Interviewee: Diane McFarlin
Interviewer: Julian Pleasants
Date: August 15, 2001
P: This is Julian Pleasants, and I am in Sarasota, Florida. It is August 15, 2001, and
I am with Diane McFarlin. When and where were you born?
M: I was born in Lake Wales, Florida, in July of 1954.
P: You are, I believe, a third- or fourth-generation [Floridian].
M: Fourth-generation on both sides.
P: Both sides? Very unusual.
M: Makes me a very rare bird in Sarasota because [it seems] everybody here is
from somewhere else.
P: When did your grandparents come?
M: It would have been my great-grandparents. Both sets settled in the general
Central Florida area, my father's family in Sumter County and my mother's family
in [Tampa and] Hardee County. She was born in Bowling Green, Florida, which is
a bump in the road. Then they moved to Lake Wales. But my father's family
stayed in Sumter County. My grandmother's father was sheriff in Sumter County,
and then my grandfather'ss family was in the ranching business.
P: How did you first get interested in journalism?
M: I had been interested in newspapers and in writing for a long time. We didn't
have a newspaper in my high school, but I joined the yearbook staff when I was
fifteen. It was kind of an honor to be selected because they only selected two
kids out of that class. I guess that impressed me enough that I thought I wanted
to pursue that line of work. So, I went down to [our] local [daily] newspaper. It
was called the Lake Wales Daily Highlander. It was probably the smallest daily in
the state of Florida. It was the first newspaper [in the state] to go to cold type, to
use offset, as its publishing method. Anyway, I went down to interview for a
summer job. I had not yet turned sixteen. John Marsh was the owner, publisher
and editor, and I went to talk with him. He was a friend of my father's from the
Rotary Club. I [told him] I was willing to do anything, and he said, come with me,
and he took me back into the newsroom. He handed me a press release, and he
said, rewrite this. So, I sat down at the typewriter, because I knew how to type,
and I rewrote the press release and handed it back to him. He said, there is a
youth commission meeting Monday night at City Hall; do you want to cover it? I
said, sure I do. So, I did, and then he hired me for that summer. I ended up
working there every summer in high school and college. The summer after my
junior year, the summer that I turned seventeen, I was actually left in charge of
the paper. You know, it was a very small newspaper. [Mr. Marsh] and [the]
managing editor, each had to leave town-one on vacation and one on business.
[During] the time I was in charge, the sports editor got into some trouble. He was
charged with molesting Little Leaguers. It was a horrible [situation], but there I
was faced with this and having to deal with it. I got through it, everything went
just fine, and that was it for me. I knew what I wanted to do. So, I never looked
back. It was always journalism.
P: Did you decide to publish that story about the sports editor?
M: Yes. I wrote the story and put it on page one. It was so [awkward] because [there
was a warrant for his arrest, but] they had not arrested him yet. They were trying
to find him, and he was essentially on the loose. He [eventually] turned himself
in, but at the time we did not know what his posture was going to be, so there
was a little bit of fear there. I am in the newsroom putting the paper to bed [after
writing the] story, and I [can see through] the front door out to the street. I look
out, and [there is] my father, in his car across the street, just kind of keeping
P: Or checking on you.
M: Yeah, [it must have been disconcerting for a parent. But that was] big-time stuff.
So, boy, it was in my blood. It was a great experience because I got to do
P: That is the key, isn't it? At a small paper, you learn the business.
M: It is the key. You learn every bit of the business. I actually would set headlines. I
would go back after we had written our stories and actually help [type]. I got to
take my own pictures and process and print the film. [I pulled] the wires. This was
back when we had the old TTS machines. I would pull the wires, and I got to
learn to layout pages. [I did] everything, not just reporting. It was wonderful. [I
have] great memories of that time.
P: Why did you decide to go to the University of Florida?
M: I actually went to Furman [University; Greeneville, South Carolina] for my first two
years, and that was to please my mother. She was not thrilled at the idea of me
going to a school as large as the University of Florida right out of little Lake
Wales High School. So, I went to Furman with the intent of majoring in English,
and after two years, I just begged and pleaded [to] go to the University of Florida
College of Journalism, because that is where I had wanted to go all along. It has
always been considered one of the best colleges of journalism. It was not as
accomplished back then as it is now, really, although it was a consistent winner
in the Hearst contest. I do not think it had the stature that it has now, but it was
certainly a great journalism school. Since I knew that [journalism was] what I
wanted to do, and my father had gone to Florida, it was like coming home to
finally get to the University of Florida. Of course, I was a junior and went right into
P: Did you have courses with Buddy Davis?
M: I avoided Buddy Davis. Truly, I am ashamed to say that I was such a coward, but
I was uncharacteristically timid, [meaning] uncharacteristic for a journalist. I heard
about the crown of thorns, and I had heard that he was not particularly easy on
the girls in class, and I was terrified of him. I regret to this day not taking his
course, because the people who did speak of it, even now, in terms of the great
education they got from Buddy, that he was a consummate newspaperman. So, I
am sorry that I did not take [his class], but, no, I managed to dodge Buddy's
crown of thorns.
P: Well, Carl Hiaasen was talking about him, and he said he was terrified.
M: Oh really, Carl was?
P: Yes. He said he was terrified waiting to get the grade because he said, if I got a
C, I was thrilled, because nobody did well. But he said that is the way to learn,
you know, because he was so demanding that you really had to get it right.
M: Yeah, that is right. The other thing I did not do, and I probably regret this even
more, is I did not work for the Alligator. I had in my head that I was working for a
community newspaper, and, by golly, that was better than working for the
Alligator and that I would focus on the academic side. I really regret not having
that experience and not being a part of that fraternity because I think that would
have been a lot of fun and really would have enriched my college experience.
P: It is a unique group.
M: It is a unique group, and it was extremely unique then because, I mean, this was
the mid-1970s, and the Alligator was really out there then. I am sorry that I did
not have that shared experience.
P: How many women were in journalism school when you were there?
M: That is a good question. I cannot answer that. I don't recall necessarily being
particularly struck one way or the other. You know advertising is in that college,
and I know the advertising program had a relatively high proportion of women. I
think on the news-editing track, there were much fewer women, but I don't know
what the percentage was.
P: Was Ralph Lowenstein dean then?
M: No, he had not come. I graduated in 1976, and I think he came in 1977.
P: What is your view of the importance of journalism education? I have talked to
several editors who say it is just as good to major in English and learn on the job.
M: I think that it is just as good for a lot of people. For me, journalism education
really means a head start. It positions you to hit the ground running. Generally,
journalism graduates have had a lot more practical experience. So, when I was in
the hiring mode, as I became the city editor and managing editor, I leaned toward
J-school graduates if it was sort of a general-assignment position or
governmental-beat position and I wanted somebody who could plug right in, who
knew what to do. For positions that are maybe more specialist positions, like a
medical writer or a business reporter, I think an education on that track, in that
realm, is possibly better-in fact, I am sure it is-than a journalism degree. To me,
the perfect combination is an undergraduate degree in English, political science,
social sciences, [or] health services, and a master's in journalism, so they get
that really great educational base and then go on and get more of their career
P: When you finished J-school, what was your first job?
M: Here. I was engaged to be married to my high school sweetheart, and he was in
Sarasota, working here. He said, rather than me pulling up roots just yet, why
don't you see if you can get a job here? So, I interviewed [here] the summer after
I graduated. There was a job at the Sarasota Journal, which was the sister paper
of the Herald-Tribune. It was the afternoon paper, also owned by the Lindsay
family, David Lindsay. They had a position for a reporter/copy-editor. Of course, I
had done both jobs, so I was hired. After a year, I became assistant news editor,
and then the second year I became city editor. So, my head start at the Daily
Highlander really paid off handsomely because I moved into an editing position
fairly quickly. In hindsight, I wish that I had spent more time as a reporter
because I always wished that I had more experience as a reporter.
P: What makes a good reporter?
M: You know, a lot of qualities make a good reporter. I think curiosity is a real
important quality. The ability to think critically, to have an analytical mind. You
have to know what questions to ask. You cannot just take at face value what
someone tells you. You have to know what follow-up questions to ask. Obviously,
they have to be good writers. You can teach somebody to write, but you can't
teach them to be a great writer, so that innate ability is extremely valuable. But I
have had a lot of average/mediocre writers who are great reporters. In fact, some
of the best stories that have ever been done at this newspaper were done by
people who weren't our best writers, but they were persistent. They were
courageous-meaning they could be in some really difficult situations, but they
didn't give up and they weren't afraid to ask the tough questions. So, there is a
force of personality that makes a journalistically-great reporter.
P: Do they tend to want to stay in reporting, or do most of them want to move up
into managerial ranks?
M: I think it is about evenly split. The sad thing for a paper our size is if they want to
stay on the reporting track, then we are probably going to lose them. We have
tiered reporting levels now, but after somebody has been in a reporting job for
about ten years, then it is really hard to carry them forward. You can do it with
salary, but they don't have a broader audience. They aren't able to get more
complex assignments, necessarily, because of the general economic base of
your operation. You know, you have to have reporters cover certain [local]
stories, and you don't have a lot of flexibility to send them to Ethiopia. Whereas
the larger newspapers have a much broader audience, and they are able to [give
reporters] some really plum assignments that small papers can't give them.
P: One of the things I have learned in the interviews is there is a lot of transition in
this business. If people are going to move, they tend to move up to the Miami
Herald or whatever, and then in some cases they can get a column, which they
couldn't get at the other paper, and that gives them more visibility.
