For anyone who has worked in the industry or paid close attention, it’s no secret that the landscape of journalism has changed drastically in a very short time. That’s also true here in Polk County, especially in the county’s eastern parts.
The internet and social media have certainly played a role, but newsrooms are shrinking across the United States. For those who don’t know, I spent nearly five years as a reporter at The Ledger. The majority of that time was spent covering East Polk County to include cities of Winter Haven, Lake Alfred, Dundee, Lake Hamilton, Lake Wales, Frostproof, Eagle Lake, Davenport and my current place of employment, Haines City.
The Northeast Polk Gazette will bring another media outlet to Polk County – this time to the fastest growing area. In my mind, that can only be seen as a good thing.
The landscape of news in Polk County was much different than its current state as recent as 2016. At the time, The Ledger had seven full-time news reporters working primarily out of its News Chief bureau in Winter Haven and a much larger staff in the main building in Lakeland. Suncoast Media, at the time, had four weekly Polk papers in Bartow, Frostproof, Fort Meade and Lake Wales.
Those four papers consolidated into the Winter Haven Sun in mid-2016 and shifted its primary focus to East Polk’s largest city. The News Chief’s doors closed for news purposes in the summer of 2018, making the Sun the only news outlet to have reporters work primarily out of a newsroom in East Polk County – until now.
As news in America continues to evolve, that will also likely be the case in East Polk County. As a child growing up in the area, I can remember a time when Haines City had its own newspaper – the Haines City Herald. Even Tampa outlets like the Tribune had bureaus in Polk County. S.L. Frisbie, whose family founded The Polk County News and Democrat in 1931, once told me that there was a time when there were nearly 10 daily newspapers in Polk County alone.
With The Ledger and Winter Haven Sun in Polk County’s two largest cities, that’s where the majority of their focuses tend to be, also. The monthly Northeast Polk Gazette should be able to shed light on the happenings in an area that may sometimes stay in the dark.
For young adults trying to raise a family, work their way up the corporate ladder or find a way to balance work and school or other activities, staying informed on the happenings nationally, across the state or in larger nearby cities like Tampa or Orlando can sometimes be easier than keeping track of what’s happening in one’s own backyard. While social media is certainly a helpful tool, it often doesn’t provide history, context, origins, the entire scope or both sides of an issue.
During my time at The Ledger, I wrote about City Hall controversies, elections, efforts of individuals to make a difference, historical firsts, and closings of businesses that had been community staples and much, much more. With time, resources and the overall footprint at the largest outlets covering Polk significantly smaller compared to yesteryear, the Northeast Polk Gazette should be a welcomed addition to the area.
As news continues to evolve, it is my hope that more and more outlets pop up across Polk County. Barry Friedman, a former editor at The Ledger, has found success with his internet publication, LKLD Now, which focuses on the city of Lakeland. The Daily Ridge has recently mixed in original reporting outside the police beat to go with its fairly popular practice of publishing press releases from various private and public entities throughout Polk.
Polk County is certainly large enough for multiple news organizations to coexist. All the aforementioned outlets, in addition to the Tampa-area news stations that cover the county, tend to offer something a little bit different and all of them do very good work. But there's no reason to stop there. As far as I see it, the more access to information we have in the area, the better off we’ll be.
About the Author: Mike Ferguson currently serves as the public information officer at the Haines City Police Department. A native of Polk County, Mike previously spent nearly five years as a full-time reporter at The Ledger. Mike contributes to a number of outlets and has work appearing in the Associated Press, Yahoo, FoxSports.com, Athlon Sports and Sports Illustrated online among other publications. Mike earned his bachelor's degree from Florida State University in 2009. Mike and his wife Jennifer live in Davenport, Florida and with their two children.