For the love and pride of libraries, and the stupidity of five commissioners in Citrus County

November 12, 2019 1:46 pm

The New York Times. Photo by Diane Rado.

Citrus County wasn’t always quite so backward.

There was a time when libraries were pillars of the community, providing access to books, newspapers and other learning opportunities. Libraries in Citrus were places that valued reading and the news.

Now, the entire County Commission has voted against spending a mere $2,700 annually to put the daily digital New York Times in the hands of 70,000 patrons, at no cost to those who have library cards. It’s a great opportunity to give citizens access to the nation’s largest newspaper.

The commissioners took the stand in support of President Donald Trump who doesn’t like what the NYT and most newspapers are printing these days. Trump declared war on reporters the minute he decided to run for office. He knew how much he had to hide from the public to win.

My career as a reporter began in the Crystal River Library, part of the same system now making headlines across the nation for the stupidity of five county commissioners.

In 1965, when Crystal River Librarian Brownie Searle gave my name to Ocala Star Banner editor Frances DeVore, the libraries in the county were held in high esteem by citizens. They believed in reading and writing and knowing what was going on in the outside world. Mrs. DeVore went to the library in search of a writer for her paper.

Back then access to a major national newspaper would have been greeted with joy.

Actually the library had been my refuge for years.

We lived in Crystal River where I was a stay-at-home mother of three children.  We had very little money and depended on the library for virtually everything we read.  When asked about recommending someone to write for the paper, Mrs. Searle told them I read more books than anyone else in town.

And so it happened that after Ocala correspondent Barbara Holland died in a traffic accident, the Ocala editor knocked on my door and asked if I would like to write for the paper.

I was surprised because I had absolutely no experience writing for a paper and wondered why she would ask.

“The local librarian tells me you read more books than anyone else in town, so I figured maybe you could write.’’ Mrs. DeVore responded.

It was initially a part-time job, covering the Crystal River City Council, the Levy County Commission meetings in Bronson, civic clubs, fatal traffic accidents and crime in the two counties.  They paid me 20 cents an inch for every story they published and $5 for pictures taken with a heavy Yashica camera and flash bulbs which the paper furnished.  As a result I have never been able to write a short story.

At Crystal River Council meetings, I quickly learned that the city commissioners were accustomed to telling the reporters who covered them when to stop writing.  This was before Florida had an open meetings law and they had been accustomed to having a pretty big say in what got written.  I had never had a journalism class but it somehow didn’t seem right to overlook important activity like building a new sewer system or firing the police chief.

It was the beginning of life as a reporter who sometimes managed to rock the boat.  And it was a lot of fun.

After a few months they gave me a full-time job as a staff writer at Ocala and I was enjoying it a lot – all because of a Library in Citrus County. A few years later I moved to the St. Petersburg Times, now the Tampa Bay Times, where I spent more than 48 years writing about Florida and its politicians.

You can imagine how I felt last week when I read that the incredibly narrow-minded county commission was dumb enough to vote against giving access to the nation’s largest newspaper to  70,000 citizens in the area.

I hear they plan to take the issue up again at their next meeting.  Someone should serve a bit of crow.

They have made the Citrus County look stupid, all in the name of supporting President Trump and his “fake news’’ complaints.

The truth is that “fake news’’ for Trump is any news that he doesn’t like. No newspaper is perfect but American newspapers are not “enemies of the people.’’

His attacks on the nation’s free press and all who disagree with him have created a sharply divided nation that is more threatening to our Democracy than any foreign power.

Someone needs to educate the county commissioners, maybe show them the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Maybe someone can read it to them.

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Lucy Morgan
Lucy Morgan

Pulitzer Prize-winner Lucy Morgan was chief of the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times capital bureau in Tallahassee for 20 years, retiring in 2006 and serving as senior correspondent until 2013. She was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame and the Florida Newspaper Hall of Fame. The Florida Senate named its press gallery after Morgan, in honor of her two decades covering the Legislature.