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Palm Beach Post closes capital bureau, lets John Kennedy go

Palm Beach Post capital reporter John Kennedy says he’s no longer working for the paper as the newspaper has shuttered its Tallahassee bureau.

Kennedy (via Facebook)

Kennedy, a Capitol Press Corps veteran who nonetheless kept an impressive head of hair, announced the news Friday on Facebook—15 days before Christmas.

“The paper’s future is local and digital, and coverage of the goings-on in the state Capitol don’t meld as well with this direction,” he wrote. “The Post has been gracious. And we’re working on a plan for me to provide some coverage through the ’17 session.

“But all told, I’ll be ending a fabulous, five-year run with a great paper, working with some wonderful people. I’ll miss it. And them,” he added. 

“State government and state politics have a profound impact on the lives of Floridians, even though papers are struggling to make things work. Watchdogs are needed to bark and growl at this $82 billion enterprise called Florida government. I think I made a difference with the questions I asked, and the stories I wrote. I don’t plan to go silent.”

His wife, Miami Herald capital bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas, added in her own post: “Sad news for us this holiday season as the troubling trend continues. It’s one more chapter ended but another to come for my resilient, talented and respected (husband).”

POLITICO Florida scribe Matt Dixon quickly noted on Twitter: “The (Post’s) decision leaves the state’s third largest county without any full time reporters covering state government.”

The Post is owned by Cox Media Group, which also publishes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Austin American-Statesman and other papers, as well as holds an array of television and radio stations, websites and direct mail companies.

Post managing editor Nicholas Moschella told FloridaPolitics.com that “it was a difficult decision to part with a journalist as talented and professional as John Kennedy.”

“While it’s increasingly critical to devote our staff to local coverage, we intend to maintain to the best of our ability a reporting connection and presence in Tallahassee,” he said in an email. “To that end, we have asked John to cover the upcoming legislative session for The Post and we will continue our practice of sending reporters to the capital for the session and other news.”

Kennedy, a New Haven, Connecticut native who has been reporting in Tallahassee for decades, also was the Orlando Sentinel’s Tallahassee bureau chief from 1998-2008.

His departure follows that of Lloyd Dunkelberger, another capital reporter laid off when the Sarasota Herald-Tribune closed its Tallahassee bureau in July. Dunkelberger now works for News Service of Florida.

The Florida Press Center in downtown Tallahassee also loses yet another press tenant with the bureau’s closing.

In recent months, for example, the Tampa Tribune’s bureau closed when the paper folded after its sale to Times Publishing, which prints the Tampa Bay Times. The Times and the Herald operate a joint bureau, also in the building.

Later Friday, the Associated Press announced it was “laying off 25 staffers in the global News department.”

“Like so many media companies, especially in the news business, AP must reduce expenses in order to continue to provide its objective, indispensable news report around the world,” the news cooperative said in a statement.

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John Glenn was celebrity for all seasons

John Glenn couldn’t get to first base as a presidential candidate in 1984. Even then, America was more easily dazzled by Ronald Reagan, who had played a hero in the movies, than a man who flew 149 combat missions in World War II and Korea before becoming the first person to orbit the earth.

Long before game show host Donald Trump took the presidential plunge, we were well on the way to redefining words like “hero” and “celebrity” so that practically anyone could qualify

Glenn was the last survivor of the deservedly storied, fabled, heroic and celebrated Mercury 7 astronauts. His death at age 95 reminds us that there was a time when you had to do something your mother, and everybody else’s mother, would be proud of to become a person of interest to other celebrities and regular folks.

Those old enough to recall the dawn of the Space Age feel like we have lost the most dashing, fair-haired, genuine hero in the family. We knew Glenn’s name, and the names of his six Mercury compadres. We knew their wives’ names, too, and we identified with their children, who saw their daddies climb in to a tin can to travel to unimaginably faraway places filled with unimaginably dangerous things.

