An Oral History of Miami New Times in the 2000s | Miami New Times


Miami New Times: A History, the 2000s

Miami New Times is celebrating its 30th anniversary by assembling a list of 30 writers who have gone on to author books about everything from terrorism to baseball to Prince to Gander, Newfoundland. They have won Pulitzer Prizes, become foreign correspondents, and written tomes that will endure. Yesterday, we published...
Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik (left), Josh Schonwald, Raina McLeod, and Jorge Casuso
Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik (left), Josh Schonwald, Raina McLeod, and Jorge Casuso Courtesy of the authors
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Miami New Times is celebrating its 30th anniversary by assembling a list of 30 writers who have gone on to author books about everything from terrorism to baseball to Prince to Gander, Newfoundland. They have won Pulitzer Prizes, become foreign correspondents, and written tomes that will endure. Yesterday, we published an oral history of the early days, and today we continue with more contemporary authors memories of the paper. Some of them, including Ben Greenman, Luther Campbell, and Jim DeFede, will tell their tales at the book fair Sunday, November 19, at 4 p.m. on Miami Dade College's Wolfson Campus (300 NE Second Ave., Miami; Building 7, First Floor, Room 7106).

Patrice Elizabeth Grell Yursik, 2004–09

It was my first for real job after graduating from the University of Miami, and nothing could have prepared me for the experience. I was so timid in my first copy meetings, sitting alongside these hardened journalists with respected names, infamous reputations, and wild tales of politicians. I did not think I would make it one week.

At times I thought the place was cursed. One of my favorite co-workers damn near had a heart attack in the women's bathroom (she lived). A driver crashed into the parking lot divider and died — I remember watching from upstairs as a photographer and writer ran downstairs to try to help, all in vain. Toxic office drama seeped into local blogs.

The day the Art Teele cover story hit will forever remain in my memory. He shot himself in the Miami Herald lobby just as a New Times story about him was going to print. I knew how hard the author of that story, Frank Alvarado, and everyone else had worked to get it right.

Afterward, people protested outside the building and poured red paint on piles of that week's issue. It was so challenging and often stressful, but I learned so much about life, about myself, who I wanted to be, and what I won't stand for.

Ultimately, it was an invaluable experience. I can interview anyone and tackle almost any subject. Being thrown into the deep end made me better at my craft. Today many of the articles I was proudest of exist as just yellowing scraps of newspaper in a dusty box in my office, but the memories remain so vivid.

(Yursik is now the author and creator of

Editor's Note: During editing, a reference to Arthur Teele's suicide was improperly added and wrongly attributed to Patrice Yursik. It has been removed. We regret the error.

Josh Schonwald, 2005–06

Because I wrote a book about the future of food and have been trying for the past three years to become the Anthony Bourdain of the future of food (hello, Hollywood!), most people assume I've had a lifelong interest in the future of food.

But the truth is I had zero interest in the future of food until working at Miami New Times.

Trump and the audience pushed their hands toward the sky, as if the world's ceiling couldn't hold their absurdity.

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I had an underwhelming debut. My first story, "Speed Demon," was about a Kendall dentist who claimed he could do implant surgery in less than an hour. After a month of lightweight stuff and surviving Hurricane Wilma, I was determined to do a solid investigative feature about a significant issue. So I headed to the Rosenstiel School at the University of Miami, where I met Dan Benetti, a University of Miami scientist who believed he had found the "perfect species" for fish farming. Benetti told me that cobia — a fish I had never heard of — would become as ubiquitous as salmon in American grocery stores within five years. He said the cobia revolution was "inevitable."

That was 12 years ago, and there are still no cobia fillets at Costco or McCobia sandwiches at McDonald's. But that story, "A Fish Farmer's Tale," proved life-altering for me. It triggered my interest in looking for more people like Benetti — the scientists, activists, entrepreneurs, and dreamers who are trying to find The Next Big Thing in Food and reshape the food system. And it became part of my book, The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches From the Future of Food.

(Schonwald is now a writer in Chicago and the author of the aforementioned book.)

Raina McLeod, 2008–09

I spent my days writing ministories persuading people to go to local events, but I wanted more. So I went to the editor with an idea I kinda knew was insane. "How about a sex and relationship advice column?" I asked.

What made me qualified to do this? I was 26 years old, clueless, living the fast life, and bold as fuck. What could go wrong?

The editors liked the idea and told me to come in with a few samples so they could see what I would do. I worked on them for weeks and was so nervous to hand 'em over, but one afternoon I finally did. The editor was just like, "Gold! Keep going." So I did.

