Friday, December 30, 2005

Pensacola Journalists of the Year

As the year comes to a close, Pensacola's Independent News is busy patting its own back about the free weekly newspaper's Top Ten Cover Stories of the year. Allegations about the brutality and stupidity of local law enforcement officials (Headlines # 1, and # 2, and # 6) definitely predominate.

We'd like to give the Independent News a big pat on the back, too. The year-end issue and the top ten stories it references deserve a read by anyone who's interested in knowing the underside of Pensacola, the one that somehow never gets mentioned in the tourist brochures. (Unfortunately, the web article itself doesn't provide direct hyperlinks from each featured headline of the year to the archived original story, but you can use the search function page to navigate to each weekly issue.)

Along the way, the Independent News also takes a few potshots at the "Gannett-owned daily paper, Pensacola News Journal." That's a snarky subplot which has run through a number of IN stories over the years -- and fairly so. The news stories the News Journal doesn't cover, or arrives at embarrassingly late, certainly underscore just how much the media giant, Gannett Corporation, starves its Northwest Florida outlet of necessary resources.

The IN doesn't always pick on its daily competitor. Publisher Rick Outzen himself complimented the paper when Gannett assigned 30 extra reporters for a time to ensure truly superb coverage of Hurricane Ivan.)

But the lack of sufficient resources isn't the only cause for failings at the News Journal. Witness the IN itself. While the weekly isn't entirely a one-man show, there's little doubt that Independent News editor Duwayne Escobedo is its heart, soul, and brains. He wrote six out of the "top ten" stories featured for the year and several others just as good.

So what if he also wrote the "Top Ten" article itself? Almost alone, Duwayne Escobedo is more than a match for the daily News Journal's entire investigative reporter staff -- or what's left of it. The only thing Escobedo can't match is the News Journal's proclivity for choking its pages with trite, white bread family feature articles and the insipid ramblings of local columnists.

Which brings us to the one story from 2005 you won't see mentioned by anyone, not even the Independent News. That's the persistent rumor over the last half of the year that IN publisher Rick Outzen is exploring the possibility of selling the weekly.

Some speculate that he soured on the virtues of being a truly independent publishing voice after drawing heavy criticism for raising questions about Rebuild Pensacola's opaque accounting practices (Headline # 4). Given the close and cozy atmosphere of Pensacola's business elite, inevitably some of those critics were his personal friends, business associates, and advertisers.

The rumors may be just that and no more. After all, only a typically naive, bargain-hunting Yankee carpetbagger-- the same kind of customer all those water-front house sellers are hoping to snag before next year's hurricane season -- would buy the Independent News without a guarantee that Duwayne Escobedo would be part of the bargain.

In the ever-shrinking league of Pensacola journalism, Escobedo is The Franchise; he's Alex Rodriquez and Albert Pujols rolled into one.

Which is why, if there were an award for Pensacola Journalist of the Year, Duwayne Escobedo should get it. And Rick Outzen deserves to be named Pensacola Publisher of the Year for somehow keeping him on the job.

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