SL7 Interview’s Peter Schorsch Political Consultant & Publisher of SaintPetersBlog

Peter Schorsch
Peter Schorsch

SaintPetersBlog is considered the most influential political blog in Florida. More than 25,000 views a day. Its publisher and chief author, Peter Schorsch, has made a significant impact on Florida’s political landscape. Peter has established himself as a political mover & shaker, as well as figure of periodic controversy. What will thought leaders learn from his SL7 Interview?

Slevin: Peter, great to have you in the SL7 Interview series. Thank you for taking the time. For those readers who don’t know about SaintPetersBlog, please share why you started the blog and how it has become a “Must Read” daily destination for thousands of Florida’s political thought leaders?

Schorsch: I started SaintPetersBlog for the same reason most blogs are started — I wanted to get some things off my chest, specifically about Florida and Tampa Bay politics. I believed at the time that the local traditional media was missing many of the underlying stories about politics, influence, and government.

 

I wanted to share with readers how someone inside the political industry viewed the process. What is it like to be a political consultant? What really happens behind the closed doors?

I think, or at least I hoped at the time, enough people agreed with this belief because they decided to keep coming back to my blog every time I wrote something new.

In the early days, the blog was just meant to be a supplement to what was being reported in the traditional press. I was a decent writer with some interesting sources, but I was far from being a reporter. So I would just add my two cents where I thought it needed to be added. That’s probably about all my opinion was worth.

But, boy, is it different now. 25,000 posts later — and that does not count Facebooking, tweets, inforgraphics, memes, and emails — SaintPetersBlog and its sister properties Context Florida, Politics of Pot, and Sunburn are among the most influential media outlets in the state, regardless of whether they are classified as new media.

Why have these properties become “must read?” Not because they are well sourced or well written, but because they respect their readers. We know what our readers want — the good stuff, man — and we try to give it to them as much as possible. Sunburn starts the day at 4 a.m., SaintPetersBlog offers commentary from a variety of viewpoints throughout the day, the tweets are coming fast and furious, Context Florida tries to take the long view — boom, boom boom!

Slevin: What did you do before you started your blog? How did you come to realize this was your professional calling?

Schorsch: Before (and to some extent still) I devoted myself to new media publishing, I was a dime-a-dozen political consultant working federal, state, and local races.

I say dime-a-dozen because EVERYONE wants to be a political consultant. EVERYONE wants to be a Monday morning quarterback. It’s the easiest job in the industry.

I will say I was probably better than average: a respectable writer, good political instincts, creative mind. But there is so much incredible talent in the political consulting field, it’s difficult to break through. I was fortunate enough to get good jobs early on, bypassing much of the ladder most in the political industry must climb.

I was being paid to consult at 22. I had a second job as a writer as a think tank, a third gig as a researcher to Dr. Susan MacManus. I worked very hard, living and breathing politics.

As for how I came to new media publishing as a professional calling, it’s pretty well documented how I took a fall from grace in 2005-6. I made a lot of stupid decisions which deservedly put me in the crosshairs of law enforcement. Among the punishments I received for these stupid decisions, I was basically exiled from the political community.

Blogging and writing were, after I made amends for what I had done, how I dealt myself back into the game, even though I probably didn’t deserve to play again. Whatever the reason, I was given a second chance and I will be eternally grateful for that.

Slevin: When it comes to political and public affairs news, how is the blog different in reporting versus traditional news media? What’s the advantages for your readers and does your reporting draw any criticism?

Schorsch: Oh the pages I could fill detailing the differences between new and traditional media, but I increasingly try to avoid talking about the differences and instead focus on how they are alike. This is primarily because traditional media is absorbing much of what was just recently considered new media.

Where are the best bloggers? Working for media companies which also produce traditional content. Nate Silver works for ESPN! Ezra Klein has his own platform. Amazon owns The Washington Post. It’s all connected now.

What different about what I do is I am unshackled by many of the well-intended rules of journalism. I have said a thousand times, “I am not a journalist.” Because being a journalist is about believe in a certain code, for better or worse.

What I am interested in is having a running dialogue with my readers; a dialogue which includes facts and opinion, but probably also mistakes.

Slevin: You were a member of the Florida Press Association? Why did you join and what were the circumstances that made you withdraw your membership? Any lessons learned from the experience and did it make you a better blogger?

