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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Informed speculation on the future of "South Florida blogs" on the Miami Herald's website. Hmm-m-m...

Towards the bottom of the Miami Herald's webpage in the space between BLOGS and COLUMNISTS, you'll find the link for South Florida blogs.

Not that most of you who come to this site regularly have been wondering about it but... yes, people have noticed the minimized role of the South Florida blogs on the Miami Herald's website since they tried to persuade certain bloggers to become part of their News Network.


See my earlier post on this topic from April 13, 2010, and at the bottom of this post, see the article the Herald's own Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos felt compelled to write about certain other Herald news partners.

A week ago today... the road not taken with the Miami Herald and some 411 about Beth Reinhard to consider http://hallandalebeachblog.blogspot.com/2010/04/week-ago-today-road-not-taken-with.html

In fact, to be honest, though I noticed it myself many weeks ago, most of the people who have noticed this change for the worse and mentioned it to me are bloggers who get many more daily hits than I do, and since many of them run ads, unlike me, this change in focus is actually co$ting them, even while it has no real effect on me.


And, lest you forget, I remind you that the Herald went ahead and listed me on their webpage without ever contacting me about it, as I noticed it only after I'd been on the "Communities" list for a bit and someone emailed me about it.

If their emails are any judge of what they're really thinking, it sounds to many South Florida bloggers currently on the Herald's site that the newspaper is just trying to string them along until some time in the near-future, possibly the Holiday season, after they've achieved what they deem to be the optimum geographic coverage they've always wanted.

Then they'll "reluctantly" announce a change of plans and simply eliminate the listed blogs they don't have agreements with.


That's a long way to go to cut your own throat, but it wouldn't be the first time this year the Herald's management has made what I and many other readers paying serious attention believe are critical or fatal errors, since for many months, after a lot of initial promotion on the website, as you can see for yourself from the photo I snapped above around 1 a.m., there's currently no photo, graphic or interesting eye-catching icon to call your attention to the "South Florida blogs" on the Herald website.

Just a link in black - South Florida blogs

Personally, I don't think that's by accident.


Miami Herald
OMBUDSMAN
When partner goes too far, who is responsible?
May 23, 2010
By Edward Schumacher-Matos

It used to be said that the best way to get your opinion heard in a newspaper was to own one, a privilege -- and abuse -- that still reigns at some small community papers.

The Herald has recently entered into online alliances with several of them as an innovative way to aggregate community information across South Florida into one site for readers and advertisers. Some, such as The Key Biscayne Times, maintain high professional standards, but Herald editors are finding themselves entangled with the owners of others whose ethics are challenged by readers.

"I cannot believe that The Miami Herald is allying themselves with the Community Newspapers," wrote Doug and Yvonne Beckman, for example, of a 12-paper chain in South Florida. The Herald has partnerships with the chain's South Miami, Cutler Bay and Pinecrest editions, and the chain's owner, Michael Miller, says he is negotiating to add more.

Yet, the Beckmans (no relation to the late Commissioner Jay Beckman) continue: "There [is] no worse example of yellow journalism I have ever seen. In South Miami that rag is commonly known as the 'Mullet Wrapper.' For years and years the owner has openly interfered with politics in South Miami in the most egregious way."

"Michael Miller is no journalist," wrote another reader, Dean Whitman. "He is not governed by any standard of journalistic ethics with regard to accuracy, objectivity or disclosure of conflicts of interest. His goal is simple, to change the zoning governing height and density of commercial property that he owns on 62nd Avenue in South Miami. This property adjoins a residential neighborhood to the west and Miller wishes to increase the currently zoned height from two to four stories."

NOT HIDING
Miller in an interview acknowledges that he writes about the building, for which he has been suing to change the zoning since 1997, but he said he does so openly in his column, without hiding his self-interest.

Reviewing a number of past issues of the South Miami newspaper, I found that most articles were straightforward, offering information on local events and services. Most of the reader complaints, however, concern Miller's weekly "Around Town" column, and I can see why.

It is a compilation of often unsubstantiated political gossip, much of it harmless, some of it playing favorites.

One column was offensive, making reference to an anonymous death threat letter received by Vice Mayor Valerie Newman, an opponent of Miller's zoning change. The letter said she might end up like Commissioner Jay Beckman, who was allegedly shot to death in 2009 by his teenage son.

Miller wrote: "If you know who just might want to waste their time sending such a note to Valerie, please let the police know as they would love to add this to her package of goodies. And speaking of packages, I hear that Valerie will soon get her day in front of the Ethics Commission on the charges that were initiated by the late Jay Beckman.

"Hmmm . . . One big mouth civic activist told me a few months ago that Jay Beckman had 'turned against us.' Golly, I thought, then the guy winds up dead?"

Whitman noted: "Consider what the response of your readers would be if an esteemed Herald columnist such as Carl Hiaasen, Fred Grimm, Leonard Pitts, or even Glenn Garvin wrote such things. Certainly such things have no place in a legitimate newspaper."

Of course, the column did not appear in The Herald itself. The Herald links to its community newspaper partners from the home page of MiamiHerald.com. But the Herald does highlight on its home page some of the articles from the partners. Two or three Herald articles in turn appear on the partner sites. The Herald pays to help develop the partner sites, and splits advertising revenues with the partners.

The arrangement greatly expands the local news in the Herald's Web edition without having to pay for the reporting, Miller noted. The small allies get to tap into The Herald's large Web traffic. Both sides win economically. Readers are better served by the deep information offered by The Herald's site.

'INVENTIVE'
"The partnership with community sites is one of the most important and inventive things we've started this year," Herald Executive Anders Gyllenhaal told me.

And what of the ethical concerns? Is The Herald tarred when one of its partners commits a transgression? Separately, is The Herald validating those transgressions by featuring or linking to them on its home page?

UNDEFINED LIMITS
"Any new project like this will have its struggles, and we are going to continue to work on how this all fits together," Gyllenhaal said. "The idea is that each of the sites has independence, but that we share the website, the content and also the ad revenues.

"Readers' complaints and objections about coverage are going to come up no matter what the publishing system is. If readers don't like something originated by The Herald, we're the ones who respond. If they don't like something from one of the partners, the partners are the place to go with the concern."

My position is that there is a limit -- undefined, still -- about how much The Herald can accept in its partners. The community papers are valuable for being close to the ground, and in a practical sense can't be held to the same rigorous standards as The Herald. But Miller, at least in his South Miami paper, goes too far. The Herald should rein him in, or cut him off.

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