Florence Snyder: “The Newsroom” that isn’t anymore.

coffee newspaperAs HBO launches the new season of “The Newsroom,” the infotainment intelligentsia are all over the Internet making fun of Aaron Sorkin’s hyper-romantic Valentine to journalism.

Huffington Post TV critic Maureen Ryan and other purveyors of news and opinion scoff at Sorkin’s “heart-on-sleeve earnestness” and “magical belief that better news coverage could fix America.”

Not so long ago, that magical belief was a consensus point of view.

Florida’s newsrooms were stuffed with shy social misfits, charismatic class clowns, outlaws and outcasts, all drawn to the business by a shared belief that journalism was an end in itself, a sacred public trust. (more…)

Time to Reboot at Leadership Florida Conference

I had the privilege of attending the annual meeting of Leadership Florida last week in Orlando. Held at the Yacht & Beach Club Resort at Disney World, the meeting of Florida’s premiere leadership organization brought together some 450 LF alums from across the state to hear interesting speakers (including SPC President Dr. Bill Law and Gov. Rick Scott) and to network like crazy with some fairly influential people.

At least, that’s why I go. I was privileged to be selected for Class XXVII in 2008, and I value the connections that I have made through this organization over the years. And the chance to get away to think, learn and exchange ideas with other professionals serves as a mental reboot.

Dr. Law was part of a panel on higher education, pointing out that the Florida College System is “the envy of America in the way students can move through the system.” He said a particular strength of FCS is the attention paid to helping students prepare to enter the workforce, especially in the health care sector. In response to a question about trends in higher education, Dr. Law said Florida is fortunate to have a public and private sector that work “hand in hand” to provide a variety of choices for students. He identified a gradual shift in higher education in Florida: “As our colleges mature, the universities are moving to more research and we (the State College System) are sharing the undergraduate burden more evenly.”

One of the most interesting presentations was by Dr. Beth Stevens, senior vice president for corporate citizenship, environment and conservation for the Walt Disney Co. She focused on the importance of preserving Florida’s natural resources for future generations, and the growing disconnect between children and nature. Today kids spend on average just 1 percent of their time doing things in nature and 27 percent of their time using electronic devices. Yet a connection with nature is extremely important in childhood development, she said.

Disney is in Year 5 of a proactive program to promote conservation of natural resources and to provide visitors connections to nature. It has created a 12,000-acre wilderness preserve in Kissimmee with the Florida Nature Conservancy, and partners with 350 non-profits worldwide dedicated to nature conservation.

Gov. Scott focused on economic issues, especially his job-creation efforts. “No state in the U.S. should be in a better position economically than Florida,” he said. Its low tax burden, geographic proximity to the Panama Canal, resurgence in tourism and expansion of many of its ports all contribute to “a dramatic turnaround” in the Florida economy in his 2 ½ years in office, he said.

In response to questions, the governor dashed hopes that he might call a special session of the Legislature to reconsider joining the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid plan. “I can’t do anything,” he said, because the Legislature has spoken by rejecting the plan and it is unlikely he could compel legislators to reconsider that decision.

Another speaker, Peter Kageyama of St. Petersburg, offered a truckload of ideas on how to make our cities more safe, functional and fun. Especially fun. In a fast-paced presentation, he showed dozens of examples of what cities have done to add life to the streets and boost municipal morale. For example, spray-painting weeds in a vacant lot and labeling it a “weed garden.” Or turning that lot into a “barking lot” mini-dog park. One city created an inexpensive water park with a garden hose. Another urged citizens to attach post-it notes to derelict or under-used buildings. The notes bear the title “I wish this was. . .” and people write in their idea for improving the structure. One city turned the problem of gum litter into an attraction by declaring a vacant stone wall the “bubble-gum wall.” Instead of tossing gum on the grass or walks, citizens are encouraged to stick their used bubble gum wads on the wall. Somewhat gross, but also interesting.

Kageyma’s message: “Play is central to our relationships with other people.” It’s a good takeaway for our community.

By David Klement, Executive Director

Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

St. Petersburg College


NRA Lobbyist Backs Gun Limit on Mental Patients

It’s safe to say that most of the recent mass shootings have been perpetrated by men with serious mental problems. Who in his right mind could turn automatic weapons on innocent people going about their business in malls, offices, schools and movie theaters?

So it was good news the other day when Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill to close a loophole in Florida gun laws that permitted some persons with mental illness to buy guns. But not everyone agrees with that statement. The governor’s office was flooded with almost 25,000 emails urging him to veto the bill.

Why would anyone want to allow mentally ill people to buy guns? Because the bill applies to people who have voluntarily submitted themselves to mental health exams or treatments. The old law allowed such people to buy guns once they are released from mental health institutions. The new law requires a judge and doctor to concur that an individual is no longer a danger to himself or others in order to get off the database of those prohibited from buying a gun.

