Founded in 1864 and first published under its current name on February 4, 1883, The Florida Times-Union is Northeast Florida’s oldest and most prestigious journalistic organization. Unfortunately, even its most vocal advocates would admit that they’ve fallen on hard times lately, part of a deeply disturbing pattern among print media outlets all over the country. But first-rate work is still being done daily by people like Nate Monroe, one of the city’s most respected reporters.
At last count, there were more than 100 cities in America that no longer have their own daily newspaper, and that list grows with every fiscal quarter, as media consolidation grinds slowly toward its long-anticipated endgame. The T-U has never seen darker days, but even in the darkness there is light, as their writers and photographers have continued their uphill charge toward excellence, continuing to produce compelling work and doing right by the legacy they’ve inherited. Enter Nate Monroe.
A six-year veteran of our paper of record, Monroe was born in Independence Missouri in 1988. He spent most of his childhood in Louisiana, where he graduated from LSU in 2010 and where he got his start in the business. He debuted in Florida for the Pensacola News-Journal before moving to the T-U, in which capacity he has witnessed the most tumultuous period in that paper’s history. “There were about 100 people in the newsroom when I got here in 2013,” he says. “There are less than half that many full-time staffers now… The bright spot, however, is the newsroom leadership we have in our editor, Mary Kelli Palka. She has really prioritized the kind of accountability and investigative journalism that make up the lifeblood of any strong newspaper, and for that reason the changes here have impacted my work far less than they might have without her.”
As we speak (literally), what remains of their embattled staff have just finished the emotionally draining task of shutting down operations at their fabled headquarters at 1 Riverside Avenue, a shrine to the old-school around which the media in Northeast Florida revolved for 52 years. “There are still a few people here who worked in our Riverside Avenue building for decades,” he says. “And maybe they felt a bit more attachment to the place than I did. The buildings always seemed a bit of a last-days journalism relic to me—cavernous and obviously built for far more people than it housed. That’s a long way of saying our new home in Wells Fargo Center has been a welcome change. There are plenty of windows, for starters.”
Monroe’s column “It’s Easier Here?”, which he started in January, pushes back against the most recent in a series of weird slogans the city has had, but the humor is balanced against a fine eye for the kind of investigative journalism we don’t see nearly enough of these days. He’s written about 30 of them so far, and the official response has been about what you would expect. But Monroe is unfazed. “It’s part of the job,” he says. “The newspaper leadership has always backed me 100%.” And that support has paid dividends, literally and figuratively, drawing fresh eyes to the paper during a phase of declining readership. He’s most proud of his coverage of Corrine Brown’s tragic downfall, as well a series chronicling the long-term impact of federal dredging projects on storm surge in the St. Johns River. (Both of these projects were collaborations with Steve Patterson, another excellent reporter.)
New ownership had long ago shaved personnel to the bone, forcing out icons of the business and bleeding market-share at every step. The iconic printing presses were shut down, that work outsourced to Gainesville, while their archives were boxed up and sent to the Jacksonville Public Library, where they will forever remain primary source documents covering 150 years of local history. But history doesn’t stop, and Monroe is actively cultivating its next phase, with style.