Ward's Hot Bulletin Board 

Sourced from: https://www.gainesville.com/story/opinion/columns/2020/12/08/we-need-help-continuing-watch-your-back-build-civic-bonds/6478145002/

Douglas Ray — The Gainesville Sun

This year will be recalled as the year of the pandemic, but it’s also the year of the infodemic – a brokenness in our civic life brought on by untrustworthy information or simply a lack of trustworthy news. 

Across the nation, as more newspapers fold, more communities are losing an essential source of social cohesion. Local newspapers like The Gainesville Sun are feeling the pinch, caught between the larger forces that are convulsing our national political discourse and disrupting economic life, and also feeling the local impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and the kitchen-table decisions that are forcing families to rethink their priorities. 

At a time when many of us are feeling more isolated and worried about the near-term future, good local journalism is important. We are committed to providing it. 

The Sun newsroom is working hard but, for the time being, we’re doing that away from our office. We’re also going through some significant staff changes. And, this past weekend, we made an unforced error in publishing an editorial cartoon that many understandably found offensive. 

The cartoon, if you didn’t see Sunday’s edition, showed a man and woman. The woman, with the label “Springs County Movement” on her apron, has a black eye and bandaged face. She says, “I want a divorce.” Her presumed husband, with “B.O.C.C.” tattooed on his arm, responds, “C’mon baby! You don’t think I treat you good? If you got a beef you can talk to me …" 

The intended message by cartoonist Jake Fuller — that some in northwestern Alachua County are in a toxic relationship with the Board of County Commissioners — is lost in the insensitive portrayal of domestic violence. 

That’s made much worse by tragic events that unfolded after the Sunday opinion pages went to print. A 26-year-old man was arrested and charged in connection with a northeast Gainesville shooting that left a mother and their infant son dead Friday afternoon. 


Like other newspapers, The Sun maintains boundaries between news and opinion content, just as we respect a clear distinction between news and advertising. Even so, publishing the cartoon was a mistake to begin with, and was compounded by a family tragedy that underscores the real terror of domestic violence. 

We have reached out to advocates for victims of domestic violence to hear directly from them the impacts of decisions like this. You can expect to find their voices presented in the opinion pages of The Sun in coming days. We also are reviewing ways to ensure similar problems are not repeated. 

The Sun recently lost several staff members to retirement. Among them are Robbie Andreu and Pat Dooley, our veteran duo covering Gator athletics, and Larry Savage, another veteran best known as our high school sports writer. You may already have seen that Zach Abolverdi has joined us to fill Andreu’s position. Abolverdi has been a contributor for us before, and his skills are well suited to the new demands of covering sports for a growing digital audience. The hunt continues for someone who will provide insight and perspective as a columnist. 

On the news side, Danielle Ivanov will join us next week as a reporter covering the University of Florida where she is finishing up as a student. Ivanov has been an intern and freelancer for us in recent months. We are in the process of adding two more reporters to the staff. That will give us more local reporters than we’ve had in the past couple years. 

We are investing in the future of The Gainesville Sun. I hope you are too. 

I have the distinct honor to oversee news operations at The Sun, Ocala Star-Banner and Daily Commercial in Leesburg. We are connected to a large network of newspapers across Florida. Together, our coverage of COVID-19 and the crazy hurricane season has been without peer, as has our work on recent elections. Among newspapers, our capital team is the most robust in Florida. And consider the investigative journalism that has continued to roll out from our terrific editors and reporters. The Torn Apart series on child welfare (with additional chapters coming out this month) sparked immediate calls for new legislation. 

Communities without daily newspapers are often referred to as news deserts. These are places where no independent watchdogs keep their local officials accountable, spread the word on events and community needs, and bind neighbors together with a shared narrative of what it means to live here. 

A study of news deserts by the University of North Carolina found that the loss of local newspapers can have an enormous impact on a community. 

“Our sense of community and our trust in democracy at all levels suffer when journalism is lost or diminished. In an age of fake news and divisive national politics, the fate of communities across the country, and of grassroots democracy itself, is linked — more than ever — to the vitality of local journalism,” researchers found. “Local newspapers have historically been a ‘tie that binds’ people in a community. Through the stories they publish, local newspapers help us ‘understand how we are related to people we may not know we are related to.’ They also educate us, providing us with information to guide important decisions that will affect the quality of our own lives, as well as those of future generations.” 

You may have friends who say they get their news from the social media. But credible posts on social media are often based on the work of professional journalists who have the skills, the time and the reputation for verifying what they are reporting. Too much of the division within our country and our community is rooted in untrustworthy social media posts. 

— Douglas Ray is executive editor and general manager of The Gainesville Sun. Contact him at doug.ray@gainesville.com.