M: That is right. Well, I will give you a good example-Tom Lyons. Tom came out of
the University of Florida. He started at the Gainesville Sun. He worked for me
when I was editor there for three years, and when I came here, I hired him to
come down here as a columnist. Now, he is our lead columnist, if you will, in the
Metro section and real happy. Of course, that is the best thing a journalist can do,
to have their own column. So, yeah, that is exactly right. If you can move people
into those sorts of roles, then you can probably keep them.
P: I have talked to several people who have had similar experiences, and almost
everybody I have talked to say that city editor was the most exciting job that they
M: It absolutely is the best job I ever had. I was city editor for five years. I was city
editor when the Skyway fell. I mean, my gosh, there I was. You are the maestro,
you are in the middle of everything, you are at the center of the action. I think
maybe the most frustrating thing about being city editor is you aren't often able to
go to the front lines, but you are directing it all-the eye of the storm, if you will.
You are kind of in the calm center, but you still have so much to say about what
is going on in the newsroom that day. I think that the managing editor's job may
be the best job in a newsroom, but it is not nearly as much fun as the city editor's
P: Now, when you are a city editor, you have to make a lot of almost instant
decisions, do you not, without all the information?
M: Yes, you really do.
P: Is that not sort of a pressure-filled job?
M: Yes, it is very much a pressure-filled job. You have to work from your gut, and
that can be scary, but I think that is why the best city editors are people who were
really great reporters. They develop that instinct. I can't say that I did that
because, other than the years I reported at that little Daily Highlander, I was only
a reporter here for a year, really, before I moved into the editing ranks. But still,
having been in the business for so long, I think I had developed that gut just by
virtue of being in newsrooms.
P: Okay, take me through your next stage. You are city editor for five years. Then
you become managing editor?
M: Not quite. I spent a year as, well, [the title was] assistant to the editor, but it was
really systems editor. I [oversaw installation of] the first computer system at this
company for both the Herald-Tribune and the Journal. During the year I was
doing that, the New York Times bought the Herald-Tribune and the Journal was
closed. So, once the system was installed, I moved to assistant managing editor,
then deputy managing editor, then managing editor. I was managing editor in
1985 when the New York Times asked me to be editor in Gainesville. That was in
1987. I had become managing editor in 1985 and in 1987 went to Gainesville and
was there for three years and then came back here as editor.
P: Talk about your time as deputy managing editor and managing editor. What were
your major responsibilities in those jobs?
M: As assistant managing editor, my major responsibilities were [primarily] the
advanced sections of the paper-the [daily] feature section, the Sunday paper,
things like the TV book and so on. Then when I [became] deputy managing
editor, I resumed being responsible for news. I was very happy about that
because I had missed that when I was over on the feature side. Essentially, [I
was] running the newsroom day-to-day. I mean, the managing editor technically
is running the newsroom, but [as] managing editor [I had] quite a lot of
administrative responsibilities. So, as deputy managing editor, [I was] running
news meetings, coordinating special projects, working with the city editor on what
is going to be in the paper tomorrow, and then looking a little longer-term to the
weekend editions and any kind of investigative series. That was something that
we started when I was deputy managing editor. We hadn't done a lot of project
work, and we really cranked it up during that time.
P: In that job, do you do the hiring and firing, as well?
M: Of some positions, yes. The managing editor at the time was Ed Pierce, and my
recollection is that he would interview most candidates for positions. I know when
I became managing editor and then again as executive editor, I wanted to
interview all finalists for any jobs in the newsroom.
P: A question that has come up periodically in the newspaper business, how has
your gender influenced your career, either positively or negatively? There is the
image, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, that the newspaper business was an
old boy's network.
M: Definitely. Well, I will tell you, I was blessed with great timing. I was born just at
the right time because, literally, it was a detriment to me, I believe, [to be female]
until I became city editor. That is about the time that things started to change.
Then when the New York Times bought this paper, things really changed here at
the Herald-Tribune. Women have a tendency to be more nurturing, if you will, a
little more tuned-in to the employees as individuals. I had [that style, anyway,] as
city editor. I had the hard-news bent, but I was also very cognizant of whether
the employees were enjoying themselves and what they wanted in the way of
personal development. I was, I think, a good coach individually with the reporters,
and that seemed to work very well. So, I think that tendency, which tended to be
a little unorthodox at the time, was something that propelled me in my career. I
really believe that if the New York Times Company had not come in and bought
this paper, I probably would not have risen above city editor. Here was a more
progressive company and a more progressive owner coming in, [and] I was
getting advanced pretty rapidly during that period of time.
P: At that time, did they have specific hiring preferences for women and minorities?
M: No, not that I am aware of. In fact, I was offered a job in another company that I
won't mention, and I turned it down because they were giving their editors fairly
substantial bonuses to hire and promote women. I did not want to be in that
P: This is sort of off-the-subject, but while we are on women in the newspaper
business, I would like to get your comments on Katharine Graham.
M: Katherine Graham was somebody I admired very much, and still admire very
much, predominately for her courage, but also because she demonstrated to the
world that a woman could run a large media company and do it very successfully,
that she could champion and advance the journalistic mission while at the same
time strengthening the financial condition of that company. The Washington Post
Company was floundering when she was put in charge. It is a double whammy, if
you will. The decisions she made regarding the Pentagon Papers and Watergate
really put that paper on the map journalistically, and then she was also building a
great company that somebody like Warren Buffet would consider to be a great
investment. So, yes, she is wonderful. I had the privilege of meeting her several
times. On a personal level, she was so gracious and so interested in other
people's careers, not just women, men too, and [so] unassuming and self-
effacing. Of course, you can see that in her book. I don't know if you have read
P: A wonderful book.
M: Yes. That comes across so powerfully in the book, I think.
P: And the thing that amazed me, she really had no experience.
M: Absolutely none. Just by osmosis and exposure, if you will, [from] her father and
husband. But, deep down, she had always been a frustrated journalist. She had
done some writing in Chicago, I guess it was, and had taken journalism courses
P: That is remarkable.
M: Yes, it really was.
P: I think that is what makes people enjoy that book so much.
P: An interesting point is how she was able to achieve all of that. She talks about
not wanting to speak out and being nervous addressing the staff because she
had never been there before. But she figured it out quick.
M: The first time I saw her speak publicly, which was probably as recently as maybe
twelve, fifteen years ago, she was visibly nervous, and I do not know that she
ever got totally comfortable in the public eye. But, to me, the most powerful
symbol of Katharine Graham's career is the picture of her [with] the AP
[Associated Press] Board of Directors. There are about thirty people, all men,
and there at the corner of the table sits Katharine Graham.
P: I was impressed by the pallbearers at her funeral.
M: Oh yes, and the ushers even.
P: And the ushers. The Who's Whos of America.
M: That is right, yes.
P: Are there other women you can designate as important to journalism, mainly in
the state of Florida?
M: There are a lot of women, I think. I really could just tick off a lot of names of
women who are doing great things in this industry, really great things, and whom
I admire and enjoy, and I am happy to say some of them are my friends. They
are at all levels. You mentioned Lucy Morgan earlier. Lucy is one of the best
investigative reporters in the country and has done a lot for Florida's stature in
terms of the journalism. I have been on three Pulitzer juries, and I have been so
struck by the number of women whose bylines have been on the stories that
have been finalists for the Pulitzer. I am involved with the American Society of
Newspaper Editors, and there are women in that organization whom I admire a
great deal. Sandy Rowe, of course, is very well-known for what she has done at
the Portland Oregonian. Kay Fanning was the first woman president of ASNE,
and Sandy was the second and did a great job.
P: I understand you are in line for that.
M: I am in line for that, yes, and unfortunately will only be the third woman. It has
been fairly slow progress here. That will be in April [when] I will become ASNE
president. But Sandy is a very powerful leader [with] very strong leadership skills.
She has also been a mentor to a lot of people in our business, including our
executive editor, Janet Weaver. [I think] Geneva Overholtzer, is such an eloquent
voice. She now writes a column, a former editor of the Des Moines Register and
was on the editorial board of the New York Times. Anna Quinlan [Newsweek
columnist], who left a full-time pursuit of newspapering to raise her family, but
has [excelled] as a columnist. As an editor, she was great. In fact, I [suspect] she
was in line to be executive editor of the New York Times had she not made the
decision to devote more time and attention to her children.
P: I noticed that three of the four top positions in this newspaper are occupied by
M: That is right. In fact, the American Journalism Review just wrote about that. I
wasn't real thrilled that we were given that distinction, quite frankly, because it
makes it appear as if that is some sort of objective here, and it is truly not. It is
about hiring the best people, and if they happen to be women, great. But we are
the largest paper in the country to have a woman publisher as well as a woman
editor and managing editor.
P: You left Sarasota to go to Gainesville to be executive editor. Why did you decide
to take that job?
M: It was an opportunity to have my own newsroom, to be the top editor in a
newsroom. Of course, I love Gainesville. I always have thought it was a great
town. Don't tell anybody at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, but that was the most
fun that I have had in my career. It was just a great time. It was a newsroom
ready to move to the next level and eager and hungry to do that. It was fabulous.
A lot of talent in that newsroom. It was small enough that I could really get my
arms around it, and I could still be out in the newsroom editing stories and not
tied to my desk. When I came back to Sarasota at the same position, but at a
paper much larger and more complex, I found myself tied to my desk a lot. The
gig was up then, [and] I was more of a bureaucrat at that point. So, I look back on
the Gainesville years with a lot of fondness. A lot of fine journalists came out of
P: Who was publisher then?
