The Reporter: The evolution of a strong, local news operation

David Goodhue, Richard Tamborrino, Kevin Wadlow, Joanne Pulis, Katie Atkins, Jackie Harder, Kathie Bryan, Jillian Hainer-Jones, Beverly Traeger, Jan Darden, Glenn Brandt and Wayne Markham gather at the Keynoter office in Marathon to mark the end of the print editions of The Reporter and Keynoter newspapers. Not pictured are Keynoter Editor Larry Kahn and reporter Gwen Filosa.
David Goodhue, Richard Tamborrino, Kevin Wadlow, Joanne Pulis, Katie Atkins, Jackie Harder, Kathie Bryan, Jillian Hainer-Jones, Beverly Traeger, Jan Darden, Glenn Brandt and Wayne Markham gather at the Keynoter office in Marathon to mark the end of the print editions of The Reporter and Keynoter newspapers. Not pictured are Keynoter Editor Larry Kahn and reporter Gwen Filosa.

The staff of the Reporter wants to thank you for more than 50 years of loyal readership. While our coverage of the Keys will continue and thrive in digital format on FLKeysNews.com, it’s important to recognize the impact the print edition of The Reporter had on the Upper Florida Keys since it began circulation in the late 1960s.

As the decades progressed, so too did the sophistication of the content, brought to our readers by the talented and dedicated reporters, editors and publishers who for most of the paper’s existence, worked out of the historic Reporter building in Tavernier.

If you look at some of the issues from our early days, it was hard to find the rhyme or reason to much of what was printed and why stories were placed where they appeared, but people in the Upper Keys loved it.

“People got behind The Reporter,” said Keys historian Jerry Wilkinson. “They thought of it as being local.”

Reflecting on those early editions today, it seems like the editors back then may have been striving to be more like the National Enquirer than what The Reporter looks like today. We had a front page story in 1977, for example, about a Bigfoot-like creature known as the Skunk Ape visiting a Key Largo family’s home.

The story was complete with a quote from a Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputy saying matter of factly that by the time he arrived, the beast was gone. Not that it was never there to begin with. But it was in the yard, but must have taken off before he got there.

While we were unable to pinpoint who exactly were the first owners of the paper, we know through Kelly Hostetler that his father, Bob Hostetler, bought The Reporter around 1970.

“He owned a printing press and printed his own papers,” Hostetler said.

Dagny Wolff bought the paper in 1975, and a year later — the bicentennial of the United States — she started the tradition of The Reporter sponsoring the July 4 parade in Key Largo.

Dagny’s festive spirit helped make The Reporter even more popular with locals, and frequent parties at The Reporter building didn’t hurt with community outreach. Monuments to the legend of Dagny Wolff remained inside The Reporter building up to the day the newspaper’s staff moved its office to Plantation Key in late 2014.

On the second floor, Dagny built a bar and an indoor swimming pool. Legend has it, there was also a slot machine when Knight-Ridder bought the paper from Dagny’s family in 1997, the year after she died.

Knight-Ridder owned the Miami Herald, and in 1998, it hired Jackie Harder to edit The Reporter. Harder was editor of the Keynoter, another Knight-Ridder paper, until 1994, when she left to take a job for a paper in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Harder, who started at the Keynoter in 1976, was hired to make The Reporter “a real newspaper.”

“The Reporter spoke in a different voice than the other newspapers, and at one time, there were seven in our area. Every week at our news meetings, our top agenda question was ‘What makes us different?’” Harder said. “Yes, we covered the same type of hard news — government and cops and disasters and so on — but we also were very proud to be the newspaper that printed honor rolls, community sports news of all kinds, club news, weddings, engagements, obits and more. We focused on how people were affected by the news, as being a weekly, we were often way behind other newspapers in breaking the news. Although we had our share of those, too.”

Newspapers, particularly weeklies like The Reporter, typically didn’t post stories on the internet until after the print edition came out in the early days of digital news dissemination. Print was still strong, and editors didn’t want to cannibalize the paper by publishing stories before it hit the racks.

