The Pensacola News-Journal is the principal messenger of print-based journalism to those living in Escambia County, Florida. In fact, the only alternatives are weeklies that typically follow the same ideological stripe and rarely threaten the status quo. The News-Journal is a daily that arrives on the driveways of residents seven days a week. Since it is a Gannett paper it bears a strong relationship in form to the USA Today that can be bought from vending machines that are always placed alongside News-Journal vending machines throughout the county. The paper is therefore rather unimaginatively sectioned: the front page section that deals primarily with news of national interest and the most sordid of local news deemed worthy of inclusion, a local section devoted to less tabloidesque news, a money section that does its part to inculcate the notion that it is every American’s duty to spend like one of the drunken sailors that routinely can be found on the city’s streets, the sports section and then a life section that apparently confuses the meaning of life with being entertained.
With rare exceptions, photojournalism is done in monotone; very few color pictures ever make it into the newspaper except for the front page. The Pensacola News-Journal relies mostly on wire services for national stories, while the local news is covered by beat of local writers, most of whom have been the same for the past twenty years or so. Recently, the paper has began to expand toward offering newer writers columns to express opinion rather than the five W’s, but to a person their opinions are all dishearteningly mainstream and written in a style that reminds you of a high school paper.
Escambia County, Florida may very well be the single most conservative voting district in the United States. As an example, Richard Nixon was considered too liberal in 1968, so Escambia County was one of only a handful of voting districts that third party candidate George Wallace actually carried. To be fair, the conservatism of residents is mostly made evidence in the letters section, which daily contain rants claiming that the Pensacola News-Journal is run by communists. Any normal person who picked up Pensacola News-Journal could immediately tell you that the only thing that the editorial direction of the paper and communism have in common is the vitriol directed at them by the bulk of clueless individuals who live in the area. Citizens appear at times to almost be organized in their effort to flood the letters to the editor page with opinions exalting the wit and wisdom of Republican lawmakers while taking the usual route of avoiding having to explain the mind-numbingly bad decision making of Republican politicians by choosing instead to attack people with the last name Clinton rather than logically explain how the policies of the Republicans have helped any but the richest 1% of Americans.
It is a stone cold fact that in comparison to the majority of people making up the demographics of Escambia County the Pensacola News Journal is more liberal. It does a body good to see a recent editorial, for instance, pointing out how Bush has gotten himself lodged firmly between a rock and a hard place by continuing to support Pakistan’s terrorist-supporting dictator while at the same time responding to all criticism of both foreign and domestic policy with reminders that they are fighting a war on terror. That is the kind of editorial you might expect in Berkeley or some paper in Vermont. It is too bad that the rest of the Pensacola News-Journal does not live up the ideal of the editorial page.
The local section covers locally generated news stories not covered in the front page section. As with most local papers, unless you reside in the geographic area that paper is delivered in, this section can be used to line your parakeet cage. Since Pensacola is located firmly within the football belt you can expect to find an inordinate amount of coverage of what possibly is the most gay of all sports. (I’m just saying, okay; I mean the sport is constructed on the iconic image of men in tight pants bent over in the most submissive position in organized sport, and there seems to be a questionable amount of piling on these days, don’t yoyu agree? And that’s not even to mention the totally gay showboating of queens like Terrell Owens.) Coverage in a town like Pensacola treats high school football with no less seriousness than the NFL, though the most rabid of coverage is reserved for the true religion of Dixie; not Baptist, but college football. To be perfectly honest, a reader of the Pensacola News-Journal is far more likely to find out information in sickly detail about certain college football teams than any professional football team. The bulk of the paper of the coverage, which can often spill onto the front page around bowl time if any of the regional favorites are in contention for a national championship, will focus on the geographic rivalries: Florida/FSU/Miami; Alabama/Auburn. If you are visiting the area from the northern US or from outside the US, don’t expect to keep up to date on hockey or soccer. These sports receive almost non-existent coverage from the paper. And rightly so. Heck, neither really qualifies as a real sport, do they?
The life/entertainment section deals with everything from local theater and rock concert coverage to books and television. Within these pages you will be treated to reviews of Hollywood blockbusters, but don’t expect to find out much about minor independent offerings unless two things happen: 1) Roger Ebert reviews them and 2) the wildly unlikely chance they are shown on a local theater. On Friday, the paper issues the Weekender section, a multi-page addendum that outlines upcoming cultural events for the weekend.
Local columnists are featured every day along with a rotating list of nationally known columnists ranging from Molly Ivins to Cal Thomas. The editorial page is the also the locale for the opposition ideologies expressed in the comic strips Doonesbury and Mallard Fillmore. And on the subject of comic strips, the Pensacola News-Journal continues to rerun strips of Peanuts in place of a new, topical comic strip. Don’t expect to find Opus since the paper only ran Berkeley Breathed’s Sunday-only follow-up to the late, lamented Bloom County, Outland, for about a month. Instead, the comics page is packed with unthreatening fare from Garfield to For Better or Worse. The comics page is mournfully insufficient not only because it doesn’t include more cutting edge far, but also because the comics are shrunk down to a size that doubtlessly requires a magnifying glass for the bulk of those who find those comics funny to actually be able to read. The Sunday color comics page is more regrettable, offering few Sunday editions of the daily strips and editing them down to bare essentials.
The Pensacola News-Journal follows the traditional uncreative approach of adding such things as a small crossword puzzle, capsule horoscopes, a three hour TV grid, an advice column and a Billy Graham advice column. Local citizens are invited not only to write letters but also are offered the opportunity to write a mini-column that speaks out on an issue of local interest. Although the Pensacola News-Journal is to be praised for its refusal to become merely a mouthpiece for the deeply conservative leanings of most of its readers, it is also to be questioned for its own conservative choice of daily syndicated newspaper fare.