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THE MIAMI HERALD AND THE MILLER EFFECT:
LITERARY JOURNALISM IN THE 1980S
DAVID DUWE STANTON
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS IN MASS COMMUNICATION
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
David Duwe Stanton
This document is dedicated to my wife, Autumn
I would like that thank my supervisory committee for their guidance and
encouragement during the researching and writing of this thesis. Their enthusiasm kept
me moving when all I found were roadblocks.
Special thanks go to Carl Hiaasen, Pete Weitzel and David Lawrence, Jr. for
speaking with me and giving their perspectives on The Miami Herald. Without them,
writing this thesis would not have been possible.
Lastly, I want to thank my wife Autumn and my soon-to-be-born daughter for their
understanding and support of my time spent as a professional student.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
ABSTRACT ............... ...................................... vi
1 IN T R O D U C T IO N ................... .... .......................... .. ............ ............. ....
2 LITER A TU R E R EV IEW .............................................................. ....................... 3
3 RESEARCH PARADIGM AND METHODOLOGY............... ................12
4 C A R L H IA A SE N .............................................................................. ................ .. 19
5 ED N A B U C H A N A N ............................................................................ .............. 32
6 GENE MILLER AND NEWSROOM CULTURE..................... ..... ............... 40
7 A F T E R T H E M E R G E R .................................................................... ....................45
8 CONCLU SION S .................. .................. .................. ........... ....... ...... 53
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S ........................................................................ .. ....................58
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H ...................................................................... ..................61
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for the
Degree of Master of Arts in Mass Communication
THE MIAMI HERALD AND THE MILLER EFFECT:
LITERARY JOURNALISM IN THE 1980S
David Duwe Stanton
Chairman: William McKeen
Major Department: Journalism and Communications
The Miami Herald and the Miller Effect: Literary Journalism in the 1980s
examines the factors that led to the Herald's fast rise to status as one of the finest
newspapers in the country.
Many journalists and academics have examined literary journalism, particularly the
New Journalism of New York in the 1960s and 70s. Proponents of the New Journalism
used literary elements to create a different voice for journalism and incorporate grit and
context lacking from traditional, inverted-pyramid-style writing.
Gene Miller won the first two Pulitzer Prizes in the history of the Herald in 1967
and 1976, and his stature at the paper shielded him from low-level editors criticizing the
journalistic style he used. As an editor and mentor, Miller fostered creativity to tell
different stories in compelling ways.
This thesis also looks at Edna Buchanan, Miller's main protege, and Carl Hiaasen,
one of the most famous journalists to emerge from the Herald during this time. Buchanan
and Hiaasen later transitioned from journalists to novelists, though Hiaasen continues to
write columns for the Herald.
The Herald may not be the only paper to employ literary techniques in daily
newspaper writing, but the newsroom and organizational culture helped the paper go
from one Pulitzer in the 60s and one in the 70s to eight in the 80s. This thesis focuses on
The Miami Herald in the 1980s as a time and place where a daily newspaper gained
prestige and industry recognition through using literary journalism techniques which had
previously been confined to magazine journalism.
If you look at the newsrooms of the Washington Post and The New York Times,
they are filled with former Herald reporters and photographers and editors. There
are 90-some-odd Miami Herald newsroom people in the newsroom of the
Washington Post today. There are dozens, and I don't know what the number is, at
the Times. So, the Herald has always been a place that attracted great talent. Miami
... it's an exciting place to be. (Hirsch, interview, 2004)
During the 1980s, The Miami Herald gained prestige through a talented staff that
employed literary elements in daily newspaper writing. This thesis takes a qualitative
look at the factors that led to the rise of the Herald and why literary journalism, usually
relegated to magazine writing, was both accepted and encouraged as a means of telling
compelling stories. By the end of this work, I hope to answer two research questions:
What factors at The Miami Herald during the 1980s led to the paper's rise in terms of
industry prestige? Second, why were these factors unique to Miami during this time?
Carl Hiaasen began at the Herald as a general assignment reporter and quickly was
promoted to the investigations team. Under the tutelage of encouraging and established
editors, Hiaasen combined excellent interviewing, research and writing skills with literary
elements to inform readers of corruption within local government and shady deals that
often saw the environment of South Florida on the losing end. Edna Buchanan worked
the police beat at the Herald from day one until she left to write mystery novels full time.
Working with her mentor Gene Miller, who won two of the first three Pulitzers in the
history of the Herald, Buchanan used varied sentence structure, witty writing and
included tiny but colorful details to give proper sendoffs to murder victims for almost 20
This thesis examines the influences, staff and organizational culture that saw The
Miami Herald reach arguably its peak standing in terms of industry recognition during
the 1980s. Using qualitative methods including interviews and textual analysis, I hope to
create a grounded theory as to the factors that attributed to the rise of the Herald and
events that changed the newsroom dynamic. While the findings are not intended to serve
as a generalizable list of ingredients to create a newsroom that fosters creativity and
inspires quality journalism, I hope it will explain the situation of the Herald in particular.
American journalism, though seeking objectivity, has not always strived to be a
vessel of neutrality. Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his penname of Mark
Twain, battled against dry, nothing-but-the-facts journalism. Twain and the crew of the
Virginia City Territorial Enterprise in Nevada practiced what scholars have often called
"frontier journalism," a wobbly balance between fictionalizingg facts and factualizing
fiction" (Purdy, 1999, p.54). Twain worked from a factual framework and used
exaggeration, satire and other literary devices.
Distancing himself from mainstream journalism of the time, Twain often was the
target of contempt and ridicule from other journalists and newspapers. Twain did not
settle to stick just to the facts but included vivid description to provide context and
impact. Although Twain used simple words, he still favored lengthy description.
Interestingly, Twain chose common-language vocabulary instead of heavy words that
marked the writer as more intelligent or above the reader. Twain's inclusion of various
literary devices into journalism caused his critics to question his work as exaggerated or
even fabricated. The vanguard of the New Journalism would later be face with the same
critique (Purdy, 1999, p. 53).
The influence of Twain and the writers of the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise
were praised by some and dismissed by others. The partial credibility Twain helped gain
for literary devices and styles in journalism were abused by William Randolph Hearst
and Joseph Pulitzer near the turn of the twentieth century. Although Hearst and Pulitzer
are respected names today, their incessant battle for newspaper dominance saw American
journalism become the casualty. Historians refer to the period as "Yellow Journalism,"
with the enormous egos of Hearst and Pulitzer locked in an escalating battle of hyper-
sensationalizing news at the expense of objectivity and fact. Hearst is often blamed for
starting the Spanish-American War after printing photographs detailing how Spanish
saboteurs could have attached and detonated an underwater mine to sink the U.S.S.
Maine in the Havana, Cuba harbor (Buschini, 2000).
According to Anthony Smith, the media were questioned after World War I for its
break with traditional journalism techniques. The press adopted a more objective
philosophy focused on consensus that was "very different from the emphasis on facts that
had helped the press through the period of its growth earlier in the century" (Smith, 1980,
p. 61). The press "fostered the collection of information on the basis of a special diction,
which restricted the definition of a statement to that which could be assented to by all
(Smith, 1980, p. 61). Essentially, all nuance and color was stripped from news reporting,
leaving only the most basic facts and verifiable statements that could be observed by
everyone. Smith calls this the reality that remained "after the combined skepticism of the
age were stripped away from the reporter's vision of the world" (Smith, 1999, p. 61).
This adherence to objectivity and verifiability remained the cornerstones of
journalism until the 1960s. Unrelated to media and mass communication, many
researchers in the social sciences (psychology, sociology, social psychology, etc.) had an
epistemological shift during this time. Positivists view the world as having a reality and
looking to research findings as a means to determine the one truth. During this time
period, many social science researchers began adopting a relativist instead of a positivist
epistemology, or perception of the nature of reality. Relativists view the world as having
multiple realities where what is "real" differs depending on the experiences of the
A large amount of scholarship already has looked at the causes and techniques of
the New Journalism. Though it is impossible to draw exact lines as to a specific
time/place/event creating the term, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe and Hunter Thompson
commonly are considered stewards of the New Journalism in the 1960s and 70s. All three
had different approaches and philosophies, but all three combined to bring the term to
prominence as an implementation ofjournalistic nonfiction (Weber, 1980).
New Journalists differed in mindset by going beyond just reporting the facts in
traditional, dry, inverted-pyramid style and structure. Though some critics say the New
Journalism crossed the lines of objectivity held as the cornerstone of journalism,
proponents chose to explore American culture, politics and society in new ways, often
injecting themselves in the scenery. Lester Markel described the New Journalists as
"deep-see reporters" who immersed themselves to get to the bottom of issues, topics and
events while still paying attention to the surface perceptions (Flippen, 1974, pp. 10-11,
Essentially, proponents of the New Journalism saw themselves as culture critics,
responsible for uncovering the color and dirt of a situation to bring the true meaning and
importance forth. They were not news reporters that only gave facts and direct
quotations. They also were not editorialists that relied on opinions and feelings. They
considered inclusion of observation and narrative description essential to painting an
accurate account of an event, topic or issue.
The American political and cultural landscape of the 1960s gave journalists an
abundance of fodder for experimentation. The space race heated up with the USSR
putting the first man in space in 1961, with Alan Shepard following a month later for the
United States. And the failed Bay of Pigs insurrection to overthrow the Castro
government in Cuba increased tension with the USSR. In October of 1962, the USSR
installed offensive missiles in Cuba aimed at the United States. President Kennedy set a
barricade preventing Soviet ships from entering the Caribbean. Nuclear war was avoided
as the USSR ordered the ships to turn away from Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis marked
a significant change in the United States' perception of the Cold War and the place of
America in the arena of international affairs.
Conflict in Vietnam was in its infant stage at the beginning of the 1960s. The
Cuban Missile Crisis was followed by the rise of Mao Zedong's attempted Cultural
Revolution. The United States steadily increased its presence in Vietnam after 1965 to
stem communism. The decade saw the march of the Civil Rights movement,
accompanied by protests, lynchings and race riots. President Kennedy, Martin Luther
King, Jr. and Malcom X were assassinated. Vietnam continued to dominate the American
mindset throughout the early 1970s, accentuated by the shooting of four student
protesters at Kent State University on May 4, 1970.
War protests, the hippie movement and the rise of other counter-culture youth
identities provided all the right ingredients needed to drive the New Journalism. These
were not stories and events that fit into the traditional hard-news format of mainstream
journalism at the time.