M: John Fitzwater was publisher. In fact, John came in February, interviewed me in
March, and I started in April.
P: What impact does the New York Times have on the newspapers it owns?
M: It is interesting. When I speak in Sarasota, that is one of the first questions I get.
It is very clear that the strong perception is that I have a red phone on my desk,
and Arthur Sulzberger-of course, it was Punch before, but one of the
Sulzbergers-is calling me constantly to tell me what to put on page one and what
our editorials should say. In fact, there is absolutely none of that. All of the New
York Times papers are autonomous, but [the company has] a deep and abiding
interest in the business side. I have to draw up a budget every year in
coordination with my bosses at the New York Times Company, and I am
expected to meet that budget, or have a good reason for not doing it. But
indirectly, the quality and the standards at the New York Times Company are so
high that it gives us a much loftier platform to operate from than we would have
with other companies, perhaps, [or] with some private owners. You know, I won't
speak of any particular family, but I think that family ownership is not necessarily
the best way to go, because very often there is a much tighter reign when you
have an owner on the premises than when you have a large corporation with
very strong standards [and a] rich tradition of journalistic integrity. They don't
want anything to violate that, to undermine that. That is a very reassuring posture
to be in. I always know that, like the St. Pete Times, we have a tradition of
excellence, and the New York Times would not want me to deviate from that at
all. It is good.
P: Do you get benefits? For example, do you get columnists at a less expensive
M: No, we don't. In fact, that is something else that people will say-well, you run all
those New York Times stories; isn't that because you are owned by the Times?
No. We were a subscriber to the New York Times News Service when we were
privately-owned, and we pay the same rate now, [relatively speaking], that we
P: One of the issues that has come up over and over again is that corporate profits
are excessive. Carl Hiaasen told me that Knight-Ridder was requiring them to get
to 25 percent, and to get to that [figure], he felt they had fired too many people,
too many necessary positions, and that the paper had gone down dramatically in
quality. Have you had that problem here?
M: Well, it is really a matter of year over year, and I have not had that problem here
because this is a very good economy. In fact, this year, I think we will probably
make budget. Now, we have had to eliminate some positions here because of
the downturn in the economy, advertising is down, but I have not had to do
anything draconian here. The problem is once you become a publicly held
company then you have another constituency that you have to be responsive to,
and it is a terrible dilemma. It really is. Now, what are the options? The options
are you do not play that game. You say to heck with the bottom-line, we are just
going to continue to invest in the product and so on. Then investors take their
money and go somewhere else. Before you know it, you are in dire financial
straits. Another option is to go private, and then you lose an awful lot of money
for investments in the product. Our press was so old and decrepit when we were
privately-owned that we had to put the sports section on the back of the B section
and jump inward. So, the sports front was on the back page of B, and you would
jump to maybe B-6, because our press capacity was so [limited] and the Lindsay
family couldn't invest in a new press without putting the whole paper at risk
because of estate taxes. So, as soon as the New York Times Company came in,
we got a brand-new production facility, all new presses, this building was
expanded and remodeled, we started opening bureaus so we could do a better
job of serving the communities in the outlying parts of our market. So, it works
both ways, and I think the real key is to maintain the business strength of your
operation without undermining the editorial integrity. That is a difficult balancing
act, but as a publisher, I have to look both to the short term and the long term.
While we have been cutting costs this year, I have also had a strategic-planning
process underway to look out ahead and say, what do we want to be and what
can we do to get there and how can we serve this community better? What kind
of news are we not delivering to the level that we should? It has been a great
process because it has allowed us to keep our eye on the horizon-keep a
perspective, if you will, about what is really important.
P: I have noticed that the Gainesville Sun, for example, in just the number of pages
is getting shorter and shorter and shorter, and they are skipping certain things.
They don't do much investigative journalism anymore. Carl Hiaasen said that
about the Miami Herald-they don't do as much of that because it is very cost
intensive. Do you continue to do investigative journalism here?
M: We do. We have had several substantive investigative projects this year, but we
are not traveling as much as we did in years past. I had to take a page of news
out of the paper-that is an average of a page per day. As I mentioned earlier, we
have had to eliminate several positions across the company. But you know what?
That will all come back. That is what I mean about the long term. If we can look
not next month but next year, I think we are better off all the way around. So, yes,
there have been some things. In fact, the readers this summer have called a lot.
Our paper gets smaller in the summertime anyway because of the seasonal flux.
We lose about thirty percent of our circulation. Of course, advertising follows that.
So, the paper gets smaller in the summer anyway, and then with the page taken
out, that has made it even tighter, and readers notice. So, one of the first things I
am going to do as soon as we get our bearings and the economy starts to come
back is that page is going back in. That is really important.
P: It is interesting that they notice it.
M: Yes. Well, this is a great market; they notice everything. If we misspell a word-
we had a word misspelled in a headline today, and I guarantee our reader
advocate probably got about three dozen calls about that word.
P: Well, that is good.
M: It is wonderful. It is just wonderful.
P: So, you have the Bradenton paper, you have Englewood, Charlotte, Venice.
P: How do those differ from the Sarasota paper?
M: Well, this is one of the most heavily-zoned newspapers in the country. It was one
of the first papers to produce zoned editions. This goes back to the 1960s, long
before I came here. We now make over extensively, meaning we change stories
and positions of stories. Our sections are actually different sizes because we are
customizing those editions for those communities. So, for example, [for] readers
in Charlotte County where we have an edition, their 1-A will look different from
the rest of the newspaper; their editorial page will be different; their obituary page
will be different; their whole B section, in fact, will be quite a bit different from the
rest of the paper.
P: Local news.
M: Sports is made over, business occasionally. We make over up to 100 pages
every night to customize those editions so that they are actually produced as if
they were being published in that community.
P: But they are all printed here?
M: They are all printed at our production plant out by the airport.
P: That is a unique process, is it not?
M: It is, but one that more newspapers are adopting because every readership
survey tells you that local news is what the readers want from you first and
foremost and that has to be your highest priority. We think that the best way to
deliver a local news package is to actually edit that paper with that community's
local news in the forefront.
P: Do you have separate editors for each of these editions?
M: We do. We have editors on site. Our Charlotte bureau, for example, has a
bureau chief, a bureau city editor, and a separate staff down there. We have
about eighteen journalists in Charlotte County, just for that one edition.
P: Talk a little bit more about your three years in Gainesville. What was your major
achievement as you look back at your time at that paper?
M: I think my major achievement was rebuilding the newsroom, if you will. It had
gone through kind of a dark period, and so I was able to rejuvenate and expand
that newsroom. The Times was just wonderful, very supportive, [and] allowed me
to add about a dozen positions and add pages to the paper. We had a growth-
spurt then, and that was a lot of fun. I was able to put some folks in positions of
influence, like Jacki Levine, who is brilliant. She was sort of hidden away in a
corner, and I was able to promote her to a manager's position, and other folks
there, as well. In terms of coverage, I think the achievement I am proudest of is
the coverage we did of the athletic department and what was happening with
Coach [Norm] Sloan [University of Florida basketball coach] and Coach [Galen]
Hall [University of Florida football coach]. I was proudest of the fact that we were
willing to do something highly unpopular with the knowledge that in the long term
it was going to make that program stronger and, of course, [have] higher
integrity. We won the Green Eye Shade Award. We beat out the St. Pete Times
and the Miami Herald. You know, the award itself is not important, but what it
symbolized was extremely important, that we had risen to that level on the
investigative journalism front.
P: The Gainesville Sun might be responsible for hiring Steve Spurrier [UF football
M: Indirectly, I guess, we are.
P: Well, that in and of itself is a great accomplishment for football fans. Did you feel
undue pressure about sports in Gainesville?
M: Yes, I did. I felt a lot of pressure about sports. I felt even more pressure, perhaps,
about growth-that conflict between the staunchly no growth camp on one side,
the extreme pro growth camp on the other side, and what I thought was the
responsible middle ground, which was: growth is inevitable, but how can we do it
well and what does Gainesville want to be when it grows up? We are dealing with
the very same issue here in Sarasota. In fact, before you came, that was the
topic that our editorial board was discussing. I think the newspaper's role in that
debate is so critical, and what we have to do is facilitate that debate and inform
people to participate in that debate without putting our thumb on the scale too
heavily. Our editorial board is a microcosm [of the debate] because on the board
we have the folks who basically wanted to shut the gates-don't let another
person in-and the folks who think that for this community to prosper it has got to
encourage growth. What is right for the community is ultimately up to the people
who live here, not to this newspaper. But I think the more that we can open the
floor to debate and create that forum and weigh-in to a responsible extent, then
we are doing the greatest service we can possibly do for this community.
P: I think that growth management is probably the most important issue in the state.
M: I think so, too.
P: And Earle Bowden and Tippen Davidson and almost everybody I talk to, they
have a very strong sense of responsibility, like you do, to educate the public
because growth management is a topic, that most people know very little about.
So, it is really up to the newspapers to inform the public.
M: Well, the public, unfortunately, deals with it on a visceral level. You know, we
write a lot about growth and the mechanisms of growth, and most people don't
want to spend time with that. They only get involved and care when it means
there is going to be more traffic on their route to work or that there is going to be
an apartment complex going up on the next street. So, it is very, very hard to
really educate a community when they aren't dealing with it on an intellectual
level. That is a real trick for newspapers, how you get the community engaged
and how do you get them away from emotionalism and get them to think of it in
terms of quality of life and guiding principles and what do we want this
community to be like ten, twenty, thirty, fifty years from now. It is a real challenge.
