Florida Trend's Floridian of the Year
Fla. Newsmakers of 2009
People who made an impact in business, economy, science, environment, government, education, sports, philanthropy, media and our fallen soldiers.
» St. Petersburg Times / Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau
The St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau: Back — Lee Logan, Mary Ellen Klas, John Frank; front — Shannon Colavecchio, Marc Caputo, Steve Bousquet [Photo: Ray Stanyard]
In 2000, says Mary Ellen Klas, there were 92 reporters in the Tallahassee press corps. During the 2009 session of the state Legislature there were exactly half that number, she says. This past year, Klas, Tallahassee bureau chief for the Miami Herald, became part of an experiment that reflects both the grim reality at Florida newspapers and a response to it. At the close of 2008, the Herald's bureau — Klas and colleague Marc Caputo — merged with that of the St. Petersburg Times, staffed at the time by bureau chief Steve Bousquet, Alex Leary, Jennifer Liberto and occasionally by the not-entirely-retired Lucy Morgan.
The partnership was conceived amid the papers' plummeting financial fortunes and staff cuts that have more than decimated the reporting staffs in St. Petersburg and Miami. Both newsrooms are at least a third smaller than they were barely three years ago, and each had already cut its Tallahassee operations by a reporter before they struck the combo-bureau deal.
By almost any account, the Times-Herald bureau acquitted itself well in its first year — offering hope that newspapers, even in their diminished state, can continue to provide strong, enterprising coverage of the state's public officials. The bureau's discovery and coverage of now-former House Speaker Ray Sansom's largesse toward Northwest Florida State College has provided a crystalline case study both of how legislators dispense favors and how dysfunctional the funding system is for the state's system of higher education. More recently, the bureau has provided solid coverage of upheaval at the Florida Public Service Commission, including too-close-for-comfort ties between PSC staffers and executives at regulated companies.
Klas says the combined bureau has been effective at producing a stream of daily stories while keeping several enterprise efforts percolating in the background. Gone are the days of duplicating the other papers' efforts. "It's enabling us to continue the strong kind of journalism both these papers are known for," she says.
The reduction in the Tallahassee press corps is not free of journalistic impact in other places in the state, however. Klas says many other papers no longer have a full-time staffer in Tallahassee or have only one staffer. And the buyouts that have accompanied the newspaper doldrums have robbed the press corps of many experienced hands, she says. The Associated Press, meanwhile, has dropped a TV-video reporting team it had in Tallahassee.
"When you consider the whittling-down of our competitors," says Klas, "it's made for a press presence that's just not that strong." — Mark Howard
Editor's note: The St. Petersburg Times is a sister publication of Florida Trend, and Mary Ellen Klas is a former Trend correspondent.