Sixteen years ago Miami closed out its most turbulent decade with one final spasm of violence. The last major race riot erupted in Overtown in January 1989, after Miami police officer William Lozano put a bullet in the brain of Clement Lloyd, who was fleeing another officer on his motorcycle. The dying man crashed into a car. His passenger, Allan Blanchard, was also killed. Four days of looting, fires, and general mayhem were unleashed as a result. In those moments, it seemed as if nothing had been learned in the near decade since Miami first burned in America's living rooms. Crazy town is at it again.
But if America, or indeed most of Miami, had been reading the Miami Times, the explosion would have seemed less surprising than inevitable. As the county's only major black newspaper, the Times had its ear finely tuned to the community it had served since 1923. As in the years preceding the McDuffie riots of 1980, the pent-up frustrations of a marginalized populace were well tallied in its pages. New Times published a cover story about the Miami Times a couple of months after the shooting in 1989. It was likely the first peek many Anglo and Hispanic residents had into an insular community poorly understood by outsiders.
In 1989 the Miami Times was a vibrant advocate for blacks, due in no small measure to the long-term partnership of Bahamian-born publisher Garth Reeves and his Indo-Guyanese managing editor, Mohamed Hamaludin. The mind-meld of the charming, financially savvy Reeves and the iconoclast Hamaludin produced a paper that generally lived up to the axiom about comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. Editorial positions were strong and often ran head-on into Miami's white and Cuban establishment. For instance, both men termed the riots "rebellions" against injustice. Asked his opinion of the request by some Hispanic officers to be pulled off patrols in Overtown and Liberty City, Reeves was unequivocal: "That's just part of the bullshit to get this officer [Lozano] freed. You are not going to have any real peace in this town as long as black people feel Hispanic officers have hunters' rights on their lives."
National and international black-oriented news was also featured alongside tales of the city. Yet the heart of the paper was social news -- weddings and funerals, graduations and church affairs -- the lifelines of a community. At the time, the Times claimed a circulation of 27,000 and a cool million dollars a year in revenue. Not bad for an enterprise that began its life as a sidebar to the Reeves family's successful printing business and that was largely subsidized by it for decades. But the years have altered the landscape for both black Miami and its newspaper. The community is rapidly diversifying with immigration, and dispersing with gentrification and upward mobility. The core of the old community, from which the most loyal readership has traditionally been drawn, is aging fast.
Meanwhile the Miami Times itself appears to be withering from the inside. Interviews with more than a dozen former employees of the paper indicate the problem is Rachel Reeves, the 55-year-old daughter to whom Garth Reeves handed over publishing duties in 1994. Staff turnover is constant, to the noticeable detriment of editorial quality. Common criticisms New Times heard while reporting this story centered on reporting inaccuracies, stale news, and careless spelling mistakes. "The way [Reeves] sees her readers is she's the only game in town, so that's the way it is," says Hansen Sinclair, who reported for the paper for six months in 2004. "It really could be something significant to the black community if it were run by someone else. It could be a force to be reckoned with because it's the only dominant black voice in Miami. But after I left, I took that off my resumé."
The majority of advertising comes from the public sector rather than black businesses. For instance, the county spent a jaw-dropping $400,000 on the weekly paper in 2003-2004 alone. "If it weren't for grants the government gave them, they wouldn't have any ads at all, aside from the obituaries and church ads," asserts Walter White, who sold ads for the Miami Times in 2003.
Luis M. Gomez, a former reporter, lasted only four months, which seems to be about average. "People either quit or they were forced out," he relates. "I was forced out. One day I came in on a payday and there was less than half of what should be there in my check. The business manager said, 'Well, Miss Reeves has decided to make you a part-time employee and so you're being paid per story.' I filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor based on the fact I worked many hours of overtime and didn't receive payment. The labor department agreed with me. She wound up having to pay out to a lot of people."
In 1999 Hamaludin left to become an editor at the Miami Herald, and his former position has been a revolving door ever since. This is a developing crisis for the Times. The decisions made by Rachel Reeves in the near future will determine if the paper survives or becomes merely another historical footnote.