P: It looks like to me that it has grown responsibly. I drove down Main Street as I
came into town. That has sort of been refurbished a little bit.
M: It has.
P: The county courthouse looks wonderful.
M: It is elegant, isn't it?
P: Yes. I do not know when that was done.
M: Very recently, last year.
P: Yes. So, it looks like to me that there are some developments here, but it does
not seem to be in a negative mode. Armands Key and all that, that retains its
charm, and nobody has put up any horrible looking condos out there.
M: That is right.
P: Plus, I understand you are getting a Ritz Carlton.
M: We are getting a Ritz Carlton. I sat down with Leon Eplan, who was the chairman
of the Urban Lands Institute Task Force that Sarasota County brought in two
years ago to help us put together a plan for the future of Sarasota County. Leon
is very involved with the Urban Lands Institute and is from Atlanta, where, of
course, there has been an awful lot of growth and much of it not good growth. He
said, you know, Sarasota County is in such an enviable position because you
have had slow growth up until now, and you can look across the state at Fort
Lauderdale, at Miami, even down to Naples, Fort Myers, and you can see what is
it [you] do not want to do, and how can [you] learn from their experience. So, yes,
I think we have a golden opportunity here, and this newspaper has a heavy
responsibility in making sure that opportunity is taken advantage of.
P: Now, in 1990, you decided to return to Sarasota as executive editor. Why did you
make that decision?
M: It was difficult to make it, but [it was] primarily because I already had a lot
invested in this community. I had been here for a number of years before going
to Gainesville. It was an opportunity to stay in the New York Times Company
[while advancing] to a paper twice the size of Gainesville as editor. So, it was a
great career opportunity, and personally it was attractive, even though I would
have been happy staying in Gainesville for many more years. I just loved
Gainesville. It is a funny story [of] when I was asked if I would be interested in
going to Gainesville. Jack Harrison, who was president of the company of the
time, called me up and he said, dear, I hope you know that if you go to
Gainesville you will never go back to Sarasota because your replacement as
managing editor will succeed Bill Mcllwain when he retires, so I just want to make
sure you are clear on that. I said, I understand, that makes perfect sense, and,
yes, I know that is the risk I am taking. It didn't work out that way, because when
Bill announced that he was going to retire, they did ask me to come back. So, it
sort of [seemed] like destiny, this was meant to be, [that] I should go back to
[End of side Al]
P: How was your job as executive editor at the Sarasota paper different from the
M: I think the biggest difference was I had to step a little farther away from the
hands-on journalism. That was a tough adjustment. That was my first
[predominately] executive position, if you will, because in Gainesville I was able
to manage the executive part of it without quite as much time spent in meetings
and with reports. [Sarasota] is just a much more complex operation. We now
have six editions. The competitive pressures are much greater here. The market
is much more complex and diverse. I came back in 1990, and we redesigned the
newspaper very soon after I got back. [I guess] I have a penchant for redesigns.
Then we started SNN, our twenty-four-hour cable channel. So, there were a lot of
projects taking my time and attention, and I found that I had to delegate a lot of
the hands-on journalism. My [involvement with] the journalism was [often limited
to] story meetings and the [daily] news meeting. [I wasn't able to spend as much
time] at the front end, sitting] down and talking] with reporters about stories and
how we wanted to approach [them]. That is [so rewarding], but it takes time, and I
found that I didn't have the time anymore to do that [as a matter of routine].
P: Apparently, the buzzword now in journalism is convergence.
P: So, you became, I guess, what is called director of broadcasting.
P: How did you happen to get into that? I noticed earlier you obviously have been
interested in technology because you set up the first computer system.
M: The first computer system, that was kind of interesting. [I did that because it was
a challenge. I had never had any exposure to computers and knew nothing about
them. I got my pilot's license for the same reason. It was something that I didn't
know anything about. It was a challenge. It turned out [that the computer project
gave] me immense power, because I was the only one in the building who knew
anything about this system, and everybody, including the publisher, was coming
to me to ask, what do you do here and how do you do this? [In fact, I think] in any
organization now, the people who have the power are the ones who know how to
operate the computer system! The SNN [endeavor] is a real tribute to Walter
Mattson, who at the time was president of the New York Times Company. He is
now retired. Walter came to Lynn Matthews, who was the publisher at the time,
and myself and said, I want you to talk with Channel 40, which is our ABC
affiliate and a competitor in the media world, about how you might work together.
Well, when we peeled ourselves up [off] the floor, we were shocked that he
would even suggest this and, of course, immediately thought, well, this is nuts.
But he suggested that we visit with one of the New York Times affiliate stations in
Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. So, we flew up there in January and met with Elden
Hale, who was the general manager of WNEP in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania,
and we talked about TV and newspapers and how they could get along and what
they could do for each other. It was another epiphany. It was an eye-opening
experience to really see that we serve the news consumer in very different ways,
and they are very complementary. So, we were able to work ourselves through
that prejudice-and it was deep-seated-and we approached Channel 40. They
had enlightened management, if you will, and so we forged a partnership long
before anybody else was doing this. Again, it was Walter Matson's brainstorm, it
was not ours. We shared news with them. We would give them stories, and they
would read the first graf [paragraph] or two of the story and then say, for more
information on this story, see tomorrow's Herald-Tribune. We got the exposure
and the promotion and they got more content, so it really was a win/win
[situation]. Well, new management came in at Channel 40, a manager who had
not come up through the news side. He had come up through advertising. During
the Cable Retransmission Act process in Congress, we were covering that from
the local perspective and not covering it to his satisfaction. He wanted us to skew
the coverage to make him look good and to make the people on the other side
look bad. We explained to him how we did things here and he didn't quite get it,
so that partnership dissolved, fell apart. That would have been in 1993. We
thought, but, you know, this TV thing makes a lot of sense because it really is
expanding our reach. We are extending into markets, we are reaching people-
predominately young people, poorer people-who are not reading newspapers to
the extent they did years ago. So, we wanted to do more. About that time, a new
executive for COMCAST comes in, their new local executive. We start up
conversations with him, and before you know it, we are talking about doing a
twenty-four-hour cable news channel patterned after CNN Headline News. This
is, I guess, all a situation of the planets being aligned because the president of
the New York Times Company at that time wanted to do some experimentation in
the electronic realm. There was money to be had. We put together a proposal,
and it was approved. We invested $2,500,000 into digital equipment, and six
months after we got the approval, we launched the first all-digital [twenty-four
hour] TV operation in the country, the first twenty-four-hour cable news channel
in Florida, and the first cable channel to be produced out of a print newsroom-in
other words a newspaper producing this channel out of their newsroom.
Chicagoland, the Chicago Tribune's twenty-four-hour channel, [was the first] to
be connected to a newspaper, but their TV operation was a satellite operation
with different, separate leadership. What we did here is we put SNN in our
newsroom. I was in charge, the advertising director was in charge of the
advertising, and we did it as an inherent part of our operation. That was truly a
converged newsroom, although I have a little bit of a problem with the word
convergence, because I think it is really about multimedia. Convergence will
come when the TV set and the PC converge. But our newsroom was, in fact, a
blended newsroom. It was a very frustrating process, but an exciting one and one
that gave me a lot of personal satisfaction.
P: Certainly cutting-edge.
M: Very cutting-edge, but, whenever you are a pioneer, you have arrows in your
back. It was controversial in some ways.
P: Does that mean you would send out reporters with camcorders?
M: No, it does not, although when we were first talking about this, that was
considered. In fact, the New York Times had just invested in an outfit that sent
reporters with cameras-they called them one-man bands-into foreign countries
to cover the news. They would set up the camera on the tripod and [deliver] their
report. They were really doing it all. They were doing the reporting, they were
shooting the video, and they were doing the standup. Well, that makes sense if
you are going into Macedonia, but it really doesn't make sense when what you
are trying to do on a local level is develop and nurture specialization, and that
specialty includes the ability to write or the ability to do on air reporting. It is very
rare to find people who do both well. So, we determined very early on that we
didn't want to do that, but what we did want to do is ask the print reporters to
share information with the broadcast journalists, to write voice-overs for anchors,
and to sometimes even do reporting in front of the camera. But generally when
they do that, they are being interviewed, they are being asked about the story.
P: So, in effect, they are writing the copy for the newscast.
M: Very often. But most of the stories that you see on our newscast that are being
reported out, that copy has been written by the broadcast journalist who did the
story. But the tip [and] a lot of the background information is [often] from the
P: You share.
M: Yes, it is shared.
P: I guess this also points out what Dan Rather was talking about the other night.
M: Wasn't that great? I wanted to send him an arrangement of flowers.
P: He said on television, that you can't find enough information about stem cells on
television; you have to read the newspapers. Obviously, this conveys that.
M: That was such a progressive statement because what he was saying was, you
know, we can work together, and only together can we fully serve you, the
reader, the viewer. You aren't going to get it all from me, and you may not be
satisfied with just the newspaper. You hear about it first from TV, more than
likely. Your notification comes from television. If you are busy, if you are trying to
get the children off to school and you are overwhelmed, you don't have time to sit
down and read the newspaper thoroughly. You can watch TV and you can hear
what is going on. You can go, gosh, they are talking about growth east of 1-75;
that is a subject I really want more information about, so I'm going to go to my
newspaper and I'm going to read about that in more detail. Then, of course, you
[have] the website. When we launched our website, then we had a three-way
convergence, and that introduced a lot of other possibilities. The example that I
love to use is [when] the local police S.W.A.T. team broke into a man's house,
they thought he was suicidal. He had a gun. He raised the gun. They thought he
was going to kill them. They shot to the man to death, and a task force was sent
in to determine what happened. When that report was published, we had the
story in the paper that really told you everything you needed to know about that
story. But on SNN, the reporter walked the viewers through the house, showed
them the bullet holes, gave them the sort of dramatic side of the story, and then
we sent everybody to the website to read the full task force report, with pictures
and [graphics]. It is a classic example of why multimedia makes so much sense
for news organizations and why multimedia really is the key to our future.