By the time Glenn sought the presidency, actual accomplishments were neither mandatory nor much appreciated. Most 80s voters wouldn’t recognize an astronaut standing next to him in line at a 7-11, and would not have wanted an autograph, anyway.

Glenn stayed in the game, and even returned to space at age 77 as a human guinea pig for gerontologists. “To sit back and let fate play its hand out and never influence it is not the way man was meant to operate,” he said. “If there is one thing I’ve learned in my years on this planet, it’s that the happiest and most fulfilled people I’ve known are those who devoted themselves to something bigger and more profound than merely their own self-interest.”

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oranges grove

USDA says Florida orange crop projected to hold steady

Florida’s production of orange crop will hold steady at 72 million boxes for the 2016-17 season, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Friday.

The “all orange” forecast, equal to 3.24 million tons, is “unchanged from last month but down 12 percent from last season’s final utilization,” the department’s latest forecast says.

Moreover, the Florida frozen concentrated orange juice (FCOJ) forecast for 2016-2017 is “down 2 percent from last month but up 2 percent from last season’s final yield of 1.41 gallons per box.”

But the report also predicts a slight decrease in the state’s grapefruit production, down 3 percent to 9.3 million boxes.

“In the past couple of seasons we’ve seen dramatic drops in the estimate during the early months following the October forecast,” said Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus.

The FDOC, funded in part by box taxes paid by the state’s citrus growers, serves as the chief marketing and promotion arm for the industry.

“The fact that we remain stable is a positive sign for growers and consumers as we continue to provide the world’s best 100 percent orange juice,” Shepp added.

The state’s citrus industry has been hurt by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease is attacking fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree. Florida’s famous oranges are most at risk.

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Florida concealed weapon license popularity skyrocketing

The number of people licensed to carry concealed weapons in Florida has tripled since President Barack Obama took office in 2009 and now represents almost one of every 13 Floridians.

That ratio includes an undetermined number in the millions of Floridians who are not eligible for concealed weapons licenses, such as children, people convicted of certain, disqualifying felonies, or other legally-disqualified people. Among qualified holders, the proportion of Florida residents who are licensed to carry guns in public now is likely closer to one of every 10 Floridians.

The rapidly-growing popularity of concealed guns in Florida will again be a factor in the Legislative Session this year, as pro-gun lawmakers again seek to expand rights for gun-toting citizens. This week state Rep. Scott Plakon, the Longwood Republican, introduced another bill seeking to eliminate the ban on concealed guns on colleges.

One thing is certain: concealed weapons are skyrocketing in popularity in the Sunshine State.

At the end of November, Florida was counting 1.68 million valid concealed weapons licenses, according to data provided by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which manages gun licenses, and analyzed by FloridaPolitics.com.

The license total includes a couple hundred thousand out-of-staters. But records show more than 1.46 million Florida residents are currently licensed to carry guns in public.

Under current Florida law, they can carry them, concealed, anywhere, except into law enforcement stations, courthouses, jails, polling places, schools, governing meetings such as Florida Legislature meetings, bars, airports, federal offices, or colleges and universities, plus a few obscure places defined in details of Florida law.

Florida’s concealed weapon licenses total is up from 511,868 in 2008, a total that included an unavailable number of out-of-state licensees.

The surge in popularity actually predates Obama’s inauguration in 2009, or any recent fears that gun-owners might feel about Democrats’ taking their guns away. The state has seen double-digit increases in the numbers of license approvals every year since 2005.

Not surprisingly, the licenses are generally most popular in rural counties. In Dixie County, in the Big Bend region of Florida’s Nature Coast, about one of every six residents has a license to carry a concealed gun, according to state license and Census bureau data. Several other largely rural counties such as Holmes, Jackson, Wakulla, and Suwannee also have significant ratios of concealed gun licenses per capita.

Yet so do a handful of semi-suburban counties. Outside of Jacksonville, better than one out of every ten Clay and Nassau counties’ residents could be packing. The same is true in Lake County outside of Orlando.

