By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Peter Schorsch, a political operative and well-known blogger here in Florida, has started another media venture: Context Florida. The website is another incarnation of a defunct website called Florida Voices, which features op-eds from influential people around the state.
Schorsch is currently working to further position himself as a member of Florida’s media. As he puts it, he’s “the only blogger who is a member of the Capitol Press Corps.” But unlike most journalists, he remains an operative in Florida’s political circles and his antics still make state news.
Schorsch answered questions from the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting via email about his controversial history as a political operative and his plans for the future. Below is an excerpt.
FCIR: Florida Context is not wholly dissimilar from Florida Voices, which was another site featuring op-eds from influential people in the state. What makes your site different?
Schorsch: Context Florida is a lot like Florida Voices in that it features op-eds from influential thought-leaders, but how it has been constructed is a lot different from Florida Voices. Context Florida is built for the web first. You can tell this by how attractive the site looks and feels. A lot of the other new media sites in Florida — from Sayfie Review to Florida Voices — are outdated frameworks built without adaptive design. CF is designed to be read anywhere, whereas FV was designed to deliver op-eds to mid-sized newspapers which had cut back on their editorial staffs. It’s two totally different perspectives.
Accordingly, CF’s business model is much different than FV’s. Whereas FV relied on earnings from tight-budgeted newspapers, CF has been established as a non-profit. This allows us to build a small-dollar donor base and attract monies from those interested in improving the public discourse. We’re also going to sell a helluva lot of ads. One of the things I’ve proven with SaintPetersBlog and Sunburn is I know how to make online media work in Florida politics. CF is leveraging that knowledge — something FV could not and so it arrived at selling ads far too long into its operations.
As for content, I believe the most substantial difference you will see between the two sites is that CF will attract many more new media voices — folks like Ben Kirby, Steve Kurlander, and Steve Schale — who needed a place online to call home. Having these writers alongside the established journalists will make for some very interesting content.
Fourth — and this is so egoistic — CF has me invested at 100 percent. I like to think I am one of the hardest working individuals in Florida politics and media. This site will have me and all of my connections and resources behind it. That alone gives it a head-start over FV.
All of this said, don’t think for one second I don’t acknowledge that I am standing on the shoulders of two great individuals — Rosemary Curtiss and Rosemary Goudreau.
FCIR: You do a bit of reporting and aggregation over at your blog, SaintPetersBlog. However, your roots are as a political operative and you still take work doing political campaigns. Do you see yourself as a member of the media?
Schorsch: Whereas I once resisted such categorization, I now see myself as a member of the media. I am the only blogger who is a member of the Capitol Press Corps, so, officially, I am a member of the media. Others see me as a member of the media, too, which in turns forces me to act like a member of the media.
I still resist the label of journalist because I have such respect for that term. It’s like, if you are a journalist, you are part of a code. You’re a Samurai.
Yet, I think I do more than “a bit” of reporting on my blog. I think I have “reported” more about elections and politics in Tampa Bay than the next three traditional reporters combined. My blog’s coverage of the St. Petersburg and Tampa city elections, as well as the legislative and congressional races, sets the pace in this region. My blog also fares well competing with the much bigger Tallahassee news bureaus.
I look at this last year and I know we were first with news that Jennifer Carroll was resigning. While the rest of Capitol Press Corps was putting on its skits, we working that monster of a story. I can show you 50, maybe a hundred stories from this past year where SaintPetersBlog was first with interesting political news.
Still, I am very much a political operative. I probably work on two dozen different political races, mostly helping candidates with their public relations and social media. This presents an obvious conflict — one I acknowledge. But that conflict of interest is based on rules created by traditional media. I don’t necessarily subscribe to those rules and, candidly, don’t want to and will resist doing so if it benefits my or my clients’ interests.
I leave it to my readers to decide whether they trust the veracity of what I write. Obviously they do or they would not be coming back.
FCIR: In 2006, Creative Loafing gave you the title of “Most Arrests for a Political Operative.” You are known for things like run-ins with candidates and Twitter sparring with lawmakers. While that’s not completely out-of-bounds for operatives, it breaks a cardinal rule for journalists: never become the story. Does your controversial past have any effect on your ability to position yourself in Florida media?
Schorsch: It’s a shame that that is the example you use to suggest I am controversial! But you are absolutely right, I am controversial. I was the first person to organize a massive protest against Gov. Rick Scott. I’ve gone toe-to-toe with the major newspapers. I’ve called out dozens of candidates on their failings. With a recent stunt, I know I changed the course of the mayor’s race in St. Pete. So what? That’s what being a provocateur is all about.
There should be more people like me, not less. I believe the term is “participatory journalism.” Whatever. To me, it’s very Buddhist. I just am. I just do. I just write. I can’t stop writing, actually. I can’t stop getting involved. I am not going to be limited by other people’s definitions. If you need those bright shiny dividing lines, there’s nothing wrong with that either. It’s just not me.
FCIR: Is there any other media project you are looking to tackle in the future?
Schorsch: Project No. 4 — which I really can’t disclose because of the proprietary information it involves — will be the most important contribution I make to political media. It’s probably a year away from completion, if I can find enough time to complete it. The challenge is there is so much opportunity for growth for my blog, my daily email, and now Context Florida. I wouldn’t mind riding those three properties through the next presidential election cycle. Plus, my wife, Michelle Todd, will be heavily involved in Charlie Crist’s campaign. If he runs and wins, our lives will be turned upside down by just that. Maybe Michelle will go inside the administration for Gov. Crist, and I can be a stay-at-home dad.