Prominent Miamians who take bribes, divorce, or don women’s underwear in public need no longer fret that Joan Fleischman will find out. The Miami Herald’s gossip columnist is one of several newsroom staffers who has accepted a buyout. Her final “Talk of Our Town” column runs this Sunday. “I am ready for a change,” she says. “I’ve been a South Florida journalist for 33 years and this opportunity comes at a perfect time.”
Fleischman started at the Herald in 1978 after graduating from the University of Miami and spending three years with the Miami Beach Sun Reporter. "I used to drive by the Herald building on my way home. I was bound and determined to get there." She started as a general assignment reporter and soon moved on to the police beat, where she broke perhaps the most stunning tale ever told in these parts – The Miami river cops scandal -- as many as 100 police officers ripped off drug dealers and even killed some.
She covered state and federal courts and became known around the newsroom as fast talking, fast thinking and voluble. Her interviews could be often be heard at a distance of 100 yards. Herald legend Gene Miller, her long-time editor, once said: “We need people more peole like that round here.”
Fleischman was given her own gossip column in 1992, where she began documenting the goings-on of local celebrities and socialites. Cop news often domintated her work. Sharp talking lawyers like Richard Sharpstein were major sources. Recent highlights include her coverage of professional baseball player Alex Rodriguez’s recent divorce and the release from federal prison of disgraced ex-lawyer Sam Burystn.
She cites a story about discriminatory tipping policy at a Washington Avenue called Thai Tony as one of her most significant pieces. It led to the county passing an ordinance outlawing such behavior.
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Of course, not everyone qualifies Fleischman’s work as journalism. Since launching his blog Random Pixels and Loose Talk earlier this year, freelance photographer Bill Cooke has posted commentary criticizing Fleischman. He claims the 55-year-old gossip maven rewrites press releases, plugs friends and favorite haunts, and wastes column space writing about lawsuits.
Says Cooke: “I’m not accusing Joan of any ethical lapses,” Cooke said, “but her column on occasion, came perilously close. Journalists must not only avoid conflicts of interest but they must also guard against the appearance of a conflict. In this respect Joan failed.”
Responds Fleischman: I always liked Bill Cooke and think he is a fine photographer…I’ve loved my years at the Miami Herald. The newspaper has given me the experience of a lifetime. and I have given it my heart and soul in return.”