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Florida newspapers and the mystery of Sheldon Adelson

PenheadWho is Sheldon Adelson, and why does he matter to the presidential campaign? If you are a Florida voter and rely on your local newspaper for your information, you likely have no clue. Yet Adelson is likely to be—along with his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson—one of the most important figures in determining who will win the January 31 Florida Republican primary.

That is the start of new Columbia Journalism Review story by Crowley Political Report. 

Other excepts:

This is a moment when Florida voters should be able to look to their news organizations to dissect the attack ads they’re seeing and hearing, explore who is paying for these ads (to the extent it can be known, an admitted challenge) and, perhaps, why they’re paying, and to offer a primer on super PACs and the complex new world of campaign spending.

So far, from my reading and watching, Florida’s news organizations have largely fallen short.

The state’s largest papers have reported the Adelsons’ contributions on their politics blogs and mentioned them on the editorial page. They’ve picked up wire service reports, including an AP profile of Sheldon Adelson. And immediately after the South Carolina profile, Scott Powers of the Orlando Sentinel offered a look at the ad barrage that was about to hit Florida, and the system that enabled it.

But there hasn’t yet been evidence of the sustained, serious digging, and explaining to readers, that this story merits. The easy explanations for this state of affairs have become clichés—after deep cuts, newsrooms no longer have the staff to do in-depth reporting; or news reporters are busy tweeting, Facebooking, filling the news organization’s website and newspaper, and they simply can’t do it all.

But do those explanations remain acceptable? Most cuts took place long ago. Newsroom managers certainly have known for months that Florida’s presidential primary would be extremely important to readers and viewers, and that there would likely be oodles of hard-to-trace money spent this cycle on attack ads. They saw super PAC money pour into the races in Iowa and South Carolina and they knew their state was up next on the primary calendar.

What appears to be missing is not a sudden lack of newsroom staff but a failure by newsroom managers to plan and make temporary adjustments to bolster political coverage in the run-up to the primary. Privately, political reporters complain far less about the requirement to work on multiple platforms than they do about the unwillingness of newsroom management to shift resources to allow first-rate, in-depth political coverage.

Read the entire Columbia Journalism Review report here.

Follow us on Twitter @crowleyreport


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