Among urban counties, only Duval and Lee have concealed weapon license rates higher than the state average. In Miami-Dade, one of every 21 people can legally carry. In Orange and Broward, it’s one out of 17; Hillsborough, one out of 16; and in Pinellas and Palm Beach, one out of 15.

Three-quarters of the licenses are held by men, and a quarter by women. They’re most popular among people over the age of 50, according to state data.

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Steve Ryan: John Glenn, Senator and hero. Things the public didn’t always see.

Stephen M. Ryan

John Glenn is my hero and America’s hero, but he was also my boss.

Sen. Glenn always acted with integrity: in his marriage to his sweetheart, in his devotion to his country, in his work with his colleagues. He was always a gentleman in the best sense.

I had the good luck as a young child to have the measles during his February 1962 flight.

We all marveled at his flight, and his coolness under pressure. Subsequently, we saw all the pictures of him and Annie with President Kennedy, Mrs. Kennedy and the brothers, particularly Bobby, and they all seemed the embodiment of Camelot.

So, it was part of my dream to work for him, and I ended up as an advance man in his presidential campaign.

As an advance man in his 1984 presidential campaign, I went to fly with him and work with him. The Senator had a way to remind folks about his heroism while being so ‘right stuff’ and self-deprecating at the same time.

Joke 1 was his government contract joke: he was sitting atop the Atlas rocket waiting to be launched when he realized it had been awarded to the lowest bidder.

Joke 2 was the hero and marriage joke: after his flight, a speaker was droning on about him and saying how there “were few truly great Americans.”

When he and Annie were driving home, and the Senator started talking about this, and he claimed Annie responded: “John Glenn, there is one less Great American than you may think …”

We all know that this incident was unlikely to ever have happened. All of us saw the Glenns as a model for how devotion in marriage could work. In a movie or real life, their love was a constant for each other and a lesson to all of us surrounding them.

But the Senator’s modesty and calm at times masked his killer qualities. Opponents in war or politics knew a different Glenn. We should never forget that John Glenn was one of the youngest Corsair fighter pilots in the Pacific who flew really dangerous ground support missions for his fellow Marines in World War II. He followed this by flying jet fighters in Korea where he became known as “Magnet Ass,” said with affection and respect by his colleagues, for picking up so much shrapnel from enemy anti-air fire and from flying low to the ground supporting the troops.

Glenn and the greatest baseball player of all time, Ted Williams, who also flew combat in two wars flew together the last days of the Korean War, and the Senator downed Migs with his Sabre.

That same quality was on exhibit when the Senator made his Gold Star debate response:  “In the primary race, his opponent contrasted his strong business background with Glenn’s military and astronaut credentials, implied Glenn had never met a payroll or held a “job.”

Glenn’s impassioned response came to be known as the “Gold Star Mothers” speech. He told his opponent to go to a veterans’ hospital and “look those men with mangled bodies in the eyes and tell them they didn’t hold a job. You go with me to any Gold Star mother, and you look her in the eye and tell her that her son did not hold a job.” It won the Senate election.

Well, like most presidential campaigns we ended in failure.

We failed to get our Democratic Eisenhower the nomination he deserved, but campaign work was enough to raise me from being an Assistant U.S. Attorney to a swanky job as counsel to the Senator as Chair of what is now the Homeland Security and Governmental Committee in 1987.

The Senator was doing what he always did–leading a worthy policy effort in success or failure. At leadership’s request, the Chairman took to the floor in a valiant and doomed attempt to raise the federal civil service wages, which had bottomed out at that time in comparison to the private Sector. But it was not a popular issue and he/we knew it would not succeed. It translated into hard seat time for the new Committee Chair, being forced to walk the plank for his colleagues.

My first important time on the Senate floor sitting in a side chair with Senator Glenn was to me the highest honor accorded a government lawyer. Senator Glenn was pretty popular with his colleagues, and Senators spoke out one after another against civil service raises then came over to tell the Senator they would like to be with him but couldn’t.