The American newspaper industry clung to strict objectivity even as this
philosophy continued to be challenged by a new generation of reporters exposed to the
relativist perspectives at universities (Smith, 1980, p. 62). The escalation of the Vietnam
War led to widespread disagreement as to the role of the United States and the role of the
media as an arbiter of the objective truth. A growing number of writers threw away the
restraints of objectivity in favor of truths unable to be conveyed though fact alone. Many
journalists did not trust information coming from the government, though it was stated as
fact. Fed up with serving merely as a conduit, Tom Wicker says, "reporters began to
engage in the most objective journalism of all seeing for themselves, judging for
themselves, backing up their judgments with their observation, often at the risk of life and
limb, and the government's wrath" (Wicker, 1978, p. 7). Wicker goes on to say:
Not that the facts are unimportant, or may be ignored, or tampered with, anymore
in political reporting than in other forms of journalism. But in political journalism,
what can be assumed from facts, sometimes what can be plausibly suggested
despite the facts, is often more important than the facts themselves which may not
really be facts anyway. (Wicker, 1978, p. 51)
Whether loved or hated, journalists and media critics of the time acknowledged
changing ideals of acceptable journalism. Ronald Weber stated in 1974, "The New
Journalism is here, is with us, is real and, in its total effect as well as some of its parts, is
new. To deny this is to deny the evidence before our eyes" (Weber, 1974, p.14).
Wolfe, Talese, Thompson and other followers of the New Journalism relied on
direct observation and intuition as indispensable tools to find a truth. Each of these three
departed from objectivity in differing degrees. Hunter Thompson is considered the
wildest and most detached from the journalism establishment. In Fear and Loathing in
Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream, Hunter Thompson
never ends up at his destination. Instead of covering a motorcycle race in the Nevada
desert, Thompson details using any and every drug in a psychedelic journey through Las
Vegas searching for the so-called American Dream. Although this is an extreme example,
it illustrates why many journalists and media critics of the time had difficulty taking
One of Tom Wolfe's most noted early pieces, "There Goes That Kandy-Kolored
Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby," ran in Esquire as a happy accident. Wolfe was a
feature writer at the New York Herald Tribune and came to Esquire editor Harold Hayes
in 1963 with the idea of covering the teenage subculture of car customization in
California. Hayes, with some reservation, agreed and paid Wolfe's way. Months later,
Hayes still was without a single page of copy from Wolfe. Without a story, or even an
idea of when it might appear, Hayes sent a photographer to a traveling exhibit of
customized cars that had come to New Jersey. Hayes wanted a studio portrait of one of
the wildest. The photo was sent to run in the next issue, which had to be at the engraver
in Chicago within two weeks (Polsgrove, 1995, p. 86).
Hayes told managing editor Byron Dobell to call Wolfe and get the story. Dobell
gave Wolfe a deadline of Friday before the Monday the photograph had to be sent to the
engraver. The words wouldn't come. On Friday, Hayes called his automotive editor and
asked if she could write the story from Wolfe's notes. Dobell told Wolfe to type out his
notes and send them immediately. Wolfe started typing at 8 p.m. and kept going until just
after 6 a.m. Wolfe typed a stream-of-consciousness, first-person perspective to Dobell.
Dobell removed the "Dear Byron," from the beginning of the notes, practically made no
edits and sent Wolfe's notes to run as the story (Polsgrove, 1995, p.86). Hayes later
From this decision, and at the very instant, came the first words of an extraordinary
new voice italics, ellipses, exclamation marks, shifting tenses, arcane references,
every bit of freight and baggage he had collected out of his past, from newspaper
bets back through postgraduate studies in art history at Yale. (Polsgrove, 1995, p.
This piece helped give credibility to the inclusion of style and context in
journalism. Many critics never agreed with or accept the New Journalism, but few can
discount the far-reaching influences of the New York journalists during the 1960s and
70s. Hayes described Wolfe's piece as a prime example of how the relationship between
editor and writer can bring forth what could not have been created by either alone
(Polsgrove, 1995, p. 86).
Situations seldom arise where writers and editors work together to truly foster
creativity and excellent writing in addition to factual reporting. And when these
cooperate ingredients have come together, the literary journalism products have been
confined almost exclusively to magazine writing. While mainstream newspaper writing
adheres to an inverted pyramid template, only allowing the straight facts in an often naive
effort to obliterate any subjectivity on behalf the writer, this paper will look at another
time and place where literary journalism accomplished great things. In this work, I will
showcase The Miami Herald in the 1980s as a melting pot of talented writers, motivating
editors and fantastic environment that sparked a liftoff in the prestige and critical acclaim
of the newspaper.
While I do not contend that Miami's culture, society and political dynamics played
a required role in the Herald's ascension, some of the events of the period researched
should be mentioned. Several events in 1980 had profound consequences on cultural and
political relationships in Miami. On March 8, 1980, Fidel Castro hinted of possible mass
emigration during a speech. The idea of letting Cubans flee followed on the heels of
several boat hijackings. At the beginning of April a six Cubans crashed a bus through the
gates of the Peruvian embassy in Havana and are granted asylum. Almost 11,000 Cubans
assemble at the Peruvian embassy and are in turn granted asylum. Following this,
President Jimmy Carter announces that the U.S. will accept 3,500 Cuban refugees. On
April 20, Castro opens the port of Mariel for anyone who wishes to leave the country.
Hundreds of boats arrive from the United States within the week. By May, more than
3,000 Cuban refugees land in Miami and the Florida Keys per day (The Legacy ofMariel,
All in all, some 125,000 refugees fled Cuba. During the boat lift, Castro had an
unknown number of criminals and mentally ill persons released and loaded onto boats
headed for the United States. When this became known, Carter began a crackdown (The
Legacy ofMariel, 2005). Such rapid influx of people to Miami and South Florida
certainly caused an unsettling of the status quo.
In the middle of the boat lift timeline, Miami also dealt with the McDuffie riots. On
May 17, 1980, Edna Buchanan broke the story that four Miami policeman were acquitted
for the killing of black insurance agent Arthur McDuffie and trying to cover up the
incident by falsifying police reports (Finkel, 1985). Following a police chase, McDuffie
was handcuffed and beaten to death. Three days of rioting led to the death of 18 people
and more than $100 million in damages (Driscoll, 2005). Though this paper does not
claim that these or other political/cultural/social events led to the Herald's rise in
prestige, they certainly gave reporters more ammunition to write compelling stories that
could utilize literary techniques to add nuance and context compared to less culturally
diverse urban centers.
RESEARCH PARADIGM AND METHODOLOGY
Choosing to look qualitatively at The Miami Herald primarily during the 1980s
falls under the category of a case study, since this work is "an exploration of a 'bounded
system' or a case (or multiple cases) over time through detailed, in-depth data collection
involving multiple sources of information rich in context (Creswell, 1998, p. 61)." For
this case the "bounded system" will look at the writers, editors and organizational
structure/culture of The Miami Herald during its rise in the 1980s and the aftermath.
Although the time frame of the paper's rise could be extended to the 1970s, limiting the
growth to the 1980s narrows the focus of this work on a particular group of established
editors and up-and-coming writers who used literary techniques in daily newspaper
writing. This work hopes to answer the following two research questions:
RQ 1: What factors at The Miami Herald during the 1980s led to the paper's rise in
terms of industry prestige?
RQ2: Why were these factors unique to Miami during this time?
Case studies, as a conceptual framework, do not necessarily need a theoretical
basis. However, this study uses a post-positivist paradigm. This paradigm has an
ontology, or nature of reality, where we assume a real reality to exist, though
fundamentally flawed "human intellectual mechanisms" and the constantly changing
nature of phenomena make in impossible to reach this one reality with absolute certainty
(Guba & Lincoln, 1998). Though this work cites the New Journalism in New York and
"frontier journalism" as other cases of literary techniques used an accepted in journalism,
the author does not believe or try to find any precise formula that exists between these
two cases and The Miami Herald. Setting out, the author proposes that the acceptance, or
at least tolerance, of the New Journalism had a profound impact that validated creative
news writing at The Miami Herald.
In regards to epistemology, the researcher contends to be objective and allow the
textual analysis and interview participants to tell what it was like to work at The Miami
Heraldin the 1980s. Since the researcher was not able to observe the newspaper and
organizational culture during this time period, this work relies on participant observation
to describe the relationships between writers, editors and the business side of the
newspaper. Though the author freely admits to having preconceived notions as to certain
factors essential to a productive and prosperous newsroom, so many other cultural and
political factors apply to this system, the New Journalism, frontier journalism and other
cases that an exact set of ingredients that can be applied to any newsroom to drive
creativity seems impossible to find. However, this work makes an attempt to build a
grounded theory of what elements made The Miami Herald during this time period a
magnet for talent that grew and excelled through the use of literary elements in daily
Barney Glaser and Anselm Strauss first articulated "grounded theory" for
sociology in 1967 (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Instead of entering the field with an a priori
theory, researchers using grounded theory realize and discard preconceived notions and
let the research build to a theory that will not be visible until the study has concluded.
Unlike other research methodologies that flow from data collection to analyzing data and
then to writing, ground theory employs a repeating process. This process consists of
going into the field to collect data, analyzing that data and then going back to the field to
collect more data. The researcher uses a "constant comparative method" to collect and
analyze data until a theoretical saturation is reached, meaning further interviews or data
collection are not likely to contribute anything new to the study (Creswell, 1998, pp. 55-
57). At this point, a grounded theory will emerge. It will be articulated toward the end of
the study and may take the form of a narrative statement (Strauss & Corbin, 1990).
Using grounded theory requires the researcher to bracket. Through bracketing, the
researcher acknowledges preconceived notions and puts them aside so as to not
undermine or steer the research. During foundational research and review of the literature
for this study, unintentional connections were created between the political and cultural
environment of Miami in the 1980s to New York during the rise of the New Journalism.
Acknowledging these preconceptions, research methods were designed accordingly to
limit the voice of the author in the research findings until the time for articulation and
The primary method for data collection consisted of interviews and textual
analysis. Although the list of accomplished Herald alumni is extensive and reaches into
nearly every area of printed media, this work focuses on the relationships between writers
Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan and their editors, primarily Gene Miller. While Dave
Barry may be the most famous name from the cast of characters at The Miami Herald
during the time frame of this study, he is known as a humor columnist and not a news
writer, and therefore is not included as a journalist using literary elements in news
Carl Hiaasen's writing can be difficult to classify. It took the shape of columns,
features and in-depth investigation, though always being rooted in factual storytelling and
vivid descriptions. Edna Buchanan worked the police beat. She retold spot news and
general assignment reporting with grit and tone usually reserved for detective novels.
Gene Miller served as recruiter, editor and mentor for the Herald's talent pool during the
1980s, while still writing. Before the 1980s, The Miami Herald only had received three
Pulitzer prizes in its history. Miller received two of the prizes for his reporting in 1967
and 1976. Miller won them both for in-depth reporting that resulted in freeing men
wrongfully convicted for murder. Under Miller's watch, the Herald staff picked up six
Pulitzers during the decade of the 80s and later four in the 90s.
