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A Storied Life PDF Print E-mail
Written by Jack King, BT Contributor   
June 2017

Pix_JackKing_6-17It’s been a good ride from paperboy to political pundit

It’s been a good ride from paperboy to political pundit

IPix_JackKing_6-17n the past few months, it has dawned on me that I’ve been in the newspaper/media business for 62 years, a fact that snuck up on me and wacked me in the head when I realized I’ll turn 72 in a few weeks.

So you ask, how did I have a job in the media business when I was ten years old? Easy. I had a paper route for the Stuart, Florida, News. And in the summertime, I worked in the composing room, sweeping up lead slugs that blew out of the Linotype machines. I didn’t realize it then, but what I was doing would lead to a lifetime obsession with the media business.

After college and fighting the Vietnam draft (I had a moral aversion to shooting people and a greater moral aversion to being shot at), my media career really got going. But by the 1980s, technology was already changing the business, and newspapers were making deep cuts in staff. So without a job, I did what any good single guy without a job would do: I moved to Coconut Grove.

The Miami Herald seemed like a good place to land, and I applied. I got a very strange rejection notice and showed it to a friend who worked for the Herald. He looked at me in a very funny way and then said, “I think you flunked the psychology test.”

I wrote for other publications, and in about four years, I had my own paper, the Coconut Grover. It was a weekly paper -- for the first three weeks. Since I was spending more money than I was making, I felt it financially judicious to change to a monthly schedule. It worked well for the next 11 years. Imagine that! A publication that looked like a newspaper but came out on a magazine schedule. I’m not sure I was the first in the world to use this concept, but I was damn close!

One day I got a call from Robert Andrew Powell, a staff writer from New Times. He said he wanted to write a story about me and the paper. No doubt I was flattered, but I was also curious. Why? Did they think that I was taking readership and/or advertising away from them? Why in the hell were they interested in a guy who whose monthly paper had a circulation of about 8000 in a village of 17,000 people?

Sure, we occasionally scooped the Herald and the other papers, but those stories were generally small potatoes, and we were right in the middle of the news mix. City hall was just down the street, and just about every city commissioner and mayor lived in the Grove before the city went to districts.

So I figured, what the hell. How much damage can he do to me that I haven’t already done to myself? And then I thought, I need to go back to the universal rule of sales, marketing, and publicity: “Say anything you want to about me, just make sure you spell my name right.”

Three years later, Powell came back for another story when I was closing up the Grover. The changes in the newspaper business were beginning to have an adverse effect, especially on small papers. Nobody locally wanted to buy the Grover, and I was tired of it and wanted to do something else. R.I.P., Coconut Grover. It was a great 11 years.

Not everything in this business is fun, and it has become less fun as media outlets grow smaller and die away. It’s a very sad thing. Knowledge is power, and that is true now more than ever.

Back in 2009, Biscayne Times broke a story about the excessive salaries in the City of Miami Fire Department. I found the story the old-fashioned way -- I walked into Commissioner Marc Sarnoff’s office and saw the information on storyboards. I asked if I could have a copy and was informed that they weren’t sure if it was correct. They told me to come back in three weeks for a corrected version, and I did. I didn’t have the time to write the piece and passed it to the BT’s Erik Bojnansky, whose cover story “Gravy Train” (May 2009) was picked up nationally.

The following month, I wrote a column about how our small publication got that scoop, over the city’s daily paper, multiple television stations, and the large alternative weekly -- and how financial crises were killing most of the local media (see “Miami’s Media Muddle,” June 2009).

It’s easy to report breaking news, I wrote -- the hard part is getting a story. And there seemed to be a general malaise throughout the media business. New Times editor Chuck Strouse took exception to my conclusion, and said it wasn’t so. Think he’s still standing behind that?

 

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