Finally, after several hours of this, I could see the warning signs: the Senator’s neck and bald spot started to turn red during those conversations. I had learned this was about the only visible sign his cool, control, and laconic fighter pilot calm might desert him. Finally, he turned to one Senator and said quietly (so only the Senator could hear) ‘do what’s right for the country.’

The Senator on the receiving end of that statement had a shocked look on his face, and left pretty quickly. That was the only time in the years I worked for Senator Glenn that I saw him rebuke a colleague.

One time, a very old Senator, who was on occasion losing his grip on memory, chewed Senator Glenn out for a position he had taken on the Armed Services Committee. It was harsh and un-senatorial.

Barely an hour later we were back in his Hart office, on a late evening, and the Senator called and asked for a favor. And Glenn agreed. I was incredulous. My Irish was up from the earlier encounter, and I asked the Senator why he did it—he laughed and said the other Senator no longer remembered the chewing out, and it did no harm to help him on the matter at hand.

Pure Glenn. Generous beyond expectation.

The Senator put together a really respectable body of public policy accomplishments, including addressing nuclear non-proliferation issues that still dog our security.

He insisted on the environmental cleanup of the DOE nuclear weapons complex and an oversight board to look at its safety. He empowered Inspectors General and extended the IG coverage to the CIA, and to the Justice and Treasury Departments and many other federal agencies.

He led the legislation lifting the Veteran Affairs Administration and the EPA from agencies to cabinet type departments. He was a workhorse in the Senate, and because he was already a hero, he quietly did the grunt work other Senators and Chairman didn’t pay as much attention to.

He accomplished far more in his Senate career than people remember and is the only Democrat in Ohio history elected and serving four times.

The Senator always stayed in shape. He ate carefully, usually a bowl of soup and an apple. One day Senators [Dennis] DeConcini and Ted Kennedy got in a spat at a meeting where Glenn, [Joe] Biden and others were working. I was sitting between the two Senators who were standing over me with me between them.

I watched Glenn calmly start in eating Kennedy’s potato chips, a delicacy he didn’t normally indulge in.

The careful upkeep of his body paid off in 1997 when I was able to take my son John (now a counsel in the Senate) to the Senator’s return to space in the space shuttle.

I had come full circle from 1962 to 1997. As always, the Senator was a teacher and mentor — ‘flexibility’ was his mantra for all of us.

Of course, he used it to put back on his space suit, as they used to call it.

So, goodbye Senator — we remember you with the handsome Midwest good looks, and your rocketing into our lives as a shining example of the duty we all owe our country.

___

Stephen M. Ryan is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law. He is currently a partner at McDermott Will & Emery in Washington, DC.

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Florida: Record number of manatees killed in 2016 by boats

A record number of manatees were killed in 2016 by boat strikes, according to state wildlife data, but overall the number of the beloved sea cows increased in Florida this year.

Data posted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission data show that 98 endangered manatees died by watercraft strikes between Jan. 1 and Dec. 2. The previous record was 97 in 2009, according to state records.

A count earlier this year found about 6,300 manatees in Florida, which is up from last year and the most since 1991. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designating the manatees as threatened, rather than endangered, species.

FWC says the final mortality numbers are still being finalized but should be released soon.

“The numbers of live manatees are up. The percentage of watercraft-related deaths is still pretty similar to other years, even though the number is a little higher,” said Carol Knox, the FWC’s imperiled species section leader.

Knox said once the final numbers are in, the agency will review whether any changes are needed to its policies or enforcement practices to better protect the sea cows from boaters.

Overall, the data show 472 manatees died in 2016, with 139 deaths still undetermined and 72 due to natural causes. The record for total deaths occurred in 2013, with 830.

Jacki Lopez of the Center for Biological Diversity says the high numbers of boat strike deaths this year shows that more emphasis is needed on enforcement and education.

