It started with just eight pages of news about relatives and dignitaries visiting Paradise from the cold climes of the north, how the fishing was doing and a Masonic lodge being formed. Advertisements offered fish sandwiches for a quarter.
The Keynoter that Michigan newsman Edgar Seney Jr. created on Feb. 9, 1953, grew the past 65 years into the Florida Keys Keynoter, the Reporter, flkeysnews.com and unwind magazine, plus, arguably, the most trusted and effective communication vehicle for the Florida Keys.
And as the Florida Keys have grown from a quiet, somewhat remote vacation destination to a more vibrant, accessible island retreat and economic engine over the past six-plus decades, so did the Keynoter. Today’s edition marks the last print edition but the Keys will continue to receive the local news you’ve come to expect as reporters David Goodhue and Gwen Filosa go on to cover Monroe County for the Miami Herald, miamiherald.com and flkeysnews.com.
It all started with that February 1953 Keynoter, when Seney, a Monroe County vacationer before he was a Monroe County newsman, told readers the Keys were missing a platform to tell Keys residents about local happenings and issues. The Keynoter, then a weekly, was to be that platform.
Back then, the staff was Seney, his wife Pat and fewer than a dozen others who wrote the stories or sold the ads. The paper’s office was at mile marker 49 bayside. Shortly after, it remained at mile marker 49 but across U.S. 1 for decades on the oceanside.
Seney’s involvement with the Keynoter didn’t last long — he moved onto a college fellowship in 1955 and sold the paper to Nicholas Mitchell, then associate editor of a Greenville, S.C., newspaper.
A year later, James L. Knight, co-founder of what would become Knight Ridder newspapers, purchased the Keynoter. Knight Ridder eventually sold the Keynoter, along with the Miami Herald and newspapers across 20-plus other markets, to the McClatchy Co. in 2006.
Throughout the years, the Keynoter’s history of covering the news has been the Florida Keys’ history.
In 1960, Hurricane Donna’s winds — measured as swift as 166 mph at Sombrero Light — swept over these islands Sept. 10, and altered the landscape in the Keys. The Keynoter and the Florida Keys Sun, a weekly based in Islamorada, merged resources. They published joint editions for three weeks, with both papers’ mastheads on full display. The motto of the publications: “A Freebootin’ Newspaper, What Covers What’s Left.”
The purpose was to give the massive storm the coverage it demanded, and among the front-page news items from those combined issues: “Several trigger-happy guards have fired upon persons breaking the 8:30 p.m. curfew imposed on all Keys disaster areas. Although the shots missed, sheriff’s deputies felt their aim would improve.”
The joint publishing venture would undergo a quick divorce, and a quick re-marriage.
On Oct. 7, 1960, the two papers started publishing separately once again. However, on Nov. 20, the papers merged again, this time permanently. It meant the Marathon-based Keynoter then had a bureau in Islamorada.
That bureau remained until 1977, when the Keynoter moved its Upper Keys office to Key Largo. In the years following, the Upper Keys bureau was based in Tavernier, as was the newspaper’s sister publication, the weekly Reporter.
Three years previous, in 1974, James Knight merged his Knight Newspapers with Ridder Newspapers to become Knight Ridder. The Keynoter remained a weekly publication until December 1984, when the paper began publishing Wednesdays and Saturdays. The motto then became: “Everyone needs it twice a week.”
In 2000, the Keynoter took on a major expansion effort when it created the Key West Keynoter and the weekly arts section L’Attitudes. The Key West edition was started because the paper’s managers realized that the Key West market was being underserved by the publications circulated in the Southernmost City.
The Keynoter maintained a countywide approach to covering the community ever since and a reputation for balanced and fair news coverage have been cornerstones of this publishing company to this day.
The Keynoter’s 65-year legacy has been marked by coverage of stories as diverse as our community: Hurricanes, presidential visits, refugee crises, housing, development and redevelopment, marine-mammal strandings and the environment.
As a designated state Area of Critical State Concern, Monroe County wrote one of the first comprehensive land-use plans in Florida, an arduous and complex task tracked by the Keynoter’s award-winning coverage.
Reefs once included in John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park became the Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary in 1975, one of the very first national marine sanctuaries in the country.
The Keynoter covered heated debate over creating the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary in 1980, and again when three major ship groundings on Keys coral sparked creation of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in 1990. The Keynoter editorially endorsed passage of the 2,800-square-mile protected area, which was not a popular opinion at the time. When the sanctuary management plan took effect in 1994, the Keynoter printed a special section detailing the regulations and what they meant — and continue to mean to this day — for these islands, their residents and their businesses.
In April and May 1980, Keynoter reporters chronicled the boats heading north from the Cuban port of Mariel to the Keys. Most of the nearly 125,000 refugees who jumped at Castro’s invitation to leave boarded vessels large and small came ashore at the port of Key West, where they were bused to the mainland.
Keynoter reporters and photographers headed to the “old” Seven Mile Bridge in March 1981 when a piece of construction equipment being carried on a trailer struck a propane tank beneath the bridge tender’s shack on the famous “swing span.” The fiery explosion killed bridge tender Peter Fancher. Traffic on the bridge resumed within days, but the swing span never opened again.
The tragedy hastened construction of the already planned current Seven Mile Bridge. Before the new span opened to traffic, the first Seven Mile Bridge Run was staged in early 1982. The new Seven Mile was just one of all the Keys bridges to replaced at that time, one of the major changes this ribbon of islands would ever see.
The 1980s were busy for South Florida law enforcement, with marijuana-smuggling operations stretching from North Key Largo to Key West. News stories on seizures and arrests were commonplace, but few matched the Big Pine 29 case in November 1980, when 29 to 30 people were rounded up on Big Pine Key in a 500-bale seizure. In Key West, a series of “Bubba Bust” cases made headlines for the arrest of several local notables from 1975 to 1995.
In 2008, the Keynoter won praise as the go-to source for updates on the Randy and Monique Acevedo-Monroe County School District finance scandal that saw Randy, the schools superintendent, removed from office and convicted of three felonies; and his wife Monique, who was sent to prison for seven years for theft.
Our hurricane coverage over the past 60-plus years has been as foundational as any reporting we have undertaken, so it’s not without a bit of irony that the devastating impact of Hurricane Irma this past September has played a role in our future transition.
As you may imagine, closing down a storied print and distribution operation in the Keys was a difficult decision and not taken lightly. However, over time the continued erosion of print subscribers came at the same time of an explosive trend reflecting how readers consume news today on digital platforms.
Our long publishing history in the Keys has been borne from integrity and commitment, something that will continue online. Timely, trustworthy coverage of our community, as well as a forum for the exchange of ideas on the issues that matter to you, will continue.
Thank you for being loyal readers and subscribers, whether it’s been for all 65 years, or just a portion of that time. Your support has allowed us to do what we do.