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Tribute to Pelican Press, Readers and a few words from Matt Walsh

For 40 years, the weekly Pelican Press newspaper has been a must-read for year-round key residents, tourists, and snowbirds alike. At its core, it was a Siesta Key paper, but with its robust reporting on city and county goings-on, it certainly enjoyed a sizable following off the island as well.

Week in, week out, with a small crew and probably an even smaller budget, the editors and office staff cranked out spot-on investigative pieces and local government reporting from a cadre of shoe-leather reporters like the inimitable Bob Ardren, Jack Gurney, and Stan Zimmerman to name a few. Strong editorial pages, witty cartoons, book reviews, and freelance contributions from arts, social, wine, and film columnists, all lent a sophisticated note to this weekly paper that managed, at the same time, to create a bond with its readers by celebrating the natural beauty of the key and featuring stories on local people, businesses, and churches – right down to including occasional photographs and reports of the elusive family of bobcats that had taken up residence on the island.

The paper always had its share of politically and socially conservative readers and advertisers, but for many, perhaps most, the Pelican Press was a welcome reflection of open-minded perspective. Its letters to the editor section, which often filled an entire page, was always lively with well-informed and cogent debate from readers on both sides of the political aisle.

To the surprise of many, over the past month, the Pelican Press was sold off by its owner – the Milwaukee-based publishing company that had owned it since 1998 after acquiring the paper from founder John Davidson. Nearly all of the full-time and freelance contributors – including erstwhile editor Anne Johnson who nurtured the paper and its content contributors to scores of Florida Press Awards over her 30-some-odd-year career there – have lost their jobs and columns as a result of the change in ownership. The new publisher, the Sarasota-based Observer Group, has promised a shift in editorial direction to reflect the philosophy of its existing stable of newspapers, which embrace the “principles of individual freedom and capitalism and Austrian economics, and the founding principles of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.”

One of the most compelling aspects of the Pelican Press has always been its relationship with its readers, and this editorial shift, along with the loss of well-liked editors, staff, and reporters, has caused a fair degree of teeth-gnashing among longstanding and loyal readers. Because I wrote the “Reality Chick” column for that paper several years ago, I’ve lately been hearing from many of those readers who, very fond of the “old” Pelican Press, find these new circumstances to be an unwelcome changing of the guard.

Matt Walsh, CEO of the Observer Group which has purchased the Pelican Press, also editor and co-publisher of the Observer papers I believe, commented this morning on Stan Zimmerman’s recent guest blog post, and responded point by point to many readers’ complaints about the transition of ownership (read his full comments by clicking here). Mr. Walsh says that his newspaper group has “the desire, will and determination to continue building on the Pelican Press’ original roots and respected past.”

The heartening takeaway from all this sturm und drang is that it is thrilling to hear that so many people in our community — readers, writers, editors, newspaper owners — still care so passionately about content and editorial perspectives and opinions — and are still so personally invested in reading and publishing newspapers.

The challenge then for those of us in the business of researching, writing, reporting, opining about and publishing the news of the day — especially in light of the News of the World debacle – is to diligently strive to earn our readers’ loyalty anew, each and every day, by delivering news unfettered by bias or advertisers’ influence, opinion that is diverse, a platform for earnest debate, and the rigorous application of truth, accuracy and fairness to the printed word.

And the challenge for those of us in the personal business of reading is to strive equally diligently to be as fair in our reading as we want our newspapers to be in their reporting. And, while one may not like what one reads on every op/ed page of every newspaper, I think Voltaire said it best: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.” — Voltaire, letter to M. le Riche, February 6, 1770

Posted on July 26th, 2011Comments RSS Feed
One Response to Tribute to Pelican Press, Readers and a few words from Matt Walsh
  1. Matt’s response

    Daniel wrote: “… it’s just the idea of purchasing the paper in order to provide his slanted, right-wing views …”
    To Daniel: 1) Trust me, we would not have remained in business for 16 years under that business model; 2) If believing in the Declaration of Independence (“life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” i.e. individual freedom) and the U.S. Constitution qualifies as ‘slanted, right-wing views,’ guilty as charged and proud of it.

    Matt, I was under the impression that as an editor/publisher, it’s your responsibility to provide factual reporting, un-biased columns to your readers… (sort of Matt, how the professional ex-writers of the Pelican Press such as Stan Zimmerman used to write). Each and every writer for the Pelican Press, from the late Bob Aldren, to the; just-ousted Stan Zimmerman, ex-Reality Chick columnist; Mary (M.C.) Coolidge uesed to write. Matt, they were professions. They wrote fresh columns each and every week.

    And Matt, you stated in your response, that you would not have lasted 16 years if you wrote in this model. Matt, the “ONLY” reason your paper has survived for 16 years, is because each and every Opinion section is always; Pro-Republican. Matt, 99% of the residents on Long Boat Key are registered Republicans Matt…don’t try to blind-side the readers here Matt… you have one agenda and one agenda only..and your response to my previous post proves me to be correct.. when you responded: ‘slanted, right-wing views,’ guilty as charged and proud of it.

    Last but not least Matt, in your response to Charmaine, you stated: “Pelican’s demise”? Last I saw we were still publishing it.
    Matt, it’s no longer the Pelican Press…it’s the Observer, wrapped in the Pelican Press’s title…. ask any reader Matt if I’m not right.

    The Pelican Press will be no more, without the professional writers you ousted Matt. I’ll take any former Pelican Press writer.

    Also Matt, as you stated to Stan Zimmerman when he commented on not being able to have the opportunity to say goodbye to the other former writers you wrote: To Stan: “Refusal”? I don’t recall you or anyone asking. I refused no one

    Matt, since when does one need to ask permission to have the opportunity to say goodbye… Matt, if you have an ounce of class – (which you do not), you would have set aside some time, either at the Pelican Press location, or any other venue, in order for the team to say goodbye. Matt, the way you handled this..we.. oout of respect for Ms. Coolidge, I won’t even attempt to post.. but Matt, you were wrong.

    Mary, “Thank You” for giving me the opportunity to let my voice be heard.

    Respectfully, Daniel


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