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Surviving another layoff with optimism but some concern

Wed, May 28, 2014

Misc

By BRUCE RITCHIE

FLORIDAENVIRONMENTS.COM

Five years later and the scenario sadly seems the same, but I’m not the same person.

In December 2008 I was laid off by the Tallahassee Democrat. Rather than taking the day off or updating my resume, I instead went back out and covered the environment beat, created a web site and posted my experiences of the day.

My response to being laid off was featured in NewsPro magazine and the Manchester Guardian as a telling story of the rise of blogs and new media in the face of crumbling media corporations.

Bruce Ritchie, center left, covers former U. S. Sen. Bob Graham at the Florida Capitol in 2011. Photo by Margaret McPherson.

Bruce Ritchie, center right, covers former U. S. Sen. Bob Graham at the Florida Capitol in 2011. More often Ritchie is alone in covering environmental issues at the Capitol. Photo by Margaret McPherson.

I felt good at the time, empowered to go out and work as a journalist in the face of corporate managers who were eliminating environmental beats.

But five years later, I have mixed feelings about the future of journalism. Or at least, the kind of local and state daily journalism that really is needed to track issues and ask questions.

I returned from my vacation and Memorial Day weekend on Tuesday to find that I was being laid off by The Florida Current along with the two remaining reporters there who I was working with.

I appreciated the opportunity to work for The Current and with the staff at its parent company, Lobbytools. But our coverage struggled for recognition even amid declining coverage by the other major Florida newspapers.

Several papers have consolidated and now are sharing coverage with fewer reporters. Aggregation sites are reaping the advertising dollars while posting news that other organizations are paying reporters to produce.

Now I see a new trend among newspapers and upstart news organizations that tout their investigative credentials while doing stories that seem to me just to be plain old reporting: Get the facts, talk to people and highlight an issue.

I’m deeply troubled by the trends in journalism. They seem to be taking me far away from my soul as a daily newspaper guy doing regional and state journalism.

Some people point to Mashable and the award-winning Climate Central as the future of online journalism. Sure those are quality sites. But I’m discouraged by the lack of reporting in state capitals and city halls across the country.

I’m especially discouraged by the lack of coverage of local and regional environmental issues, except when a publication wants to parade its big package as a scoop after years of ignoring the decisions that are made on a daily basis.

I feel optimistic about my own future. I’m working on a project about the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system that has Alabama, Florida and Georgia stuck in a protracted legal dispute.

I admit my mind keeps returning to a vaguely pessimistic view on my own ability to cover the environment the way I think it needs to be covered.

I’ve learned that unemployment is tough on the soul. And I’ve learned that bloggers don’t have the budget to really go cover the news. If they try to, their coverage is often scooped up, overshadowed or stolen anyway by one of the big newspapers.

But this is inside baseball. And I’m not going to let it stand in the way of a career that I’m proud of, and a beat that I consider to be crucial for journalists to cover in this time of growing population and depleting resources.

Five years ago, I filed my first story on Floridaenvironments.com within 10 hours of my layoff. Yesterday, I did the same within nine hours of getting the bad news again.

I plan to keep doing my job and to keep working through these feelings just as I did yesterday, and five years ago.

(Story and photo copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Floridaenvironments.com. Photo by Margaret McPherson. Do not copy or redistribute without permission, which can be obtained from bruceBritchie@gmail.com)

19 Responses to “Surviving another layoff with optimism but some concern”

  1. Jeff says:

    Bruce, thank you for everything you’ve done and continue to do to keep environmental issues front and center in this state. Please know that there are thousands of people in Florida and elsewhere who appreciate the quality of your work.

  2. Lisa Lazarus says:

    I am so sorry to read this Bruce–actually I’m sad to not be reading you locally! I really appreciate what you have done for Tallahassee and Florida! Lisa Lazarus

  3. Rusty Ennemoser says:

    Wishing you the best, Bruce. There is a lot of work to be done and we need you on the team!

  4. Bruce, I share your pain. The good news is there is a real need for quality reporting such as yours. You will find a way.

    🙂
    N

  5. Bruce Ritchie says:

    Thanks Rusty, Nancy and Lisa. I really appreciate hearing from you. Thanks for the kind words.

