Earlier this week, the Miami Herald and Orlando Sentinel collectively attacked The Capitolist and maligned our work as they typically do with other businesses in the state. Their stories relied entirely on leaked, private, and sometimes proprietary emails that focused on The Capitolist’s growth strategy in the already extremely competitive Florida news environment. That then triggered the predictable, legacy media pile-on. In typical fashion, other newspapers, like the Tallahassee Democrat, tried to get in on the action by sloppily copying the work of others. The end result was a dumpster fire of misleading headlines, mangled assertions, and falsely attributed quotes that proliferated across the internet.
Notably, none of the stories found any fault with the facts of The Capitolist’s reporting over the six years we’ve been in business. Instead their stories focused on juicy gossip about our sponsors, real or not, and even business plans I’ve floated that were entirely independent and separate from The Capitolist’s existing operations. Readers of the articles were also treated to candid conversations about how we operate as a newsroom, and a few specific stories we published with input from a broad range of people, including site sponsors. Some newspapers even tossed in unrelated and false personal attacks that are unworthy of a response.
What is worthy of a response is the media’s pearl-clutching complaint that our content doesn’t follow their old-school journalistic ethics. The Orlando Sentinel attempted to explain the perceived problem to their readers using the shopworn tactic of quoting a so-called “expert” to dumb everything down:
“If readers don’t know why story selections are being made or what is influencing story selection,” said [Rutgers University associate journalism professor Susan] Keith, “that’s where things are dangerous.”
Yet unlike the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, or just about any other traditional newspaper in the state, we’ve always made it perfectly clear “why story selections are being made or what is influencing story selection.” It’s quite simple: we are sponsored by many Florida businesses and organizations and we selectively publish stories about them, about other Florida businesses who are not sponsors, and about Florida public policy and politics. And we tell those stories because, more often than not, the legacy media doesn’t. We wouldn’t exist if the traditional media could be counted on to give everyone a fair shake.
Our business model and our content mix is as transparent as any other media outlet in the state. That’s because, unlike some outlets that pretend to be “objective,” we’ve always been quite up front about what we believe and how we’re funded – by businesses and organizations who share those views and want their side of the story told. The Orlando Sentinel even begrudgingly acknowledged that much:
The Capitolist purports to be a legitimate news site, saying it seeks to “tell more complete stories” about businesses and policy that might be overlooked by traditional outlets.
I launched The Capitolist six years ago because, as a public relations consultant and spokesman for high profile people and individuals, I got tired of pitching stories to reporters and/or their editors, many with hidden political agendas but who pretended to be “objective journalists.” When their stories were published, they frequently injected their personal political bias to slant stories or excluded key information that was important to me or my clients.
Since the very beginning, I have never hidden the fact that my site cannot function without sponsor and advertiser support, and I have always made it clear that my sponsors include a number of Florida-based businesses and organizations who believe in the work that I do. We even regularly report the number of sponsors and advertisers who support our work. Advertisers in The Capitolist are obviously identified on the very ads we run. Those who donate because they support The Capitolist’s mission are not identified so that they are not subjected to competing requests for financial support from other media, websites, etc. The same business practice is used by many other competing digital outlets right here in Florida and around the nation. Our readers are not being misled; anyone can click the “About” page to learn more about our mission and focus, or download our pitch decks which we’ve posted publicly for years to attract those sponsors.
That level of transparency and clear ambition – we didn’t name the site “The Capitolist” by accident – has helped drive our incredible growth over the last six years. More than 40,000 people subscribe to our daily email, The ReCap, and nearly that many people are also fans of our site on Facebook, because they find our reporting valuable.
I stand by every story The Capitolist has ever published, all 4,425 of them since we launched. That includes more than 75 percent of our content written by our talented team of reporters, nine different people over the years. Our roster of current or past staff includes former legacy media journalists, and young men and women fresh out of college, all who hunt down and report on the factual, day-to-day happenings in Florida’s business, policy and political worlds with integrity and a focus on the facts.
Every sponsor that supports the site, and every reader who’s spent any time on the site knows that I believe in conservative, free market, pro-business principles. I am a capitalist, but not a mercenary. My views and principles don’t shift based on who is sponsoring our site.
