrapbooks or tucked in boxes of mementos. Tim wasn’t a newsroom prima donna. He….wasn’t obsessed with becoming a brand. He was simply a journalist. A damn fine one….”
An especially poignant tribute comes from The Post’s veteran courts reporter, Susan Spencer-Wendel, who reported her own story of living with purpose and joy following a diagnosis of Lou Gehrig’s disease. “Tim made writing look easy,” wrote Wendel, who tapped her best-selling memoir, “Before I Say Goodbye” out on an iPhone, one character at a time. “I loved his stories about a comet buzzing by or the new jaguar born at the zoo. There was such delight in them. He was a true gentleman and a fine and fair reporter.”
Post Director of Administration Lynn Kalber speaks for many others who think “Tim was part of that small, unique percentage of newspaper writers: Everything he wrote was gold. He made it look easy. He made us care about all of it. He taught us all kinds of things without letting us know we were learning. And to cap all of it off, he was one of the nicest guys around….”
O’Meilia, a Notre Dame graduate, could have spent most of his career at bigger papers with bigger audiences for bigger money. But as the condolences continue to pour in from all over the country, it’s hard to imagine any way he could have left a bigger mark.
Florence Snyder is a corporate and First Amendment lawyer. Contact her at email@example.com
From Civil Politics:
One of the most general and robust findings in social psychology is the power of situations to shape behavior. For example, if you are in a situation where you are competing with others, you will tend to dislike them, whereas when you are cooperating with them, you will tend to like them. This is relatively intuitive, yet we often fail to appreciate this in practice, and then we end up amazed when arbitrary groups put in competition end up in deep conflict. If artificially created competitions can inflame divisions (e.g. sports fandom usually pits very similar people against each other), perhaps we can also manufacture cooperation to reduce division.
Read the whole post here.
The asteroids are coming! The asteroids are coming!
OK, I don’t mean literal asteroids made of rock and metal. I mean big problems that polarize us and therefore paralyze us.
If you’re on the left, you probably have extremely acute vision for threats such as global warming and rising inequality. You’ve tried to draw attention to the rising levels of carbon dioxide, the rising average global surface temperature and the rising seas. You’ve also grown increasingly disturbed by the percentage of the national income taken home by the richest 1 percent. In fact, I’ll bet you spotted those two asteroids back in the 1990s, when it would have been so much easier to deflect them, and you’re angry that conservatives are still deep in denial. What’s wrong with those conservatives?
On the other hand, if you’re on the right, you’ve probably been tracking our nation’s entitlement spending and the rise of nonmarital births for a long time now. You’ve been ringing alarms about those two asteroids since the 1970s, but liberals have treated you like Chicken Little, completely unconcerned. Caring is spending, they seem to believe. All forms of family are equally good for kids, they assert in spite of the evidence. What’s wrong with those liberals? Read the whole piece online at Tallahassee.com.