Because if we limit ourselves to one means of distributing information, of telling
the story, then we run the risk of some people saying, sorry, I can get [by without
P: So, if Sarasota 2050 is meeting about expansion east, you might have maps or
additional information online. In other words, you would expand the coverage and
show where it might be and what the discussion was.
M: Exactly right. Last night there was a public meeting on this 2050 plan. Well, SNN
was able to tell the viewer very quickly what was happening, and then we could
post stories. You start out with a paragraph, but at least anybody who is on the
website at the time can follow what is going on [and] they can participate in
chats. [This] is a different sort of relationship.
P: They can give their opinions about what is going on.
M: Exactly. Now, they can do that in the newspaper, too, but they can't do it in real
P: No. Now, my figures are that you reach 160,000 households. Is that about right?
M: A little low, now. I think it is more like 175,000.
P: Has that improved circulation numbers?
M: We think so because our research indicates that. Let me see if I can recall this
correctly. We just did a thorough Belden survey, a readership survey. I am going
to use round numbers because I can't remember the exact numbers, but about
25 percent of the people surveyed said that they went to SNN because of
something they read in the newspaper, and a similar number said they went to
the newspaper because of something they heard on SNN. The figures for
newscoast.com, our website, were quite a bit lower, but there was still that
crossover. To me, that demonstrates that it has improved our readership. What
we are not able to determine is how it has affected our circulation because when
someone subscribes, we don't say, are you subscribing because you heard us
on SNN? I kind of doubt that [many] would, but I think [the visibility of the Herald-
Tribune has improved on SNN] has improved readership, and readership in the
long-term is more important than circulation.
P: Your daily circulation, according to Florida Trend is about 116,000?
M: No, that is high. Our average daily circulation-you know, that seasonal flux
again-is about 107,000, and Sunday about 135,000.
P: Why is it always higher on Sunday?
M: Time. I think people are so time-stressed now, and that has affected newspaper
readership more than any one factor, in my opinion. We are multitasking, all of
us, all the time, and something has to give. Increasingly, the newspaper during
the week is what is being sacrificed. But on Sunday, they have time to spend with
the newspaper and absorb it.
P: What is the future of the physical newspaper as we now know it? Is it going to
M: It is not going to disappear as long as I am in the newspaper business. I am
confident of that, so I am pretty sanguine about this whole issue. But I do believe
that within the next five years, people will be able to get their newspaper by
another means, and that might be a CD, it might be electronic ink, it might be
some sort of download system with a special printer. I think what will happen,
[ultimately], is that people will be [printing] their own newspaper [at home]. But I
really believe that for a long time people are going to want something that they
can carry around, something that is packaged for them. The thing about [the
Web] is there is so much. It is hard to access information in an orderly way. What
you can do is drill down so effectively, so if you have a deep interest in a
particular subject, then nothing beats the Internet, as long as you know the
sources you are using and how reliable they are.
P: In effect, you package the information for them.
M: Exactly, yes. We have made judgments for them. I love the serendipity of
newspapers. I love to just open a newspaper. I am presented with options, and I
can get through those options much more quickly than I can create them for
myself on the web, even with push email or any of that. The thing about a
newspaper is you can just pick it up, and you can start leafing through, and you
can pick and choose what you want to read, and you can take it with you and
read it wherever you want to read it. Eventually, there will be electronic means for
doing that, and that is why I am trying to keep our presses going for as long as I
can. I don't want to invest a huge amount of money in that technology, because I
really believe that before those presses conk out, we will be delivering [the
newspaper] to people in a wholly different way.
P: So, somebody in Gainesville might just want to get the sports section and print it
M: That is right.
P: What other technology is in the future?
M: There is a lot of discussion about wireless. Really, to me, that is more analogous
to TV than it is to newspapers. I think that, as an industry, we will be doing an
awful lot of experimentation about how to get sound bytes to people. But when it
comes to in-depth information and the most comprehensive source of local news,
newspapers are going to remain preeminent for many years. I really believe that.
I think that the reason why news organizations need to do whatever they can to
be as multimedia as they possibly can is because they do need to have other
options to touch people. They can't just rely on the printed product because too
many people are opting out. I will never forget when I realized that I had to pay
attention to this. I was sitting in a focus group before we even started this
partnership with Channel 40. It was behind a two-way mirror, so I could see them
[but] they didn't know who was sponsoring this focus group. It was a group of
professional people. We had the designed the focus groups around certain
demographic groups. So, we had doctors, architects, lawyers. To sit there and
listen to them testify about how they got the news [was painful because many of
them] got it from word-of-mouth. They were saying they didn't read the paper,
they did not watch TV. Yes, they would read magazines.
P: They talk about it when they are working out or something.
M: Yes. It is word of mouth, but it is also sort of osmosis, that there is so much
information out there and people are being so bombarded that they don't think
they have to go out and get it, necessarily.
P: What is your greatest competition? Is it television, or is the Tampa Tribune or the
St. Pete Times?
M: Time. I really believe it is time. But when you talk about other media
organizations, at this point, it is other newspapers, and it depends on the
geographic area. We have no direct competitor in Sarasota, and for the three-
county area, we are the largest newspaper. But if you talk about Bradenton, it is
the Bradenton Herald; in Port Charlotte, it is the Charlotte Sun Herald. Tampa
and St. Pete come in to a very minimal extent. They are really not a competitor at
this point. TV-SNN faces competition from the other TV stations, but not
significant competition, because our niche is different. We are all about
convenience and all about getting news when you want it, not having to make an
appointment at 6:00 p.m. to get the news.
P: You were named publisher in 1999. How did you happen to get that job? Who
made the decision?
M: I went kicking and screaming. I really did. I had been approached twice before
about going into a publisher-training program, and I rejected [the idea]. [The third
time was different]. The timing wasn't great for me, but my predecessor was
interested in retiring. I thought, well, it is either me or somebody else, and I would
rather it be me to lead this newspaper because I love this community, I have a lot
invested in this newspaper, this has really been my family, and I want to stay with
the New York Times Company, ideally. I [still] lost a lot of sleep over the decision
because I didn't think there was life after a newsroom. I just didn't think that I
would be as rewarded as I had been in the newsroom, but I finally came to the
conclusion that I would still be advancing great journalism. I would be doing it
from a different vantage point and at a different level, and there would be an
opportunity to interact with the community in a way that I had not been able to do
as a detached, impartial editor, and that had a lot of appeal for me. I was ready to
spread my wings and learn more about the business holistically. Still, it was a
very nerve-racking experience. It was very, very difficult. After I made the
decision, I was [named] associate publisher. The plan was that I would be
associate publisher for a year before Lynn retired. He was going to retire in July
of 2000. So, I was named associate publisher in July of 1999, and I had big
plans. I was going to go to an extended-training program. I was going to take a
short sabbatical, because I had never really taken much of a vacation over the
years, so I was going to take time just for myself, to replenish. I was going to
spend time in each of the departments working. We had a wonderful training-
program mapped out. Literally, a few weeks after I was promoted, Lynn was
made publisher of the New York Times Regional Newspaper Group, and I was
put in the publisher's role. What he did was he stayed here and worked out of
this office, and then I [officially] became publisher in November of 1999.
P: Well, you had that experience before, so you knew what to do.
M: That is true.
P: Is this your most challenging job?
M: Yes, by all means it is the most challenging job.
M: More constituencies to be aware of and concerned about. Learning parts of the
business that I really had very little knowledge and understanding of before-
business side predominately, but also the production side. I was one of those
arrogant editors who said, here are the pages; now you worry about how it gets
produced into a newspaper. I am touched more by the politics in the issues. As
an editor, you can simply say, here are the facts; you deal with the truth, or you
deal with the interpretation of the truth and what you think is good or bad about
this. But there was a lot more freedom to that, I think, and the rules were clearer
than they are now.
P: What financial, editorial, or circulation problems did you find when you took over
as publisher, if any?
M: There were problems. In the first year, I had to replace three department heads,
three people at the executive level. In addition to those three I had to replace,
one department head was promoted to a publisher position, so I had to put a new
person in that role. [It] was challenging. But the people I brought in are fabulous,
and there has been so much improvement and progress. I feel farther along now
than I thought I would be after nearly two years.
P: What overall goals did you have when you took over?
M: I had several goals. One was a personal goal. I wanted to prove that I had
business mettle as well as journalistic mettle. I wanted to prove that good
journalism makes good business. I wanted to demonstrate to the community that
we were not a monolithic detached organization but that we were a very caring,
concerned organization that had the best interests of the community at heart and
that we wanted to be an integral part of the community, that we were open, that
we wanted to hear from the public. Right before I became publisher, I started
something in the newsroom called the Reader Advocate Program, where we
have somebody at a phone every day to hear from readers. We invite them to
call us, tell us if we got something wrong, what we are missing, and it has turned
into just a wonderful exercise from both the standpoint of being more open to our
readers, but also understanding them better and understanding ourselves better.
