Close to 1,000 former Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald staffers descended on One Herald Plaza Wednesday afternoon. Reporters. Advertising executives. Printing-press mechanics. Bookkeepers. Publishers. Janitors. They all came to pay their final respects to the place that has defined journalism in this city for the last 50 years. Sometime in May, the presses will shut down for the last time as Miami's major daily newspaper packs up for its move out west to Doral.
So Herald bigwigs organized an open-house gathering to celebrate the memories and legacies created at One Herald Plaza, from winning 20 Pultizer Prizes to churning out great journalists such as Edna Buchanan and Carl Hiassen to being the beacon for hard-hitting daily news in a city that desperately needs chronicling.
Banana Republican stopped by the festivities, catching up with some of the former and current scribes, who recalled some of their favorite moments during the bittersweet occasion.
Lydia Martin, who grew up in Little Havana, joined the Miami Herald in 1986. During her 25-year career, she covered daily news before moving into the Features section, where she wrote a popular column interviewing celebrities and well-known public figures. In 1985, she got her foot in the door as a stringer freelancing for the Miami Beach Neighbors section. She would travel to every police station from Miami Beach to Sunny Isles Beach, collecting reports for the Police Blotter. When she graduated from college a year later, the paper hired her.
"This was home," Martin recalls. "When I was 13 years old, we had just moved from Flint, Michigan. I told my mother: 'See that building. I'm going to work there one day.' Obviously, I didn't set my sights high enough."
Covering the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew was one of her fondest memories. "Reporters lost their homes in South Dade, yet they came in every day," she says. "People hadn't changed their clothes in days, slept under their desks, and were eating crap from the cafeteria because there was barely anything left to eat. There was a shower in the women's bathroom that still had water. People would line up to use it. That's one of the cool things about being a journalist. When shit happens -- even when you've worked 15-hour days and you are not ever going to get overtime pay -- you respond to the story."
Tom Fiedler, who served as the paper's executive editor from 2001 to 2007, remembers the first time he stepped through the glass doors in September 1973. At the time, he was a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel interviewing for a government reporter position at the Miami Herald. "I remember thinking, If I get a job here, this is the major leagues," Fiedler says. "I came up shaking in my shoes. To my astonishment, they offered me a job."
Fiedler's career at One Herald Plaza spanned more than 30 years, highlighted by his ground-breaking exposé in 1987 of then-presidential contender Gary Hart's extramarital affair with Miami model Donna Rice. Fiedler had not been back to Miami since leaving the paper six years ago to become the dean of the college of communications at Boston University. "[One Herald Plaza] was my life," he says.
Amid all the hoopla, the current news staffers still had a paper to put out. El Nuevo Herald Executive Editor Manny Garcia, who has been on a number of the paper's Pultizer Prize-winning teams, took a short break from working with Miami Herald political reporter Marc Caputo on another hard-hitting piece about disgraced former Congressman David Rivera.
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Garcia remembers getting a call from his front-page editor the Saturday before Memorial Day last year to let him know they were changing the lead story for Sunday. Something about a naked guy chewing the face off a homeless man before the cops shot him dead right outside One Herald Plaza.
"I don't think the editors at the New York Times sit at the page-one meetings talking about a naked guy eating someone's face," Garcia says. "It is those Miami moments that I remember the most. This city is the candy store of American journalism."
Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.