There is a particularly wicked scene in the Batman movie The Dark Knight when the Joker kills a mob boss, and then gives his three subordinates one half-broken pool cue – and basically tells them that to live, the other two have to die.
Earlier this week, after I wrote that our company had one reporting position to offer to the employees of the struggling Orlando Sentinel, there was a moment when I felt like Heath Ledger.
This real-life version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma played itself out as more than two dozen journalists (not all of them Sentinel employees) inquired about the position.
Interviewing one otherwise well-credentialed prospect, I ended up shaking my head at the state of political journalism in the Sunshine State.
The conversation started off well enough. He was a reporter at one of the Sentinel’s regional competitors. He described himself as a government reporter. He was proud of his coverage of a major, ongoing policy debate.
So far, so good.
That’s when I got a hair up my ass and asked, “Who is the Speaker of the Florida House?”
I wasn’t trying to play gotcha. I wasn’t trying to trip up this reporter. All I really wanted the interviewee to say was, “Are you kidding me? It’s Steve freakin’ Crisafulli.”
Instead, all I heard was crickets.
OK I said, now interested in pushing the issue, can you name two of the people running for Marco Rubio’s U.S. Senate seat?
“Sure,” he said. “Ron DeSantis and Al something or other.”
Al something or other. This from not a recent J-school grad … not from an out-of-state reporter unfamiliar with Florida politics. No, this is a reporter working at a mid-sized daily who a community depends on for coverage of state and local government.
And he couldn’t even name the Speaker of the Florida House.