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Sense and the City: Diane McFarlin will be missed

Diane McFarlin

Having met Sarasota Herald-Tribune Publisher Diane McFarlin only once and then briefly — when we bumped into each other one night at a Ringling Town Hall lecture, and I learned that she was as warm and genuine up close and personal as she was elegant and beautiful from afar — I knew I wasn’t the best-qualified person to write about why so many of us, even those who don’t know her well, feel a pang of loss now that she’s leaving the H-Tto become dean of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida.

To help me out, several other women, with far fewer degrees of separation to Diane than I, were kind enough to share their insights and memories via email. I thank them for helping readers get a glimpse of the woman behind the publisher.

BIZ (941) magazine editor Susan Burns was an intern at the H-T during the time that Diane, then in her early 20s, was already city editor of the H-T‘s sister paper, the Sarasota Journal. “Diane was an inspiration to so many contemporaries and other young women who watched her rise in the male-dominated world of journalism,” Burns wrote. “You don’t get to Diane’s position without incredible intelligence and drive, and yet she accomplished all of it with grace, warmth, integrity and humor.”

Writer and longtime H-T social columnist Marjorie North, who had a front row seat to Diane’s hardworking ascent through the newspaper ranks, wrote, “Diane was up every morning before daybreak and entered every sacred bastion of the newspaper, from advertising to circulation, human resources to press operations.”

Learning the nuts and bolts of the business was smart strategy; caring about the people at her paper and in her community seems to have been just part of Diane’s nature.

“Her business sense was sharp — think about how early she got into multimedia with SNN back in the ’90s — and it was matched by her commitment to community,” Burns wrote. “She helped raise millions for the needy in her leadership of Season of Sharing.”

Susan Rife, arts and books editor and senior staff writer, recalled coming to the H-T in 1999 as part of what was known as the “Wichita Mafia” — a group of four journalists from the Wichita Eagle, including Janet Weaver (now Coats), who was managing editor under Diane, who, at the time, was executive editor.

“When Diane moved into the publisher’s office,” Rife wrote, “we used to kid around the newsroom about the place being ‘Amazonia,’ with women as publisher, executive editor, managing editor and probably in several other key roles at the paper.”

As publisher, Diane had to make tough decisions during tough times. “Letting employees go was one of her greatest challenges,” North wrote. When the downturn came and layoffs became necessary, North recalled, “she knew it was better for her to do it with heart and compassion than for it to be left up to a hatchet man who didn’t know the organization like she did.”

Diane’s caring for the paper’s employees earned her a “staff who would fall on their swords for her,” North wrote, and Rife echoed those sentiments.

“I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that she is well-loved in the newsroom,” Rife wrote. “Her newsroom background guaranteed that she ‘got’ us, and yet she maintained just the right amount of distance. I have never gotten a publisher’s office directive telling me to do this or that, cover this or that, or handle things any way other than as I saw fit.”

She wasn’t just well-loved at the paper though. Longtime friend and Sarasotan Jacki Boedecker wrote:

Diane and I have been dear friends since we met at the University of Florida as undergrads in 1974. Through our every-weekday-morning ritual of a two-mile, pre-dawn walk over the past two decades, I’ve been afforded the daily joy of experiencing all that is Diane — intelligent, generous, kind, courageous, humorous, honorable, ever faithful to family and friends — rain or shine. Her wise counsel, principled spirit and steadfast compassion have been an unfailing support to me, as well as my family, and she is a devoted role model, mentor and friend to my three daughters. Simply put, Diane has been and will always be a true blessing in my life.

And a blessing, no doubt, to countless other media colleagues and friends; families who were helped through Season of Sharing, and, of course, the thousands of readers in our community who can’t start their day without opening the newspaper first.

In their emails to me, North described Diane as “brilliant” and “ethical.” Rife, commenting about Diane’s well-known sense of style, wrote the words that many women in Sarasota have been thinking (only slightly enviously) for years: “She always is so put together!” And Burns captured the sentiment of all with her closing words, “Diane is simply a class act. We will miss her.”

And indeed we will.

Posted on June 28th, 2012 Comments Off on Sense and the City: Diane McFarlin will be missedComments RSS Feed

Blinded by Sarasota’s LED Signs

I’m fed up with the ridiculous LED signs that are trivializing our environment, degrading the sensibility of our palm-tree-sunshine-lined streets, and obliterating our good sense with their garish obnoxiousness. (Can you tell where I stand on this issue?)

Business that should know better — frequently medical and health-related offices — are throwing these signs up along U.S. 41 and on residential streets near Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Usually overlarge, blindingly bright, and specifically designed to divert drivers’ attention from the road, the light pollution alone from these signs is egregious enough, but they’re ugly to boot.