"Magic City Kitty" became a weekly column and was superpopular. It also might have gotten kicked off a local network for discussing one of my more risqué topics. I explored some very touchy subjects, even if I was still figuring them out myself.

The editors never censored me, never said, "This is too much." Gold, indeed.

(McLeod is the author of Death by Misadventure and runs a creative studio in Washington, D.C.;

Jorge Casuso, 2009–11

The plan was simple: Run New Times columnist Luther Campbell for mayor of Miami-Dade County; then sit back and watch the web traffic pile up. We were on a roll. The sky was the limit. The poet behind "Me So Horny" would make headlines with a "Hoes With Hose" car wash and the jar of Vaseline he would whip out during a televised debate. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, Uncle Luke took it seriously. He never held up that $2 jar of petroleum jelly that was our only campaign expense. Instead, he wrote serious policy position papers and ran on a platform that addressed real issues. What had we unleashed?

But we decided to go with the flow. If Chicago's Harold Washington could become mayor on the strength of the black and liberal vote, so could Uncle Luke. Get him in, and with our bilingual skills and campaign experience, we'd land cushy county jobs that paid more than what our boss was making.

In the end, Luke finished fourth in a field of 11 candidates, winning 11 percent of the vote, a respectable showing given we'd spent all of $2.

As for us reporters who cover the news, it was a chance to create it.

It's been six years since we ran that campaign. I have been working as an editor for an online news site and just finished my first novel. It's about an army of homeless reporters fighting for truth in a world of fake news.

(Casuso is now an editor and writer in Miami;

click to enlarge
Kyle Swenson (left), Gus Garcia-Roberts, and Tom Austin
Courtesy of the authors

Trevor Aaronson, 2003-06

When I was a 25-year-old New Times staff writer, I bought my first house in North Andrews Gardens, a working-class neighborhood in an unincorporated patch of land between Fort Lauderdale and Oakland Park that real-estate agents described as the next Wilton Manors. In two years, my home's value nearly doubled. It was 2006, the height of the real-estate boom, and Time magazine published a cover of a cartoon man hugging his house as if it were a magical cash machine. I could see the housing bubble was about to pop.

But you know who didn't see that bubble? Donald Trump. Shortly after selling my house, I received a news release and invitation from Trump's company. The tycoon was hosting a party at the Bonnet House in Fort Lauderdale to promote condos for sale at his new (and not yet built) Trump International Hotel & Tower.

There was a red carpet. Deco Drive was there. It was that kind of event, with finger food and an open bar. Trump didn't mingle with the attendees. Instead, he stood on a stage with his son Don Jr. while Wyclef Jean performed. At one point, Wyclef yelled to the audience: "If you're making money, put your hands together!"

Trump clapped from the stage. Then he and the audience pushed their hands toward the sky, as if the world's ceiling couldn't hold their absurdity. Wyclef continued his song's refrain:

Make money, money.

Make money, money.

The article I wrote, "Chump Tower," predicted the real-estate crash and the failure of Trump's Fort Lauderdale project. I was right on both counts. We all know what happened to real estate in the late 2000s. And Trump's Fort Lauderdale project — which really wasn't his; he just licensed his tacky luxury brand name to it — ended up mired in lawsuits and was never built as a Trump property.

South Florida was filled with shysters like him. They drove the economy, and likely still do. Writing about many of them was a highlight of my career, from corrupt and violent cops at the Hollywood Police Department to a body armor company in Pompano Beach that knowingly sold defective vests to the U.S. military during the Iraqi insurgency. During my time at New Times, the staff-writer ranks were filled with, in a phrase editor Chuck Strouse borrowed from the 1920s New York Yankees, a murderers' row: Bob Norman, Tristram Korten, Wyatt Olson, Sam Eifling, Julia Reischel, Francisco Alvarado, and Jeff Stratton, to name only a few.

We were all building sources, digging through court records, and visiting unseemly places. And we all had the same goal: to call out South Florida's many Trumps as chumps.

People we wrote about were thrown out of office, lost their jobs, got arrested. But here's what I've discovered: You can't sink 'em all. Last year, Trump was elected president, proving at the very least that this nation could use a few more New Times readers.

(Aaronson is now an author and the executive director of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.)

P. Scott Cunningham, 2006–09

My abiding memory is not a colleague, an interview, or a story, but rather a gigantic pile of beer. I don't know where it came from, but when I arrived, there it was in the middle of the office: cases and cases of Asahi bottles forming a wall the length of a van and the height of a basketball player.