The legend scrawled across the top of every inside page of the Miami Times reads, "Blacks Must Control Their Own Destiny." But what is its destiny? Patrick Range II, a young man whose roots in the community give him a deep respect for the institution of the Times, acknowledges that many of his peers don't share his reverence. "Those younger folks tend to look at the Times as a second-rate paper," he says. "They don't read it. I know folks have various opinions of the Times. Most of the older generation depends on it, to some extent more than the Herald. My grandmother looks for it every Wednesday evening."
Marvin Dunn, former head of the psychology department at Florida International University and a historian of black Miami, says his opinion of the Miami Times has evolved over the years. "In the beginning it was the only consistent black voice in Miami, the only autonomous paper that could stand up to the white establishment," he observes. "I have a lot of respect for the paper." But Dunn acknowledges times have changed and the paper needs to evolve with them. "I would like to see more emphasis on the diversity in black Miami," he says. "I would like to know more about the editorial process. Is it a one-person show? Do they hire quality people to ensure the kind of product a quality paper should have? I'd like to see better writing.
"What is the future leadership beyond Rachel? Is it going to pass from the Reeves family to some other entity?" Dunn continues. "I think the paper is still relevant. There's a need for it even more so today. It can't afford to lose the next generation of blacks."
Wilson Louis is the sort of person Dunn is talking about. Louis, now 21, worked at the Miami Times for about a year and a half. A Haitian American with a round face and a sweet nature, Louis began writing teen articles for the paper when he was a senior at Miami Edison Senior High School. (He's now earning a degree at Miami Dade College and working for WSVN, Channel 7.) But because more experienced reporters were leaving, he was quickly promoted to writing news stories. "At one time, only me and [another writer] were reporting," he recalls. "And I was just a high school kid. It was tough."
Louis, like a number of other Times reporters New Times interviewed, felt a connection and a duty to the community that led him to believe in the mission of the paper, even when he was frustrated by a lack of ability to fulfill it. Louis says that as a Haitian American living in a predominantly Haitian neighborhood, he hadn't had much contact with African Americans in Miami. "At the time, I didn't know what the Miami Times was," he relates. "I had heard of it. It was a black paper about the African-American community. I hadn't had much interaction with it, but through the paper I was able to bond with the African-American community. There may have been ups and downs, but overall it was worth it." Louis admits he hasn't really read it since late 2003, when he was let go.
Yvette Anderson, a former intern who wrote stories for two months in 2003, had a similar experience; she was asked to perform at a level beyond her experience in a high-pressure situation. Yet Anderson, now 23 and completing a degree in elementary education at Florida A&M University, echoes a sentiment New Times heard over and over from even the paper's critics. "Despite the paper's faults, there are stories in there that if that paper wasn't there, you wouldn't see those voices in there," she argues. "When I was there, they did have errors.... A lot of people in the community read it just to know who passed. I used to try to get my friends at Miami-Dade [College] to read it and they weren't interested. The old people keep that paper alive."
The era in which the Miami Times was founded was a particularly brutal one for dark-skinned people. Miami was a tropical southern backwater in 1923 -- full of real-estate scams, fruit trees, hotels, and institutional racism. This was the year Henry Ethelbert Sigismund Reeves, a Bahamian transplant who owned a print shop, started his paper. In the early Twenties, the Ku Klux Klan was active and open to the point of sponsoring huge downtown parades and running vigilante raids through Overtown. The group bombed buildings, lynched black men, and flat-out controlled the Miami Police Department. In his 1997 book Black Miami in the Twentieth Century, Marvin Dunn detailed incidents of gruesome torture by police that bear a sickening resemblance to the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers today. A 1928 grand jury report included testimony about the police shocking men and women with live electrical wires, sometimes on their genitals. It also included accounts of numerous vicious beatings that sometimes resulted in death, in which case the department would issue a flimsy cover story about suicide or a fight.
For black workers to enter Miami Beach in those days, they had to have a police-issued ID card. Yet the paradox of segregation meant black wealth and talent were concentrated in only a few areas, most famously in Overtown during its nationally renowned peak as an entertainment hub from the Thirties to the early Sixties. After World War II, the nascent civil rights movement in Miami was jump-started by black soldiers who returned from the war with the notion that since they'd fought for their country, they ought to enjoy its freedoms on the same level as whites.
