The Palm Beach Post has a simple approach to doing it right. "The Post is a traditional paper of record," says Editor Edward M. Sears. "We haven't tried to invent anything inside of that. We just stress good writing and reporting." This old-fashioned formula hasn't gone unnoticed. The paper gained national attention for its coverage of the 2000 Presidential Election and all those flawed ballots in its backyard. This year, it won a top American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) prize for team stories on local Bishop Anthony O'Connell's resignation after he admitted to allegations of sexual abuse.
The Post's image as a "rich people's" paper comes from assumptions about its audience and has practically nothing to do with its content, says Sears. "Some people think we live on that little island of coverage, but [it's] only a minor part of the paper," he says. The Post reports on everyone "from the richest people in the world to the poorest," he says. "Lake Okeechobee is the third world."
Competition from the Palm Beach Daily News, The Miami Herald and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel makes the Post a better paper, says Publisher Tom Giuffrida. "Competition requires us to spend more money on newsgathering," he says. "There are days when you wish you had the whole market to yourself ... but we have a bigger and stronger newsroom than other papers our size. We have to try harder for every reader."
The Post, with a daily circulation of 167,531, also reaches out to its readers with a lively editorial page that invites public discourse. "We have large numbers of people who disagree with us on damn near everything," says Sears, who is proud of the strong stand his paper takes against Everglade development projects and the fact the newspaper has never endorsed Gov. Jeb Bush. "We've been called a liberal paper," he says, "but I don't think we're that predictable."
The paper's ombudsman, C.B. Hanif, is a vital part of the Post's image of accountability. "There are times when I'd rather eat ground glass than read his column," says Sears. But Hanif's critiques of the paper run just the same, because the Post relies on another traditional value -- it serves readers, not itself.