Hey, hey. Goodbye, Bob Norman.
Bob Norman broke the news that he is leaving New Times for WPLG-TV (Channel 10). This is great news for crooked politicians for I doubt Norman will ever be as effective on television as he has been these last 13 years in a throwaway paper that nobody reads – except for everybody who gives a damn what is going on in government.
Let’s correct that. Most people read Norman (pictured left, 2006) on his Internet blog, The Daily Pulp. That avoided the social stigma of being seen carrying around New Times, which might suggest you read all the lowlife ads that sustain this odd but important paper. The blog drew many comments; in fact the comments were part of the package which built a following as Norman broke just about every important story in recent years. They ranged from abuses at Broward Health (when it was the North Broward Hospital District) to Scott Rothstein’s sensational Ponzi antics, to misconduct by any number of elected officials, some of who are not yet in jail.
Many of the comments were silly, obscene and unfair. They were also almost always anonymous, which made for a forum on public affairs with a sort of candor that is never possible when people are held responsible for what they say. Some of the comments were highly informed. Norman built a network of followers who were also reliable sources. His more provocative posts drew hundreds of comments. Posters sometimes used names of public officials, who usually reacted by saying, “it ain’t me” writing this stuff. It was both the strength and the weakness of the blog. Those Norman outed could always tell themselves nobody reads this stuff, and if they do they don’t believe it. So it can be ignored as Pulp fiction.
Of course, it wasn’t ignored. Norman screamed foul so loud and often that eventually the Broward political system imploded, first with the feds and more recently with the state attorney, who after years of saying “leave that one for the feds” has now become aggressive in rooting out corruption. Some would call that self preservation. Norman ridiculed State Attorney Mike Satz for years, challenging him to do what state attorneys are elected to do, but because they are part of the same club, often find exposing friends an uncomfortable task.
His success led Norman to TV appearances. He’s pretty good, and in his parting announcement he said he has developed a taste for the form. But one of the advantages of working for the New Times was a certain protection from frightened editors, as well as a limited immunity from law suits, on the theory that most people did not take his medium that seriously, so proving damages might be tough. And there’s the advertising angle. Nothing Norman wrote in New Times was likely to provoke massage parlors or sex enhancers to cancel their schedules.
Not so with television. Again, a double edge, for with the clout of a major station comes the danger of alienating the money changers and scaring the station manager silly when lawyers begin calling. It is one thing to appear on screen as an occasionally muckraking celebrity guest and actually do your muckraking on the tube on a regular basis. Bob Norman has obviously thought this through, and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
One thing seems certain. The weird chemistry that made The Daily Pulp a must-read for many people is gone. Other blogs in New Times never had that following. We also wonder how much money has to do with Norman’s departure. He obviously didn’t take a pay cut. And New Times has been cutting back with the economy. When Gold Coast covered the paper four years ago, its issues sometimes ran over 100 pages. Today, about half that.