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What we do matters

While some say AI poses threats to the media, Florida newspapers remain strong with local journalism reporting human experiences and connections — something AI will never do as we do.

  • Sarasota
  • Opinion
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Last week, more than 350 Florida media executives gathered at the Westin for the Florida Media Conference to share ideas, learn new innovative solutions, network and celebrate great journalism.

From the looks of it, you would not have guessed the print media industry is struggling. The conference consisted of members from five organizations — Florida Press Association, Florida Advertising and Marketing Executives, Florida Magazine Association, Florida Society of News Editors and Florida Press Educational Services.

The scene was a stark difference from what is happening elsewhere. Press associations across the U.S. are struggling to survive with dwindling memberships as news deserts increase across the country. 

Recently, the Florida Press Association was alerted that the Arizona Press Association was shutting down altogether, with its remaining few members merging into the Arizona Broadcast Association, whose membership is composed of TV and radio stations. 

The conference in Sarasota marked the culmination of my tenure as chair of the Florida Press Association board of directors. I was proud to be ending my term amid a thriving and still growing print media industry here in Florida. With 188 members, 159 of which are active print and online media sources, our membership is growing with independent and family-owned operations, much like our Observer Media Group Inc. 

Leadership of the organization is now in the hands of Emerald Greene, publisher of Greene Publishing Inc. in Madison. Greene’s father, Tommy Greene, chaired the FPA board of directors in 1976. Passing on the leadership of FPA from one multigenerational family to another marks the association’s storied history and continued legacy into the future. Matt Walsh, my father and Observer Media Group’s founder, served as FPA board chair from 2012-13, exactly 10 years before me.  

The legacy of the 144-year-old association is important to many families in Florida. Not just the families that own and operate newspapers, but the families of our employees, customers and communities we serve. Because what we do matters. 

Much like the dawn of the internet in the late 1990s, the media industry has a new challenge — AI. Artificial intelligence has dominated the news the past few weeks and was a key theme in sessions at the Florida Media Conference — from how to use AI and ChatGPT to drive ad sales, to its use in recruitment and journalism. 

Sarasota native Alex Mahadevan, director of MediaWise at the Poynter Institute, served as a panelist on one of the AI sessions. At MediaWise, Mahadevan trains Gen Z, college students and seniors in digital media literacy and fact-checking skills. 

He began the session sharing how he prompted AI to put together his professional bio, which said that he had worked for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune for 15 years as the retail editor. Close, but not accurate. In fact, Mahadevan worked for the Observer Media Group for six years in various roles in digital media, last serving as the News Innovation Editor. 

Before the conference day began, Mahadevan went for a morning run and ended up at Pastry Art on Main Street where he knew he would find a group of Sarasota stalwarts discussing current events. He asked them what they would think if the newspaper started printing stories and content generated by AI and ChatGPT. They were all horrified at the notion. 

So are we. Horrified, indeed. 

He did share that AI and ChatGPT could make a reporter’s job more efficient. Reporters today don’t just write stories; they also take pictures, write multiple headlines for search engine optimization (SEO), post stories on social media and more. ChatGPT could help save time generating different headlines for SEO and help craft emails for public records searches, but the drawbacks for generating content still outweigh the benefits. 

Surely, AI could not generate the content that matters to you, our readers. Just take some of the award-winning content produced by our staff recently honored as the best in the state of Florida. 

No computer or code would know the meaningfulness of roses presented by the players of the Lakewood Ranch High School baseball team to a Lakewood Ranch woman recovering from breast cancer. Only a human could uncover and write in an obituary about a $60 million corporation’s CEO personally cooking lunch from lasagna to sushi to celebrate his 600 employees’ birthdays. 

Or how $75 helped take two Bradenton sisters from making chicken sandwiches on their mother’s patio to generating $1 million in revenue. ChatGPT would not know that the canceling of a $30 million theater project for The Players Centre of Performing Arts in Lakewood Ranch was breaking news. 

Surely, a computer would not know how nine new cellphone towers would solve the woes of residents on the north end of Longboat Key who have had spotty cell service for more than two decades.

And most certainly, AI would not produce the best hurricane breaking news coverage in the state like the staff of the East County Observer. ChatGPT would not have known how to keep our readers informed up to the minute from when we thought we were in the direct path of Hurricane Ian through its aftermath. 

Only we do. And we know what matters to you. 

While we may lean into technology to help make us more efficient or create tools to make our information more useful to you, we promise always to stay true to our mission to inspire our communities with extraordinary local content and to help our partners prosper. 

It’s the connections we make together, telling human stories of hope and inspiration that fuel our local communities and will fill the pages of local media in Florida for another 144 years to come. 



Emily Walsh

Emily Walsh is the president of Observer Media Group and has served as publisher of the OMG’s Sarasota-based publications since 2016. She joined the company in 2001 as Black Tie photographer, later serving as editor of Black Tie and Arts + Entertainment, an advertising sales executive and chief digital officer.

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