Well, this is it. The last edition of Hernando Today
For almost 28 years, Hernando Today has been bringing readers the news of Hernando County. I was fortunate to be part of most of that, having started in 1990.
When the paper started, we were on a two-lane highway called State Road 50. Our editorial offices were on one side of the road and production-advertising was across the street. That meant crossing the road with the proof pages on a daily basis. Needless to say, not many of our staff volunteered to carry the pages during one of those infamous summer thunderstorms.
Today, Hernando County is a thriving community of 175,000.
I’ve seen the corner of S.R. 50 and Mariner Boulevard transform from trees and sand hills to the busiest commercial hub in the county.
I covered the opening of Sunrise Plaza near Interstate 75 and S.R. 50 — the first major shopping outlet for folks on the county’s eastside.
I was there for the widening of Elgin Boulevard, the opening of the Suncoast Parkway, the Hernando Beach dredge project, the restoration of Chinsegut Manor and the opening of the airport control tower.
I’ve seen dozens of county commission lineups and worked with more county administrators than I can count.
But rather than make this a litany of first-hand accounts, I would rather address this — my last published work for Hernando Today — to the faithful readers who have stuck with us for so long and enjoyed some of the best reporting from the many professionals I have had the honor of working with for the past 24 years.
Hernando Countians — I will miss you.
I have come to know so many people, some of whom never saw their name in print. It is the “quiet” moments I will cherish — those times when I wasn’t chasing down investigative pieces or decoding complicated government budgets in an effort to make them easier for readers to comprehend.
It was times when I visited the park in downtown Brooksville and became friends with a couple of guys who met there regularly for tennis.
It was working with a Spring Hill teen, his friends and mom who strove to see a cricket league become reality at Delta Woods Park.
It was talking with members of the Spring Hill Garden Club, whose efforts to beautify the waterfall area and run the botanical gardens don’t always get front-page coverage.
I will miss talking with the front-line employees and clerks at the downtown government center, who would go out of their way to help me reach a manager or director, or to connect me with the “right” people. And here’s a belated “thank you” to the security guard at the front entrance who knew me well enough to greet me and not make me take off my belt every time I went through the scanner.
And to all my trusted sources (you know who you are) who helped me through the years, steering me to stories: a big thanks.
I always have tried to tell stories objectively and never knowingly betrayed any trusts. I never much cared for ambush journalism and learned quickly that successful journalists temper their hard-hitting interview skills with honesty and integrity.
I was tough when I had to be but also realized that everyone — no matter their job or pay grade — was struggling to get through life’s ups and downs the same as me.
I could go on but I want others to have their say as well.
Even though I will not be covering the goings-on in Hernando County, I still follow what’s going on. Maybe I will run into you at some of my favorite hang-outs: getting my morning coffee at the RaceTrac at S.R. 50 and Fort Dade Avenue, or getting a slice of deep dish pizza at Pizza Villa.
To borrow a phrase from the late Bob Hope: “Thanks for the memories.”
And now, some observations, thoughts, reminiscences and assorted reflections from Hernando Today editors (past and present) and others in the community:
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Steve Kent, founding editor (1987-1990):
“I was fortunate to be hired by publisher Derek Dunn-Rankin as founding editor of Hernando Today in 1987. Dunn-Rankin faithfully backed good journalism no matter where it led.
“At Hernando Today, we were blessed with outstanding staff members who, in the newspaper’s first full year, made it the most award-winning weekly in the state as judged by the Florida Press Association.
“Hernando County has been fortunate to have Hernando Today as a community voice for 27 years. I am sorry to hear of its impending loss.”
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Bob Nolte, editor (1992-2007):
“I was hired as editor by then-publisher Duane Chichester when the paper was a three-day-a-week newspaper. Duane and I took the newspaper to a daily, seven days a week, and increased the staff to cover the additional news hole we would have.
“I recall one reporter we hired who (was) living on the East Coast of Florida and commuted each day the substantial distance. This reporter fancied himself an up-and-coming Ernest Hemingway and wrote long, flowery stories that were good, but just not daily newspaper style. One day he called in sick and as I questioned him, it became clear he was trying to con me. Finally, he admitted, ‘The waves are just too good today to come to work.’ He lasted about two more weeks.
“Our newsroom always buzzed with ideas, debate and good fellowship. We were the underdog in the county, but that was good because it made us try harder. The paper had a lot of good will and had an especially vibrant editorial page that sported local editorials and colorful columnists that provoked many letters to the editor.
“I was at the helm of HT for about 15 years, finally retiring to my hometown of Billings, Mont., in 2007. It was a good ride and I hate to see it come to an end.”
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Chris Wessel, editor (2007-2011):
“I really enjoyed my time as editor of Hernando Today. We had some great journalists while I was there, and I’m very proud of the work we did.
“We were the watchdog of government back then, and we held public officials up to a high and ethical standard. (Reporters) Mike Bates, Tony Holt and Jeff Schmucker produced tons of great content for our readers.
“Tony Castro and Chris Bernhardt covered sports like they were the fathers of the kids on the teams. Nobody did it better.
“Hernando County is losing a lot with the closing of Hernando Today. They may not miss it in the coming days or weeks, but when the community needs its community newspaper, it won’t be there. That’s very sad.”
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Michael Terry, editor (2012-2013):
“The end of Hernando Today will certainly be a loss to the community as a whole.
“Over the years the staff has worked tirelessly to cover the stories Hernando County residents want and need to know about. In the absence of a community newspaper many of those stories will now go untold, which is unfortunate.”
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Duane Chichester, publisher (1992-2012):
“The closing of Hernando Today is the end of an era.
Hernando Today provided the people of Hernando County quality local news about local people, local government, local sports and much more. The staff and management of the newspaper contributed time, energy and money into making Hernando County a better place to live and to help people in need.
“Hernando Today has done a lot of good for people here in Hernando County over the years since the first publication in 1987. The newspaper won many awards for its high quality reporting and advertising and was considered by many to be the best local newspaper.
“In the last 15 years the Internet and technology have impacted newspapers all across the country including Hernando Today. People can get news and information from many sources today and advertisers have many choices, leaving newspapers with less revenue. I believe for these reasons the parent company of Hernando Today is doing what the responsible management of any business enterprise must do when things aren’t working.
“I worked for the newspaper as publisher for many years and tried to make it the very best newspaper it could be. During those years I’ve learned to accept the things that I cannot change and affect changes that I can make with consideration and respect for others. I believe the staff and management of Hernando Today have made a positive impact on the lives of people in our community and will continue to do so even though the newspaper is closing.
“Things are changing and I pray our community will find even better ways of moving our community forward through better technology and even higher standards of delivering news, information and communication. There will be change. Let’s all try to make the changes we have the privilege to be a part of for the good.”
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Bob Kanner, former Spring Hill Fire Rescue commissioner, current deputy chief of Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department:
“Unfortunately the closing of the Hernando Today newspaper is the end of a legacy. I originally met the staff 23 years ago — Bob Nolte and (then-Assistant Editor) Sue Quigley — and that was the beginning of a friendship to the newspaper.
I feel the closing of this newspaper is going to be disastrous to the community. I always believe it was the taxpayers’ right to know what was going on in their government and Hernando Today brought all that into the light on a weekly basis.
“Now that we have lost our local newspaper, it is going to be a tremendous void in the connection between residents and government. People here in the county are going to be left in the dark not knowing how their monies are being spent or in which direction our community is going.”