When people challenge you about something, whether it is the wet paper in their
yard or your editorial or how you play the Israeli-Palestinian story that day, you
start to understand yourself better. I wanted to extend that attitude throughout the
company. It is called customer service, but it is really good journalism, too, and it
is good business.
P: As publisher, I notice that you are on the United Way board and the Community
Foundation. What is that? I am not sure.
M: The Community Foundation is my favorite assignment. Generally, people leave
their estate to the community foundation. Of course, that money is invested, and
we have quite a nice nest-egg now. I am on the grants committee, and we
[review] grant requests, and we [allocate] money. At our meeting this week, we
granted $300,000 to various community organizations.
P: Could you give me an example?
M: Yes, the Florida Studio Theater has a Write A Play program that they want to
take into the schools. The message is about tolerance, and they are going to
take it into every middle-school classroom in Sarasota County. We gave them
$25,000 for that. We paid for a van for a daycare center that is predominately
made up of kids from lower income homes who really could not afford to pay for
this on their own. We gave money to an organization that collects used furniture
and gives it to needy families. That sort of thing. We do this quarterly. It has been
a great thing for the community. One of the first things I did [as publisher of the]
Herald-Tribune [was] start a fund called Season of Sharing. It is targeted toward
homeless kids. We have a serious problem here in all three counties [with]
homeless families. The root causes are very deep. It is the fact that our income
level for service workers is so low here, and we don't have enough affordable
housing. But the purpose of this fund is, while we deal with these deeper and
broader issues, [to provide] emergency money. We need money that the
agencies don't have to justify spending, that they don't have to go through all the
bureaucracy and the paperwork. They just have this money, and if a family needs
this month's rent, or they need an electrical deposit, [they can be helped].
Anyway, that is a fund for the Community Foundation, too.
P: So, obviously, part of your responsibility as publisher is to work with a lot of
P: Do you encourage other members of the paper to do so as well?
M: I do, but I think that the publisher's responsibility to [get out into the community] is
possibly the greatest because there is a lot of symbolism attached to the title. So
often I am asked to do things, and they could care less [about] Diane McFarlin
but they want the publisher of the Herald-Tribune. I try not to turn down
meaningful requests, whether it is to sponsor a table or give a speech or [sit] on a
panel or just show up.
P: What new practices have you put in since you have been in your current
M: Well, there are a lot of new practices.
P: Not in great detail, but an overview.
M: I think [what] I feel best about is that I have tried to facilitate a culture change
here, one that is not autocratic, that is not so top-down, but giving the folks on the
front lines a greater sense that they have some say, in terms of how we operate
and how we deal with readers, with viewers, with advertisers, with subscribers
[and] business customers. I would love to think that everybody who comes to
work here looks forward to it, that they feel like they are doing something
important for the community and for the industry and that they are appreciated
[and] their efforts are appreciated. But if they are not performing up to par, they
should move on because this organization really won't support that. We are one
of the 100 newspapers being studied by the Readership Institute at
Northwestern, and one of the projects revolved around culture. One of the
conclusions that they have reached is that a reason for the newspaper industry's
decline, if you will, or the loss of readership, is that our organizations operate
very much like the military and hospitals, that we are not as responsive as we
need to be to our communities, that we are very top-down organizations and we
have rules, lots of rules, and most of them do not make sense anymore, and that
the most successful companies in this day and age are ones that have
constructive cultures. Out of those 100 newspapers, I believe it was thirteen that
had constructive cultures. Now, all thirteen were mildly constructive. Compared
to other industries, newspapers still do not fare very well. But [the Herald-Tribune
is] one of the thirteen constructive cultures, and I am really proud of that. I am
proud of that because I think that ultimately that is the key to doing your job well-
[that] you have good people who want to stay in your organization and want to
contribute to your organization.
P: We have already talked about this somewhat, but it is one of our set questions
for the survey. What are the most important functions of the paper? You have
already addressed this to some degree, but could you sort of summarize it?
M: The most important function of the newspaper is the journalistic function, and that
is to inform the community in a fair and balanced way, to be as thorough and
complete as you possibly can-in other words, ethical journalism with the highest
standards. The other is to support that mission through a profitable business
operation, and the best way to do that is to create an effective marketplace for
local business, so that you [can] complete that circle. You create the market by
providing credible journalism because credible journalism sells better than
anything in the media world. So, you create that marketplace, and then
advertisers are willing to pay good money to reach those readers, and that
money supports the journalism. I think a third role of a newspaper is to set the
example for corporate citizenship. Newspapers are generally one of the oldest
organizations in any community. We are certainly one of the most visible
organizations in any community, so we are so well-positioned to set that example
and to set a standard, too, to say to a community this is what local businesses
and even nonprofit organizations ought to be doing for this community. Related
to the first one and the third one is this whole editorial mission and providing
editorial leadership in the community. I hate this term of "setting the agenda." I
don't think this is what we do. I think we support the agenda, and we help the
community set the agenda by giving them the information they need, by
identifying critical issues. Homelessness is one [example]. Nobody cared, nobody
was really paying any attention. So, I guess you could argue that we set that
agenda, but if the community ultimately says, we don't care, could you shut up
already? we will, because it is really the community's responsibility. It is not this
newspaper's responsibility, but I think we do have the responsibility to tap them
on the shoulder and say, excuse us but we have a problem here, folks, and here
is what the problem is. Here is how bad it is, and here is why it exists. Here is
what can be done about it, and here is what we think. And we are going to set up
this fund so this will help, but now it is up to you.
P: Do you think readers trust newspapers and believe that they are accurate?
M: No. I think that in Sarasota we probably have a higher measure of trust, not
because we are so wonderful but because of our market. The folks who live in
Sarasota are predominately retirees. They grew up on newspapers and they
grew up trusting newspapers, so there is a higher measure of trust here than in
most communities but through nothing that we have done [necessarily]. I chaired
the ASNE Ethics Committee three years ago when ASNE started the National
Credibility Project, [and] the first thing we did was hire Chris Urban to do
research. It was exhaustive research. It was a good sample of the American
public. What we discovered is that there was not a high level of trust of American
newspapers. A shocking number of people, just to give you an example, thought
that advertisers influenced what we publish. If they only knew the extent to which
most credible newspapers go to prevent that from happening. What was
[particularly] painful to me was [that] the very year that research came out was
the year that we did two series in this community that cost us hundreds of
thousands of dollars, literally [over] $500,000, because it dealt with two very large
local businesses, and exposed unethical business practices. One CEO went to
federal prison [as a result of our coverage]. Both large companies pulled all their
advertising, and they were big clients. I was editor at the time, Lynn Matthews
was publisher, and he never once said anything to me except, I know you are
certain that this is right. I said, I am. The CEO threatened to sue us, and we [had]
conversations about libel action, but never once did [Matthews] say anything to
me about the loss of advertising. I think most good newspapers function that
way, and it is painful to think that the American public doesn't buy it.
P: I think there is sort of a general distrust of politicians and any news media, and I
think over a period of time they are very, very careful about what they....
M: We are all lumped together. The analogy that Chris Urban used when she
delivered the report is [that] all research on Congress shows that the general
public doesn't trust Congress, but they trust their local congressman. It really
works that way with the newspapers, too. They don't trust newspapers in
general, but if you ask them about their local newspaper, then the credibility
quotient goes up substantially. So, I guess that is the good news: where [we]
have the greatest impact, we also have the better relationship.
P: How has your readership changed since the time you first came to the Sarasota
M: It is a lot younger and a lot more diverse, and that has been a real challenge for
us. When I first came to Sarasota, the Herald-Tribune had the highest
penetration rate in the country on Sunday, and we were consistently in the top
five and then in later years the top ten daily. Amazing reach, and that was
because it was one of the oldest communities and also one of the most well-to-
do communities. We had older people [with] lots of time [and] lots of money, [who
were] highly-educated, widely-traveled, just generally very sophisticated people,
and they were newspaper readers. As time has gone by, [this has changed]. In
fact, the 1990 census said the fastest growing segment of our population was the
young adult segment. So, we have had this influx, and it is great. In terms of
community, it is a wonderful thing because the more diversity the better. In terms
of newspaper readership, it has undermined our readership, and our penetration
now is in the mid-fifties.
P: How have reporters changed during that time?
M: Definitely more diverse culturally than before. When I came here, [there were
mostly] white guys in the newsroom. In fact, I was part of the diversity movement,
[in a way]. Bringing in a woman and then promoting her to city editor was a bit of
a shock to the system. So, that is probably the biggest difference. I do not know
that there is much difference in terms of tenure or longevity, experience level. We
have always tended to be a newspaper that hired people with about three years
of experience. We don't hire right out of college very often. We do, but not as
much as smaller newspapers.
P: How have the letters to the editor changed over the years?
M: This is one of the most rewarding parts of this newspaper, the letters page. I
know a lot of people who turn there first because these same people that I talked
about before [-these older, more experienced people-write about issues with a
lot of direct knowledge. They were there.] They were the deputy commissioner
of whatever it is, and they have firsthand information. Or they have a Ph. D. in
whatever it was or they were a diplomat in whatever country. The letters are so
rich, and the people here are [literate] writers. Unfortunately, even though we
devote more space to letters than any other newspaper our size, I would guess,
we still can only publish about a third of the letters that we [receive]. [Other
newspapers struggle to attract writers.] They practically have Wingo contests to
get people to write letters.
P: Who chooses the letters?