To the surprise of many, even Marion Hammer wanted Scott to sign the bill. The longtime National Rifle Association lobbyist seldom gets behind any restriction on gun ownership, but even she could see the sensible justification for this one. In fact, she and her allies flooded the governor’s office with 200,000 emails asking Scott to sign the bill.

As was noted in our Village Square forum on guns held on May 22nd, (http://bit.ly/120hazK) the Second Amendment‘s guarantee of the right to bear arms is not voided by reasonable restrictions to protect public safety. No “right” is absolute; no “liberty” is open-ended. Preventing harm to others seems a reasonable limitation.

By David Klement

Executive Director, Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

St. Petersbug College

Congress, the ball is in your court!

In the Privacy vs Security Debate posting of June 24 (http://on.fb.me/12dtvvH), I left off wondering what constitutional law attorney Barry Richard thinks about the latest revelations of government surveillance in the name of national security. I heard from him recently, and here’s what he said:

“I have concerns about the extent of surveillance, but based on what the administration has reported, the conduct appears to be legal. The surveillance is authorized by federal statute and was pursuant to a warrant. The question is whether Congress has gone too far.”

So, the ball is in Congress’ court. Congress has authorized the eavesdropping on telephone and internet communications by the National Security Agency, so no one in that body should act surprised at the revelations of its extent by leaker Edward Snowdon. Apparently, some in Congress think it has indeed gone too far. A bipartisan group of 26 senators asked NSA Director James Clapper on June 28 to answer a series of questions about the spying program authorized in Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Among the questions: How long has NSA used the law to perform mass collection of Americans’ phone and internet communications? What specific instances of terrorist plots can NAS cite as having been thwarted by the secret eavesdropping operation that could not have been discovered by other means?

The Senate group’s leader, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the bulk collection authorized under Section 215 “raises serious civil liberties concerns and all but removes the public from an informed national security and civil liberty debate.”

I agree. The leaks exposing the extent of this operation have at least laid the groundwork for such a debate. As I ended my previous post on this issue, let’s have that debate. It’s crucial to a healthy democracy.

By David Klement

Executive Director, Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

St.Petersburg College


$50 and a Bus Ticket – What a New Beginning!

One day, hopefully soon, common sense is going to trump law-and-order zealotry as a strategy for developing criminal justice policy in Florida. I say that after reading Steve Bosquet’s column in the June 25 edition of the Tampa Bay Times headlined: “Prisoners released lacking even an ID.” (http://bit.ly/11FK08t)

Bosquet reported that every day, as many as 100 inmates of Florida’s prisons are released after completing their sentences. They leave with a change of clothes, a one-way bus ticket to the place from which they were sentenced, and $50. Many lack an indispensable item to transition into the real world: a photo ID, Bosquet reported. As a result, they become trapped “in a desperate spiral that leads to more crime and more prison time – at a huge cost to taxpayers.”

A bill that would help inmates track down birth certificates needed to get photo IDs failed to pass in the recent session of the Legislature, Bosquet reported. A similar bill was passed in 2011, but Gov. Rick Scott vetoed it. And the reaction of the chairman of the House Criminal Justice Committee, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach: “…I’m not in any hurry to speed up people getting out of jail,” according to Bosquet’s article.

Is it any wonder that roughly one-third of inmates released upon completion of their sentences return to prison within three years – creating what Bosquet called “the revolving door of recidivism”? Without an ID, how is an ex-inmate going to open a bank account, apply for jobs, find housing, register for college or training?

Why does this dismal report give me hope for common sense? Because not everybody is as stuck in the law-and-order mentality of the ‘80s, as Rep. Gaetz seems to be.  As I previously reported, some politicians and pundits get it on prison reform – and not just the traditional bleeding-heart liberals. Conservatives are taking a smarter approach to incarceration than “Lock-‘em-up-and-throw-away-the-key.” Even direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie came out recently for prison reform in an op-ed in the June 9 New York Times (http://nyti.ms/11Owafm).  Similar views on the causes of recidivism came from our Feb. 6 forum titled “Does Incarceration Reduce Crime?” an initiative of the Project on Accountable Justice, of which the Institute is a partner (http://bit.ly/11pzF0a).

Hopefully, more policy-makers will join the common-sense bandwagon when the Project on Accountable Justice compiles the data that will provide guidance to the Legislature for new efforts at prison reform in 2014. Bosquet reported that Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, one of the Legislature’s most conservative members, will try again next year to help freed inmates obtain state IDs. As he quotes Baxley, “We’ve got to do more than just incarcerate people.”

David Klement, Executive Director

Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions

St. Petersburg College

Choose your news. Carefully.

black and whiteI do not tend to see the world the same way as Florida Senator Marco Rubio does. But we had the pleasure of having his recently departed General Counsel Len Collins at our last Dinner at the Square program on immigration. Collins was bright, articulate, exceptionally well-informed and incredibly pleasant. I’d double dog dare anyone to even try to dislike him.