Early civil rights leaders in Miami, such as the city's first black commissioners -- Rev. Theodore Gibson and Athalie Range -- often had Bahamian roots. The Reeves family was part of that tradition. Henry Reeves's son Garth participated in the integration of public golf courses in 1949 and public beaches in 1958. The younger Reeves was also responsible for the gradual radicalization of the paper as the civil rights movement gathered speed. H.S. Reeves had a more moderate outlook than his son.
When Gibson and another black leader, Rev. Edward T. Graham, were each sentenced to six months in jail and a $1200 fine for refusing to reveal the names of members of the local NAACP chapter to a state legislative committee in 1963, the Miami Times published eloquent editorials that helped fuel church rallies in support of the ministers. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually vindicated the men, effectively killing the McCarthy-inspired witch-hunt for supposed communist subversives within the civil rights organization in Miami.
When Overtown began to be destroyed by the white community's land grab to make room for I-95 and the I-395 connector, the black middle class decamped to Liberty City and points north. Desegregation further diluted the community's economic power. Dunn counted no fewer than seven black newspapers in Miami's first few decades, including Reeves's first media venture, the short-lived Miami Sun. These papers served a population of less than 30,000 blacks, concentrated in Overtown, Coconut Grove, and portions of South Dade. Of these the Miami Times is the only one to survive. There are a few more recent tiny outfits, such as the Gospel Truth, and South Florida Newsweek, but for all intents and purposes the black paper with influence has been the institution of the Miami Times.
Besides the obvious need for a black voice in local media, the paper endured because of Garth Reeves's ability to straddle both black and white worlds. He built his father's business into one of the city's most successful black enterprises. Eventually the printing company was shut down, and the newspaper drove the family's fortunes. Reeves also parlayed his ability to network in white and Hispanic circles into profitable real estate deals all over the county. He partnered with developer Armando Codina, banker Raul Masvidal, and black architect Ron Frazier to grab a minority share of downtown's Bayside Marketplace when it was under construction.
He became a majority owner in the Peoples National Bank of Commerce. Peoples was in financial trouble when Reeves and a handful of other black investors pumped money into it beginning in 1992. They wanted Florida's only black-owned bank to remain viable. The Reeves family sank millions of its own money into the bank over several years to keep it afloat, but the institution suffered from poor management and bad loans. In 1999 the Boston Bank of Commerce absorbed Peoples, which had been targeted by federal regulators.
In 1985 Knight Ridder chairman Alvah Chapman invited Reeves to become part of the Non-Group, a powerful fraternity of the most influential businessmen in town. He was also the first black on the boards of the United Way and Miami-Dade Community College. It does not get any more establishment than that, although Reeves argued these invitations were mere tokens.
This talent for mixing socially with the same people he vehemently criticized in print has, over the years, been attributed to his genteel personal style and his ability to broker influence both ways. For instance, it is generally acknowledged that the Miami Times wielded decisive influence in electing the City of Miami's first Hispanic mayor, Maurice Ferré. The paper also ended his tenure in 1985 after he led the commission's effort to fire the city's first black manager, Howard Gary. Reeves was among black leaders to successfully lobby for Johnny Jones to become the first black superintendent of schools. In 1988 Reeves agreed to publicly support the school district's $980 million school construction referendum in return for the district funneling more jobs and contracts to the black community. Again black voters made the difference in the measure's passage.
On the other side of the equation, Reeves managed to become an icon to blacks, even though his comfortable social and economic status far removed him from the daily lives of most Miami Times readers. In 1990 H.T. Smith and a few other black attorneys organized a three-year nationwide black boycott of Miami that cost the tourism industry millions. (The boycott was sparked by the snubbing of South African anti-apartheid legend Nelson Mandela by Cuban-American elected officials, who denounced him for refusing to repudiate his old ally Fidel Castro.) Smith says the paper was instrumental in that struggle. "Every week for 150 weeks, the boycott message was disseminated when we couldn't get decent coverage anywhere else," he recalls fondly. "It was through the Times and the churches that the leaders were able to keep readers informed. It has a special place in my heart."