Central to this research is an interview conducted with Carl Hiaasen concerning
the relationships among writers, editors and management at The Miami Herald during its
ascension in the 1980s and how these relationships have changed now at the Herald and
throughout newsrooms in general. Edna Buchanan, who now writes detective novels,
could not be reached to comment on her relationship with Gene Miller and Miller's
influence on her writing and the writing of other talent at the Herald. Pete Weitzel, who
worked as an editor during the 80s, and was a close friend of the late Miller, spoke about
Miller's role at the Herald as a reporter, editor and mentor to Buchanan and other young
writers. To understand the newsroom culture dynamic, "Covering the Cops" by Calvin
Trillin (Trillin, 1986) was indispensable.
Writing examples for both Hiaasen and Buchanan were taken from microfiche of
newspaper archives from 1985 and 1986. Content analysis was performed on the front
page and local sections of The Miami Herald for the first three days of each month over
this two-year time span. All stories authored by Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan were
analyzed, with the exact headline, brief descriptions and specific examples of literary
style and/or elements noted. The textual analysis originally was planned to examine from
1985 to 1988, selected arbitrarily. As more literature was reviewed, 1986 emerged as an
important year because Buchanan received a Pulitzer Prize in general reporting, mostly
for her writing from 1985. Theoretical saturation was achieved after an analysis of two
years. Further analysis would have found numerous examples of literary technique, but
nothing stylistically unique to examples already noted could be expected.
Textual analysis was applied to the first three days of each month, resulting in a
total of 72 days used for analysis. This method was selected instead of examining a
continuous period such as a single month of each year to limit repetition that could occur
due to hot stories or issues (Riffe, Aust and Lacy, 1993). The purpose of the content
analysis was not to arrive at generalizable categories that the writings of Hiaasen and
Buchanan could be classified into, but rather to acquire a large sample of different styles
used on a variety of story topics.
Through the aforementioned methods and supporting textual analysis and
interviews from other Herald staff, the research hoped to discover the major factors
internal and external to the newspaper that saw the Herald arguably rise to its most
prolific and respected position in the history of the paper. Although the primary interest
of this research looks at the newsroom, examining the organizational environment of the
Herald as a company and piece of Knight Ridder paints a more accurate account of the
atmosphere and culture of the paper as a whole.
All interviews were recorded. In-person and phone interviews were recorded on
microcassette and transcribed verbatim. When a real-time interview was not possible due
to scheduling constraints by a participant, a group of open-ended questions were e-mailed
and returned. Though an audit trail of the daily research progress was not created,
explanations of research design changes will be explained.
Originally, this research was to be based on long interviews conducted with
Hiaasen, Buchanan and Miller. Letters were written to the three requesting interviews
either in print form and/or electronically, depending on what type of contact information
was available. Hiaasen responded in a postcard saying he would like to help but currently
was busy moving and finishing a book. He said he would call when he was available.
After several phone calls, messages and e-mails left for Miller at The Miami Herald, one
reply for an interview request was received. In an e-mail, Miller was asked if he would be
willing to talk about the newsroom environment at The Miami Herald during the 1980s.
In the single response, he said that he was not involved in environmental reporting.
Clearly the author failed in communicating the intent of the interview request. A prompt
reply to his response went unanswered and no subsequent communication attempts were
successful. Gene Miller died on June 17, 2005 from cancer. His longtime friend and
coworker Pete Weitzel spoke over the phone about Miller and his relationship with Edna
Buchanan, whom he helped win a Pulitzer in 1986. The researcher attempted to reach
Buchanan through e-mail, the only contact information available, and did not receive a
Six months after receiving the post card reply from Hiaasen, no other contact had
been made. Thankfully the researcher located an e-mail address for Hiaasen. Two days
after sending him an e-mail, Hiaasen called and scheduled a time for a phone interview.
His busy schedule did not allow for an in-person interview. Information regarding
Buchanan and Miller was taken from existing literature and interviews with staff other
than the two themselves. The bulk of information on Buchanan comes from published
articles and an interview with Pete Weitzel.
"I would take out the entire corporate leadership of most newspaper companies and
lobotomize them in some mass ceremony. They are not journalists. They are
managers of a stock interest. They are executives with no imagination whatsoever,"
said Carl Hiaasen (Hiaasen, interview, 2005).
Carl Hiaasen was born in west Fort Lauderdale, Fla. in 1953. Growing up with the
Everglades as his backyard, playground and classroom, Hiaasen watched land developers
push back and contain the wilderness to create sprawling suburbs and strip malls.
Through his first-hand experiences, Hiaasen became a watchdog for Floridian
environmental issues and the government/political arrangements that often saw the
Everglades on the losing side.
Hiaasen is a kind of modern-day muckraker. He has seen the graft, corruption and
indifference for the good of Florida manifested through environmental destruction and
law-enforcement shenanigans. While little of Hiaasen's newspaper writing can be
considered neutral, he maintains a consistent view of what is right and wrong and what
should be changed. Although he lambastes and ridicules, his positions are extensively
researched and consistently held. He champions issues politically. He does not condemn
land development as a whole, but views development in South Florida as a land grab by
those wishing to make a fast buck instead of following a policy of managed and
responsible growth (Seymour, 1991, p. 28).
Hiaasen began in collegiate newspapers writing a column for The Emory Wheel at
Emory University in Atlanta. He transferred to the University of Florida and continued to
write columns for the student-run Florida Alligator, renamed the Independent Florida
Alligator in 1973 when it moved off campus to prevent university administration from
having editorial oversight. Although he began his coursework at the University of Florida
in the broadcasting track, the influence of professors Jean Chance and the late Buddy
Davis caused a switch to print journalism. Hiaasen says of Davis:
He was tremendous. I don't know anybody in the business who had Buddy Davis
and wasn't profoundly affected by working with him. Opinion writing was the
course I think that's what it was called at the time.... With Buddy, what he taught
you was, if you are going to have the audacity to write an opinion piece, editorial
column whatever it happened to be, you better get off the fence; you better write
what you say; you better have a target and say what needs to be done to fix the
problem you are writing about, and hit home, have your research and your facts
right. (Hiaasen cited in Pleasants, 2003, p. 246)
Regardless of any criticism of his style and opinions, Hiaasen is certain to make his
feelings obvious. Hiaasen did write the occasional general-assignment story for
classroom obligations, but the bulk of his time was spent on his column (Hiaasen,
interview, 2005). Hiaasen graduated in 1974 and went to work for Cocoa Today, now
named Florida Today, as a general assignment reporter. Additionally, Hiaasen had
opportunities to write for Cocoa Today's weekend magazine:
I went onto a staff that really opened things up when you suddenly go from writing
15-inch dailies to writing 90 to 100 inches on a story [for the magazine]. You better
learn how to flex your writing muscles. It's a much different exercise than
knocking out a daily, magazine writing in general and magazine writing for
newspapers in particular. (Hiaasen, interview, 2005)
In 1976, The Miami Herald hired Hiaasen as a general-assignment reporter.
Hiaasen also worked on an investigations team under the tutelage of Gene Miller, the
Herald's most accomplished writer with two Pulitzer prizes under his belt. Although
Miller was still a writer, he also served as a de facto editor for several young writers
including Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Hiaasen speaks of the importance of editors:
It can go two ways in newspapers: you can get the creative impulses beaten out of
you by bad editors or you can have good editors who encourage you to take
chances and try to do different things and take it to a higher level. I was lucky
because the Herald has always been a writers' newspaper. One reason it attracts a
lot of talented kids is because they do value good writing. Most papers don't. Most
papers, right now with what's going on in the newspaper world, they want you to
be short. It's not depth reporting, and they certainly don't want you to be too
creative with your writing. It's pretty much straightforward unless you're writing
about celebrities, of course. Then you can go nuts, because that's where our
business is headed. They'll give you 20 inches on J-Lo anytime, but you may get
15 inches on the carbombing in Mosul today. (Hiaasen, interview, 2005)
Hiaasen also wrote for Tropic, the Herald's Sunday magazine, for a couple of
years. He credits his time workings on Tropic as a huge help for his writing, particularly
developing a tactical approach to writing longer investigative pieces. Hiaasen says:
You just bring a whole different approach to it on the bigger stuff- the pace of the
storytelling, the way information is parsed out you don't have to go for the
inverted pyramid lead. You've got a long time to tell a story and build drama and
employ some of the devices of literature in getting people engrossed whether it's a
feature story or a heavy, important story. (Hiaasen, interview, 2005)
Although compelling writing is crucial for in-depth reporting, Hiaasen believes the
same approach should be taken for all types of newswriting:
It's the same chore, and you're still a storyteller. If you're covering some dreary
zoning board meeting or whether you're covering the crash of a 737, you still have
to go out, gather the information using all of your senses and then tell a story in a
compelling way. That's any journalist's job, because if you can't tell a story, no
one is going to read it. And if no one is going to read it, you're wasting your time
and you're wasting the space. (Hiaasen, interview, 2005)
For Hiaasen, coming to work at The Miami Herald was like going back to
journalism school. Miller and Bill Montalbano were "incredible gatherers of facts and
information," but both emphasized the need to hook the reader into a dramatic story. And
this hook often took form by starting with an anecdotal lead and then "snapping the
reader back in his chair with an abbreviated sentence that is used like a blunt instrument
(Trillin, 1986)." Miller's instrument is known simply as the Miller Chop. While Edna
Buchanan stands as the valedictorian of the Miller school, Hiaasen also learned that
creativity and the use of style and variety in newswriting was not only accepted, but it
was encouraged in the Herald newsroom. Hiaasen speaks of Miller's encouragement for
And the fact that Miller had two Pulitzer Prizes sort of inoculated him from certain
low-level editors who didn't agree or who couldn't handle the idea of editing a
story that had a literary theme to it. There were editors that recoiled at that idea.
You tell it straight, just be straight. Well, if you've got the goods, you tell it as
dramatically as possible and make it as human as possible. (Hiaasen, 2005,
Prior to Gene Miller, The Miami Herald had only received one Pulitzer Prize in the
history of the newspaper. Though Miller's talent and influence, the Herald went from one
Pulitzer in the 60s and one in the 70s (both won by Miller) to six in the 80s, including one
by Miller's protege Buchanan. Hiaasen says of Miller:
Gene believed that no matter what kind of project we were working on, the whole
trick is impact. And there is no impact without any involvement of your readers.
You have to get them involved in a story. If you can't get them past the jump,
you've failed not only as a writer but as a journalist. That was Gene's point, and he
was right. It made for a hell of a lot more interesting newspaper. (Hiaasen,
Although Hiaasen emphasizes the need for impact, he acknowledges accuracy and
adherence to factual storytelling as the most important components of newspaper writing.
But including descriptive details is just as important. Objectivity in journalism does not
mean writing should be devoid of color and detail. Details show instead of tell, allow
readers to absorb facts and context, and give readers the ability to comprehend and
understand a situation or issue. Hiaasen describes his process for in-depth reporting:
If you're running an investigative series that's running six or seven or eight days on
the front page, that's a hell of a hard thing to get a reader to sick with. It was 20
years ago, and it is now in the age of USA Today. As thin as most newspapers are
and with so little space, it better be organized and it better move the whole way. If
it's a touchy subject, obviously you're going to be getting lawyered along the way.
