Who are those guys?

Listen you have to be impressed with thoroughness of the WUFT news report about how the the school board was, um, sweet talked into paying a lot more money for a future school site in Janesville than it was worth.

“Two prominent real estate agents were at the center of a controversial school board land deal – the first major purchase funded by a new half-cent sales tax – that resulted in the district buying a property last year for twice as much money as the land sold for in late 2018, according to interviews and a review of hundreds of pages of emails and documents.” The story began.

Frankly, that sort of in-depth investigative reporting has become rare in this age of corporate controlled media. And with news rooms being gutted by budget cuts, who has the time or resources to delve into the inner workings of government these days?

As it turns out, the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, that’s who.

To be more specific, the WUFT report was researched and written by Houston Harwood and Anna Wilder, two members of the Fresh Take Florida News Service.

And that’s something of a news story in its own right. Go to Fresh Take Florida’s web site and you learn that it is “a news service producing top-caliber investigative and political content focusing on Florida’s state government, including the Legislature, and other issues of statewide, regional or national interest.”

It goes on to tell us that “Stories are written by a student journalists under the direction of CJC faculty and staff. Students are hand-selected each semester through an application process and generally are college seniors or juniors.”

“In-depth reporting is patterned after the “rapid-response investigations” model, which includes interviews, surveys of public records and analyzed data that is intended to be reported in days or weeks, not months.”

Time was when a newly minted JM student had to wait for his or her first newspaper or broadcasting job to learn the rudiments of reporting, let alone the techniques necessary for in-depth investigative reporting. That the College of Journalism and Communications is determined to train investigators before they even get their degrees is commendable. Especially at a time when newsrooms are being cut to the bone and are often hard pressed to do even basic community reporting.

I just hope the college can follow through.

Not to be pessimistic but I remember when the Florida Legislature cut off all state funding for UF’s Center For Governmental Responsibility, a part of the law school. Why? Because legislators believed that the center’s responsible government advocacy might encourage people to sue state agencies that weren’t operating responsibly.

That was many years ago. And unfortunately, these days Florida politicians are even more willing to crack the whip when they think schools, universities, cities or counties are acting contrary to Tallahassee’s perception of “good” government.

Don’t like that school mask mandate? Fine the miscreants.

Think your local school is teaching subversive material? Ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory and from then on denounce any curriculum you don’t like as CRT.

I hope the J School can hold tough in defense of Fresh Take Florida. But I also know that Gov. DeSantis has a tight grip on Tigert Hall. President Kent Fuchs is practically a DeSantis Mini-Me. If the Gov. says “hire my new Covid hit man,” Fuchs says “Yes sir, and how much should I pay him?”

It’s one thing to investigate possible wrongdoing at the school board level. But I worry that the first time a Fresh Take Florida team tries to expose misconduct at the state level those young journalism entrepreneurs won’t be able to count on much backing from Tigert Hall.

I hope I’m wrong. In the meantime, kudos to the young reporters at Fresh Take Florida. Keep up the good work.

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