Yet there's another side to Reeves. One example: his neglectful ownership of the Crispus Attucks slum complex in Overtown, which residents had dubbed New Jack because it was overrun with gun-toting drug dealers and addicts. In 1999 New Times chronicled the efforts of a group of poor single mothers fighting to get Reeves to fix the deteriorating building for which he received Section 8 funding. "I don't know what [the tenants] were trying to prove, what they were trying to do to me," Reeves said at the time. "I have a reputation in this community. They weren't anybody but poor people; I think they were being used [by others who wanted the building closed]." Eventually the county canceled his Section 8 funding because none of the apartments was even close to code. The city ordered the place vacated. In 2001 it was finally demolished, leaving nothing but vacant land and roughly $600,000 in liens and fines from years of code violations.
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."
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."
That's certainly true, but there are other reasons. Anthony Georges-Pierre, a Haitian-American attorney with a downtown practice, says he used to pick up the paper regularly when he worked for City of Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, but now, in the private sector, he finds he does not. "I'll be honest, I don't really read it unless something big happens," he admits. "Six months ago was the last time I picked it up. I went to the convenience store in the Grove where they always had it, and they had only back issues, no current ones." Georges-Pierre asked the store owner why and was told the Times had stopped buying back unsold copies, thus the store would have to eat the cost if the issues didn't move. "So he stopped getting it," he continues. "My firm looked into advertising with them because a lot of our clients are blue collar with labor issues. But then when I talked to the guy where I get it, I thought, Well, if people aren't buying it, why advertise? I need the most bang for my buck."
Another explanation comes from Walter White, age 67, an ad sales rep with more than 30 years of experience. He currently works for the Coral Gables Gazette. In late 2003 he began working for the Miami Times, he says, because he thought he could do some good there. He lasted about six months. One of the problems he immediately ran into was Rachel Reeves meddling with his clients. He would sell an ad, and then Reeves, he claims, would ask him to call back the customer and raise the price. "She sent me back three and four times to raise the price of an ad I'd already sold," he recalls. "I was able to do it, but the client didn't come back."
Another problem: She would sometimes bypass White and go directly to his clients. "She called up one of my customers who'd followed me through three papers, and asked them why they weren't in the paper," he grouses. "'Did they not want to deal with black people?' [she complained.] You can't threaten people to make them advertise. My customer called me and said, 'Who is this lady?'"
Ultimately what drove White away from the paper, he says, was Reeves's alleged refusal to pay him his commission and her plans to cut his salary in half. This resulted in a standoff between the two in which White would dress for work, come in for five minutes, and then go home, judging he'd put in the amount of time for which she was paying him. "I came there because I felt I could help," he says. "The Miami Times is the oldest black paper in the South. I bet you her grandfather is spinning in his grave."
A number of ex-employees repeat similar stories of being cheated out of money when Reeves would arbitrarily change the rules by which she paid them. Candace Holloway was hired as a receptionist in August 2004. Within two months she was the front office coordinator. Shortly thereafter she began selling ads for the paper. At first things were okay, although she said customers would sometimes note the high turnover and complain about sloppy handling of their ads. Then, she claims, Reeves began taking money out of her paycheck, which wasn't terribly large to begin with because she was making about nine dollars per hour. ("And I was one of the highest-paid there," she notes). The reason, she was told, was if her customers were unhappy with the look of their ads, money would be subtracted from her pay. "If the customers dislike what they see, we have to pay it out of our own pocket," Holloway recites. "They took it right out of my check [even though] it's not my fault there's a problem."
Still Holloway kept working and outdid herself by selling $9000 worth of ads for a special insert for Black History Month. Before she could collect her commission, she got into an argument with a co-worker and was fired this past April. "[Reeves] said she was going to give me a bonus," she alleges. "It was supposed to be seven percent of [the sales]. I never got paid. I think that's why she fired me, so she wouldn't have to."
In 2000 Carmen Morris, a public relations executive who operates her own firm, sued the newspaper, claiming Rachel Reeves had refused to pay her more than $18,000 in fees when she promoted its 75th anniversary in 1998. Reeves fired her ten days before the contract expired, saying she'd failed to perform. "I did the work," Morris says now. "They didn't want to pay." Interestingly, Morris, who worked for the paper as a high school student, is still a supporter of the institution, if not the woman behind it. "It has such a potential," she says. "I respect Garth Reeves. I pray the Miami Times will find its way back to its original purpose."