In additional to the literary gymnastics you're trying to do, obviously your main
concern is getting the facts right and getting the story to be fair. And you're dealing
with not just several layers of editors but also lawyers. And for that, if you don't
have a good editor that is going to do battle for you and be there with you, then
you're screwed. (Hiaasen, interview, 2005)
Being objective and fair does not mean the writing has to be bland. But,
unfortunately, creativity is the casualty at most daily newspapers. And that is why The
Miami Herald particularly during the 1980s stands out. While in-depth newswriting using
literary elements generally is reserved for news magazines, the Herald was fortunate
enough to have a prestigious writer/editor like Gene Miller who could inspire and mentor
young writers to express their creativity while still adhering to journalistic principles of
fairness and accuracy. Hiaasen on the importance of good editors:
If anything is the crisis point in newspapers right now it's getting that level of
writing because you don't have that level of editing in most cases. You have editors
that are extremely timid and typically who are not themselves and were not
themselves great writers or reporters. And they're now editing reporters at are far
more talented than they were. The best editors will recognize that and play to the
reporter's strengths. The most insecure editors will try to smother whatever creative
impulses reporters have. (Hiaasen, interview, 2005)
Hiaasen's attention to detail and undeniable dedication to righting what he sees as
social, political, cultural and environmental injustice brought him quick success. Hiaasen
was promoted to investigations by Jim Savage, head of the investigations team, both
because of his obvious talent and pursuit by the St. Petersburg Times. Miller, Patrick
Malone and Hiaasen worked on an eight part series in 1979 exposing "Dangerous
Doctors" of South Florida (Greenlee, 1997, p. 60). Hiaasen also received praise from Jim
Savage, for his insight and skill at efficient newsgathering during an investigative series
of drug smuggling though Key West (Savage cited in Greenlee, 1997, p. 59). Both series
were Pulitzer Prize finalists.
Medical malpractice, drug enforcement (or lack thereof) and corrupt zoning
enforcement are certainly newsworthy, though these injustices do not fall under the
heading of objectivity. Crooks and swindlers get away with crimes because nobody
knows about them. A reporter taking sides in a political issue with two defendable sides
draws fire, but the same standard should not apply to all news writing. If the true purpose
of newspapers is to benefit the social good and expose corruption, in addition to reporting
daily spot news and happenings, it remains crucial to take a side and champion the ethical
and legal. Regardless of race, culture or creed, corruption is corruption, unless you're the
one with the stuffed pocket. Gene Seymour writes in a profile of Hiaasen from the Los
Angeles Times Magazine:
Yet for all his good-guy composure, all you have to do is get Hiaasen talking or
writing about developers, dope dealers and various other forms of what he likes to
call 'human sludge' and what they're doing to the physical and emotional terrain of
his home turf, and he is no longer an easygoing fellow. He's at war. (Seymour,
1991, p. 26)
In 1985, after recently finishing an investigative series on Bahamian corruption,
Hiaasen was offered a news column. He also began work on his first solo novel, Tourist
Season. His satirical style that remained dormant since his University of Florida days was
turned loose. Although Hiaasen lashes out with ferocity at crooks and injustice, he is
driven by his convictions in what should be regardless of what is. Former Herald
colleague Gene Weingarten says of Hiaasen:
Most city columnists are paid handsomely to have two or three outrageous opinions
a week, which leads to a prepackaged recipe of outrage for its own sake. Carl's
triumph as a columnist is that he writes with a dry sense of outrage that's genuine.
(cited in Seymour, 1991, p. 26)
In a January 1986 news column, Hiaasen honestly and bluntly reminds his readers
of the seemingly endless string of corruption scandals involving police, DEA, FBI and
I watched them on TV the other night, the beefcake cops charged with murder. As
they capered and grinned and blew kisses at the courtroom cameras, I couldn't help
but wonder if steroids destroy brain tissue.
Imagine: You're a young policeman.
You are hauled out of your home in the wee hours, handcuffed,
fingerprinted and hustled bleary-eyed into the Dade County Jail like a bum.
You are accused of a triple homicide, of racketeering, of stealing cocaine
and selling it on the street, of using your badge and oath as instruments of crime.
You are accused of being the worst thing that a copy can be crooked.
Yet when you and your weightlifter pals go to court the next morning, what
emotion do you display while the whole city is watching?
Arrogance. You mug for the cameras, laughing and joking while every good
and decent cop on the streets feels a hot knot tightening in the gut. The feeling is
But you don't have any. (Hiaasen, 1986a)
Most journalists shy away from calling it as they see it. Not Hiaasen. Any
policeman or public official should be upset to get arrested and sent to court for violating
the foundation of their work: protecting the public. Blowing kisses at courtroom cameras
is a detail that would probably be left in the typical reporter's notebook for a hard-news
story. However, Hiaasen has the talent of information gathering, the support of his editors
and a talent for biting satire that lend a unique voice to The Miami Herald that few news
columnists can equal. Writing a rundown of police corruption is an important job for a
journalist and a story that should be taken seriously. But when politicians and those
designated to serve the public good act like imbeciles, Hiaasen lets loose. From "Big
questions unanswered in punching case" on August 1, 1986:
Who punched James Blew?
If you're like me, you've been lying awake nights worrying about this dark
mystery, and what it means to the future of Dade County.
James Blew is the Dow Chemical executive who got clobbered in the face
at a golf banquet July 2 after arguing with County Manger Sergio Pereira over
Pereira thought Blew's group was sitting in the wrong seats. Blew
disagreed. The two men exchanged opinions and then a third man huffed forward
and clouted Blew in the face, causing a wound that required 13 stitches.
All this took place at Rickenbacker's restaurant following the aptly named
Crazy American Golf Tournament. The banquet room must have been as dim as a
cave because nobody seems to have seen the blow against Blew.
Mayor Steve Clark was present but, characteristically, claims to be unaware
of what happened. Metro Police Director Bobby Jones was also there but says he
was preoccupied at the bar. In fact, the place was crawling with police brass, but
they all seemed to be looking the other way when the infamous fist was thrown.
Not since the Clay-Liston bout in 1965 has there been such a phantom punch.
As for Sergio Pereira, he claims are you ready? that he witnessed no
punching, but assumed from Blew's bloody face that the poor fellow was suffering
a nosebleed from high blood pressure. In retrospect, perhaps Sergio would have
been better off with the Bobby Jones excuse.
At any rate, I think we get the flavor of what a classy get-together this was.
By the time the assault report was made public, all mention of the county
manager and his alleged role in the fracas had been carefully blanked out. The
intrigue deepened when it became known that high-ranking police officials had
ruminated of James Blew's complaint for three weeks and done nothing. A vague
explanation for the delay was offered along these lines:
a) Detectives were awaiting the go-ahead from their superiors;
b) Their superiors were in a glassy trance induced by aliens from another planet.
The police department's recalcitrance dissolved only after legal scholars
pointed out that punching a person in the eye is a crime even in South Florida.
Battery, it's called (Hiaasen, 1986c).
A phantom punch and 13 stitches on the face at a local golf tournament is a dream
come true for most reporters. And when it surrounds a public official and a Fortune 500
company executive it's gold. It has almost all of the big-time news values: conflict,
proximity, prominence, timeliness and certainly oddity (Bridges, 1989, p.333). But
running this story as a traditional, hard-news item with inverted pyramid structure
neglects the significance readers should take away. An adult splitting the face of another
is battery. And when the event is filled with policeman and others sworn to uphold the
law and bring criminals to justice, no one saw anything? Hiaasen uses satire to show how
incredible some of these statements sound:
When you write about crooks and politicians as a columnist, they get upset, but
they don't get completely crazy if you just stand on a soapbox and preach; but if
you make fun of them, if you use satire, nothing lacerates them worse. Nothing
makes them squirm more or makes them more humiliated (Hiaasen cited in Craig,
Hiaasen continually attacks absurdities that pass as daily occurrences in South
Florida. In regards to political coverage, Hiaasen often uses his column to remind Miami
voters of past decisions and crimes Miami voters should not be quick to forget (Hiaasen,
1985b). Hiaasen says of his general pessimism toward American politics:
The bottom line is that politics are extremely comical, and the politics of the
country are full of hypocrisy and bullshit. And most of the coverage is lamentably
serious. Anyone who has been on the bus and seen the same campaign speech 25
times in the same day, whether it was George W. Bush or John Kerry, it's very hard
to take yourself seriously. It's very hard to take the process seriously. The stakes
are very high but the actual ceremony of politicking in this country is dismal and
embarrassing and corrosive to the human spirit. And it ought to be rendered that
way. If journalism's job is to accurately portray reality, then you certainly have to
accurately portray the farcical things as well as the stuff that's serious and heavy.
(Hiaasen, interview, 2005)
This statement by Hiaasen raises an important question as to the nature and purpose
of journalism. If journalism exists to inform the masses and give the public information
that can be interpreted and used to make informed decisions, then what is real should be
objective, though hardly neutral. Hiaasen, along with most young reporters of his era,
was influenced by journalism in the age of Watergate, in particular the political coverage
in Rolling Stone and by Tim Krause and Hunter S. Thompson (Hiaasen, interview, 2005).
The New Journalism of the time "threw the shackles off' superficial political reporting.
The idea of a Hunter Thompson experience at the Hugh Humphrey campaign and
things like that were magnificent and uproarious. [They] would never find their
way into a newspaper back then, but now they're quoted. When Hunter died, now
it's quoted almost wistfully in The New York Times and all of the establishment
papers, the stuff that couldn't get in when he was alive. (Hiaasen, interview, 2005)
Although the New Journalism of the 1960s and 70s was kept in magazines and out
of newspapers, it had an undeniable influence on a generation of journalists. Hiaasen
[It was] stuff you could never get away with in a newspaper, but it was accurate;
scathingly accurate in terms of political coverage. And also the freedom and
whimsy and experimental things they did with the language. There was no reason it
had to be stodgy and dull. There was no reason you couldn't have fun with an
important story and bring the kind of structure and occasional touch of heresy into
describing things. (Hiaasen, interview, 2005)
Reading Hiaasen's work, it is easy to get the sense that he truly has fun writing.
Although his newspaper column is best known for attacking corruption, Hiaasen is far
from a one trick dog. Regardless of the topic, it is rare for Hiaasen not to come up with
something intelligent, provocative and often hysterical. One of his earliest columns,
"Tanning action proves beauty can be beastly," gives a first-person account of a
promotional event for the Miss Universe pageant where something called a
"Squirtmobile" was supposed to "dispense" suntan lotion on 10 contestants. After
describing initial problems preventing the "mass squirting" he had hoped for, Hiaasen
Soon the Squirtmobile was in place and the reigning Miss Universe, the Miss
Universe, was told to get inside. This was the new plan: As the Squirtmobile sped
down the crowded shore, Miss Universe would dangle her legs out back and pass
bottles of Coppertone to contestants prancing after the little truck.
