Need a job? Political reporters wanted in Florida

This post has been updated to note that The Tampa Bay Times has filled its statehouse opening.

If you’re a journalist hunting for a new gig, you may want to send your resume down to the Sunshine State.

Political reporters in particular are in demand these days in Florida, in part because of the natural churn in jobs, but also because of Politico’s recent expansion into the state, which is only partially complete.

It undoubtedly helps that three declared 2016 Republican presidential candidates—Sen. Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, and Mike Huckabee—reside in Florida, and the most well-known all-but-declared candidate is a former governor here. Also a likely factor: Florida’s infamous history as the swing state with a newsworthy difficulty counting votes.

Everyone from Al Jazeera to Politico has been talking to political and investigative reporters in Florida, trying to woo them, even as wire services Bloomberg and the Associated Press were both recently advertising interesting political jobs. The Associated Press position is to replace political reporter Mike Mishak, who went to the National Journal in March to cover the presidential campaign. Meanwhile, Topher Sanders, The Florida Times-Union’s investigative reporter, announced last week on Twitter that he has been hired by ProPublica to cover racial inequality.

Politico’s moves are probably the most interesting as they come after the outlet poached Marc Caputo, the Miami Herald’s senior political writer, in January and snagged Michael Kruse and Bill Duryea, an excellent longform journalism reporter-editor team from the Tampa Bay Times in November. Now, Politico is preparing to open a news bureau in Tallahassee.

Caputo (with whom I worked at the Herald) told me Politico is expecting to hire between three and seven reporters and is planning for the long haul.

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“Politico doesn’t want to expand in Tallahassee because Jeb and Rubio are running,” he said. “The politics and policy that come out of Florida matter more than any other state. They see an opportunity for coverage. I don’t think the value of Florida is going to go away.”

If Politico’s planned bureau in Tallahassee turns out to be as large as they’re talking about, it will rival that of the Tampa Bay Times and the Miami Herald, which combined forces several years ago to serve up statehouse coverage to both papers. That bureau is seeing some changes, after husband-and-wife team Kathleen McGrory, of the Herald, and Michael Van Sickler, of the Times, moved to the Tampa/St. Pete area to work for the Times. The Times has already replaced Van Sickler and neither paper is going to want to let McGrory’s job stay open for long.

All of this interest from national news outlets puts downward pressure on the big regional papers, although the Tampa Bay Times probably unleashed some of the pressure on itself last fall, when the paper’s CEO told staff “this is a good time to consider your options.”

As my colleague, T.R. Goldman reported, the paper had lost half a dozen top reporters and editors by the end of 2014. Duryea called it a “fire sale,” with editors all over the country calling down to Florida. I’ve heard The Washington Post might still be sniffing around.

That kind of movement ripples down to the smaller papers pretty quickly.

“This has always been a market where you have big national players trying to pick off talent,” said Manny Garcia, editor of the Naples Daily News and before that a reporter and top editor for years at the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald. “It’s probably more pronounced now because you’ve got two likely candidates, possibly more, from Florida. You have a state with a rich base of talented journalists whether it’s in policy or watchdog, so you’re going to be very attractive to national news organizations and even partisan groups.”

Last time around, we didn’t have Florida candidates running for president, but we did have battles over Florida purging its voter rolls, restricting early voting, and of course, that notorious counting problem (though it turned out not to matter in 2012, we were still counting down here for days after the election).

In the months before Election Day 2012, the recruiting heated up down here, with even some rather odd folks calling around looking for short-term commitments. I was contacted by what as far as I could tell was a Republican opposition research organization–they wouldn’t tell me exactly who they were working for, and clearly hadn’t researched me very well (I don’t do partisan, or work for shady characters). That was a little closer to the election and we may get there yet. For the moment, it’s legitimate media trawling the Florida journalism waters.

That has people like the Naples Daily News’ Garcia keeping an eye out.

“You have to have a pipeline because sometimes you’re going to lose people,” he said.

Bill Church, Executive Editor of the Sarasota Herald Tribune, knows that all too well. The Tampa Bay Times has recently grabbed his political editor, an investigative reporter and his retail and tourism reporter.

“I really have a lot of respect for the Times, and they apparently have a lot of respect for the Herald Tribune,” Church told me. “If there’s a silver lining, it’s the fact that newspapers and media are hiring.”

Church was happy to report he’s going to be able to fill all three positions and he said he’s been pleased with the candidates he’s been getting, some from out of state.

“If you can survive the summers here, the rest is heaven,” he said. “The demographics and dynamics of Florida really make it a unique media market. We still care about journalism that makes a difference in the community.”

As I wrote in January, several smaller papers in Florida have outsized ambitions and both Naples and Sarasota rolled out impressive statewide investigations last year.

I’ve also highlighted the work of the Jacksonville-based Florida Times-Union, which I noted was raising hell and keeping officials honest under the leadership of editor Frank Denton. Denton told me this week he is looking for an investigative editor to replace Topher Sanders and is also looking for a business reporter and a business editor.

“And we’re not being inundated with experienced, qualified, accomplished applicants,” he said, via email.

Reporters around the country should be polishing those resumes; Opportunity awaits in the Sunshine State.

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Susannah Nesmith is CJR’s correspondent for Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. She is a freelance writer based in Miami with more than 25 years working for regional and national outlets. Follow her on Twitter @susannahnesmith.