Peter Schorsch: If I owned the Tallahassee Democrat — the “Gerald Ensley proves my point” edition

The Tallahassee Democrat flatly rejected the first op-ed I tried to publish in a newspaper. Twenty years later, the Democrat still dismisses me.

As an FSU freshman, I submitted an unwieldy piece about college life. It was rejected, but I applied to be a “community columnist.” Then-editorial page editor Mary Ann Lindley let me down gently, saying I should submit something in the future.

Six months later the Democrat published my first op-ed, about a state agency controversy. Then a second op-ed, then a third, then throughout my college years and early career.

One column caught the eye of Dr. J. Stanley Marshall of the James Madison Institute. He offered me a “senior writer” job. Off I went

This past Friday, I cut paychecks to more than two dozen journalists, editors, and writers who contribute to SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and INFLUENCE Magazine. The week started with the Columbia Journalism Review describing me as a “Mini Media Mogul.”

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Yet Gerald Ensley, the Democrat‘s leading columnist, says I’m little more than “a blogger who runs an aggregate website about state politics” who “claims to make a six-figure income off cutting and pasting stores from newspapers around the state, including this newspaper.”

He had responded to my blog posts about “If I Owned the Tallahassee Democrat” by denigrating them.

I’ve heard Ensley is an old-school journalist, an opinion columnist and no hack. But he’s supposed to hew to the facts. That’s why I’m surprised he was so wrong about me, our work, and my criticisms of the Democrat.

Ensley uses the word “blogger” as a pejorative. It’s not. Ezra Klein, Erick Erickson, Nate Silver, and Andrew Sullivan are bloggers. Even Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman blogs, as do or did many journalists and writers leading the national debate.

But a condescending Ensley lumps bloggers with people locked in their mothers’ basements.

To describe SaintPetersBlog and/or Florida Politics as an “aggregate website about state politics” makes me wonder: Did Ensley even read us before defending his horse and buggy?

Had he, he’d know 90 percent of our content is original. We hardly aggregate anything. Like the Democrat, we subscribe to the Associated Press and publish its content, but that’s not what he’s suggesting.

If Ensley means Sunburn, our morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics, well yes, we do aggregate material like EVERYONE ELSE DOES. There’s no better example than POLITICO’s Mike Allen, whose Playbook inspired Sunburn.

Ensley claims our aggregation includes material from the Democrat. While I readily agree we do aggregate for Sunburn, the Democrat’s work rarely makes the cut.

That’s my point.

Reviewing Sunburn’s past three months, I found only one or two inclusions of a Democrat story. That’s how lacking its Capitol coverage is.

Meanwhile, Tallahassee Democrat/Gannett Newspapers has published more of our Context Florida writers’ op-eds than we‘ve aggregated Democrat stories.

So who’s making money off who?

Ensley seems surprised I read the Democrat. As if I have a name that should not be said, he writes, “The blogger lives in St. Petersburg, yet he makes it a point to read the Tallahassee Democrat – and use our content to make money. Color us flattered.”

We cover the Capitol, so yes we read the Democrat, but not the USA Today regurgitations.

Again, that’s my point. Like many, when I read the Democrat I feel as though I’ve eaten a rice cake: I know I’ve done something, but there’s nothing to show for it.

I understand that newspapers are smorgasbords and that, as Ensley writes, readers care about “murders and fires.” They want local news.

But the struggling Democrat, in the capital city of the nation’s third largest state, isn’t covering news that could produce the advertising revenue that might keep it from oblivion.

The Democrat is hemorrhaging market share, so POLITICO has hired six reporters. FloridaPolitics.com covers lobbying and we launched INFLUENCE Magazine because the Democrat isn’t reporting about the most lucrative industry in town.

Yes, I employed hyperbole when I wrote that if I owned the Democrat, “I’d fire everyone who wasn’t writing about government, politics or FSU sports.” But my point remains: The Democrat is losing not because journalism is dying, but because it’s making the wrong coverage decisions.

Ensley excuses that: “There is an Associated Press and correspondents from other newspapers in Tallahassee, whose jobs are to report politics and state government. Surely, he knows if he owned the Democrat, he’d have to double our staff and triple our prices to cover all the political and government stories he thinks we’re missing.”

Yes, I know about the AP and the other newspapers. But I wouldn’t have to double the staff or triple the prices to cover the stories the Democrat is missing.

That brings me to my final point. Ensley’s column not only insults me, it insults his fellow journalists who work for Extensive Enterprises Media.

He insults himself, acting like the caricature too many in the journalism industry do: so afraid of the future they dismiss it rather than embrace what’s coming.

Because I appreciate what the Democrat once was, including the newspaper that gave me my first shot, I spoke my truth to power.

Clearly Ensley wasn’t listening. And with tired thinking and condescending tone, he proved me correct.

Peter Schorsch is a new media publisher and political consultant based in St. Petersburg, Fla. Column courtesy of Context Florida.   

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.



#FlaPol

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

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