Schorsch: I joined the Florida Press Association because I am part of the press in Florida. Simple as that. At least it was simple to me.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple for others, particularly traditional media outlets, who see the FPA as only for trained journalists. And since I am always saying “I’m not a journalist” and I won’t abide by certain rules, I was not welcomed to the club.

Some of this was due to just basic jealousy by some of our competitors in the political reporting sphere (here’s looking at you, News Service of Florida).

There were also some reporters who saw how much advertising revenue we’re bringing in and resent that we’re able to straddle both the consulting world and the journalism world.

But a lot of that is water under the bridge. I learned a lot from withdrawing my membership because it showed me that I needed to better respect the worthwhile work of my colleagues in the press. I think over the last year I’ve done that, hearing out what some reporters had to say.

For example, the Associated Press wanted to see me pay for a license if I was going to aggregate their material in Sunburn. I’ve done that.

I also shelved the section of my blog that dealt with media criticism. In that section, I was acting like a prick to too many other hard-working journalists and reporters. And there really was no longer a need for any of that.

Much of what has occurred for me is: Five years ago I started a blog and I needed to make people pay attention to it, so I chased everything. I fought in the street for attention. I pulled fire alarms. I did a lot of juvenile things. But now the website — it’s no longer a blog — is so well established (and I am in such a better place personally since marriage and fatherhood) that I don’t need or want to do any of that stupid shit anymore. I just want my work to speak for itself without my antics distracting from it.

P.S. I have reapplied for membership in the FPA, if for no other reason than I employ 10 or 11 other content creators and journalists and they deserve the recognition.

Slevin: A few months ago, you announced the acquisition of a highly prized domain name: FloridaPolitics.com. What is your vision for expanding your blog’s brand and reach with this new domain? When do you expect to roll it out?

Schorsch: SaintPetersBlog is a clunky name. It was created at a time when the word “blog” was still cool. But, in too many ways, the words blog and blogging are a pejorative. Right or wrong, people think bloggers are working out of their mother’s basement.

Also, with SaintPetersBlog, there were two other issues: One, readers didn’t know to type StPetersBlog or SaintPetersBlog; and two, the SaintPeter part makes people think that the blog is tied to St. Petersburg and not Florida politics at large.

The acquisition of FloridaPolitics.com will solve all of that and then some.

If I were starting from scratch and I had to pick the perfect domain name for my website, what would it be? Well, it’s about Politics in Florida, right? So FloridaPolitics.com is just perfect. Excitingly perfect.

It will be so simple for the search engines. So easy for readers and prospective readers to remember. So simple for our reporters to call and say they’re from “Florida Politics Dot Com.”

IF WE DID NOTHING ELSE BUT CHANGE THE NAME TO FLORIDAPOLTICS.COM, the move would be a tremendous success.

But what we will do — and I think I’ve always been good about staying ahead of the curve — is build a site that has everything that people need to follow Florida politics: Reporting, aggregation, opinion, all in one place rather than people going to Tampa Bay Times for reporting, SayfieReview for aggregation and SaintPetersBlog for opinion.

Look for a roll out late this year or early January.

Slevin: A few weeks ago you made national news for breaking the pay-it-forward line at a Starbucks Coffee. I agreed with your argument that it was more a guilt line and that helping the homeless was much more useful in paying it forward. How did it go down and what has been the impact or feedback you’ve experienced since that incident and publicity?

Schorsch: So when I set out to break the faux pay-it-forward at the local Starbucks, I could never have imagined that it would become a national debate.

On Wednesday of that week, a reported 378 people “paid it forward” at a St. Petersburg Starbucks by buying the drink of the customer next in line.

Regardless of whether people in the line knew they were part of a “Pay It Forward” chain, each of those 378 purchases were true acts of kindness.

What was not an act of kindness is what happened the next day at the same Starbucks, where customers were being told that they had had their drink paid for and then asked would they like to pay for the drink of the person next in line.
That’s not generosity, that’s guilt.

When a new “Pay It Forward” chain, I decided to put an end to it. Not because I am against paying it forward, but because whatever was going on Starbucks was not paying it forward. It may have even been a nice thing, but it’s not the charitable concept “Pay It Forward” is supposed to be about.

So, yes, I drove to the Starbucks, purchased two Venti Mocha Frappuccinos (one for me and my wife) and, even though someone in front of me had paid for one of my drinks, I declined the barista’s suggestion to pay for the drink of the person next in line.
Chain broken.