Something you see every day at the beach, right? And safe, too.
After about the sixth take, the TV producers were getting hacked off. The
contestants were running too fast, then too slow, then waving when they weren't
supposed to. And the swimmers! They kept staring at the camera, screwing up the
shots. "If you keep looking this way, we'll have to do it all over again, and these
girls are getting very, very hot," warned a big shot TV guy named Ray on a
Then something terrible happened.
Somebody yelled, "Action!" and the Squirtmobile roared away with two
stunning beauty queens in pursuit all according to script. But suddenly the
contraption hit some soft sand and threw about half a ton of beach straight into one
of the contestant's face and hair.
I don't think I've ever felt as sorry for anyone.
The woman (Miss Austria, according to a chaperone) was trying to smile
and be a good sport, but behind her smoky eyes you could tell what she was
thinking that it would be nice to use a claw hammer on the jerk who dreamed up
this stunt. (Hiaasen, 1985)
In addition to being uproarious and fun, Hiaasen makes an important statement in
this piece. The Florida legislature gave $500,000 to the pageant to make sure Miami
would play host. Also, the marketing event closed sections of the beach and
inconvenienced residents and tourists for "low-class commercialism" that has no
perceivable benefit, direct or indirect, to the city or its people.
Hiaasen bounces from scorching crooks to ridiculing stupidity to describing the
human condition without missing a beat. A March 3, 1986 feature story details a
prisoner's demons concerning his mother's suicide when he was two years old. Hiaasen
does not apologize for John Daniel Washburn attacking a cop with a knife in a bar fight,
but he sympathizes with a man who has spent his life as an orphan, unaware of his seven
brothers and sisters, with the thought his mother ended her life by putting a bullet in her
own head. Through a happy accident at a medical examiner's office, Washburn is
reunited with a sister and learns the truth of his unhappy mother who killed herself by
drinking roach poison. Hiaasen writes, "It's impossible to know what would have
happened to the boy if his mother had not swallowed the poison. It's impossible to know
if his life would have been better, only that it would have been different (Hiaasen,
Readers can relate and sympathize with events beyond control changing lives
forever. But Hiaasen takes the gloves off when he feels lives and environments are
changed or destroyed by greed. Influenced by his first-hand experiences watching greedy
politicians and developers irresponsible destroy the Florida Everglades, Hiaasen says:
I just grew up feeling this way. It's not saving a tree for the sake of saving a tree. If
you save enough trees, you stop a lot of the graft and criminal behavior going on
between politicians. They're selling their vote for what everyone wants a piece of
land. For that waterfront or lake front or estuary. (cited in Bowman, 2000)
Hiaasen's outrage and frustration pour out of his column and into his novels. And
his novels must be mentioned because of the common themes that carry from his
newspaper writing into his fiction writing. Many of his novels center around an
environmental issue he covered in his columns, including illegal dumping (Sick Puppy,
Hiaasen, 2000) and Everglades destruction aided by a sample-doctoring biologist who
hides the evidence of fertilizers being poured into the wetlands by an agribusiness tycoon
(.kiiiiiy Dip, Hiaasen, 2004). Though he sheds light on eco-crooks in his columns, he
reserves personal punishment for his fiction. Regarding the villain in Sick Puppy, Hiaasen
says, "The thing down in Florida is you can get in your car and drive by the carnage. See
the bulldozers fill in the estuary. I just always wanted to put one of these bastards into a
book and have terrible things happen to him (cited in Bowman, 2000)."
New York-based columnist, novelist and long-time idol of Hiaasen (Hiaasen,
interview 2005), Pete Hamill says of Hiaasen, "If you think of the columns as drawings
and the novels as paintings, they make up an absolutely coherent and consistent world
view. And it's the world view that separates Carl, I think, from the rest of the pack (cited
in Seymour, 1991, p. 26)."
Carl Hiaasen has a gift for using biting satire and reporting skills to present
readers with issues they should care about. Most of his pieces would not fall under a hard
news label, but he employs the same journalistic techniques he used on in-depth
investigations to provide information, detail and significance to readers. Influenced by
the writers of the New Journalism, and fostered by that talents and status of its editors,
The Miami Herald newsroom of the 1980s allowed Hiaasen to use literary techniques in
daily newspapers writing, both on investigative pieces and later in his columns, to engage
readers in stories that might have been glazed over and quickly forgotten if written in a
traditional news style.
Bob Swift, a Herald columnist who was once Edna's editor at a paper called the
Miami Beach Sun, told me that he arrived at the Sun's office one day fuming about
the fact that somebody had stolen his garbage cans. "I was really mad," he said. "I
was saying, 'Who would want to steal two garbage cans!' All of a sudden, I heard
Edna say, in that breathless voice, 'Were they empty or full?"' (Trillin, 1986)
Edna Buchanan seems driven by a genuine curiosity to find pertinent details
overlooked by most writers. Carl Hiaasen uses his column venue, investigative prowess
and satirical humor to shed light on events and issues that impact the people of South
Florida. In contrast, Buchanan gave life to the deaths of people who would otherwise be
relegated to a paragraph in the obituaries section and then forgotten.
Edna Rydzik Buchanan was born in 1939 in Patterson, New Jersey. Her father
walked out on the family when she was seven, and she joined her mother wiring
switchboards at the Western Electric plant after finishing high school. Buchanan later
transferred to an office job within the company. Accompanying a friend to evening
classes at Montclair State Teachers College, Buchanan signed up for a course in creative
writing (Trillin, 1986). Everyone in the class already had something published, and
Buchanan understandably felt intimidated. Buchanan recalls the second class meeting,
when she got back her first assignment about a woman who thought she was being
The next week in class was the turning point in my life. The teacher said,
"Something happened to me this week that is the dream of every writing teacher."
It took me a while to realize he was talking about my story. I almost fell on the
floor. He was so encouraging, and no one had ever encouraged me before. (cited in
Shortly after finishing the course, Buchanan and her mother took a vacation to
Miami Beach. Both fell in love with the area and moved permanently within a few
months (Trillin, 1986).
After starting her career with the now-defunct Miami Beach Sun, Buchanan
moved to The Miami Herald. She was assigned to the police beat full-time in 1973. As an
up-and-coming reporter, Buchanan saw Gene Miller's attention to detail, discipline and
creativity lead to his second Pulitzer Prize in 1976 and the acquittal of Wilbert Lee and
Freddie Pitts from a wrongful death sentence conviction in 1963. While the police beat
serves most reporters as a starting point, Buchanan would continue to cover the crimes,
both common and bizarre, of Miami for the remainder of her tenure at the Herald.
No other writer of the period at the Herald is better known for using literary
description for hard-news stories. In "Bank robbers flee after terrorizing customers" from
1985, Buchanan writes:
Two gun-waving stick-up men herded terrified employees, customers and a guard
into a washroom Friday and cleaned out a Northwest section bank in broad
The gunmen escaped, lugging away the loot in trash bags.
The bank robbers wore Metrorail uniforms, said Metro-Dade police and
The Village Bank, at 7220 NW 72nd Ave., is across from the huge main
storage and maintenance facility for Metrorail.
At 10 a.m. the robbers, clad in the brown trousers and the tan shirts, with
the shoulder patch insignia, of Metrorail maintenance workers, walked into the
bank. One wore a baseball cap and brandished a nickel-plated revolver. The other
gunman's weapon was blue steel. They confronted the guard, marched six
employees and two customers into a back washroom and forced them to lie on the
A bank employee, a gun at his head, was forced to open the safe for the
robbers, who also emptied the tellers' drawers. They left the coins behind.
Buchanan includes all of the information from a typical crime story but takes it
several steps further with fantastic detail and word choice. Readers understand where the
event occurred but also the circumstances that led to the robbery it was pay day for
Dade County and the bank "had big bucks on hand (Buchanan, 1985a)." Buchanan was
fortunate to have editors like Miller who appreciated subtle details and creative writing
that make crime stories fun to read while keeping them factual and informative.
Buchanan also shows panache in sliding colorful description into the flow of information
without wasting space. She also throws in a fantastic play on words with minor
alliteration, having the robbers move witnesses into a washroom, cleaning out the bank
and lugging the loot in trash bags. This piece serves as a perfect example that creative,
fun writing and adherence to journalistic ethics are not mutually exclusive. Buchanan
says of her eye for detail: "I want to know everything. When the bullet comes through the
window, what was on the TV? I always want to know the dog's name and the cat's name.
I get really curious when I go to the morgue. I want to know all their stories. I'm not sure
why (cited in Finkel, 1985)."
And Miami provided Buchanan with a near endless of supply of crime, ranging
from the mundane to the bizarre. Buchanan says of Miami's proclivity for oddity:
Even when Miami was this sleepy resort town that was closed half the year, there
was strange and exotic stuff going on. I think it's because there's no place left to
run for people who come down here to escape something, whether it's the weather
or the law. Maybe that's why they go crazy around here. Because they find there's
no place left to go. This is the jumping-off point. (cited in Seymour, 1991, p. 28)
Perhaps Buchanan's most bizarre story came from a 1985 murder:
A naked man carrying the severed head of a woman was found leaning against a
Metrorail support at dawn Saturday in a quiet southwest Miami neighborhood.
The man twice hurled the woman's head at the young police officer who
"I killed her. She's the devil!" the man shouted.
"There is no end to the bizarreness of this world," veteran Miami Homicide
Sgt. Mike Gonzalez said later.
"This is something not likely to happen to any policeman again in 100
Dina Tormos, 18, had been stabbed "many" times with a large hunting type
knife, which also was used to cut off her head, police said.
The rest of the murdered woman's body was found in the suspect's
apartment, several blocks from where he was arrested at Southwest 33rd Avenue
and 29th Terrace, just off U.S. 1.
The suspect, Alberto Mesa, 23, was charged with first-degree murder.
Hysterical and distraught, he was taken to the prison ward at Jackson Memorial
Hospital and sedated. (Buchanan, 1985b)
After covering thousands of murders from the police beat at the Herald, Buchanan
still wrote with purpose. Many stories, like the above, are quite graphic. If the story only
described the death of an 18-year-old female who had been decapitated, a reader
wouldn't take away anything as to the nature of this crime or how it came about. Many
editors try to remove details that could horrify readers, but Buchanan believes a
successful crime story should cause a man eating breakfast with his wife to "spit out his
coffee, clutch his chest and say, 'My God, Martha! Did you read this!' (cited in Trillin,
Critics may argue that many of the details of a murder do not need to be included to
convey the information of the event to readers and that inclusion is purely intended to
create sensationalism. Although Buchanan may appear numb or unfeeling to the deaths
she writes about, she always took the time to contact the next of kin for a few words
about the deceased. Of including a family statement, Buchanan says, "For some people,
it's like catharsis. They want to talk about the kind of person their husband was, or their
father. Also, it's probably the only time his name is going to be in the paper. It's their last
shot. They want to give him a good sendoff (Trillin, 1986)."