The attacks against The Capitolist this week also falsely stated that our newsroom was “controlled” by Florida Power & Light, but the plain facts and sheer volume of our work tell a far different story: of those 4,425 news stories we’ve published, just 52 of them even mention FPL at all, and 43 of those stories were completely routine coverage of news events or press releases sent to every news outlet in the state, a few stories that included criticisms of FPL, and syndicated coverage by News Service of Florida, a third-party content provider that most other media outlets in the state rely on as well.
The remaining nine stories that can’t be classified as “routine,” I wrote personally. Three of those were plainly labeled as “opinion” pieces, and the remaining six were stories that either I hunted down on my own, or were pitched by consultants or public relations executives. And regardless of who pitched them, I found them worthy of further investigation and publication as legitimate news stories. Like the Miami Herald and the Orlando Sentinel, The Capitolist receives dozens of story pitches weekly from a broad array of people. If we think a story has merit, we follow up in news or opinion columns as appropriate.
I challenge the Miami Herald or Orlando Sentinel to identify any factual errors in any of those stories. They have not done so because those stories typically involve their own failures (here’s another example), or they cannot refute the facts.
One of the motivations behind all of the salty media hullabaloo this week is the fact that over the last six years, The Capitolist has outcompeted, embarrassed or exposed several legacy media outlets – either by beating them at their own game, reporting stories they’d prefer to ignore, or catching them red-handed as they tip the scales to suit their own undisclosed agenda.
Here’s just a few examples:
In January of 2020, we scooped every legacy media outlet in the state on Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried’s false financial disclosures. Even after we broke the story, Florida’s media ignored it for 18 months. But our relentless coverage ultimately led to the revelation that she intentionally hid her ownership interest in a medical marijuana company. Thanks to our reporting, the state ethics commission found probable cause that she violated state financial disclosure laws. Only in June of 2021 did Florida’s legacy media outlets report the story. Sadly, the Orlando Sentinel’s resident clown columnist, Scott Maxwell, brazenly took credit on behalf of his newspaper for “recently revealing” her financial conflicts, and made no mention of The Capitolist breaking the story a year and a half earlier.
We also caught the Palm Beach Post red-handed, lying to their readers about who actually paid for a year-long reporting project on pre-harvest sugar cane burning – and we even got the Post’s executive editor on the phone, causing him to later admit that the reporter’s annual salary had been paid by a dark money group that doesn’t disclose its donors.
We criticized the Miami Herald after bureau chief Mary Ellen Klas’s unethical interference with the extremely sensitive and politically charged redistricting process. Klas was caught on audio passing along legal strategy from an elections lawyer to a Democratic senator in order to bolster a future legal challenge from Democrats.
Two weeks ago, we ripped the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post for falsely claiming to be champions of transparency after they filed a legal motion to intervene in a local criminal case in order to unseal gossipy witness testimony from the ex-wife of the prosecutor who happens to be friends with the accused. Interesting? Maybe. But important? Probably not. At the same time, both newspapers ignored a similarly sealed court case between the powerful Everglades Foundation, which has influenced billions of dollars in state and federal spending, and their former chief scientist, who accused them of putting politics before science.
A week later, we embarrassed both newspapers by doing what they should have done in the first place: we filed a motion to intervene and unseal those documents – and we were subsequently joined in the motion by the Florida Bulldog, another independent, digital news site. I’m pleased to report some good news on that front: we expect those records will be unsealed very soon.
That’s just a brief list of the times we have either scooped or poked our state’s legacy newspapers in the eye for their failure to do their jobs properly. Clearly, we have been a thorn in their side for the last six years – if we weren’t, they wouldn’t have expended so much ink to discredit us just because our business model doesn’t follow their old school notion of journalism principles. Then again, judging from their own murky ownership structures and secret benefactors, most of them don’t follow old school journalism principles, either.
I said it before, but it’s worth repeating: I stand by everything we’ve published. Our content is factual and our news stories are valid. Without The Capitolist, many of those important stories would simply never be told.