June 30, 2023 8:00am

The future of The Palm Beach Post

A majority of Power Poll Palm Beach influencers want Gannett to invest more money in The Palm Beach Post and stop making cutbacks that affect coverage in their communities.

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By Joe Capozzi
Palm Beach, FL Correspondent
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On June 5, reporters at The Palm Beach Post joined two dozen other local newspapers across the U.S. in a one-day strike to demand an end to painful cost-cutting measures and a change of leadership at their parent company Gannett, the country’s biggest newspaper chain.

The demonstration called attention to the challenges Post reporters have faced as they try to do their jobs and cover a growing community amid drastic newsroom cutbacks from three owners since 2008.

Their struggles have not gone unnoticed by Palm Beach Power Poll influencers. In this month’s poll, influencers shared both support for the reporters and disappointment in the fallout from the corporate cuts, including reduced coverage across Palm Beach County.

“We no longer have investigative journalism covering local governments and elected officials, and when that happens crime and corruption follow,’’ said former Congressman Mark Foley.

Going into the Great Recession, the Post – the county’s daily newspaper since 1916 – had more than 1,300 employees, including 300 newsroom employees, according to a recent report by Stet Media Group, a local online newsletter launched by three former Post editors.

Today, after years of layoffs and buyouts, the combined editorial staff for The Palm Beach Post and its sister paper devoted to the island town of Palm Beach, the Palm Beach Daily News, is less than 50. The cuts have effectively erased coverage in more than two dozen towns and cities — a fact not lost on the 64 percent of Power Poll influencers who say local news is more important to them than state, national or world news.

“The Palm Beach Post, after the Gannett takeover, has tanked in quality, resulting in a vicious death cycle. There are barely any reporters covering our local government,’’ said Cristina Escalante, chief operating officer at The SilverLogic, a Boca Raton software development company.

But despite those problems, The Post is still the preferred news source for a majority of Palm Beach Power Poll influencers — even if many of them are frustrated by what they consider a drop in the quality of journalism.

“To stay informed and engaged as a responsible citizen in a democracy, I read the digital Palm Beach Post and (Broward County-based South Florida) Sun Sentinel daily, watch local news in the evenings, follow national news regularly, and browse online aggregators. Understanding important issues is crucial in maintaining an active role in society,’’ said Palm Beach County Mayor Gregg K. Weiss.

Forty-eight percent of the influencers who responded to this month’s poll said The Palm Beach Post is their main go-to source for news, even with paywalls meant to encourage online subscriptions. WPTV Channel 5 was second with 24 percent. The poll had a response rate of 23 percent.

“I read the Post everyday and appreciate the coverage. I think more people should subscribe and it irks me when people complain about a paywall. It costs money to provide this information,’’ said Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig.

But striking Post reporters say not enough money is being invested by Gannett to allow them properly cover the community. And many fear for the newspaper’s future.

More than 360 newspapers across the United States have closed since late 2019. If Gannett decided to shutter The Palm Beach Post and Palm Beach Daily News, the results would be devastating to the community, 60 percent of Power Poll influencers agree.

“Local print media has been disappearing for years and with it the loss of investigative journalism which provided some safeguards against local political corruption,’’ said Rebel Cook, a commercial real estate broker.

Thirty-one percent said they believe the loss of the Post would be a blow but that the community would adjust by turning to other news sources, including independent online outlets like State Media Group, for local news. Just 7 percent said the community would not be affected at all by the loss of The Post.

Sixty percent said they stand by reporters who staged the strike and believe Gannett should be able to do more with its resources to properly compensate journalists and invest in newsrooms instead of constantly reducing them through layoffs and cutbacks.

The median pay for Gannett employees in 2022 was $51,035, according to the company’s proxy filing. Some Palm Beach Post newsroom staff were making less than $40,000, according to a union study.

Among the union’s contract demands are a base annual salary of $60,000. The union noted that Gannett CEO Mike Reed’s total annual compensation was valued at nearly $3.4 million, down from $7.7 million in 2021.

“The consolidation of media by corporate interests is detrimental to the quality of life and informed residence of our communities,’’ said Foley, who noted the loss of veteran reporters who “knew every neighborhood and issue. Gannett doesn’t know South Bay from South Beach.’’

Twenty-one percent said they somewhat agree with the striking reporters but also think Gannett is doing its best at a time when newspaper revenues industry wide are continuing to fall.

Other influencers shared their disappointment in the quality of the newspaper.

“The Post has become very thin over the years and they have also become politically one-sided, which hurts their reputation,’’ said Eric Hopkins senior vice president for Hundley Farms.

The cost-cutting also has affected news deadlines to the extent “that you are getting news that is two days old,’’ he said.

Hopkins also lamented the lack of sports coverage to the market’s Major League Baseball team, the Miami Marlins, which has been enjoying a winning season after years of disappointment on the field.

“I agree that we need better depth of reporting on local issues (along with better accuracy of that reporting), but that takes more reporters, which takes more funding,’’ said Wellington Vice Mayor Michael Napoleone.

One West Palm Beach influencer was so turned off by what he perceived as pro-Donald Trump coverage that he said he stopped reading The Post and bought a subscription to another newspaper.

“I remember when the PB Post was a good newspaper. I’ve switched to the Tampa Bay Times for state-wide news, including politics, which the Post jettisoned when it became a Trump cheerleader,’’ said Guy Icaneglo, a litigation attorney.

Among other revelations in the poll: 25 percent said national news was theri preferred region of news, over local, state and world news. And several influencers said they relied on WLRN radio as a news source.

The bottom line from this month's poll: The Palm Beach Post, despite its challenges, is still considered the local news source of choice for the majority of influencers, who hope it's sticks around for another 100 years.

“With all the problems that they have, I still hope they survive,’’ Hundley said. “Having a local paper is very important and I have been a subscriber for 30 years.’’

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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