The feedback has been about 40% positive, 60% negative — the negative mostly coming from those who did not read my explanation or did not know that I tipped the barista $100. They thought I was just being a Grinch; I wasn’t. I was ending a charade.

I will have to say it was pretty disheartening to see how absolutely cruel some people can be online with their commentary. Not just to me — I have thick skin, I can take it — but to each other.

Bottom line though, doing the Starbucks things is what I’ve always done. I’ve always been actively involved in my community — and not just on the blog. I have no problem wearing a chicken suit if a candidate won’t debate her opponents. I have no problem organizing a rally against a politician who is abusing their office. I have no problem being the subject of national scorn if I think a coffee shop is using a noble concept to sell more of its product.

Slevin: Do you want to make any predictions or provide assessments in this year’s election cycle? Rick Scott appears to be pulling ahead of Charlie Crist and Amendment 2 will surpass the 60 percent threshold. Any surprises or sleepers we should also be on the lookout for?

Schorsch: I think it is dangerously premature to make any predictions about the November elections. The Republicans seem to be taking a victory lap a little early, especially when the average of the last five polls has Gov. Scott only up 0.6% over Crist.

As for Amendment 2, I peg it today as passing with about 64% of the vote, but that’s before its opponents have aired the first commercial. The best day for an initiative is the first day because it only loses support from there and undecided voters typically break away from them when they go to the voting booth.

But put that all aside and remember, This is Florida! This is Chinatown! Why should we not expect the unexpected this November.

Thank you Peter for supporting and following my blogs, and sharing your insights with my readers in this interview.

Peter Schorsch can be followed on Twitter: @SaintPetersblog

***

Patrick Slevin is a writer, blogger, OCR racer and a PR pro who heads SL7 Communications, an integrated public relations consulting firm. Over the last two-decades, Patrick has successfully engaged stakeholders as a Florida mayor, Fortune 500 corporate manager, national association regional director and international agency executive. His unique and diversified experience in political, corporate, government and agency communications offers clients a greater degree of efficacy in strategic counsel and campaign performance. He has developed and executed strategies, corporate campaigns and grassroots operations advancing the bottom line interests of clients in markets across the United States.

Patrick can be reached for a confidential inquiry at 850.597.0423 or email pslevin68@gmail.com.

SL7 Interview’s Aaron Deslatte: Tallahassee Bureau Chief for Orando & Sun Sentinel Newspapers

Aaron Deslatte
Aaron Deslatte

The Florida Capitol Press Corps, located in Tallahassee, is considered one of the best news reporting units in the United States. The dynamics of Florida’s politics, legislation, economics and special interests demands an elite level of investigation and reporting at the state capitol. SL7 Interview’s Aaron Deslatte, Tallahassee Bureau Chief for the Orlando Sentinel/Sun Sentinel. (We hope to interview several capitol press corps members, to get their perspectives on the 2014 election cycle, legislative process, changing face of news media, war stories and other interesting insights.)

#1-Slevin: Let’s do the Do’s & Don’ts first. What can you share with professionals on “how to” successfully pitch a story? What was the worst case you’ve run into regarding someone trying to sell you a story that wasn’t newsworthy?

Deslatte: I have encountered a lot more professional, good stories than bad ones. No extreme examples of bad story pitches really stand out, other than the general cases of interns calling during the middle of a House floor session, asking if I got the email they’ve already sent four times. That happens quite frequently. An important component to pitching stories is to know what beats a reporter covers, and when that reporter will generally be the most stressed out (later in the day; later in the week). I am eternally stressed out, though, so pitch away.

#2-Slevin: What got you into journalism and how did you find yourself in Tallahassee?

Deslatte: I got into journalism because of my mutual love for Earnest Hemingway and science. I loved the storytelling and tragic arc of Hemingway’s life, wanted to learn to tell stories like he did, and ultimately scored a job at The Kansas City Star where he was also a cub reporter. The similarities in our careers ended there. The scientific component is a function of my curiosity about how the social world works and learning to ask good questions, which is why I hate shouting questions in press gaggles. I prefer a semi-structured interview process where I can ask open-ended questions, respond to their answers, and generally wield more control over the data-collection process. You have to ask leading questions in a gaggle. But I also have always been fascinated with data analysis, and journalism was a good way to start playing around with data for a living. I found myself in Tallahassee after my former boss, the Tallahassee Democrat’s Paul Flemming, hired me away from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to come work here for Gannett – in the middle of the 2004 hurricanes. I got here right after Charley, worked from the state Emergency Operations Center for three weeks, and got my furniture sometime afterward.

