Bill Barker—previously the publisher of the Tampa Tribune and president of Tampa Media Group, Inc., Scripps affiliates—along with Manny Garcia—previously the executive editor of el Nuevo Herald, the Spanish-language daily in Miami, part of the Miami Herald group, a Scripps affiliate—spoke to the NPC members at the March 27 luncheon.
Barker, now publisher and president of the Naples Daily News, a Scripps affiliate, said, “I have heard people say: ‘It will be a cold day in Hell when the Naples Daily News gets a new publisher and a new editor at the same time!’ Now you know why it was so cold in Naples in January!”
Barker continued, “Private ownership is coming back to the publishing business.” He pointed out that when Warren Buffett and others are investing in newspapers, they demonstrate a belief in publishing. “When you’re in the publishing business, there is no better place to be than Naples,” Barker said. “We have the facilities with a world-class studio enabling NDN to set the pace as a full-spectrum publisher. The big-market publishing business has had some struggles, but this size market has a lot of potential. We need to cover how national issues affect people in Naples; we want to be a newspaper of state, a paper of record. We are now taking on issues more aggressively.” He pointed out that the parent company, Scripps, is one of the only publishing entity left that has a bureau in Washington.
Garcia, now the editor of the Naples Daily News, was born in Cuba, where there is no “free press.” “Here,” he commented, “there is the First Amendment and a Free Press.” He feels that the NDN needs to watch out for the way tax dollars are spent. He wants more profiles on local businesses—”that’s what people want,” he said. “We have to cover news ‘Live.’ Right now, there’s a fire going on in Golden Gate, and I put a guy out there in a helicopter to cover it.”
Barker pointed out that Garcia was on the National Board of Investigative Reporters and had won a Pulitzer for his investigative reporting.
Barker told the NPC audience, “The NDN knows that it works for you! We’re committed to being in Naples. We don’t have the easiest job, but we have a place with terrific potential. We’re an open organization with a great community room, and we want to have even more events there.”
He continued, “Newspapers have an obligation to put issues out in the community. We have put together a new advisory board to make certain we have our finger on the pulse. Some of the public feel we have our own agenda. We need to put the information out there and make sure it is fair and balanced. What really upsets me is that only 13% of the voters in the Naples area turns out to vote! We need to help improve that statistic.”
Garcia stated, “Bill is a great guy with a big heart. The NDN has a great sales and marketing team, and a good news room. That is the future of Southwest Florida news.”
His vision is: “We have to donate local news and we have a talented group here. Matt Dixon is now covering Tallahassee for us–and he’s a talented State House reporter. Plus, we have strong beat reporting. We need to celebrate the successes.”
During the Q&A time, Barker and Garcia answered the following:
1. What are you doing to help the investigative reporter? Garcia: “Our fight is local. We have to go to a Public Information Officer and put it in writing. Gina Edwards is involved with this. Some feel newspapers don’t have the money to push on certain issues like this. That view is wrong!”
2. What about community reporting? Barker: “Ask people what they are willing to pay for and ask what is unique about the NDN. Why should people care about a national issue? How does it affect people in Naples? That’s what we need to report. We want to be a paper of state.”
Garcia: “The community connection is important. We have put a reporter on the Bonita Banner and one on theMarco Island Eagle.”
3. What about monitors in newsrooms? Barker: “We need to protect the Freedom of the Press, but we need more doing and complaining.”
Garcia: “You need to have access but sometimes with access you lose some of your credibility. In Tallahassee the only agenda that our reporter Matt Dixon and others have is ‘reporting for their readers’ as their primary job.”
4. There is now a negative, nasty Special Election Campaign going on–your comments? Barker: “We’re going to try to get to the facts, lay the story ‘out there.’ The negative ads try to get you to go to the polls and vote emotionally based on the ads.”
5. What about endorsements? Barker: “A lot of newspapers are getting out of the endorsement business, but we’re going to take a stand, make a recommendation. Endorsements are not news–it’s our opinion.”
Garcia: “We need to be discerning, cut through the ‘noise.’ The key thing for us is that we need to be above the fight. There is a live stream on our website where you can watch our question-and-answer time with the candidates, but we do need a candid conversation time with the candidates that is not streamed. The public trusts us, and the candidates need to trust us, too. We need to articulate our opinion, and why.”
6. How can the NPC help you reach your goals? Garcia: “Be a lobbyist for us. Help us be a robust press. Subscribe to our paper. Let us know how we’re doing.”
Barker and Garcia were thanked for sharing their ideas and thoughts with the Press Club of Southwest Florida and were encouraged to come back for another session.