Other complaints voiced by former employees include a period when Rachel Reeves demanded that everyone, including reporters, wear uniforms. The reporters in particular found this humiliating. If this seems like a crazy way to run a business, some speculate the root of it lies in Reeves's relationship with her father. It's almost as if she never grew beyond the hurt she felt at always being second to her brother in her father's eyes. By many accounts she is not an easygoing woman. People who know her have used the word mercurial when speaking of her; also the word bitch comes up often. She became a mother in 1989, to Garth Basil Reeves. In the early Nineties she suffered two mild strokes.
Critics observe that the Miami Times under her leadership has not embraced a diversifying Miami. This is reflected in the names that end up in print, the same handful of aging African-American leaders who've been circulating for decades. Are there no leaders under the age of 40? "If you go out in the hood, the average person looks at the obituary section; that and the church part of it is really a staple," asserts Overtown resident and activist Henry Crespo, who wrote a column for the Miami Times in the mid-Nineties, ran for office a couple of times, and helped lead an unsuccessful campaign to recall Art Teele from his city commission seat. "Everything else is the same -- the same people, the same stuff. As we're moving forward, you have to roll with the times. There are new minds out there, and they're stuck on something from 30 years ago."
Leo Casino, another Overtown activist, believes the paper is geared toward the black establishment and not the underclass. "I know we have an unwritten rule to not criticize blacks," he says, "but their support of Art Teele? Given his damage to the community? Look at the articles they've written. They're geared toward the upper class of blacks -- the politicians and the movers and shakers."
The 40-year-old Crespo is a bit of an anomaly in the black community. Where many whisper their discontent in closed circles, he is willing to challenge Reeves directly. "Look, sister, I don't think this is right," he remembers telling her after the paper made an issue of him being Cuban. "There are a lot of leaders out there other than the same old guard. You say I'm Cuban, but you Bahamian. You a phony just like me."
Reeves's apparent discomfort with non-African Americans extends beyond Crespo. Former reporter Luis Gomez says that after he left the Times, he heard from former colleagues that Reeves didn't like him because he's not black. "I have no way of knowing if that was true," he says.
Another former reporter, Hansen Sinclair, notes, "I'm Jamaican. She made many comments I don't want to get into."
Two other former reporters, both African Americans, say that on more than one occasion Reeves directed them to exclude whites from coverage, especially in photographs. "She would say, 'I don't want to see no white people on the front of my paper,'" one of them relates.
Apparently this edict occasionally extends even to advertisers. Susan Root, owner of African Village Gifts in North Miami Beach, experienced this last year, when, without warning, the ads she'd been running in the paper for several years disappeared. Root, 53 years old, is white. When she called to inquire about it, she was told by two Miami Times employees that they'd dropped her ad because she was white. "People said, 'If I was you, I wouldn't do business with them again,'" Root recalls. "I felt it wasn't right. Discrimination is wrong no matter who it's against. I've been involved in the black community my whole life."
Root fought for three months to get her ads back in, even calling friends in the local NAACP, and her pastor, Bishop Victor T. Curry. Eventually this worked, but she also complained to the county's Community Relations Board. "When I got back to my store the night I testified, I got a phone call from somebody in the community," she recounts. "She said, 'I think it's a disgrace what a sister will do to a sister, and I'm coming to your store to shop.'"
A couple of years ago, one of Rachel Reeves's cousins, April Young, tried to inject new life into the paper. Young, a serious and intelligent woman, had graduated from Princeton University and returned to Miami. Because she was between jobs, she offered her services as an editor to the family institution. "She had an attitude of 'We can turn the paper around,'" says a former reporter who worked there. "She had a flow chart and everything. She wanted to bring order to it." Young lasted only a few months, leaving, sources say, because she realized she couldn't have the effect she intended. Young herself declines comment: "You understand, it's family."
Neither Garth nor Rachel Reeves would consent to an interview for this story. Garth Reeves did not return numerous messages. New Times had one exchange with his daughter. "What kind of story are you doing?" she asked suspiciously. "What is it New Times wants to tell corporate Miami about the Miami Times?"
