There is a chance — slim, to be sure, but a still a chance — that Florida’s capital may finally get the newspaper it deserves. Which is to say, it may finally get a newspaper.
It’s hard to describe what Leon County residents currently have, the Tallahassee Democrat, as anything other than an expensive wrapper for coupons; I know many subscribers for whom the weekly discount flyers are the biggest draw. Though a few of the Democrat’s most talented longtime newspeople still linger in the newsroom, most have moved on, disheartened by the dumbing-down of a once-great paper under its most recent strongarm editor, out-of-towner Bob Gabordi.
But that’s changing now. Gabordi–who has spent nearly a decade slashing the paper’s resources, eroding the paper’s ability to investigate and challenge power, and giving PR flacks more space in its pages — announced Wednesday that he’s leaving for a similar position at Florida Today.
Gabordi said the move would bring him closer to his grandchildren, and that’s nice. It’s nice to have the option of moving from one high-paying executive post to another in order to accommodate one’s kith and kin. It’s an option that isn’t available to, say, the journalists Gabordi laid off in October to carry out his overlords’ latest Orwellian corporate “newsroom of the future” chair-shuffling.
But there’s evidence that Gabordi’s move has as much to do with his journalism-ruining ambitions as his domestic commitments. Several sources have told me that when longtime Democrat publisher Pat Dorsey left the paper in late 2012, Gabordi pressed hard to be dual-hatted as publisher and editor.
The idea is ghastly, as far as the remaining firewall between ad sales and journalistic integrity goes, but it’s one Gannett has been willing to entertain in the past at other papers. And Gabordi, with his MBA in “marketing and innovation,” has studied business more intently than reporting for a long time already.
But Gannett went another direction, both in replacing Dorsey and in replacing his replacement: Earlier this week, Gannett recruited new blood from outside the company, highly respected Lakeland newsman Skip Foster, to be the next publisher of Tallahassee’s paper.
Two days later, Gabordi was packing his bags for Brevard County.
Was it a firing? A response to being passed over for the publisher role? Or just a move to get more time with loved ones? Whichever it is, the readers of Tallahassee stand to benefit. For too long, they’ve been served a heaping helping of lowbrow consumerist pandering, while good writers and reporters have been yoked and sent out to labor in the internet’s least productive fieldrows.
A certain amount of this insipidness is par in a Gannett product, particularly one served in a town where shaking trees in the government and local universities is a risky proposition. But Gabordi elevated lowbrow uninquisitive smarm to an art form.
With this move, the Democrat can possibly get a new editor who understands that Tallahassee is one of the best-educated communities in the country, and it deserves a paper that doesn’t condescend to mouth-breathers and trough eaters. There are plenty of people still in the newsroom — and plenty more who have fled from the newsroom in the past decade — who can improve that once-storied newspaper, and the community itself.
Let’s hope Skip Foster can hire one of them. So far, he’s making all the right moves.