This could be a problem reporting in hurricane-prone South Florida, where a tropical storm’s every move is breaking news. Harder recalls Hurricane Debby, “the 2000 hurricane that wasn’t.”

“At that point in Reporter history, we had way early deadlines — like two days before the paper printed,” Harder said. “We waited until the very last minute to transmit a page 1 story that stated Hurricane Debby was going to slam the Upper Keys. And then…Debby vanished. Poof! Gone. And there we were, out on the stands, telling people to brace themselves for the storm.”

But being a weekly also allowed newspaper staffs to do in-depth series and story packages on issues that impact communities. The Reporter was known for those.

“Among the stories that I remember the best was a massive series on the economic impact of sportfishing in the Upper Keys,” Harder said. “I was so proud of that.”

Wayne Markham, publisher of The Reporter and the Keynoter from 2000 to 2014, also recalls a ramped-up focus on hard news once Knight-Ridder took over ownership.

“While Dagny’s focus was Tavernier and Key Largo, the paper’s coverage expanded once it was acquired by Knight Ridder, which brought in some experienced journalists and publishers with community newspaper credentials,” Markham said. “The Reporter broadened its mandate and provided critical coverage of the battles that led to creation of the Village of Islamorada, the costly decision to create sewer authorities to tackle ongoing wastewater treatment systems and clean up nearshore waters”

The Reporter also devoted more coverage of politics, Markham said.

“The Reporter and Keynoter editorial board interviewed candidates and published endorsements, the last newspapers in the Keys to provide this important public service for voters,” he said.

Markham said the biggest story he remembers The Reporter and Keynoter covering in the past 10 years was the financial scandal involving then-school district superintendent Randy Acevedo and his now ex-wife Monique Acevedo. Randy Acevedo ended up being convicted of obstruction and removed from office by the governor, and Monique Acevedo served eight years in prison for stealing close to a half a million dollars from taxpayers.

Reporting by The Reporter and Keynoter helped uncover massive fraud involving district-issued credit cards. Between the convictions and continuous news coverage, the school district ended up firing much of the administrative staff and overhauling the way money is authorized to be spent by employees.

“That reporting was a joint effort by The Reporter and Keynoter staffs, for which the newspapers won multiple awards from the Florida Press Association,” Markham said.

Indeed, I had only been editor for about two years when the news of the theft broke, and it remains one of the largest, most involved stories I’ve ever covered. I found myself leading coverage, along with Keynoter editor Larry Kahn, of a full-blown scandal, the likes of which I would have expected to cover when I worked in Washington, D.C. during the five years prior to me moving to the Keys in 2005 — but not here.

And it was a true collaboration between our two news rooms — poring through documents and working sources to get stories no one else was getting. In our office, we were “the Daves” — then-Deputy Editor David Hawkins, reporter David Ball and me. Working the story for the Keynoter were Kahn, Sean Kinney, Ryan McCarthy and Kevin Wadlow.

When I look back on it now, the Acevedo scandal also highlights one of the last times we had a significant number of staffers in the newsroom. When some of the above-named journalists moved on to other papers and other careers, those of us left worked overtime to fill the void.

Meanwhile, the amount of news and its significance hasn’t waned, but we’ve managed to meet the challenges of covering it well with smaller staffs. For the past four years, publisher Richard Tamborrino has led our two papers as we’ve covered — and broken — stories of significance on the state, national and even international level. Not a year goes by that The Reporter and Keynoter staffs aren’t recognized with awards by the Florida Press Association.

With FLKeysNews.com, this commitment to strong journalism in the Florida Keys will continue and strengthen. Now as before, we rely on the community for news tips and suggestions on how to be better. We can be contacted at dgoodhue@keysreporter.com and Gwen Filosa at gfilosa@keynoter.com.

Thank you again for joining us on our journey.