New Times wanted to write a story about the Times and how it has evolved as the community has changed. After all, New Times hadn't reported on the paper since 1989. It wouldn't be a PR piece, but it would be fair.
"Well, if you're not going to do a PR piece, why should I talk to you?" she replied. "Do your story. What can I say to you? You make me feel very uncomfortable. New Times does not do positive stories. If you are going to try to hurt the Miami Times in this community, I won't talk to you. Now, if you want to do something positive --"
And what might make her comfortable?
"Probably nothing. You could send me some questions in writing."
Would she answer them?
"I don't know. I don't have to do what I don't want to do."
Black Miami by theNumbers
Black Miami by the Numbers
More than 457,000 residents in Miami-Dade County are identified as black by the 2000 U.S. Census. This is about twenty percent of the total population. But what constitutes "black" is a tricky matter in Miami, where demographers must take into account the many thousands of immigrants who consider themselves Hispanic, Haitian, Bahamian, Jamaican, or Trinidadian first -- and black almost incidentally. If Sammy Sosa is filling out a census form, does he say he's a black man or a Hispanic from the Dominican Republic?
This is significant when considering the fortunes of a newspaper like the Miami Times, historically devoted to the African-American community. Trends clearly point to growth in the black population being driven by immigration. At least twenty percent of the county's black population is Haitian. The majority of recent Cuban immigrants are Afro-Cuban.
The 2000 census reveals other noteworthy trends. Countywide in 2000, people over 50 years old represented about 28 percent of the total population. In the black community, however, only about 19.5 percent were over 50. The median age for all county residents was 35.6, but for black residents it was 28.9. Taken together these numbers indicate that black Miami is young. This is the heart of the matter for any newspaper hoping to attract the attention of the black community.
People who remember the era in which the Times became a leading advocate for black Miami are dwindling in number. The struggles that united the community and fueled the paper's vitality have also diminished. Roughly 52 percent of Miami-Dade blacks are too young to remember Liberty City burning in the 1980 McDuffie riots. Factor in immigration and the impending gentrification of neighborhoods like Overtown, Wynwood, and Little Haiti, and the pool of natural readers shrinks further.
-- Rebecca Wakefield
Comments About the Miami Times
Kris Smith, age 37, Overtown NET administrator: "I read it more out of professional courtesy and because of where I work and live. If I weren't in Overtown, I probably wouldn't read it. But for where I sit and work, it's important because of its standing in the neighborhood; that paper is influential in it. The Times opened up the world of black media to me; it gave me some perspective. If I want to know about a fraternity event or a black business, I turn to the Miami Times."
Trellany McMath, age 40, Miami Lakes Middle School teacher and a former Miami Times reporter: "I feel they are the voice of the community. A lot of news you don't hear from the other mainstream newspapers, you see in the Times. The news a lot of people don't hear about is always out there in the black community. The people I knew were excited about the paper and the positive stories. I still get it every week. I use it in my classroom because I teach reading."
Sherman Henry, age 33, president of AFSCME Local 1184: "I don't really read it. Every once in a blue moon I pick it up if someone tells me I should read a particular story. It's like reading the Miami Herald -- historically it was our paper, but now there's no real news in it. My folks read it because they have that historical connection to it."
Ted Lucas, age 33, Carol City native and founder of Slip-N-Slide Records: "It's like the grassroots of Miami. The Miami Herald gives you maybe more the global view, but down and dirty what's really happening? That's the Miami Times. People you grew up with call and say, öYou read the article in the Miami Times?'I read it maybe twice a month. They cater to an older crowd. People my age aren't reading the paper; they're working so hard they don't have time."
Tangela Sears, age 39, African-American Grassroots Coalition: "I remember as a little kid Thursday was Miami Times day. You might see the police shootings in the Herald and the domestic violence problems in Opa-locka, but you will only see the educational part of that, the workshops and programs, in the Miami Times. If a minister has an anniversary or if someone passes, we know about it. I can send something to the Herald and they may not be interested in it, but in the Times it's going to hit the ministers and it's going to bounce around the churches. They'll be around for another 100 years as long as the mainstream media continue to ignore our issues."
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