Observer folding not unexpected; print newspapers a dying breed

It was a sad day for many of us when The Observer closed its doors a week ago, but not unexpected with print newspapers all over the country slowly dying.
I for one have had some happy experiences with The Observer over the last few decades, but mostly when newspapers were in their heyday.

When political correctness overtook the papers in the area, it became very difficult for me to get much of my material published.

However, Jim Jones at The Observer was ready and willing to publish most of what I had to say. His point of view was that my material tended to stir up interest and drew many opposing points of view.

One article in particular printed about 20 years ago pointed out all the fallacies and shortcomings of the Social Security system.

It evoked angry replies especially concerning the point that there was no Social Security Trust fund as such, just worthless IOU’s that could only be redeemed with taxpayer money. This point was conceded years later in Time magazine when the government admitted that there was no such thing as a Social Security trust fund.

Jim Jones was very good as an editor at getting New Smyrna Beach residents involved with the daily newspaper and had many Smyrna natives writing for him such as Fran Macgrath.

Jones also had a column in which New Smyrnans were asked to offer their pet peeves.

Jones was a little loose in his refereeing of that column as it sometimes got hot and slightly out of control, but it was good for circulation and the people loved it along with the lively letters to the editor.

The secret of Jones'success was that he knew the community like the back of his hand and had it well covered so that the locals could read about what interested them.

It was a sad day when Jones left about 10 years ago and we went through a number of editors who didn’t reflect the pulse of the city anywhere near as well as Jones could, with the exception of the last editor of The Observer, when it was still a daily, and that was Henry Frederick.

Frederick, a tough-talking journalist with a lot of awards to back up that talk embarked on a constructive program that got New Smyrna readers interested in their paper once more.

I was one of them.

Mr. Frederick recruited local talent to write for him and was working to embody coverage that was of interest to local people.

Whenever he got a well written letter to the editor, Frederick endeavored to recruit that person as a regular contributor to the paper. This is a winning formula that he had used successfully with other newspapers he has been involved with.

Frederick also embarked on a program to do in depth interviews and articles about people who were of high local interest such as former Volusia County Councilman and radio personality Big John, State Attorney John Tanner and his past situations the Daytona Beach News-Journal wouldn't dare to touch. He also had extensive coverage of the tornadoes that raced through Central Florida, including here in New Smyrna Beach.

Frederick even had the staff work on a 10-day series on "Life on the West Side," chronicling the strength of the black neighborhood that had never been featured in such a comprehensive way before, dispelling racial and economic stereotypes that had been as old as the city itself.

Frederick's program was in the process of bearing fruit when the owners from out of town (and state, for that matter)showed up and decided to change the Observer into a weekly paper, hoping to save a few pennies.

Frederick was right in pointing out in his recent blog that this, of course, was the "death knell" for the paper, and seven months after Frederick was getting all of us excited, he was shown the door, the very same day he carried out the corporate ownership's wishes to make it into a weekly. Less than a year later, the paper was dead.

I quit writing for the weekly Observer the day Frederick was no longer there. Just like that, it reverted back to inane government-agenda reporting, headlines that were improperly sized or were grammatically incorrect and grip-and-grin photos that were either blurry or washed out. The free weeklies, The Breeze and The Edge, had the same old tired columns before The Edge was mercifully killed off and merged into now overcrowded and predictably boring Breeze.

The new "weekly" Observer started off with three sections, but was soon whittled down to one.

Despite the constant press breakdowns and shabby computer equipment, Frederick had high hopes for The Observer and a lot of Smyrnans like myself excited about journalism.

Not a day went by that his little Audi convertible wasn't parked out front -- days, nights, weekends. He claims he took that Fourth of July off in 2007, but I still have my doubts.

I owed the existence of my weekly column to Henry Frederick and no one else had ever offered me the opportunity to have a regular column. The Observer may be gone, but Frederick never really left.

Now with his daily on-line newspaper,, a day shy of two months old, he has everyone excited again. And I have my column back, except now he calls it a blog.

Newspapers are not what they used to be and certainly not in this economy. Anyone thinking about reinventing The Observer or The Breeze would be wasting money. Even the Daytona Beach News-Journal has cut back considerably in Southeast Volusia and is on the selling block.

With newsprint so expensive and distribution so costly with gas prices, print newspapers are on their way out.

It's time for Smyrnans to embrace 21st century media and rally around this worthwhile endeavor,, that serves our community well.