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New State Government News Operation Launched in Tallahassee

Tom Flanigan

There is a newly-launched online news service covering state government in Tallahassee. The Florida Phoenix is the latest addition to a growing list of exclusively online news operations.

Much has been made in recent years about the hard times facing most print, and even some broadcast news media. So one day I wandered into the Florida Press Center a few blocks from the state capitol to see what news organizations were left.

(sound of stairwell door opening) “On the second floor of the once-bustling Florida Press Center in Tallahassee, here are some of the names outside now-empty offices: Halifax Media, Politico, a few steps further on, we see the Palm Beach Post, here’s the Florida Press, Bay News 9 and News 13, and a Blue Lotus Counseling and Holistic Wellness Center.” (Reporter’s note: Most of those organizations are by no means out-of-business entirely, but have simply moved elsewhere. Politico for instance is now on the Center’s ground floor. But there has been a steady exodus of news-gathering organizations from the Press Center in recent years.)

Down on the Center’s first floor, there are a few occupied offices. I-Heart Media’s Rick Flagg, is in one. And right next door where the First Amendment Foundation used to be is a brand new tenant: The Florida Phoenix news service headed by Julie Hauserman. She used to report state capitol news for the then-St. Petersburg Times, Stuart News and Tallahassee Democrat. But she said she’s out of the print game for good.

“Because of the Internet, it’s just shifted everything. And so newspapers and the traditional media models…I think they clung to the old distribution model a little too long. And we can see that in hindsight, but maybe they couldn’t see that when it was happening.”

So Hauserman said the new Florida Phoenix joins a growing group of exclusively online news content providers.

“There are excellent journalists here doing daily breaking news all the time: the Associated Press, the News Service of Florida, Florida Politics, Politico. People talk about the hollowing out of the news, but Tallahassee actually compared to many states does have quite a few different media outlets covering state government.”

Most of those providers, however, charge subscribers to access their content. Hauserman insisted the Florida Phoenix won’t.

“We work for a foundation and our content’s all free to subscribers and it’s free of advertising. So the idea is that basically this is a public service that needs to be philanthropically supported.”

That supporting organization is the Washington-based New Venture Fund. Its underwriters include such entities as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, although Hauserman explained afterward that Gates Foundation dollars don’t directly pay for Florida Phoenix operations. Still, the Fund does represent a bit of an anti-corporate mindset, which is something else that attracted Hauserman to the enterprise, given her own worldview.

“So the Florida Phoenix is going to be editorially progressive and of course I was chosen as the editor because of my progressive background. I’ve been working for the environment and social justice causes for many, many years in Florida.”

Although that bent, Hauserman emphasized, will not impact straight news reporting.

“I will have that policy, but my reporters will be straight down the line. They’re long-term journalists interested in digging into state government and trying to figure out how your tax dollars are being spent, what kind of decisions are leaders making and are the policies serving people?”

As to who those reporters are:

“Well I’m super excited to be working with my old colleague from the St. Pete Times Bureau Diane Rado. She’s an excellent investigative reporter. I have Mitch Perry who’s been a radio host and worked for FloridaPolitics.com. And I have C.D. Davidson-Hiers and she’s a recent Florida State University graduate and a real good writer and reporter with bylines in the Tallahassee Democrat and Tallahassee Magazine.”

The service is available at: floridaphoenix.com, as well as multiple social media platforms. The inaugural edition even includes a guest commentary from St. Pete/Tampa Bay Times legend Lucy Morgan.

Follow @flanigan_tom

Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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