Despite its size, the pile had taken on an air of disuse, like a Christmas tree in February. We drank it warm, right out of the boxes, usually at afternoon meetings or during foosball games. This was 2008, the beginning of the recession. We weren't going to pay for beer if we didn't have to, and if it wasn't cold, so be it.

I was the assistant calendar editor, so time was my beat. My clock was the beer pile. I watched the bottles disappear from the cases and then the cases disappear from the stack. At some point, our offices moved from the second floor to the first floor and then to a new building entirely.

The Asahi did not make the journey. It stayed behind like a deputy in a disaster movie, holding the door open until the protagonists could escape. I'll never forget you, Asahi. You were stale and warm, but you were free. You're still free.

(Cunningham is now the founder and director of the O, Miami poetry festival and an author, with his first book due out soon;

Gus Garcia-Roberts, 2008–12

In the four years I spent at Miami New Times, the weekly rag was ruled by the ironfisted editor in chief Chuck Strouse, who, it is my understanding, has not yet been deposed.

I remember Chuck as a suspiciously energetic, guayabera-wearing Minnesotan who smelled strongly of microwave popcorn and manipulated web hits. A veteran of daily papers, Chuck liked hard-hitting news, but he also liked comic relief. Such stories usually involved his reporters prostrating themselves on the altar of "pranks," such as the scribe he sent through toll booths while fondling a live chicken or covering his face in shaving cream in order to — well, I'd have to reread the nut graf on that one.

Sometimes these pranks were indeed ways of getting at bigger issues, such as when I "graduated" from a Doral high-school-diploma mill after having Chuck's 8-year-old daughter complete my English lit final. I also waged an unsuccessful campaign to be commissioner of the town of Surfside; I really just didn't have another feature idea that month. I rarely turned down a Chuck idea, with the exception of when he asked me to blog "The Ten Hottest Sex Offenders in Miami."

Now I write for dailies, and during staid moments, I wish I could smell that Movie Theater Butter Orville Redenbacher and get an order to, say, interview wacky, waving, inflatable, arm-flailing tube men in North Miami Beach. Chuck is a big baseball fan, so it tickled me to no end when, during research for managing editor Tim Elfrink and my book about the massive Miami-based Biogenesis steroid scandal, I came across a confidential arbitration transcript in which the current commissioner of the multibillion-dollar sport, Rob Manfred, referred to Chuck. "I just can't remember what the guy's name is — I'm not sure it really matters, but he's the editor of the Miami New Times," Manfred wrote.

I, for one, won't forget you, Chuck, and what you made — and let — me do.

(Garcia-Roberts is now an author and an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times.)

Kyle Swenson, 2012–15

Hot damn, the shit we could get away with at New Times! And it was more than just smuggling "damn" and "shit" into newsprint (although, let's be honest, that was great). Hard news was the proud backbone, but the paper was also a mad scientist's lab of weird ideas and madcap gags.

On the writing staff, we had this incredible leeway to run wild with stories that would never play in a traditional outlet. I once tried out for the police academy and wrote about it. Another assignment involved taking a Pitbull impersonator (Mr. 786) around Dolphin Mall, stirring up a chonga riot in our wake. Hell, I even wrote 5,000 words about scouring SoFla for a bar that served a $1 draft beer at happy hour, a Holy Grail quest that purported to be about nothing less than the vanishing soul of South Florida.

My wildest, most bizarre story, though, was my weekend with the Society for Creative Anachronism, a kind of Renaissance fair on steroids. There were nerd warrior kings who had overdosed on Game of Thrones and spent their weekends strapping into actual medieval armor and bashing one another with sticks and swords. I remember standing in the broiling Florida sun, sweating through an itchy-as-hell period tunic and metal armor, waiting to get my ass knocked around by beefy wannabe Galahads, thinking how no other journalist in the nation — maybe the world? — was filling a workday with an assignment like this.

(Swenson is now a staff writer for the Washington Post and a nonfiction author. His first book, Good Kids, Bad City, is forthcoming in 2018.)

Other New Times writers who've become published authors include Tim Elfrink, Emily Witt, Mariah Blake, Bob Norman, Michael Mooney, Pete Collins, Luther Campbell, Tamara Lush, Jen Karetnick, Tony Ortega, Jacob Katel, Brantley Hargrove, Tom Austin, Art Levine, and Jim DeFede.

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