NEWS

St. Augustine Record: Worst. Newspaper. Ever.

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Last time anyone outside of St. Augustine paid attention to The Record, which is, like the T-U, owned by Morris Communications, the world was laughing at the daily for running a piece they'd titled "NYT Reporter: No Regrets About Writing Story." The story to which they referred, of course, was The New York Times' blockbuster investigation, which ran in December, into allegations that the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office covered up a murder committed by one of its deputies. Which is, you know, exactly the kind of story an intrepid local newspaper should be on like a boozed-up Bieber on an open drag strip. Instead, The Record bravely exposed another scandalous facet of this lurid tale:

"Subsequent reaction hasn't just been outrage over the investigation, but also at the Times. … Some wondered afterward if the first loser in all this was St. Augustine, a victim of big media parachuting into a small town and just getting the pulse wrong."

Um, yeah. That's the real story.

Last week, The Record made another bid for entry into the Journalism Hall of Shame when publisher Delinda Fogel took to the op-ed page to invite anyone and everyone to come on down and proofread her paper, because her copy desk – and Spellcheck – aren't getting the job done.

"Spellcheck is a great program," she wrote, "but if you type a word that is spelled correctly but used incorrectly, it doesn't help at all."

The problem, a former Record staffer told journalism blogger Jim Romenesko, is that the copy desk is swamped and has no time to fix the crappy copy the paper's editors file. And asking volunteers for help is cheaper than hiring people who know what 
they're doing.

Or, in the words of Les Simpson, Morris' group publisher: "I'm afraid it is archaic ‘journalists' who would rather sit around and whine rather than give the audience what they want," he told Romenesko. (A decent – or sober – copy editor would have caught those two "rathers," FWIW.) "We can still persevere, but quit living in the past. Quit reading Jim Romenesko and go chart the future."

The future is free labor from armchair quarterbacks. We're so glad we chose this profession.

Vitti, 'Trust Me'

On Jan. 13, Duval County Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti pulled a maverick move. He switched 11 principals from their current posts to positions at other schools. Some were transferred to schools he felt needed better leadership, some were demoted and others were switched from principal to administrator. Such a drastic mid-year change alarmed many parents and teachers, and for good reason: What was so wrong that Vitti felt the need to presto-chango so dramatically?

We asked Vitti directly. The answer, he says, is that he wanted to send a message: "We made an action plan – a blueprint. Mid-year changes create a sense of urgency and I feel that it shows we are serious about putting the right leader in the right school. It energizes the faculty. Teachers and students will see the results."

These changes were based on data Vitti's staff collected during the fall, which showed that some schools' needs were more dire than they'd realized, he says. Ribault Middle, R.L. Brown Elementary and West Jacksonville Elementary, for example, all came up short in the four core academic areas: math, science, English and history.

While the moves caught people off-guard, Vitti insists that decisions weren't made rashly. And on one particular point he's quite firm: "There will be no more principal changes this year. Period."

The community's feedback has been mostly positive, especially after the dust settled and the initial shock wore off, Vitti says. "Trust me. I encourage patience and understanding that change – if any – to your school moving forward is based on the best interest of our community."

Those changes, he adds, weren't based on a specific formula or metric; rather, they seem more a product of Vitti's gut. He says he looked at the experience and abilities of each leader, as well as his principals' track records.

"Change is not easy," he says, "but I think the community wants a change agent. Some people embrace it and some people adjust. Some are just waiting to see results."

Better Libraries, Please

Last week, Save Jax Libraries, an activist group dedicated to, well, saving Jacksonville's libraries, announced that it had obtained the 25,931 validated signatures it needs to add an initiative to the Aug. 16 ballot to establish an independent library district. 
This marks the first straw ballot to clear this hurdle in 
city history.

And it's a good thing. Let us explain: Right now, the Jacksonville Public Library receives funding from the city's general fund. But every year, the activists say, that pot leaks more and more and the libraries see less and less. That potentially means branch closings, shorter hours and fewer resources

Based on a 2012 proposal by the Jacksonville Community Council, they want to give the library 
a dedicated funding source not privy to the whims 
of politicians – in 2013, the city gave $9 million 
more toward EverBank Field ($43 million) than its entire library system ($34 million), because priorities. 
While the ballot initiative would create a special taxing district, that doesn't necessarily mean 
new taxes. Rather, it just means that an independent board would have control over the library's resources.

"The money the libraries receive is a kind of ‘use it or lose it' situation," says Missy Jackson, a Friends of the Murray Hill Library board member. "With this option, we would see the unused money rolled over into the next fiscal year, making it more beneficial to the library system and the communities that use it."

If the straw ballot initiative passes in August, the second and final referendum could come as early as Nov. 4, provided the Jacksonville City Council and the Florida Legislature both sign off on it.

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