Online news site Florida Current washing out

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The Florida Current, the online news site published by LobbyTools, is significantly downsizing its operations, while jettisoning two reporters and abandoning its efforts to offer free-to-the-public news coverage.

The full scope of the changes at the Current is still unclear — Is it going on hiatus? Will material on the site still be available to the public? — but one veteran employee of the Current says there will be “no more news stories” … just the publishing of ‘budget notes’ and ‘policy notes.’

Managing editor James Call, who was only recently elevated to replace the fired Bill Prescott, will remain ashore at the Current. However, well-regarded reporters Bruce Ritchie and Gray Rohrer have reportedly been let go.

Bill Cotterell, who had been freelancing for the site, will no longer be stringing for The Florida Current. And reporter Arek Sarkissian did not have his contract renewed after the conclusion of the 2014 Legislative Session.

Launched in 2010, The Florida Current was touted as “a news site that aims to provide concise, neutral, and accurate reporting on politics and policy in the Sunshine State.”

Originally billed as The Florida Tribune, the site is an arm of LobbyTools, alegislation tracking and data curation service for lobbyists, businesses, and other parties interested in up-to-the-minute happenings in the state capitol.

Both the Florida Current and LobbyTools are owned by John and Sarah Iarussi.

The Iarussis created the news division of their company in February 2010 as a service to the paid subscribers of LobbyTools. By February 2011, the public news site was fully up and running.

At the beginning of its launch, the Florida Current employed four full-time reporters specializing in environmental, education, and health care issue coverage.

“Frankly, we have the biggest team in the state of Florida, which is great,” Sarah Iarussi was quoted as saying in 2011 to the Columbia Journalism Review. Florida Current alumni include Gary Fineout, Christine Sexton, and Travis Pillow.

Asked to weigh in on the changes underway at The Florida Current, Iarussi said she does not view them as downsizing, “rather we made the staffing changes necessary to further develop our subscription services – which are LobbyTools and the newly developed Legislative IQ.” 

Like its counterparts in traditional and print journalism, it has not been the best of times for online news websites in the state. Florida Voices, an online opinion network co-founded by Tampa Tribune alums Rosemary Goudreau and Rosemary Curtiss, was shuttered last year.

On a personal note, I fully believe that the demise of The Florida Current proves yet again how extraordinarily difficult it is to launch, maintain and make successful an online news/opinion venture. That I’ve been able to do this with SaintPetersBlog is nothing short of a miracle, for which I am eternally grateful to my readers, investors, partners, and advertisers.

Material from the Columbia Journalism Review was used in this post.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.