And – given the substantive impediments to any kind of immigration reform and our desperate need to do something, I’ve left our discussion about immigration with the general sense that Senator Rubio is brave to step out and lead on it. Sure, he’s a politician so he’s trying to get a win out of it in the hispanic community, but I like anyone occupying a middle ground these days (for whatever reason) and there is considerable downside risk to him in what he did, since he needs to keep winning primaries to stay senator or be president. If you doubt that, check out the National Review cover skewering him for his support of reform.

So given my recent more personal experience with the Senator’s views (and staff), when I saw the spate of headlines drawing attention to his apparent faux pas demanding a nonexistent IRS commissioner to resign (the former commissioner’s term expired in November – and he was appointed by the Bush administration), I dug a little deeper.

Turns out there is currently an acting director, who served as deputy director in the chain of command where the problem took place. Rubio’s staff says that’s who he was referring to. Now, I don’t know if this was an error on the part of the senator, his staff (more likely) or simply a poorly written statement. But making a headline of it – as so many articles did – just seems small. Are we really going to spend our civic energy being petty?

This is a perfect example of why our tribalism is growing deeper and more impenetrable by the day.

If you like Rubio, you’re likely to give him a break. If you don’t like him, you’re liable to revel in his error. And we had media that did both. (Then there’s this accumulation of ewwww. Some pieces yammered on snottily about a typo.)

Meanwhile over at Fox News, they’re spinning yarns about just how high the order to audit Tea Party organizations originated (and I’m betting you can guess how high they think). Again, they have no intention of giving a President Obama the break they’d have given a President Bush for the identical situation.

Someone’s going to have to grow up. Until that happens, please do read – and listen – with caution.

USA Today: Residents Make a Date with City Leaders

Screen shot 2013-04-14 at 11.20.49 AMFrom USA Today, by TaMaryn Waters

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It wasn’t really a dating scene.

But a non-profit here borrowed the concept of speed dating to allow a dozen officials and leaders to get some face time with about five dozen constituents Thursday.

Some participants quizzed leaders on water and air quality, budget issues, the homeless, development in rural areas, educational programs and police officers in schools. Others said little and allowed the leaders to share unknown facts about themselves or their stance on issues. Read the rest of the article at USA Today.

Watch the Video: HERE

Open hearts, open minds

“Our task as citizens whether we are leaders in government or business – or spreading the word – is to spend our days with open hearts and open minds. To seek out the truth that exists in an opposing view and to find the common ground that allows for us as a nation, as a people, to take real and meaningful action. And we have to do that humbly – for no one can know the full and encompassing mind of God. And we have to do it everyday, not just at a prayer breakfast.” — President Barack Obama, at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast

Steve Seibert writing in the Tallahassee Democrat: We can seek a common ground

seibert_steveHow do we find common ground in these contentious times of partisan gridlock? I respectfully offer the following principles to help us bridge the great divides of our time.

• One: Seek to understand the moral positions of others.

Americans are a diverse people with fundamentally different moral foundations. Recent psychological studies show we are born with a predisposition for being conservative or liberal, and no amount of yelling at each other on a cable network will change that.

Some of us hold as sacred the care for victims of oppression; some are dedicated to preserving the institutions and traditions that sustain a moral community; others are most concerned with the protection of individual liberty. Most of us share a concern about all these values, but feel more intensely about some than others. (more…)

“In all people and in all things…”

“A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all-knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity.” — Eleanor Roosevelt

This would be swimming upstream…

“Use your bean instead of listening all day to crap from the right and the left.” — Alan Simpson, of the Simpson Bowles Commission, suggesting that people should actually read the report… (If you want to swim upstream, click here.)

On conspiracy theories

“People on both sides tend to believe that there is a conspiracy, that there is a stolen election because they don’t know anyone who votes for the other party. Both sides are pretty homogeneous. Democrats tend to congregate with Democrats; Republicans with Republicans. We don’t know anyone who voted for the other guy. And as a result we don’t know how this possibly could have happened.”

–Dan Cassino of Fairleigh Dickinson University, on MSNBC’s Hardball

Florence Snyder: Gene Patterson lived his values. Again, and again, and again.

When the Grim Reaper finally came for Eugene Corbett Patterson, the 89 year old Pulitzer Prize winner surely did not blink. Fear was not in his character and anyway, he had seen death before.

Patterson had always been a man of great ambition, and as he prepared to meet his Maker at his St. Petersburg home, the dying editor started and brilliantly finished condensing the King James Bible. It was an old newsman’s last service to seekers of truth in an attention deficit disordered world.

In the decade from 1978-1988 when Patterson called the shots at the St. Petersburg Times, Florida journalism was widely recognized as the best in the world, and the St. Petersburg Times was recognized as Florida’s best newspaper by everybody who didn’t work for the Miami Herald.

Death had tried and failed to claim Patterson when he was a 20 year old tank commander at the Battle of the Bulge. In General Patton’s 10th Armored Division, Patterson learned verbal, sartorial and blood and guts elements of style that would inform how he led by example from the Ardennes Forest to the hour of his death. (more…)