M: We have a letters editor, and she is all-powerful. She is the most influential
person in town, I think. She chooses them, [but] if she has any questions, she
confers with the editorial page editor.
P: And they have to be signed?
M: They have to be signed, and we check the address and phone number to make
sure that it is really the person they say they are.
P: I noticed today that some of the writers were disagreeing with other letter writers,
so there is a little dialogue going on.
M: Oh, yes, these great debates get started. Now, [other] people will respond to
P: Who chooses your columnists? How do you determine which ones you are going
to run and on what days?
M: The editorial page staff does that, and they try to get a nice mix everyday of
conservative, liberal, middle-of-the-road, men, women, black, Hispanic. We
generally have a [good] mix.
P: Do you have editorial cartoonists here, or do you use national syndicated
M: We have a local cartoonist who works for us on a freelance basis. He does local
cartoons. I would say he probably averages five a week. They do not run daily.
Oftentimes, we will run more than one on Sunday. But he is great. He has lived
here for years, and he has a comic strip, too.
P: So, it is local?
M: Yes, he is local. In fact, [Sarasota has] a cartoonist colony. We have several
syndicated cartoonists living here. Mike Peters is the best-known, [along with]
Chris Brown, who does Hagar the Horrible, and there are several others.
P: But do you use Mike Peters' editorial cartoons?
M: We do, but we do not use him on a daily basis as the Dayton Daily News does.
P: So, you would have to obviously buy them for the syndicate, right?
M: We do buy them from the syndicate, yes. We use his [comic] strip, too. In fact,
we use all the locals. Brooke Macodowneys and Chris Brown and Mike Peters,
and there are a couple of others whose names I am forgetting, who actually live
here or have a part-time residence here.
P: But there have been a lot of authors and other people who have retired and [live
M: Yes. You know, it has an art heritage. It is a great town. There is a lot of culture
here and a lot of history.
[End of side A2]
P: What influence do you have on editorial decisions?
M: Theoretically, I have the final say. In practice, I don't read every editorial before it
goes in the paper. There are certain subjects that the editorial page editor knows
to come in and discuss with me, and I participate in editorial board meetings such
as the one we had today. We were dealing with a very important issue, and that
was our position on the comprehensive plan revision that deals with growth east
of 1-75. This is a burning issue here and one that has been protracted. It has
been discussed for years and years. So, I was an energetic participant in that
discussion. [When we editorialize on] highly controversial topics, Tom will come
in with a proof for me to read. [I am] peripheral, but he and I meet on a weekly
basis to talk about what is in the news, what is going on out there and what are
we likely to be commenting on in the next week or so. I like to reach consensus,
at least 80/20, with the editorial board, but very often there is one, maybe two,
holdouts on whatever issue it is. For the elections recently, we reached
consensus on every office. We kept at it until we were in agreement.
P: What impact do you think your editorials have on these elections?
M: I think the impact is huge. I think it is diminishing because as this new generation
comes up in the world and takes positions of leadership, newspapers [won't]
have quite as much sway as they used to. It is said in this community that you
have to get the Herald-Tribune's endorsement to win an election. But there are
exceptions to that, most definitely. Naturally, we keep score-we are human-and
the way we endorse is very often the way the elections go. Our rate, if you will, is
generally in the 80s and 90s. Part of that is because we are listening to the
community, and we have a good feel for the community's position already. So, it
is not because we took some off-the-wall position and the community went, okay,
well, if you say so, we will go with you. It is really being attuned to the community.
But there have been times when we have gone against the grain [to endorse a
candidate] and we have had good reasons, and that candidate has ended up
prevailing. Those are the ones we feel best about.
P: Do you interview the candidates?
M: Yes, we do, and sometimes two and three times.
P: Is your opinion more important for local races? Obviously, most people will know
about Gore and Bush, but they may not know about a local judge or someone
M: That is right. We certainly do not interview all of the national candidates, and
there are even some state candidates we might not get to interview, although I
think in this last round we were able to touch [each one] at least at some point in
the campaign because they all [came] through here. But the [more significant the
office is locally], the more time we will spend researching the candidates and
actually interviewing them. We send out questionnaires to all the candidates. We
pose about a dozen questions to all the candidates, and they answer with the
understanding that we might publish those answers and, in fact, do on a lot of the
P: Where would you put yourself on the political spectrum?
M: Definitely more toward the liberal end. I have to confess that whenever I am
speaking [to local groups], because that is always the lament, you know, "you are
so liberal." The truth of the matter is we are not nearly as liberal as people make
us out to be. In fact, I think we are more middle-of-the-road. This is a staunchly
Republican community. We endorsed Bill Clinton [in the presidential race, but]
endorsed Jeb Bush in the governor's race. We endorsed Al Gore [this year]. So,
it [has nothing to do with political parties].
P: People assume since you are a New York Times paper you would be more
M: That is exactly right, and they assume that the New York Times told everybody to
endorse Al Gore because [the Times endorsed him]. I am happy that I can tell
them that the Lakeland Ledger went with George W. Did the Gainesville Sun?
P: The Gainesville Sun, I think they went with Gore.
M: They went with Gore, but there were other papers in the company that endorsed
P: I read a letter today complaining about one of your local columnists, Barbara
M: Do you remember Barbara?
P: Vaguely, yes.
M: Yes, she was in Gainesville. I hired her in Gainesville and then brought her down
here when I [returned].
P: I remembered her name, the reader said she was extremely liberal. So, if they
disagree, then it is the New York Times influence.
M: Exactly. Well, they are upset now because they think we are being overly critical
of Bush, but what they have forgotten is that we were critical of Clinton when he
was in office. In fact, academic research has been done on this subject and has
shown that Clinton got a lot more negative press than Bush is getting and that
during the election Gore was treated more harshly by the media than Bush [has
P: In the so-called liberal media.
M: That is exactly right. One of my favorite talks is "News Judgment is a Matter of
Perspective." You know, if you are sitting over here on the far right, then anything
in the middle of the road is going to look like it is way over to the left. I really do
believe that we strike a balance.
P: Who won the presidential election in Florida?
M: Well, definitely Bush won, but I think that there are [still] an awful lot of [questions
about the ballots]. Are you asking if every vote had truly counted the way the
person intended, who would have won?
M: Boy, I think that is a squeaker. I really do. I think there is a real possibility that
Gore might have actually had more votes.
P: More people intended to vote for Gore.
P: Did you all have any election problems in this county?
M: No. Only the fact that Katherine Harris is from Sarasota, so we got a lot of
criticism about our coverage of that [controversy].
P: I guess she was just in town the other day and has apparently once again stated
that she is a Republican but is not partisan.
M: [You may have seen] our editorial today on that subject. We get a lot of criticism
when we are even mildly critical of her because she is beloved here. She has a
very strong following.
P: Sure. Well, but I think your point was well-taken in the editorial today because,
you know, to make that statement after professing nonpartisanship is not very
intelligent, at the least. You have to call them on that, I think.
M: Yes. Well, to be the state chairwoman for a campaign was bad judgment.
P: I have been doing an oral history of the election and have talked to about fifteen
or sixteen election supervisors, and every single one says it should be
nonpartisan, and as far as I can tell they all are. Sandy Goard may have made a
mistake, but basically they are as nonpartisan as you can get, and you have to
have that appearance. Another question that is important, at least in editorials,
and we touched on it a little bit earlier, when you are going to make an expose
and talk about in an editorial, you know it is going to hurt your either circulation or
ads. Do you modify what you have to say?
M: No. Couldn't do it in good conscience. Really, it is all about what is right for the
greatest number of people.
P: What are your present attitudes about hiring minorities? What percentage of
minorities do you have now working on the paper?
M: We have 12 percent. Oh, I am sorry. For the whole paper, I can't answer that. I
can answer for the newsroom because I used to keep that census, and I might
be able to get it for the paper after a little time. But in the newsroom, it is just
under 12 percent. That is better than parity [with this market], but does not hit the
national goal of parity with the country, which would be more along the lines of 25
percent. So, I feel like we are doing pretty well in a community that is
predominantly white, but I would like to do better.
P: I want to go back and ask a couple of other questions that intrigued me when we
touched on them earlier. You mentioned that you had served three times on the
Pulitzer committee. How do you judge those best qualified for that award?
M: That is a tough question, and it comes back to instinct-you know it when you see
it. I think the biggest dilemma that we have on these juries-and I serve on some
others, too-is you tend to be swayed by the amount of effort that went into
something. That, of course, is generally represented by the length, by the amount
of travel that went into it, by the difficulty of the assignment. So, you have to be
careful. That, of course, is one consideration, but another is: did this take a
unique ability of some sort? Or did this demonstrate unusual persistence? Was
this idea an amazing idea, or did this break ground that has never been broken
before? So, there are all sorts of considerations.
P: Are these committees investigative journalism, editorials, or what?
M: This past spring, I did investigative, and then the times before that I was on spot
news or breaking news. That was the year of the Oklahoma City bombings, by
the way. [The third jury was] editorials.
P: Editorials, I understand they submit several editorials over a year.
M: They do. Right.
P: So, you do not judge one set.
P: You judge it over a period of time.
M: That is correct.
P: But investigative journalism would be the essence of one project.
M: One project, that is right.
P: Would the impact of that project, obviously, be considered?