  6. Many years ago at a newspaper called The Gainesville Sun, the environmental reporter kept haranguing management about something called “the internet.” He insisted it was going to change our industry, and he vowed to show the bosses how important it could be, if they would just let him rig one computer in the newsroom to access it. The managers made clear they thought this passionate young newsman was dead wrong about the importance of the internet. But finally they gave him a computer in the corner and let him tap in. Bruce, you’ve always been ahead of your time and ahead of your industry. I’m convinced that the quality of your environmental journalism will ultimately turn FloridaEnvironments.Com into the in-depth, original, must-read, funded source that The Florida Current was not able to be. Your loyal readers and admiring colleagues are pulling for you, and will help you with your good work when the need arises.

  7. Mary Ellen Klas says:

    Bruce — I was heart-broken when I learned of this terrible news. The journalism that you and your colleagues did at the Florida Current was excellent, and valuable. As journalism has changed, I become less of a competitor and more of a teammate, cheering you on for being the crucial eyes and ears on so important environmental issues when there are so few of us to cover it. I’m glad you’re not giving up! Hang in there. We all need you!

  8. I remain a fan of your fine journalism, in this trying time for reporting and the printed word. From upstream in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint watershed, near the Peachtree Creek USGS monitor station, I encourage you to continue writing about water resources, cultural changes, and people in the region. I await your project eagerly, with appreciation for all your previous work in Tallahassee and before that in Gainesville, Florida. I do hope you will include a book project or two in your plans, sir. Be well, and persevere!

  9. Every single time an environmental story is posted on Sayfie, I know it’s YOU. (Because if it’s the Times, it’s Craig Pittman.) That is a blessing. I would have laughed at calling that a blessing 15 years ago, and yet every time you two come through I want to sing. “They made it through, they made it through the noise. And then I post them or I send them to the right person. Politics is local and with environmental issues it is about state government–what the legislature is doing. You are THE ONLY one I see covering it. Your work is important. I double-dog dare promise if I win the lottery, you are on my list to sponsor and promote. In the meantime, there is an authentic need and I have to believe people will once again start paying attention. (It’s what I tell myself too!) Thank you for this story…

  10. Susan Glickman says:

    Bruce,
    Your many years of enlightening the public through your insightful writing has been vital to protecting the environment and the public’s interest. You will no doubt find a new venue from which to keep doing your thing. Seems like we are all reinventing ourselves these days.

    With much gratitude,
    Susan Glickman

  11. George says:

    Bruce,

    Thanks for you good work on state environmental and energy issues. We live in challenging times, where traditional business models are being reshaped. That said, you provide a service for which there will always be a need. Keep doing what you love to do, the rest will follow.

  12. Ron Piasecki says:

    Bruce-

    We have both been working on environmental issues for several years.
    I have always found your articles to be both timely and very accurate.
    We missed you when you left the Democrat and also enjoyed your articles with the Current.
    We look forward again to reading your articles in whatever media you use.
    Good luck.
    Ron Piasecki

  13. Bruce, the environment has a messenger, it’s you. Your dedication and commitment to balanced reporting on Florida’s natural systems that give Floridian’s their quality of life is certainly admirable. I always look forward to your insightful writings for the latest news….I will be looking, still.

  14. Chuck O'Neal says:

    This is very disturbing news. We relied on your accurate reporting throughout the entire legislative session to see where we needed to exert public pressure. But alas, saving Florida’s environment generates fewer short term profits than destroying it. So it falls upon a band of merry men and women disbursed throughout the state to work as volunteers from the kitchen tables and home offices, writing posts, spreading the word person to person, in order to keep an ember of truth glowing and alive. Its not what we do when we’re being paid that counts. Its what we do when we’re not being paid that changes the world.

  15. Lu Merritt says:

    So sorry to hear this, but best of luck to you–we need your skills and your voice here in Florida now more than ever!

  16. Madeleine Carr says:

    Bruce, if I had a ton of money to counter those rich lobbyists, you would get it. In the meantime, thank you for all your empathy, your brilliant writing and insights. Check out the high school grads from today. They seem super excited to,help,the environment.
    Good luck,
    Madeleine

  17. Maria Minno says:

    Dear Bruce,

    Your reporting is excellent and essential. With so many gripping social issues, environmental tragedies are overlooked. But since the environment is actually fundamental to social issues, your work is more important now than ever. Many blessings to you!

    Maria Minno

    P.S.: Marc and I are having a terrible time getting attention onto the extinction of three kinds of Florida butterflies, and the other 18 or so imperiled species that desperately need attention beyond anything the government is pretending to give. Contact us if you want to get the details on this!

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