“It’s in part a failure of enforcement, there aren’t enough officers to cover around a million registered boats in Florida,” she said. “And there’s no required manatee education that Florida boaters have to take, which is ludicrous considering the volume of people on the water.”

State wildlife officials say people need to abide by posted slow zones – meant to make boats travel slower so manatees can be spotted and avoided.

Knox said the data will be used to help the enforcement officers they do have better understand where to patrol.

They also recommend that boat operators wear polarized sunglasses, which help one see beneath the water better.

In the end, with Florida now home to the third largest human population in the U.S. and manatee numbers increasing, it may be that the higher manatee deaths from watercraft strikes are simply a matter of numbers.

“It’s a factor, but it’s never quite as simple as one thing,” said FWC’s Knox. “But it probably plays a role for sure.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Jeff Atwater warns against killer Christmas trees

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has some consumer advice for Floridians during the holiday season: Don’t let your Christmas tree burn the house down.

“Christmas tree fires do not happen often, but they have the potential to be serious fires when they do,” Atwater said in his Department of Financial Services newsletter Wednesday.

“More often than not, these fires occur because the tree has not been properly watered and has become dried out and repeatedly exposed to multiple heat sources,” he said. “The mix of dry tree branches and hot holiday lights can quickly become a tragic combination.”

Make sure to top off the water in your tree stand regularly, lest it runs dry.

“Don’t place it next to your fireplace, radiator, or any candles that you may be lighting,” Atwater said.

“Also, make sure that you unplug your tree when you leave the house to prevent overheating. These tips sound simple — and they are — but you must make sure to follow them.”

He referred doubters to this truly scary video from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“In less than a minute, the entire room is covered in flames,” Atwater said.

“I don’t say these things to scare you, but I do say them, so you’ll remember to pay close attention to potential risks in your own house.”

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Family farms offer big quality for just a little capital

Not every vegetarian is opposed to eating meat in every circumstance.

What they do oppose is the Fresh from Factory Farms brand of agriculture that makes antibiotics manufacturers rich and the rest of us fat and sick.

So, it’s great news that Nicole Kozak and Manny Cruz have found a way to make a living farming the old-fashioned, pre-Industrial Revolution way. Treat yourself to a video tour of the couple’s farm, and farming methods, courtesy of Ft. Myers News-Press reporter Patricia Borns, and be inspired by the couple’s commitment to “building their farm’s future in ethically harvesting, as well as raising, quality meats.”

At Circle C Farm, the southwest Florida couple has been tending free-ranging, organically-raised, GMO-free poultry for six years, and last year became USDA-certified to “harvest” their birds.

Yes, that’s an agri-business euphemism for butchering Bambi, but man does not live by bread alone. Every culture in every pre-20th century eon evolved to create respectful ways of living with the animals they would consume for protein, clothing, and other necessities of human life.

Family farms like Circle C have the support of experts like Vanessa Bielema, a University of Florida IFAS Extension Agent specializing in sustainable food systems. She says that “small farmers take pride in raising their animals, and they want to see the process finished in a humane, satisfying way.”

“How we handle animals is very gentle,” Kozak told reporter Borns. “We spend a lot of time, energy and money to make sure they’re cared for, and it shows in the quality of the meat.”

At the end of a good life, the animals die a humane death at the hands of a human instead of a machine. It’s a much faster and far less terrifying end than most people get.

Circle C is looking to become a bigger player in the clean food movement. With a capital infusion of 2.3 million, the farm hopes to rebrand as Florida’s only USDA-approved facility offering humane, on-site harvesting of red and white meat.

“I think there’s a felt need for a high-quality processing center in our region that Circle C could fill,” Bielema told the News-Press. “Almost every small livestock farmer I talk to either has access issues with distance to processing facilities, or is dissatisfied with the quality they get back.”

Among those feeling the need are 4H Club kids and elite breeders like Corrinna Hensley, who is currently schlepping her heritage hogs to separate USDA-inspected slaughter and butchering facilities. That takes a bite out of profits, adds stress to the animals, and raises prices for consumers.