M: Definitely. In fact, the winner this year was the L. A. Times for the series they did
on the F.D.A. [Federal Drug Administration]. Of course, that had a huge [impact]
because Rezulin, the drug for diabetes, was actually pulled [off the market], and
the guidelines of the F.D.A. have changed. Now, of course, you worry about a
backlash because the last thing this country wants is for it to take an exorbitant
amount of time for drugs to get on the market. But in any event, there was a
concrete result to that series, and that lifted it-not to mention the fact that it
[involved] exhaustive research. A great deal of time was spent on it. [Also,] the
reporter, the lead writer, was a brilliant writer.
P: And it is very complex.
M: Very complex. So, there was a specialization component that was unique. Now,
what we struggled with is that the finalists were all from big newspapers. [There
was] highly-commendable work from much smaller papers, [which led to a good
bit of debate].
P: And sometimes people like Buddy Davis get them.
P: Even small papers.
M: Well, you know, editorials is the category where the most small papers have won
because that is generally one writer, one voice. In fact, this year a small
newspaper [won in that category].
P: When you are dealing with the Pulitzer, what happens with cases like Janet
Cooke, the woman who falsified all this material. How do you judge something
M: At the time, the jury had no idea it was false. It would have been pulled from
consideration had they known that. I'm not sure of the mechanics after the fact,
after the prizes have been given out. I'm pretty sure that the Washington Post
voluntarily gave up that Pulitzer.
P: She gave up her job. That is for sure.
M: Yes, she gave up her job.
P: A couple other things. You have been on quite a few national committees. For
example, the National Accrediting Council for Colleges of Journalism and
Communications. What do they do?
M: They do accrediting tours and decide which colleges of journalism and mass
communications will get accreditation.
P: And what criteria mainly do you use?
M: There is a whole list of criteria, including diversity, the degree status of the
professors, the curriculum course is extremely important.
P: So, curriculum is critical to it.
M: Very important.
P: Obviously have to have the facilities and the faculty.
M: That is right, and a certain measure of research, [along with] a certain measure
of practical instruction.
P: And you always have been interested in young readers.
M: Yes. Young journalists, too.
P: How do you get young people to read instead of watching MTV?
M: I don't know. That answer seemed so much more obvious to me several years
ago, but increasingly I'm becoming convinced that this generation is geared to
electronics. They are used to an awful lot of stimulation. I think that the younger
generation coming up now will read and write, but it will be on computers. What
that portends for newspapers, I'm not sure. But I think that, as with anything
connected to the media, it is all about relevance. It is all about what is relevant to
their lives and what they are interested in and what helps them accomplish
whatever it is they want to accomplish, whether it is to get better at a video game
or to make better grades or to get a good job or to make conversation. You have
to really understand what it is they are going for.
P: Do they use newscoast.com?
M: I believe so. I don't have research to back that up, but anecdotally, I will tell you
they use SNN. I hear from young people about SNN all the time. What I am
hopeful of is that their exposure to the Herald-Tribune has been enhanced by the
fact that they pay a great deal of attention to SNN.
P: How important is the Poynter Institute in journalism?
M: It is very important. It is a think-tank that has played a critical role in a lot of
important issues. It is a wonderful training institution and particularly
advantageous to us because I don't have to put people in airplanes. Just send
them up the road, and they can get this fabulous instruction and training
P: Now, you have taught there yourself, right?
M: Yes. I have been a discussion leader. Also, I have participated in a lot of
seminars as a student, if you will.
P: You also have given an address to the World Editors Forum in Amsterdam,
mainly about multimedia classrooms, but I wanted to get your sense of how
different European papers are from American papers.
M: You have to kind of divide those into two classes. There are the papers of
Western Europe and the democratized part of Europe, which in many ways are
more advanced than American newspapers-not so much in the free press realm
of things, because nobody is better at that than we are, but [in] design [and]
presentation. Newspaper designers look to newspapers in Spain, for example,
for ideas and examples, not to American newspapers. So, they are more
progressive in many ways. Eastern European newspapers are [another matter].
When I went to Prague and Bucharest, that was an incredible experience for me
because [journalists there] are complete babes in the woods about a free press.
In fact, don't really have one.
P: They really don't.
M: But, you know, it is a semblance of one, and what they are trying to do is figure
out how they can press for more freedom and how they can convince their public
that freedom is a good thing. They will have to wait, I think, for a couple of
generations to pass because the older Eastern Europeans really want to be told
what to do. They don't know what freedom of choice is like, they didn't grow up
with it, and they are actually afraid of it, and they aren't willing to fight for it. So, it
will take this generation to get older and then another generation yet to come
through and [reinforce] true freedom of the press.
P: And now [Vladimir] Putin [President of Russia, 2000-present] has, in effect,
manacled the newspapers in Russia, and so they are unwilling and unable in
some sense to really present their accurate point of view.
M: That is right. Even [Vaclav] Havel [President of the Czech Republic, 1993-
present; President of Czechoslovakia, 1989-1992] kind of backed off. He was a
leader in the Velvet Revolution, and then he decided, wait a minute, this freedom
of the press thing isn't so great, because I'm not looking so good now.
P: We are almost out of time, but I wanted to ask the impact that Nelson Poynter
[former publisher, St. Petersburg Times] had on newspapers in Florida.
M: I don't know that there is anybody in Florida journalism who has made as
significant a mark on quality journalism as Nelson Poynter. I think Nelson Poynter
was the man who demonstrated to probably the most memorable extent that
great journalism makes a great business. Of course, out of that grew that Poynter
Institute and the means to create this wonderful training institution that is now in
support of journalism worldwide. I mean, they bring journalists in from Norway
and Russia and South Africa. They send instructors to those places. So, Nelson
Poynter's attitude about quality journalism really started all that. His standards
were immensely high, and he structured his organization to support those high
P: He influenced a lot of important journalists, like Eugene Patterson and others.
M: He really did. Yes, [the St. Pete Times] was a training ground for a lot of people
who went on and led other organizations, the Washington Post and many others.
Rick Bragg, of course, spent time there. So, yes, they have historically paid
people well, trained people well, supported people in the highest level of news
gathering and editing and photography and design. They set a standard that is
P: What is your view of USA TODA Y?
M: I don't think USA TODAY deserves a lot of the condescension it has gotten over
the years. I think it was frightening in the beginning because it represented
change, and change is always frightening to human beings, but especially human
beings in the newspaper business. We didn't want anything to change because
we were having a good ride. But they certainly demonstrated that the public was
ready for a little assistance, if you will, through visuals and shorter stories in
accessing information. It is interesting to me that they have now sort of come full-
circle themselves, and they are now going back to the long story form for [some]
of their key stories on any given day. Their cover story jumps now, whereas it did
not in the beginning. They are doing longer pieces inside their A section. So, we
have sort of met somewhere in the middle. But it is also about niche, and those
of us in the community journalism business should have never scoffed at USA
TODAY because USA TODAY was going for a whole different audience. They
were going for the traveler. We were able to get some pointers from them in
P: Everybody has a weather map.
M: Yes. They really did a great job at that and making newspapers more compelling
visually and making them easier to navigate. USA TODAY laid a lot of
groundwork, but we never needed fear that we were going to have to follow their
lead because we are doing something very different. Yes, it is newspapering, but
it is a whole different form of newspapering.
P: Somebody said that there were a lot of people, particularly travelers, who wanted
to read about what is going on in Israel, but didn't want more than USA TODAY
M: That is right.
P: In other words, that is all they personally needed to know. Therefore, that is the
niche for them.
M: Yes, that is right.
P: Somebody else would want to read the New York Times about that same issue.
M: Yes, and the New York Times paid attention to that and they said, oh, there is a
national audience here; USA TODAY can get one part of that audience, and we
can get another part. So, now, travelers have access to the New York Times if
they prefer that. If they want to go more deeply into the Israel situation, they can.
If they just want a cursory, quick, at a glance, great sports report, then they pick
up USA TODAY.
P: How do they do that? I get my New York Times every day. Is it printed in
M: I believe the one you get is now printed in Lakeland.
P: Okay. So, they do that all over the country now.
M: They have satellite printing plants all over the country. USA TODAY was the first
to do that in a big way. I think the Wall Street Journal might have been the first to
actually design that production system, but, yes, I think the Times is now up to
about fifty different sites.
P: What was your reaction in 1999 to receiving the University of Florida's
Distinguished Alumnus Award?
P: Quite an honor at a very young age.
M: I will tell you something. We all have certain events in our life that we would cite
as being among the most memorable, and that was one of mine. The thing that I
think touched me the most was when they introduced me and gave me the
award, the [graduates of the] College of Journalism, were on their feet. Then
Terry Hynes [dean, College of Journalism, UF] said, would you like to shake their
hands with me? So, then I got to stand there and shake every one of those
graduates' hands. I thought, this is pretty cool because this makes me a role
model. Again, it is a circular thing. I was thinking about when I was out in that
audience and the aspirations I had.
P: You did not have very many role models.
M: No. Actually, no. I had some female professors who were role models. Joanne
Smith and Jean Chance were fabulous. So, it was beginning to happen. There
were women who were beginning to show up but not in a really dramatic way, or
it wasn't very common to see a woman in higher position.
P: Could you describe the most humorous event or most unusual event in your
career? Something that really stands out?
M: The "most" thing is throwing me. Wow, I don't know.
P: That is awfully hard because there are so many of them.
M: Yes, I think so. It is hard to cite that one.
P: Well, is there anything that we have not covered that you would like to talk about
or bring up?
M: You have done a very thorough interview here. You should go into the
journalism business when you get tired of the academia stuff.
P: On that note, I want to thank you very much for your time.
M: Thank you, Julian.
[End of the interview.]