Thursday, December 21, 2006

Wakefield: Fiedler had no vision he could articulate

Rebecca Wakefield has written a column for the Sun Post about outgoing TMH executive editor Tom Fiedler. Some excerpts:

Widely considered a nice guy (I’ve always thought he sounded a bit like the host of a children’s show), Fiedler was, in his 33 years at the Herald, good at a number of things. He was a great reporter, a good political editor, a decent editorial page editor and, ultimately, so-so as executive editor.

There was a feeling in 2001 and now five years later, that Fiedler was a caretaker, the guy the bigwigs at corporate could rely on to keep the estate in good condition while they managed its lucrative decline.

“I try to resist thinking that the golden age of journalism is behind us,” Fiedler told me this week. “I think it’s simply that things changed. Clearly what drove the change was the readership, when our circulation began to dip and readers began to indicate they were no longer interested in the kind of journalism we all treasure.”

Fiedler points to the death of the beloved Tropic magazine, a weekly Herald supplement that allowed for in-depth exploration of the issues and general weirdness of South Florida. “It didn’t die for no reason,” he says. “It died because it lacked support, a lack of advertising and mass readership. The same was true in general of the coverage we valued in the 1980s.”

Similarly, the Herald closed most of its bureaus all over the state because Miami advertisers didn’t much care about readers elsewhere. “As the economic imperatives came to fruition, we had to start shrinking our reach, pull in our net,” he says. “I wish it were different, but wishing doesn’t make it different.”

“I’ve tried to remind people at the heart of all this, quality journalism matters and that’s what we’re all about. I don’t know if I’ve succeeded on that. But I do think the Miami Herald newsroom is still pound for pound the best newsroom in the country. It makes Miami a better place than it would be.

Whomever or whatever we hate, we can find it in the paper, either in what is written, or what is not.

That is one reason why the daily newspaper is absolutely vital to Miami. As imperfect as it is, as rudderless, bogged-down and lacking in stones as its management has often seemed, we need the Miami Herald.

The problem with Fiedler, in my opinion, is that his essentially good qualities as a person and a reporter didn’t translate well to management. He’s a stand-up, almost painfully earnest guy; a team player, a believer in the institution even when the walls are crumbling. But he didn’t have a vision you could articulate in any specific, actionable way.

Fiedler became a symbol of, and an apologist for, the disconnects between the Herald and the communities it serves, the business and editorial missions.

“Anders [The incoming Herald Executive Editor] has credibility and respect in the Herald newsroom,” Fiedler says. “And he has credibility with McClatchy. So he’s in a better position than I would have been.”
I don't know Fiedler personally but what Wakefield says makes sense. I mean several observers including former Herald columnist Jim Defede have characterized Fiedler as a "company man" and Fiedler's own remark about incoming editor Anders Gyllenhaal having more credibility with McClatchy tells us his company was Knight Ridder.

The thing that strikes me most about the piece is that Fiedler seems to blame everyone else for the Herald's decline but the Herald itself. The readers don't appreciate the "type of journalism we all treasure" and the "advertisers didn't care". As I've mentioned about Fiedler before, I think there's a lack of introspection in him that would be necessary to lead a newspaper through this period of time where the future role of traditional fishwraps is highly uncertain. You can't just keep trying to do the same old things and lament the fact that people don't want or need the same old things. I know that there has to be tension between what sells and what's journalistically proper, but like the proverbial tree falling in the solitary woods there is a question of whether a newspaper without readers makes a sound.

Regardless of who made the decision, Fiedler's moving on is probably best for the paper's new owners, the paper itself, the readers and the community.


heraldphobe said...

Unfortunately, Fiedler apparently had a vision (such as it was) of the Cuban exile community which he did articulate, with the very regrettable results known to all by now. In the end, perhaps even he regretted it, albeit for the wrong reason.

Steve said...

The Miami Hurled is a lame newspaper, period. The City of Miami is a journalist's wet dream, a place where dozens of compelling stories a year could compete with the best of any metropolitan center in the country. But that doesn't happen, because the Hurled has always lacked the stomach, the will, and the vision.

Carl Hiaason gets it, and he stands alone. We're all the poorer for it.

Rebecca said...

Henry, Thanks this post. Just FYI, I posted the entire interview, sans my opinions, on my other website, here:

button said...

Henry: he's NOT moving on. He managed to secure for himself a seat on the Board of Directors of McClatchy when the KR deal was made.