Posted on June 22nd, 2012 Comments (2)Comments RSS Feed

Sarasota Blues Festival VIP Offering Doesn’t Fit

The Sarasota Blues and Music Festival is irking me with its $75 VIP tickets. VIP? In a parking lot across from Ed Smith Stadium? Whatever! Read my outrage at this week’s Sense and the City column in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Posted on June 21st, 2012 Comments Off on Sarasota Blues Festival VIP Offering Doesn’t FitComments RSS Feed

Observer, Herald-Tribune alumnus releases debut novel

The cover of Roger Drouin's No Other Way

Surely you remember the name Roger Drouin. During his stint as the Sarasota Herald-Tribune‘s city hall reporter between 2007 and 2009, Drouin landed countless local stories on the front page of our daily — notching scoop after scoop.

When he left the paper, it was to earn his MFA in the Florida Atlantic University creative writing program. It takes guts to leave a paying writing gig these days (trust me), but Drouin did it, and now he’s making waves with the publication of his first novel, No Other Way. The book tells the story of a bird photographer who finds himself in the middle of a fight to protect a remote forest targeted for natural gas exploration.

The book’s earning positive notices from a variety of readers. You can pick up a copy via in a print or electronic edition, and you can even read the first three chapters for free over at Smashwords.

Quality local books are rare — give this one a go.

Posted on June 18th, 2012 Comments Off on Observer, Herald-Tribune alumnus releases debut novelComments RSS Feed

Sense and the City: At SMH, kindness is the cure

My mom recently underwent surgery at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, and the experience has made me reflect on the importance of kindness and care in helping folks recover. And so I turned those thoughts into this week’s Sense and the City, out in the Ticket today.

Here’s a sample:

It’s easy, when you arrive at a hospital for surgery, to view it as a giant conveyor belt sending a blur of bodies through an elaborate, dispassionate assembly line.

You’re dispossessed of your belongings — no jewelry to touch for good luck; no glasses to help you see the size of the needles; you don’t even get to keep your underwear on, for crickets’ sake. You might as well say goodbye to your ego and any sense of vanity as well — it’s hard to be Miss Priss when your butt’s hanging out the backside of a barely there hospital gown.

All the usual accoutrements of self-articulation, the titles, degrees and ZIP codes… they’re not much help here. All you’ve got is your body and the complex swirl of thoughts and emotions that make up who you are inside that body. The sense of vulnerability must be mind-blowing.

I worried about this recently when my mom, a fiercely independent woman, entered Sarasota Memorial Hospital for five hours of surgery. But to my great relief, the staff of caregivers surrounding my mom seem less like paid professionals just doing their jobs and more like longtime companions doing work they loved.

Read the rest right here.

Posted on June 14th, 2012 Comment (1)Comments RSS Feed

Pelican Press alumnus launches new online Sarasota news outlet

Sarasota News Leader Editor Rachel Brown Hackney

It’s rare to report about a new publication opening up shop, but I’m happy to pass along the news: Former Pelican Press Editor Rachel Brown Hackney has launched a new electronic publication dedicated to all things local. The name? The Sarasota News Leader.

Right now, it looks like your typical blog, but the long-term goal of the outlet is to become an electronic weekly, similar in flavor to the Pelican, but delivered via electronic tablets like iPads and Kindles. The staff will be covering city and county government, the school board and community news, and publishing investigative pieces to boot.

The site dubs itself “the progressive voice of SW Florida,” a voice those involved feel isn’t represented in local media, with the Observer Group’s cuts at the Pelican and the Herald-Tribune‘s buyout of Creative Loafing.

Hackney, who spent years at the Pelican, isn’t alone in her endeavor. Longtime Pelican reporter and former Patch contributor Stan Zimmerman is breaking news regularly at City Hall; his latest scoop is the news that some city officials are not currently bonded, a violation of our charter. The publication’s editorial board called the revelation “yet another scandal” rocking City Hall and “erod[ing] the confidence of citizens.”

The site also features county reporting from former Creative Loafing and Florida Independent Editor Cooper Levey-Baker. He broke the news about potential Department of Justice intervention in Kathy Dent’s plan to consolidate voting precincts around the county. Others contributing to the publication include Staff Writer Robert Ross, Contributing Photographer Norman Schimmel, Contributing Writers David Staats and Fran Palmeri, A&E Writer Elinor Rogosin and General Manager Robert S. Hackney, Rachel’s husband.

The plan for now is for the staff to keep blogging to build credibility and buzz, and then launch the full-fledged e-weekly come August. Can a new publication make a dent in the Observer– and Herald-Tribune-dominated local media universe? I’ve got my fingers crossed.

Posted on June 11th, 2012 Comments (5)Comments RSS Feed

UFood Grill gets a Forbes shout-out

Earlier this year, I told you about a rare stock market hunch I was acting on, investing in the healthy fast food chain UFood Grill, based in Boston.

Well, not to toot my own horn, but Forbes just included the restaurant in a roundup of “10 Great Little Restaurant Chains You Haven’t Heard Of — Yet.” Click here for their expert take on why UFood might have a bright future.