Dealing with such graphic violence every day must wear on a person. Buchanan is
able to compartmentalize but admits sometimes it catches up to her. Buchanan says:
Every once in a while, I feel burned out, that I'm going to start screaming, that I
can't stand one more tragedy. What helps me is to go to the beach and see the
ocean and sky. Then I can psych myself out of it. I say to myself, "It's better than
working in a coat factory in Paterson, N.J." (cited in Finkel, 1985).
Buchanan's versatility, quality and creativity in covering the police beat won her
the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for General News Reporting. She covered the recovery of items
from a high-society burglar police had been tracking over four years. Buchanan closes the
story by writing, "A crystal box full of seed pearls and tiny turquoise beads must have
belonged to somebody's grandmother. A valuable framed miniature of an Indian couple
engaged in something from the [Kama] Sutra probably did not (Buchanan, 1985d)." She
wrote about a 14- to 16-year-old girl shooting a man in front of a movie theater for
talking to her (Buchanan, 1985g) and about a 2-year-old boy wounded in the crossfire of
an apartment complex shootout (Buchanan, 1985e).
Her most powerful story from 1985 is "Dad pays last visit to slain daughter."
Handcuffed and weeping, Charles Griffith saw his 3-year-old daughter, Joy, for the
last time Sunday.
The brief goodbye at Van Orsdel Funeral Chapel was permitted by order of
a Circuit Court judge. Light rain fell and a thunderstorm threatened as armed police
and uniformed corrections officers led Griffith into the chapel. Ten minutes later, as
the storm broke into a deluge, they took him back to his Dade County Jail cell.
He was crying and saying, "My God, my God, my God."
Griffith, 25, fired two bullets into his little girl's heart as she lay comatose
in her crib in the special care nursery at Miami Children's Hospital on Friday night.
Joy had been there since Oct. 23, the day she was irreversibly brain-
damaged in a freak accident. As she climbed into a reclining chair to watch
cartoons, she was caught by the footrest. It closed on her neck. She was not
breathing and had no heartbeat when her mother found her.
Paramedics restored her breathing, but she remained in a coma.
Her ordeal and her short life ended, Joy lay in a tiny coffin Sunday, clad in
a pink nightgown. Her father wore the same clothes he had on when he was
"He's still confused," said Griffith's attorney, Roy Black. "Every time he
discusses the case, he breaks up crying. It's a tragedy of Shakespearean
Certain that his only child was aware and suffering, Griffith said he could
no longer endure her pain.
"I miss her more than anything," he said Saturday. "Part of my heart is
gone, but at the same time, I'm glad she's at peace. (Buchanan, 1985f)
Police charged Griffith with first-degree murder, using a prior statement that Griffith had
said his daughter was better off dead as evidence of premeditation. The judge denied
bond but did grant the uncommon request to allow Griffith attended his daughter's
funeral. Buchanan continues:
Before the accident, Joy was a bright and beautiful 2-year-old blond with eyes her
father described as "filled with angel dust. Her eyes were blue, with little flecks of
light in them," Griffith said.
By age 2, she spoke both Spanish and English. "Every morning she would
say, 'Goooood morning, Daddy.' And I'd say, 'Joy, why are you so pretty?' and
she'd say, 'Because I look like my daddy.'"
At his tiny South Beach apartment, the centerpiece, a 10-by-12-inch oil
portrait of Joy, is surrounded by hundreds of family photos of the child.
Before going to bed each night, Joy would place her favorite toy dog on her
father's bed, cover it with a blanket and say, "Nighty night."
"It's still there, on my bed, with a blanket over it," Griffith said.
On her third birthday, April 4, Joy was five months into her coma, her
father donned clown makeup and took balloons, presents and a birthday cake to her
bedside. He held her limp wrist to cut the cake.
On Friday night, in the nursery, he sang Daddy 's Girl to her. (Buchanan,
The day after Charles Griffith ended his daughter's life, Buchanan met with a street
preacher, one of the few people who knew Griffith. The preacher escorted her to
Griffith's workplace, a porno theater. In the projection booth, 13 photographs of Joy
Griffith were taped to the wall. Looking at the pictures, the preacher told Buchanan he
was going to visit Griffith in jail. Buchanan gave him her phone number, and asked him
to pass it along. Later that day her phone ring, and Charles Griffith gave Edna Buchanan
his story, a story about a horrible accident and the unbearable pain of watching your
daughter lie in a coma for five months with little chance of ever making a recovery.
Buchanan was the one reporter to get the story, and it ran front page the next day (Finkel,
Regardless of a reader's personal morality concerning euthanasia, Buchanan
certainly makes the father a sympathetic character. And more importantly, she shows the
reader Griffith's love for his daughter through his actions instead of relying on a quote,
which would struggle to achieve emotional impact. The little girl, Joy, has a personality
in this story, even though she was only two years old when the accident occurred.
Conversely to the story of a young girl killed in a tragic accident, Buchanan wrote
about a five-year-old boy who could face a murder charge. In "Boy, 5, admits to pushing
tot to his death," Buchanan writes:
A smiling 5-year-old boy calmly confessed to police Sunday night that he
deliberately pushed a 3-year-old playmate five floors to his death at a Miami Beach
The boy's story shocked detectives.
"He doesn't think he did anything wrong," Miami Beach detective Robert
Davis said. "He claims that the 3-year-old was complaining that his parents beat
him and said he wanted to die so he obliged.
"He said he pushed him. He watched him fall. He heard him scream when
he hit the ground and then he went for help," Davis said. "It's horrendous. He
doesn't show any remorse."
Lazaro Gonzalez Jr., a husky 70-pound preschooler, ate two slices of pizza,
a garlic roll and a banana after he confessed. (Buchanan, 1986)
Former managing editor Pete Weitzel says that Gene Miller helped push Buchanan
into the running for the Pulitzer Prize in 1986. Miller was not only Buchanan's mentor
and friend, but as she said at Miller's funeral, the only editor she ever trusted (Weitzel,
interview, 2005). Weitzel says of their relationship and her Pulitzer entry:
It's with Gene's help, and rightly so, that Edna was one of the great police reporters
in the country. There had been a handful of others, but she certainly was one of the
best and deserved some recognition. So the question was what and how. He had a
very close, personal relationship with Calvin Trillin. And he talked Calvin into
doing a profile in the New Yorker Magazine on Edna. That profile ran in February
of the year she won the Pulitzer Prize. There's no question in my mind it had an
influence. (Weitzel, interview, 2005).
Trillin's profile of Buchanan certainly put her in the spotlight and would make her
name instantly recognizable with Pulitzer judges. Miller knew ahead of time that the
profile would be running just before the Pulitzer competition and saw the opportunity to
have Buchanan recognized. Weitzel recalls:
Gene came to me and said, "This is the year to submit Edna for the Pulitzer." We
helped pull together the entry, select the pieces we submitted [most of which ran
during 1985], and I helped him write the letter. So, in fact, he orchestrated the
submission and provided that, in knowing that this article that he talked Calvin into
writing was going to appear, that this was a good time to do it. And he was right.
(Weitzel, interview, 2005)
Edna Buchanan, through the support of editors like Gene Miller, was able to tell
compelling stories from the police beat that describe the people involved instead of just a
profile pulled from the police report. She uses varied sentence structure, cops-and-
robbers cliches and descriptions garnered through first-hand observation. Her writing also
stands out for recollection of tiny details that would later serve her as a successful
mystery novelist. Most of her books involve the heroine Britt Montero, the police-beat
reporter for a fictitious Miami newspaper.
GENE MILLER AND NEWSROOM CULTURE
Although Carl Hiaasen, Edna Buchanan and numerous other writers that passed
through the doors of The Miami Herald were blessed with natural talent, it is undeniable
that Gene Miller's tenure at the paper had a tremendous influence on the newsroom
culture and the development of young writers. Miller and Pete Weitzel both came to the
Herald in the 1950s, to a newsroom already focused on innovative and provocative
writing. Weitzel recalls:
The paper went out and hired talented people that were ambitious and wanted to
grow. I don't think anyone wanted to put hats on people. We wanted to see what
we could do and how far we could go and how good we could be. I think that
pervaded the newspaper. It was the culture I grew up in journalistically. And it was
one that Gene not only grew up in but helped foster. (Weitzel, interview, 2005)
The preexisting newsroom culture of intellectual diversity helped Miller get hired
despite reservations by some of the staff, including Al Neuharth. Neuharth was the
assistant managing editor of the Herald at the time and went on to found USA Today, the
first national daily newspaper. Miller was hired despite his feisty nature and
outspokenness. John McMullen, the city editor, championed Miller. Weitzel says, "Al
had been sort of turned off by Gene's brashness at the time. But there was a spirit at the
Herald that said no, we want those kinds of people. We want those people who will
challenge us (Weitzel, interview, 2005)."
Miller challenged himself and other Herald staff for 48 years before his death by
cancer in 2005. He strived not only to write to the best of his abilities but wanted to see
all great stories told in a compelling way to grab readers. Weitzel remembers watching
Miller as a young editor help bring out the best in C.G. Burning, the long-standing
He had unbelievable sources, but he couldn't write worth a damn. Literally what
happened at five o'clock in the afternoon or so, C.G. would come, sit down, and
you'd see him and Gene conferring. If it was an ordinary story, C.G. could write it.
But if it was something really good, Gene would kind of debrief it and help him
write it or rewrite it. By the time it got to the desk, with sized byline on it, it was a
terrific piece of copy. It had been totally Millerized. And he would take no credit
for it. But it was a good story, and he wanted a good story to be in the paper.
(Weitzel, interview, 2005)
Miller helped many young writers tell compelling stories in different ways. He
aided Edna Buchanan, his protege, with her writing and saw her good stories made it
through the editorial process and into the newspaper. His position as an editor evolved
from being a senior reporter in the newsroom, a de facto editor for young reporters
working on special stories, and his love for a great story.
One of Buchanan's most famous articles passed through the desk and into print
because of Miller. Weitzel recalls Buchanan's concern that her lead of "Gary Robinson
died hungry" would be rewritten at the copy desk:
She had written the lead that way and was afraid it wouldn't clear the desk, and she
showed it to Gene and he said he liked it. So, he walked up and said something to
the editor on the desk about how Edna has a great story. When she turned it in it
just went right on through. (Weitzel, interview, 2005)
One of the editors involved later told Weitzel that keeping Edna's lead was heavily
debated. To put the decision into context, there recently had been several incidents where
unlicensed security guards had drawn weapons and killed people. In "Security guard held
for slaying man in restaurant ruckus," Buchanan begins:
Gary Robinson died hungry.
He had a taste for Church's fried chicken. He wanted the three-piece box for
$2.19, plus tax.
Instead he got three bullets from a security guard who shot him when he
ran. Police jailed the guard on a murder charge.