#3-Slevin: What are some best practices that a capital reporter needs to be effective during the legislative session?

Deslatte: Time-management, “multi-tasking,” and picking your spots. With newspapers shrinking their Capitol staffs, it is impossible to adequately cover the session in a comprehensive fashion for everyone except a couple operations. You need to be selfish – economical and efficient with your time – in order to maintain high production. I plan out my schedule with a spreadsheet (but that’s partially because I have academic responsibilities besides my news gig). I say “multi-tasking” with some skepticism because our brains don’t really work like that – we process information serially, moving from one task to the next. But we need to be able to keep multiple projects, stories, tasks, etc., moving forward at once. Good stories pop because you made that record request last month and were diligent about combing through the results when you had a few down hours (whatever those are). I have also discovered in my old age that proper nutrition really makes a big difference. If you live off the crap they serve in the Capitol, your energy will lag. Bring some protein shakes and fruit to work, instead of scarfing down the biscuits and gravy (but that’s just me).

#4-Slevin: How has the downsizing trends of print news media affected your abilities to report? Moreover, how has the public been impacted with regard to keeping public officials accountable?

Deslatte: I don’t have the same resources, like most everyone else. That means I can’t pull off the beat for a week or two and chase a big story when I think I might have a whiff of one. The penalty for a bust is much higher. I am evaluated based on my productivity and there is someone younger and cheaper willing to do my job if I don’t keep it up. Secondly, the monetizing of news content online means that political coverage is less valuable to newsrooms than sexier stories that drive more traffic. Four of Florida’s 10 TV media markets presently have no full-time newspaper reporter in the Capitol. I would speculate that the decline in the Capitol Press Corps and de-emphasis of political coverage has had a negative effect in encouraging bad behavior on the part of political actors. But I haven’t seen any data on it.

#5-Slevin: What was the biggest or most interesting news story that you covered during the 2014 Legislative Session? What surprised you about it?

Deslatte: Without a doubt, medical marijuana. It is always fascinating to watch the political re-alignment of a party on an issue like this. I was surprised how many dyed-in-the-wool conservatives were openly willing to discuss their conversion to support the Charlotte’s Web bill. Granted, they would probably vote in a lot more heterogeneous pattern on a range of issues if they weren’t commanded by party leadership to obey. But it was interesting, nonetheless.

#6-Slevin: What is your take on Governor Scott’s interfacing with the news media? I would be interested in your compare/contrast of the days of the velvet rope to the present. Has his office improved in communicating with the news media?

Deslatte: He is definitely the most inaccessible governor I have ever covered. While other governors like Jeb Bush probably didn’t care for reporters that much, they somewhat enjoyed jostling with them. Scott is a command-and-control executive, and I don’t think he likes to entertain questions or challenges to his decisions in the slightest.

#7-Slevin: We are now post Labor Day, so what has surprised you most about the gubernatorial race so far and what will you be looking for from the candidates as they approach Election Day?

Deslatte: The campaign has thus far been an idea-free zone. I can’t think of another governor’s race I have covered where there were literally no ideas being talked about. Remember the old days when conservatives espoused smaller government and liberals argued for expanded government activity in the economy? We are being subjected to a largely misleading shout-fest from two candidates who are primarily talking about doing the same thing – increasing funding for education – and distorting what the other guy did. I think one distinction this cycle is that the campaigns really don’t care at all if they get dinged by the media for misleading voters. That tells me it really doesn’t make much difference in the polling.

Thank you Aaron for sharing your time with my readers.

Aaron Deslatte can be followed on Twitter: @adeslatte

***

Patrick Slevin is a writer, blogger, OCR racer and a PR pro who heads SL7 Communications, an integrated public relations consulting firm. Over the last two-decades, Patrick has successfully engaged stakeholders as a Florida mayor, Fortune 500 corporate manager, national association regional director and international agency executive. His unique and diversified experience in political, corporate, government and agency communications offers clients a greater degree of efficacy in strategic counsel and campaign performance.  He has developed and executed strategies, corporate campaigns and grassroots operations advancing the bottom line interests of clients in markets across the United States.

Patrick can be reached for a confidential inquiry at 850.597.0423 or email pslevin68@gmail.com.