In Miami, a sun-baked mecca of American journalism is reduced to rubble

Miami Herald building_2

As we sped along the freeway over Biscayne Bay, I could still make out the distinctive features of the old Miami Herald office, even though the building was well on its way to being demolished.

I knew that the newspaper had moved and One Herald Plaza had been sold and was being torn down to make way for luxury condominiums. As our rental car zoomed past the demolition site, I couldn’t think of a more concrete (and rubble) symbol of today’s financially struggling newspaper industry. Even metro dailies that had the swagger of the Miami Herald can no longer afford waterfront addresses. 

In its heyday, the boxy, sun-baked corporate home of the Knight-Ridder Empire had many great reporters and writers, including Edna Buchanan, Dave Berry and Carl Hiaasen (Hiaasen still writes a kick-ass column for the Herald).

My earliest days as a journalist were spent at the Miami Herald, but not at One Herald Plaza. It was 130 miles north at the small storefront office that served as the Herald’s Fort Pierce, Fla., bureau.

I landed my first journalism job at the Herald when I was a student at Indian River Community College (now Indian River State College), also known among students then as the University of Virginia Avenue in Fort Pierce. My journalism advisor was Anne Wilder, who got me the part-time Herald gig, which included writing obituaries, a weekly community events column and the occasional feature story.

I loved Anne. She was skinny like a bird and had a disarming, full-throated guffaw. She also was tough and fair, and she was the first person to encourage me to pursue my dream of becoming a newspaper reporter.

Anne had been the Herald’s Treasure Coast bureau chief since 1961. To many of her readers Anne was the Herald, having covered the news there for decades. She carried around an old portable typewriter, which made it easier to file her stories when she covered murder trials in Okeechobee, a small cattle town 40 miles away. Anne also cared about the people she met and interviewed. She befriended Zora Neale Hurston, when the Harlem Renaissance writer wound up at the end of her life living in obscurity and poverty in a small house in Fort Pierce.

Anne was a pioneer, breaking into the business during a time when men tossed many obstacles in front of women to derail their success. I didn’t know this story about Anne until I read her obituary after she died in 2007. Back in the 1950s, she was a radio reporter and broke a national story about a deadly fire in nearby Stuart, Fla. Anne filed her report and tuned in to hear it on NBC Radio, only to feel betrayed because the network had re-recorded it with a male voice.

Anne was nearly 50 years my senior, but I could not match her energy and competitive spirit. Maybe it was because she was a Master swimmer. I remember meeting with Anne many times when her hair was still wet from her daily workout in the college’s Olympic-size pool. Today, Indian River State College’s nationally lauded swim and dive teams compete at the Anne Wilder Aquatic Complex.

A few weeks ago when our car zoomed past the rubble of One Herald Plaza, I thought about the days with my friend and mentor. After I told Anne of my plans to study journalism at the University of Florida, she drove me down to Miami to meet some of the people in the Herald newsroom. We had lunch at a fancy Miami restaurant with one of the editors before he had to zip back to his power office with the fantastic views of Biscayne Bay.