Robinson, 32, walked into Church's, at 2701 NW 54th St., on last Sunday at
11:45 p.m., 15 minutes before closing time. An ex-convict with an extensive arrest
record, Robinson lived nearby, at 2905 NW 55th St. (Buchanan, 1985c)
Robinson, who witnesses say was intoxicated, shoved his way to the front of the
line, swearing along the way. A young woman behind the counter asked him to wait like
all of the other customers. Robinson made his way through line and tried to place an
order just before the midnight closing. No more chicken. Offered chicken nuggets as a
consolation, Robinson punched the woman in the face and ran out the door. James
Derrick Blash, the licensed security guard on duty, and several employees chased
Robinson. Buchanan continues:
The guard shouted "quite a few" warnings at Robinson, ordering him to halt,
[Detective John Butchko] said. Robinson did not stop running.
"So eventually the guard shot him," Butchko said. The first shot from the
guard's .38-caliber revolver hit Robinson in the back of the leg, the detective said.
The final shots were fired from about five or six feet away, according to the
police. Robinson, critically wounded, was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital.
"It was probably poor judgment," Butchko said. "He was just trying to stop
Immediately after the shooting, police say the distraught guard anxiously
asked several people, "Did I do the right thing?"
"They agreed that he did to make him feel better. He's a very nice guy,"
said Butchko, who arrested him. "He isn't a bad man, but he committed the crime."
Blash was initially charged with aggravated battery. Robinson died two
days later. The guard, who had been released in his own recognizance, was re-
arrested on a second-degree murder charge. He has been denied bond. (Buchanan,
On face value, Buchanan had a terrific lead. However, when placed in the context
of other similar shootings being talked about within the community, a traditional lead
describing a security guard killing a man might be deemed more appropriate. Weitzel
says, "I don't think there's any questioning that Gene's coming up and saying he thought
it was a great lead convinced them not to change it. No question that his influence had an
effect on it. It was a great lead, and it was a lead that was eventually a [Pulitzer] prize
winner (Weitzel, interview, 2005)."
Gene Miller's love for great stories and the Herald's organizational structure
helped the paper cultivate talented writers into award-winning journalists. Weitzel
Our development of the Neighbors section in the late 70s and 80s, the suburban
sections around the greater Miami area allowed [the recruiters] to bring in very
young people and train them and develop them in an aggressive reporting mold. All
that helped. The paper was growing at the time, and I think that makes a difference.
(Weitzel, interview, 2005)
Weitzel says he saw these other sections and offices as an opportunity, a training
ground to bring along talented writers. The system allowed promotion opportunities
within the same organization and allowed the staff to watch young writers develop over
time. Weitzel continues:
We began to use that really as a way to, more effectively than we had in the past I
think, to reach out and bring in some really good people and use it as a training and
development opportunity. Some of the folks who came through the bureau system
and the Neighbors system, turned out to be damn good journalists that if we hadn't
had [the system] wouldn't have had. (Weitzel, interview, 2005)
In addition to mentoring young writers, Miller also helped find and bring new
talent to the Herald. Weitzel, as either the assistant managing editor or deputy managing
editor, was placed in charge of intern-recruiting trips. Miller became his regular
companion on the trips for the next decade (Weitzel, interview, 2005).
The Herald focused not just on recruitment but on having a viable and reasonable
progression path for young writers to hone their skills and become great journalists.
Without this focus and the positions to allow it to happen, advancement often means
moving to another newspaper. Weitzel says that a newspaper not only employs its
reporters but should push and educate them:
Management has to allow the people to be creative. You have to allow people to
make mistakes. And then you have to try to set up, in the editing process, you try to
set up the mechanism so that those mistakes never get in the paper. But you want to
push people both from a reporting standpoint and a writing standpoint to do what
they can to experiment, to try things, to learn. (Weitzel, interview, 2005)
AFTER THE MERGER
The Miami Herald in the 1980s rose to prominence on the backs of a gifted,
talented and dedicated editorial staff. Not only was the Herald a fun and educational
place to work for young journalists, but industry critics acknowledged the skill employed
by bestowing six Pulitzer Prizes on the staff. Six Pulitzers in the 80s marks a significant
change in industry stature after receiving a single Pulitzer in each of the previous three
decades. Gene Miller, winner of two of the three original Herald Pulitzers, was a
seasoned veteran of in-depth reporting and investigations that also served as a de facto
editor and recruiter for much of the paper's young talent.
Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan are perhaps the two most important young
writers groomed by Gene Miller and other seasoned Herald staff members. This includes
Bill Montalbano, with whom Hiaasen would co-author his first three novels; Pete
Weitzel, former managing editor and recruiter; and Jim Savage, leader of the
investigations team that Hiaasen was a part of before transitioning to a news columnist.
Dave Barry became one of the most famous humor columnists in the country, winning a
Pulitzer in 1988, during his career at the Herald from 1983 until a hiatus at the end of
2004. More than 90 former Herald newsroom staff reporters, photographers and editors
were in the newsroom of the Washington Post in 2004. There were dozens more at The
New York Times (Hirsch, interview, 2004).
In 1974, Knight Newspapers, Inc. and Ridder Publications, Inc. merged to become
the largest newspaper company in America in terms of total circulation. Both companies
had been publicly traded since the 1960s and had solid stock-value history, but the two
had very different perspectives on the role of newspapers. Knight Newspapers had a
strong culture of journalism first and a clear separation of the editorial and business sides
of a paper. Ridder, on the other hand, was well-regarded for effective business but often
indifferent to the content. The merger hoped to blend Knight's journalism and Ridder's
business savvy to the benefit of all the encompassed newspapers (Merritt, 2005).
Following the Knight Ridder merger, the corporate mentality originally called for
"strengthening the papers journalistically (Merritt, 2005, p. 59)." Although obviously
headquartered in the City of Miami, the Herald also had state bureaus in Key West,
Broward County, Palm Beach and further up the east coast of Florida in Martin County
Vero Beach and Cape Canaveral, as well as in the state capital of Tallahassee. Rookie
journalists were hired into the Neighbors offices for Dade County, now named Miami-
Dade County. Rick Hirsch, who originally came to the Herald in 1980 and now serves as
Managing Editor for Multimedia and New Projects, uses a baseball analogy to describe
the hierarchy of advancement at the paper during the 80s:
At that time, Neighbors was Single-A ball, and then there was the state [bureau]
system. So, you'd get hired in the Herald and you'd work in the Neighbors
sections. And if you were successful after a year or two, you hoped to get promoted
to one of the state bureaus. And then going to Miami on the City Desk was really
the promise land. (Hirsch, interview, 2004)
Hirsch says the Herald's bureau system contributed to the overall talent pool by
allowing the paper to develop its own talent by offering young journalists more
opportunities to advance within the same organization (Hirsch, interview, 2004).
Unfortunately, the bureaus began closing in the late 80s, with the rest shut down in the
90s, as a casualty of profit margin. While the Herald staff located throughout the state did
quality, local coverage, the advertising revenue gained could not justify the cost of
printing and delivering a paper more than a hundred miles away from the Herald.
Advertisers in the primary distribution area of the paper did not want to pay for the
inflated circulation figures that included many readers out of range and unable to
consume the goods and services advertised. This was also true for classified
advertisements which were too expensive for residents of the bureau editions to buy, and
the majority of listings were for the Miami area and not usable by bureau-area residents
(Hirsch, interview, 2004).
After closing the bureaus, the Herald lost some of its ability to retain young talent
because the options for upward mobility were decreasing. Although this paper does not
focus on the newsroom structure and change, it seems logical that fewer opportunities to
advance vertically within the Herald caused many talented, young journalists to leave for
larger papers, including the Washington Post and the Times, before attaining journalistic
prominence. Cal Fussman, an alumnus of the Herald bureau system and current writer for
Esquire, says, "No other newspaper in the country had so many great people leave
(Fussman, interview, 2004)."
David Lawrence, Jr. served as the publisher of the Herald from 1989 to 1999,
steering the ship through a decade that saw massive media consolidation and a stronger
industry focus on profit margins and the value of stock in publicly traded newspaper
companies. Lawrence says, "By the time I reached the Herald in 1989, there already were
significant indicators of a much tougher competitive and economic climate. Having said
that, the paper remained quite profitable and, in fact, remains so" (Lawrence, interview,
Lawrence rose through the Knight Newspapers chain as a reporter and editor
before being hired as the managing editor of the Philadelphia Daily News in 1971. He
moved to The Charlotte Observer as editor following the Knight Ridder merger. Before
coming to Miami, he had served as the publisher of the Detroit Free Press. Lawrence
was in the minority of publishers who were trained as journalists, not through the
business side of newspapers (Merritt, 2005, p. 186). Arriving at the Herald, Lawrence
understood the needs of the newsroom and the non-traditional writing techniques,
including the Miller Chop, many staff writers incorporated in daily newspaper writings.
Lawrence describes his outlook concerning literary news writing:
Like most in newspaper journalism, I learned the inverted pyramid way of doing
things as a young reporter and the crucial nature of who, what, when, where, why
and how. Those lessons serve well in any form of journalism. But story-telling is
crucial and there are some stories that ought to be told in other, more compelling
ways. What we sought to do is give readers the facts and context so they could
make up their own minds in this democracy, but we also sought to tell these stories
in different ways. We thought we had not only the obligation to tell readers and
citizens the problems of society but also some potential solutions they could ponder
and then decide for themselves. Reporters must begin with the basics; the more
seasoned reporters will be able to try other writing styles effectively. It is all about
reaching the reader. (Lawrence, interview, 2005)
Davis Merritt, in his book Knightfall (Merritt, 2005), describes his first-hand
account of the marriage between Knight Newspapers tradition of quality journalism with
Ridder Publications' business savvy. Traditional ethos of newspaper journalism as
serving the public good was the casualty to serving the business interests of Wall Street
and stock owners. In a 2004 letter to Merritt, Lawrence recalls becoming uneasy in 1995
in regards to economic pressures that already existed but were increasing. Lawrence
But until the mid-nineties, the company was, I believe, quite successful in
achieving a balance between business and news. That balancing act was clear in the
decisions over the years to pair a CEO with someone of different emphasis, Lee
Hills, Jim Batten, and so forth. Only in recent years have the two most visible
people in the company been businesspeople and not journalists.... The business
ethos became the paramount driver from the mid-nineties on. The balance is gone.
(cited in Merritt, 2005, p. 187)
Merritt details and criticizes what he sees as a fundamental shift in the outlook of
newspaper owners. Instead of newspapers being an important business for the public
good that also can be quite profitable, the business of newspapers is being undertaken as
a good way to make money, which Merritt sees as no different than manufacturing coat
hangers. Marketability and competition dictate what level of quality yields the highest
rate of return (Merritt, 2005, pp. 14-15). In a business that innately brings high profits,
constant demand for increasing profits make it difficult to maintain a newsroom staff
capable of creating quality journalism. Lawrence recalls demands from corporate
It was a constant tussle. I respected the need to make a profit, though I might
disagree with corporate as to how profitable we needed to be, because that profit
pays for the good journalism and keeps one free. But I cannot deny the constant
pressure of a big public company, with big appetites for profits, frequently
colliding with my own appetite for enough space and staff to do the journalism
mission well. (Lawrence, interview, 2005)
Lawrence says constant, destructive pressures to make cuts in order to meet
increasing profit-margin goals were not directed and created an unhealthy, "permanently
unsettled staff." In 1998, Lawrence says, "I was being asked to get to 25 percent
[operating return] over three years, and that would have meant cutting 185 positions. I
just couldn't do this cutting any more and live with myself' (cited in Merritt, 2005, p.