Posted on June 8th, 2012 Comments Off on UFood Grill gets a Forbes shout-outComments RSS Feed

Sense and the City: Lessons for grads from The Graduate


Attending a college graduation party the other day got me thinking about graduates in general, and of course, The Graduate, the 1967 classic best known for its proto-cougar storyline. And that got me thinking about what kind of advice I’d give to new graduates:

Remember The Graduate? The 1967 film where Dustin Hoffman played young Benjamin, just graduated from college, who, during a party at his folks’ home, is given a one-word bit of advice from a guest: “plastics.” As in, pursue a career in plastics, in order to make it big in the world.

And if the graduate had followed that advice? Sure, maybe he and his stolen bride would have ridden that bus off into a future of financial security. But the flip side would have been that Benjamin ended up an old man whose grandkids would blame him for the giant swaths of plastic bottles and six-pack rings that pollute our oceans.

I thought of The Graduate last week when I heard the story of 24-year-old Victoria Ann Brill, who has filed as a write-in candidate for the Sarasota County Supervisors of Elections race between two Republican contenders — incumbent Kathy Dent and Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton. Victoria’s not in it to win it — she just wanted to close the primary so that non-Republicans wouldn’t be able to vote.

Somebody older than her undoubtedly also gave Brill a one-word bit of advice: “loopholes.” As in, take advantage of loopholes whenever you can to help yourself — or your politically minded friends and family — manipulate the means to an end. Legal or not, exploiting a loophole, especially when it affects the rights of others, is not exactly something to be proud of. As if, with apologies to Thoreau, you can manipulate voters’ rights without injuring democracy.

Read the rest of this week’s Sense and the City over at the Ticket website.

Posted on June 7th, 2012 Comments (2)Comments RSS Feed

Cancer on the Brain … Baseball, Business and Beating the Odds

Jay Lefevers with his 25-pound cat Spanky and his 1967 Mustang

I’m really excited to announce the release of a new memoir by Jay Lefevers, an Arizona businessman who battled and beat a brain tumor and cancer.

Appropriately titled Cancer on the Brain, Lefevers’ book is an inspiring record of surviving multiple brain surgeries and fighting cancer, while also running a real estate business, being a husband and father, and coaching a winning Little League team.

I worked with the author on some of the editing for the book and have previously blogged about a film he was involved in backing — Another Happy Day.

For me, Cancer on the Brain is a fascinating memoir about remaining focused on living life — even when facing possible death — and how and why we all need to be our own best healthcare advocates. If we don’t watch out for ourselves and our loved ones, and aggressively advocate for our health and the kind of care we receive, we run the risk of being subject to distracted doctors with jam-packed patient waiting rooms and well-meaning but over-burdened medical professionals.

Lefevers has a unique tone — he’s tough on himself and he’s tough on the world around him in some ways — but that’s what I enjoyed most about his book: his unflinching honesty about himself, his experiences and how he interpreted his circumstances and how he chose to meet the challenges of multiple brain surgeries but then after surviving all that, having to face cancer (lymphoma) and enduring the ensuing chemotherapy.

I sometimes bitch about my life and this thing or that thing not going my way … I moan and groan about not having enough time to do some of the things I want to do or spend time with the people I say matter to me … and then I read a book like this. About a guy with a business employing 15 people, a wife, three kids about to go to college, a couple of cats and a whole team of Little League players — all looking to him in one way or another to keep their lives and interests on track — and he still manages to find time to ride a roller-coaster (despite metal stitches in his head) and walk the Freedom Trail in Boston (despite the fact that he essentially had to relearn how to walk after the brain tumor had numbed out his nerves and left him unable to feel his foot).

I found it inspiring to read about the way Lefevers stayed fully engaged with his life — even when faced with the possibility of losing that life. I need to take a lesson or two from this book.

You can snag a copy of Cancer on the Brain at all your usual online book-buying haunts — at Barnes & Noble stores across the country, and, if you happen to live in the Phoenix area, Lefevers will be giving a talk in July at Scottsdale Barnes & Noble.

If you’d like to help spread the word about Cancer on the Brain, just visit the book’s Facebook page by clicking here and “liking” it!

Posted on May 30th, 2012 Comment (1)Comments RSS Feed

No Impact Man makes a big impact (on me)

I’m full of all kinds of movie recommendations this month! The trailer above is for the documentary No Impact Man, which tracks one family’s quest to reduce its waste to zero over the course of a year. The man who hatched the scheme, Colin Beavan, stops using electricity, watching TV and using gas-powered transportation — dragging his initially skeptical family through the process as well.

The Beavans

No, I’m not planning on following in Beaven’s footsteps, but the film offers a ton of practical ideas for how to live a more sustainable life, and I encourage you to check it out. It’s available on DVD now (and there’s also a related book).

Posted on May 21st, 2012 Comments Off on No Impact Man makes a big impact (on me)Comments RSS Feed