Circle C’s capital needs amount to petty cash in the cruel and unwholesome world of industrial agriculture. Kozak’s business plan should be an easy sell to smart bankers who care about their children’s health and state’s future.

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Rio2016, Election2016, PokemonGo top global Twitter trends

The Rio Olympics, the American presidential election and Pokemon Go were the top global trends on Twitter in 2016.

The social media site says Rio2016 was the most tweeted-about topic around the world, followed by Election2016 and PokemonGo. Euro2016, Oscars, Brexit, Trump and BlackLivesMatter also made the top 10.

A Spanish gamer known as elrubius originated the year’s most popular tweet: It reads “Limonada” (lemonade) and was retweeted more than 1.3 million times. One Direction’s Harry Styles had the second most-repeated post — quoting a Taylor Swift song — with more than 700,000 retweets. A postelection tweet from Hillary Clinton encouraging little girls to recognize their power and seize opportunities was the third most popular of the year with 634,560 retweets.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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Joe Henderson: Not just papers; it’s #LoveMyWebsite day, too

On Sunday afternoon, a man carrying an AR-15 assault rifle walked into a popular pizza place in northwest Washington D.C. and began shooting.

No one was hurt, thank goodness and the gunman was arrested.

What he said after being taken away, though, should be a warning to us all. He said he came to “self-investigate” whether Hillary Clinton was using the restaurant as a front for a child sex trafficking ring. Just before the election last month, that story had made the rounds among crazy people who frequent conspiracy-theory websites and believe what they read.

Normally, such a thing would be limited to charter members of the Tinfoil Hat Society. But after the ironically named “fake news” became real news for its impact on the recent elections, I guess we can’t afford to assume people can tell the difference – although I do think a few well-publicized libel judgments against sites that deliberately lie on the scale we just saw might give these miscreants a moment of pause.

I mention this because the hashtag #LoveMyNewspaper was trending Monday on Twitter. That gives me a warm feeling. I worked for about 45 years in the newspaper industry, including nearly the last 42 at the Tampa Tribune before it was bought and closed in May by the Tampa Bay Times.

This is not to lament that day because my attitude is to look forward, not backward. Besides, we know the business side of the newspaper industry overall sucks. The website newspaperdeathwatch.com lists 15 large papers that have closed since 2007 and details cutbacks and layoffs at many others, including the venerable New York Times.

Let’s all just take a deep breath, though. The need for detailed and accurate information doesn’t go away – maybe now more than ever, as the story in Washington shows. That’s where legitimate media comes in.

No matter your political persuasion, you can’t disagree that America is entering uncharted waters. Reporters have always been basically under siege from readers and politicians who don’t like their work, but as the recent national election proves they are more necessary than their enemies would like to admit.

So, I would add to the love for newspapers with another hashtag: #LoveMyWebsite – at least the ones like this one where readers go looking for real information and find it.

Reporters for SaintPetersBlog, FloridaPolitics.com and the Times perform their craft with distinction. They find out things people need to know and they understand the difference between fact and fantasy. That’s what we’re all after.

The Times revolutionized the game eight years ago when it launched PolitiFact, but probably never guessed the Pulitzer Prize-winning site would have to be used, as it was Nov. 4, to debunk the sex-trafficking story with a “Pants on Fire” rating.

And if you a frequent visitor to this site, you understand what a valuable tool it is to help stay abreast of the goings-on in Tallahassee, Tampa Bay and around the state.

When someone is willing to play that kind of mind game to dupe the nation that we see on the splinter sites, you need to ask what else they are willing to do.

The only way to combat that is with inconvenient truths known as facts. That is where reporters come in. That’s where newspapers with resources and willingness to shine a light in dark places are most needed. That’s where websites willing to cover local races with the same vigor as a governor’s race are most needed.

So yes, love your newspaper.

And love your website.

We’re all in this together.

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