187). Lawrence resigned.
Near the time of his resignation, there was talk that Lawrence might run to be
governor of Florida. According to Pete Weitzel, Lawrence was near his breaking point at
the Herald when the talk began. Lawrence perhaps was flattered by the notion and didn't
turn down the idea at first mention, something the publisher of a newspaper should do
because of the tremendous conflict of interests between political aspirations and
newspaper management. Although Lawrence's delayed refusal of running was
inappropriate for a publisher, it had nothing to do with his imminent resignation (Weitzel,
In 2002, Hiaasen released Basket Case, his first novel told as a first-person
narrative and also his first novel to feature a journalist as the lead character (Hiaasen,
2002a). Hiaasen's main character, Jack Tagger, was once an investigative reporter before
embarrassing the "soulless, profit-hungry owner of the newspaper" at a stockholders'
meeting (Hiaasen, website, 2002b). Throughout the book, Hiaasen opines the nature of
journalism and what it has become through the manipulation of the business side of news
organizations. Hiaasen's advice to the corporate leadership of newspapers:
Don't step foot in a newsroom, don't send any memos to a newsroom. Fight over
the budget but don't pretend to know anything about journalism. They know
nothing about journalism. They know what their shareholdings are at any given
hour. Today's newspapers are edited for Wall Street, for the stockholders. They're
not edited for readers. They're edited to get the maximum profit out of them, not to
deliver the maximum amount of essential information to a community or
neighborhood. That's the last thing they're interested in doing because that's what
costs the most money.
You have to get the little vermin in the suits back on the country club. Get them out
on the golf course and keep them away from the newsroom. That's the first thing
you have to do, and that's not going to be any easy thing to do. But if they were
interested in making newspapers more interesting and therefore different from what
everyone else is doing, and a better product in their work, then they would just start
to leave the newsrooms alone and let the editors and reporters decide what's best
for those communities and to take some chances and to do some creative things.
That's a very tough thing.
They don't want to leave their hands off. The money is too important now that the
newspaper business is in such trouble that they're becoming more meddlesome
instead of less meddlesome. There used to be a very distinct and unbreachable
barrier between the business side of journalism and the journalistic side of
When I was in that newsroom in the Herald starting out, I couldn't tell you what the
stock price was, and I couldn't tell you what our monthly circulation figures were. I
couldn't tell you whether we were above budget or below budget or what the profit
margin of Knight Ridder was going to be for the coming year. All of that
information in not only polluting the newsroom now, it's being shoved into the
faces of most reporters and editors. We're not making budget, we're not making
projections, we're not making the numbers. And ever since that's happened,
numbers are falling.
Every experiment that has ever been done where you burden the journalist with this
kind of information has backfired economically for these corporations. They
haven't figured it out yet. And they won't until it's too late I'm sure. (Hiaasen,
Hiaasen thinks for newspapers to have a chance at survival competing with the
Internet and television news, newspapers must focus on depth reporting requiring a
literary style of writing (Hiaasen, interview, 2005). Communication and delivery
technologies fundamentally have changed the nature of newspapers. Newspapers now
will rarely be in a position to break spot news stories. A 24-hour news channel or a blog
or an electronic wire service broke it hours ago. Newsrooms still have a distinct
advantage over other media outlets in terms of information gathering. Newspapers should
no longer be concerned with breaking news. Instead, reporters and editors should play to
their strengths to create in-depth pieces relaying the context and significance of issues
and news events to its readers.
Newspapers are not traditional businesses and should not be run as businesses with
profit serving as the overriding indicator of success. Demand for profit margin creates
cutbacks. Small staff size reduces the breadth and depth of news coverage. Consumers
receive news faster and cheaper through television and Internet news sources. If
newspaper coverage is stripped down to merely detailing events and horse race political
coverage, no new information will arrive on a consumer's lawn that has not been
broadcast or released through more immediate mediums. Hiaasen concludes:
You go back to your numbers and you go back to your salesman, and you sell a lot
more ads. We'll put a lot more good stuff in the paper. We'll put stuff in the paper
that readers can't get anywhere else and you'll sell some newspapers. But they
don't want to do that. They just want to recycle, and they're paying a big price.
(Hiaasen, interview, 2005).
This thesis examined The Miami Herald as an established newspaper that employed
literary writing styles and elements in daily newspaper writing. The 1980s originally was
selected as the primary focus of this case study because this was the decade when Carl
Hiaasen, Edna Buchanan and Dave Barry rose to fame both within the industry and with
readers around the nation. As I conducted interviews and analyzed texts, this time period
became more important not just to the Herald as an individual newspaper but also for
insight as to ingredients that can create a healthy, capable and award-winning newsroom
as well as cause the quality of journalism to fall.
Literary writing in newspapers can be traced back to Samuel Clemens, also known
as Mark Twain, and the staff of the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise in the 1860s.
Although criticized at the time, literary elements and first-person narrative would become
commonplace in news writing toward the end of the century, culminating in the battle
between Hearst and Pulitzer. The Yellow Journalism that allegedly started the Spanish-
American War was abandoned during the first World War in favor of strict objectivity.
Fueled by the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement and later Watergate, journalism
had renewed purpose. The New Journalism of New York during the 1960s and 70s used
literary techniques and different narrative styles to seek and report truth to readers.
Although literary journalism of the time, and the New Journalism in particular, was used
almost entirely in magazine writing, the work of Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson, Gay
Talese, Esquire, Rolling Stone and others from this period influenced a generation of
Gene Miller came to the Herald in 1957 and honed his investigative and writing
abilities to win Pulitzer Prizes in 1967 and 1976. Having received two of the three
Pulitzers in the history of the Herald to that point, Miller had creative freedom from most
editorial control. Buchanan and Hiaasen, while being born with writing talent, were
fortunate to have a mentor that had a history with the Herald and was virtually free from
the criticism of most editors. Miller served as a de facto editor and not only allowed but
encouraged creative writing, while still maintaining a strict stance on getting the facts
straight and incorporating details to inform the reader. Pete Weitzel shared Miller's
emphasis on creativity. As managing editor, Weitzel could have put the brakes on literary
writing if he had chosen to. Hiaasen and Buchanan honed their researching and
investigation skills while being pushed to tell compelling stories because they did not
have to write for bad, self-conscious editors. Good editors can accept when reporters
write better than themselves and still push the reporters to excel. Bad editors are
intimidated by good writing, especially when a literary theme is used, and want to be
given copy that sticks to facts without color or style.
In addition to established, quality editors, the Herald also had an organizational
structure that allowed young talent to advance through its bureau system instead of
having to leave for another paper in order to receive a promotion. Unfortunately, business
concerns led to the deconstruction of the bureau system by the mid 1990s, making it
harder for young staff to stay at the Herald and hone their craft by working with a
consistent team of editors for many years.
The fast climb in stature and industry recognition of The Miami Herald, including a
record six Pulitzers during the 1980s, stalled and receded during the late 1990s amid
corporate pressure for higher profit margins. Journalism, and newspaper journalism in
particular, is not a traditional business. Simply put, the profit margin in creating a product
is a balancing act between the cost of creating the product, the level of quality desired in
the product and the price the consumer is willing to pay for the product. A traditional
business model should not be applied to running a newspaper company because the
quality of information and how that information can create a more informed citizenry
should override the desire to maximize profits.
For a business to exist, it must make a profit. And this certainly holds true for
newspapers. However, newspapers have among the highest profit margins of any
industry. Knight Ridder newspapers received 38 Pulitzer Prizes from 1980 to 1993,
including three Gold Medals for Public Service with profits in the low teens. As
operating return rose to more than 20 percent from 1994 to 2003, Knight Ridder only
received nine Pulitzers (Merritt, 2005, p. 165). As focus on profit increased, the quality of
journalism decreased, using the number of Pulitzers as an indicator of quality. Knight
Ridder newspapers went from receiving almost three Pulitzers a year to less than one.
While earning a profit is essential to running a business, acceptable margins in
newspapers should be balanced with doing quality journalism and informing the public
and not driven by the price of a publicly traded stock.
Newspapers no longer serve as a primary source for information consumers. Both
Internet news sites and television news channels are faster and allow for better visuals.
Newspapers continue to have, despite staff reductions, a marketable advantage for
providing in-depth reporting, context and significance to the public. With circulation
figures consistently falling, newspapers should be playing to the strengths of the medium
instead of cutting costs and trying to duplicate other news sources with little chance of
breaking superficial stories.
The Miami Herald in the 1980s stands apart as a newspaper having editors that
motivated and encouraged, quality reporters who told compelling stories, and an
organizational culture that recognized the quality of journalism as the primary indicator
of a successful newspaper. Other newspapers during this time period may have had
common elements and undergone similar business transitions to the Herald. However,
the Herald situation is unique in that the paper had such a dramatic increase in industry
prestige and award recognition in such a short time.
Although this thesis examines the relationship between a particular group of writers
and editors, further research should examine the role of editor as motivator and mentor.
The process of editing is essential to create a compelling finished process. The attitudes
and styles of editors could be found to be nearly as influential in the writing styles used
as the creativity of the writers themselves.
Media consolidation, and the resulting profit-driven corporate leadership, makes it
doubtful to see a time when quality and public service will be the primary focus of
Because this thesis examined factors related to The Miami Herald, the findings and
my resulting qualitative theory as to why the Herald rose to prominence should not be
taken as a generalizable formula for success. Tracking the quality of journalism for this
specific newspaper was based almost entirely on the number of Pulitzer Prizes awarded.
While Pulitzers do serve as an accepted indicator of quality in journalism, further
research needs to be conducted. Quality is subjective and therefore usually relegated to
qualitative research. Research quantifying quality and relating a quality indicator to profit
margin could help determine an optimal operating return for newspapers. While this
quality indicator might be difficult to create due to many variables, it could help
newspapers do unique and informative journalism while still making newspapers
profitable enough to satisfy corporate and business interests.
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David Duwe Stanton was born in Stuart, Florida. During his sophomore year at the
University of Florida, he changed his major from mechanical engineering to journalism.
As an undergraduate, he worked or interned in newspaper writing, editing, photography,
magazines and corporate communications. He focused his graduate work in media
convergence and online news/content production as a teaching assistant to David Carlson,
director of the Interactive Media Lab. He will begin his doctoral work at the University of
Florida upon graduation.