Changing Times

For more than 80 years the Miami Times has been the voice of the black community, but fewer and fewer people are listening

Although the last three decades have been very good for Garth Reeves financially, they were not so kind personally. His only son and namesake, Garth Reeves, Jr., died of cancer at the age of 30 in 1982. Garth Jr. was the bright and shining hope of his father, especially with regard to the legacy of the Miami Times. Two years before his death, the younger Reeves had become managing editor. He was in line to become publisher as his father phased slowly into retirement.

With his son's death, Reeves thought he would sell the paper, but then Rachel Reeves stepped up. "What the hell am I, chopped liver?" she challenged her father, according to a 1992 Herald profile. Garth Sr. admitted he "didn't think Rachel could handle it." Rachel was two years older than her brother, and she had worked for the paper since high school (excepting the years she spent at Bennett College in North Carolina, before dropping out). Ms. Reeves, however, was always on the operations side, working her way up from typesetter, advertising clerk, and bookkeeper to business manager. Her heart was never in the news side of the paper. Where Garth is known, even now at the age of 86, to write the occasional editorial or bit of gossip for the popular "Spreading Larceny" column, his daughter has not shown similar proclivities. "Do I write? Never," she once said in a story run in her own newspaper. "This is a business."

The racial tension just under the glittery surface of 
paradise became 
evident during the 1980 riots sparked by the acquittal 
of Miami police in 
the beating death of black motorist Arthur McDuffie
The racial tension just under the glittery surface of paradise became evident during the 1980 riots sparked by the acquittal of Miami police in the beating death of black motorist Arthur McDuffie

This shift in priorities coming from the new heir apparent wasn't an issue for quite a while, as the elder Reeves slowly eased aside and his daughter became executive editor and then publisher and chief executive officer. For one thing, Mohamed Hamaludin was there. Hamaludin, now editor of the Herald's northwest and north-central "Neighbors" sections, spent more than a decade at the Times, from 1984 to 1999. A native of Guyana, he joined the staff as a reporter, but within a few months he was made managing editor. In 1994 he was promoted to executive editor as Ms. Reeves became publisher. Hamaludin declines to discuss his tenure at the Miami Times or what he thinks of it now. "I worked there for nearly fifteen years," he says. "It was time for me to explore new opportunities and for the Miami Times to get new blood."

In a 1994 story the Miami Times printed about the ascension of Rachel Reeves, the new publisher assured her readers: "We not only intend to maintain the highest standards of journalism excellence but we shall try to improve even more to ensure that our community has the best possible newspaper we can publish." Some eleven years later, this is the crux of the matter. Is the Miami Times living up to that promise?

To be sure, the business climate for print media in general is brutal, and no media outlet in town is as robust as it once was. Both the Miami Herald and New Times have suffered budget and staff cuts in recent years, and are smaller, paler versions of themselves at their peaks. In a 1998 message to her readers, Reeves herself spelled out the challenges facing a black press that is "steadily declining in influence and circulation."

That said, anecdotal evidence suggests the Miami Times today is little more than a cash cow for the Reeves family. The paper claims a circulation of about 21,000, of which the vast majority is newsstand sales at 50 cents per copy. It's not all that easy to find, but the reliable spots are grocery stores, restaurants, and some churches in most heavily African-American neighborhoods.

An admittedly informal survey of the advertising in the Miami Times in the past few months reveals the majority is purchased by governmental agencies -- the county, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, the City of Miami, the school district. This was not always the case. A 1981 memo written by then-county manager Merrett Stierheim requested that county departments place a "courtesy ad" in the Miami Times and Diario Las Americas whenever legal notices were posted in the mainstream press. (The use of the word courtesy says all that need be about where the white establishment's head was even after the McDuffie riots and the Mariel boatlift set in motion the end of its political and economic dominance.)

More recently the county has been astoundingly generous to the Miami Times. In the past five fiscal years the county has spent more than $1.56 million on the paper, mostly in the form of advertising. Last year alone the tally was $400,564.48, according to public records. By way of comparison, last year the county spent about $60,000 advertising in Miami Today, a business-oriented weekly with a circulation of 30,000. Smaller weeklies, such as the South Dade News Leader, Libre, and the Coral Gables Gazette, with circulations of about 5000 each, garnered $26,000, $28,000, and almost $18,000, respectively. The county spent $13,150 on 5000-circulation monthly The Gospel Truth last year and just $28,703 advertising in New Times.

The second-largest source of advertising in the Times (in terms of space) is typically the obituaries, churches, funeral homes, and classifieds. There are some reliable display ads for Publix, upcoming movies, and small businesses such as clothing stores, but not many. Patrick Range II is the grandson of Athalie Range, matriarch of the Range Funeral Home, which often advertises in the paper. Range, a 28-year-old attorney, allows that the Times has had difficulty drawing advertising support. "I don't think the black community supports it to the level we could," he observes. "The traditional black businesses do, but the attorneys, bankers, and accountants have not really embraced the Times. I don't know whether that's a function of there not being a lot of business to be generated [from the readership]. We have a tendency in Miami that once we attain a level of wealth, we tend to shy away from our roots. Because of the lack of support, I don't think the newspaper is all that it could be."

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