Can Context Florida go where Florida Voices couldn't?

Posted by Mitch Perry on Tue, Aug 27, 2013 at 11:40 AM

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If you're reading this blog, I'm going to assume you're interested in Florida and/or Tampa Bay area politics. Most likely there are other local and national news media websites you'll check out at some time today, which brings me to the point that starting a new political site and hoping to attract sufficient eyeballs to make it viable is a large feat.

But it helps if you're as connected in the Florida political media industrial complex as Peter Schorsch, which might explain how the first day of his new site of original political commentary, Context Florida, got 12,730 hits (according to the ubiquitous blogger).

"You can get news from 50 different sources, but there's no place that's offering deep dive insights into the story that's going on," explained Schorsch in an interview with CL Tuesday morning.

Florida Voices, a similar site for Florida political commentary created by former Tampa Tribune page editor Rosemary Goudreau and former Tribune publisher Rosemary Curtiss, bit the dust in May after 18 months of publishing.

"We operated Florida Voices on a shoe string and paid people next to nothing, and still couldn't make the numbers add up to a viable business, Gourdreau wrote in a final note to her readers.

Schorsch — whose media empire includes his own blog, saintpetersblog.com, and his daily email update, "Sunburn" — was an admirer of Florida Voices, but he said his new business model offers more hope than Gourdreau and Curtiss' venture did.

"I don't think that anybody else in Florida has the social media footprint that I do as a publisher," he said somewhat immodestly, adding that Context Florida was mentioned 340 times on Twitter on Monday. He also said that many of his contributors — who include some former Florida Voices columnists such as Martin Dyckman — are also bloggers who are very connected to social media and can drive traffic to the site.

In a press release, Schorsch promised that there will be four new op-eds on the site daily. On the first day of official operations, one of the featured articles — by Linda Cunningham, editor of KeyWestWatch — was about how unaccommodating city officials are in Key West when it comes to solar roof panels.

Another feature was from Karen Cyphers, who is a regular reporter for "Sunburn." Always informative but sometimes tinged with a conservative bent, Cyphers' initial entry was a take-down on a bill proposed by Tallahassee Democratic Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda that would require the retail labeling of all genetically modified foods; Cyphers dismissed the bill as "well-intentioned but misguided."

There was also a piece by Rick Outzen bashing Jeb Bush and his education legacy in Tallahassee.

On Tuesday there was a piece by Barney Bishop praising Marco Rubio for his stance on immigration reform, and a column by former Pensacola News Journal reporter Mark O'Brien about how Elvis Presley never got "all shook up" for paying much higher taxes back in the day than he would if he were alive today.

There are also several pieces written months ago. Schorsch said ideally he would have held off publishing until next month, but he had advertisers who were ready to go, so the site is in somewhat of a "soft launch" until mid-September.

Can it survive longer than Florida Voices? Schorsch is proud of the fact that the enterprise has been created as a non-profit, allowing him to be eligible for grants and small dollar donations (he's paying for contributions). He'll also offer his columns to any newspaper in the state to run free of charge.

"We are going to be much more transparent than Sunshine State News, or Sayfie Review, or even SaintPetersBlog," he insisted, adding that he looks at the whole concept as providing more analysis for Floridians to make sense of the world.

"This isn't just another way for me to pay for dresses for my daughter," he said. "In this really shitty era for journalism this is maybe one of the good stories."

On an unrelated note, Schorsch also outed himself on Facebook as the man behind the guy in the chicken suit who was dogging Kathleen Ford for ducking out on debates back in July.

Earlier this summer, Tampa Bay Times reporter John Woodrow Cox wrote a story about speculation on who the chicken was, with Schorsch forcefully pushing back on the idea that he was behind it. Schorsch admitted he was evasive when being interviewed by Cox, but said it was a "Clintonian evasiveness."

Today on Twitter, Cox wrote, "St. Petersblog confesses to what everyone already knew: he orchestrated chicken prank, lied about it."

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