January 21, 2009

The Sun-Sentinel Becomes Even LESS Relevant to South Florida.

A few months ago, the Post, Sun-Sentinel and the Miami Herald made a deal to increase their ability to cover news in South Florida.  The Post and the Herald have made good use of it.  The Sun-Sentinel, on the other hand, has used it to make themselves increasingly irrelevant.

As you know, I also keep a theatre blog, and a key element is finding all the reviews of plays and linking to them.  I do this because primarily because newspapers have started to use reviews as filler instead of featured articles.  That means that the review won't appear in a logical place, but wherever the idiot editor thinks  believes it belongs will solve his space problems.  The Sun-Sentinel has been the chief offender.

What the Sentinel has done to make themselves irrelevant is to also use reviews from the other papers.  Which basically means that the Sun-Sentinel is getting out of the business of covering the arts.

I have two problems with this: first, we need multiple points of view on subjective matters such as art and entertainment.  If a reviewer doesn't like, say, comedy, they will tend to downplay the quality of a funny play.  They may not pan it outright, but neither will they be able to give it an accurate review.  A second reviewer may LOVE comedy, but that may cause him to spin every comedy into a good light.  By comparing BOTH reviews, we can better determine how a given play compares to others.  The more points of view we can access, the clearer the picture of the play becomes for the theatre patron.  Of course, to be able to learn the bias of the reviewer, the same reviewer must be sent to all the plays, or concerts, or whatever.  We can't develop a baseline if it's a new writer every week.

The Sun-Sentinel is no longer providing us with a unique perspective.  It's regurgitating the views we already have.  And that makes the Sun-Sentinel absolutely worthless to the theatre patron.

My second issue is that it robs the paper of a chance to have unique content. 

In may polls, people say they don't read or watch news because "it's depressing."  They want to hear positive things.  Theatre, and the arts, provides the opportunity to provide news stories that are uplifting, refreshing, and unique.  And guess what?  There's always a new play, concert, performance or gallery opening to cover.  You can't count on a puppy saving the baby from the piranha infested canal, but there's a play opening this weekend, and every weekend.

Of course, people also are interested in TV shows and movies, but these NATIONAL events get NATIONAL coverage.  Once we know that Roger Ebert or Rex Reed like it, who cares what Joe Schmoe in Podunk thinks?  With the rare exception, the local arts scene is reserved for local coverage.

The news media in general is being run by people who no longer understand the market.  The Sun-Sentinel is a prime example of it, although virtually every news outlet is making the same mistakes.

So here are five things the Sun-Sentinel, and everyone else to a lesser degree, needs to understand if they intend to stay in the news business..

1. No one buys a paper to read the ads.  Ads are not content.  Ads are intended to bring down the cost of the paper, so that more people can afford to buy the paper.  The ads are not now and never have been the reason to publish a newspaper.  Even the classifieds are not as important as the news.

2. People buy newspapers to find out what is going on in their towns.  Yes, it's nice to read about the national elections, but let's be real: when that plane went down in the Hudson, no one rushed to the Sun-Sentinel to find out about it.  We turned to either a NATIONAL news outlet (CNN, MSNBC, FoxNews) or a news source on the scene (the NYT, NY Post, or the various TV station websites in NY).  We're not stupid; we know that the Hudson River is outside the beat for any South Florida paper.  Now, the stories that reveal the South Florida angle?  That's what we want.  But we also want to know why our office lost power for three hours on Tuesday, and whose house burned down over in the next development.  I really don't care about police corruption in Denver, Colorado.

3. We want to know who we're dealing with.  Who is "staff writer?"  Where did they study?  When we watch the news on TV, we know who's reporting.  Once upon a time, people would look at the bylines.  Why did we stop? Because the newspapers stopped featuring quality reporters.  Now the tendency is to send out whatever warm body is available.  No one gives a s**t what a bench warmer has to say.

4. Quality Editing is important.  It's excruciatingly obvious that editors are no longer vetting the stories.  Or if they are, they are so incompetent that the stories might just as well not have been vetted.  Who, what, when, where, why and how.  Key West is not in Miami-Dade county. If a story as a fish in it, you'd better tell me how big it was, and what kind of bait, the time of day it was caught, and where he was hooked.  A SCUBA diving story isn't complete if it doesn't include the depth they were diving to.   Trains don't swerve out to clip cars.

5. Headlines MatterIf the headline says "Mystery Solved," the story should reveal the solution.  If the only thing determined is what didn't happen, the mystery is NOT solved.  A possibility has been eliminated, nothing more.  The headline needs to be accurate as well as interesting.

And one last thing?  The new "front page" of the Sun-Sentinel sucks ass. If you are too ashamed to put your name in a banner across the top of the front page, it's time to shut down. And if you hired some snot-nosed MBA with a Blackberry who told you different, kick him in the nuts and dump him in the Everglades.


And don't forget to tell us how long the gator was.



  1. My father-in-law is Chief Editor at the Post, and these are dark days for the newspaper business. They've had to lay off half of their reporters and get by on a skeleton crew. And though I agree in principle that ads are not the reason people buy the paper, they are what make the papers possible. And as ad revenues move ever away to the new media, the old is withering on the vine. The printed newspaper is, alas, the buggy whip of our age, and as subscriber bases dwindle, and advertisers look elsewhere, more and more papers will vanish from newsstands. And, as is so often the case, the arts and entertainment are considered to be non-essential and are thus relegated to 'first on the chopping block' status. Remember when you could average together Hap Erstein's hatred of all but Florida Stage plays, with Jack Zinc's love of all that tread the boards to get a good idea of the reality of a show? Now it may be up to bloggers to give reviews of shows. It's not a good solution, but as the pulp industry slowly fades away, it may be the only option.

  2. Yes these are dark days for newspapers. But as far as the Sun Sentinel goes, I've always thought it sucked. I would buy a Herald or Post anytime (now or in the past) but I would never have taken a Sentinal even if it was given to me for free.

  3. My father-in-law is Chief Editor at the Post, and these are dark days for the newspaper business.

  4. yes, it's tough times for the newspaper business. All the more reason to make better choices. The Sun-Sentinel has made choices that ensure its early demise.