The state of local journalism is “depressing,” popular Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell told members of the League of Women Voters of Orange County (FL) at a packed “Hot Topics” luncheon on June 8.
In more than two decades at the newspaper, Maxwell saw the paper shrink from 300 reporters to 50 today. All that remains of14 Orlando Sentinel’s news bureaus from San Juan to Washington D.C. is a single reporter in Tallahassee tasked with monitoring the whole of Florida state government on behalf of local readers.
So why does Maxwell keep at it? Why has he declined generous buyout offers in an era of “vulture hedge fund” ownership of newspaper chains out to bleed them dry?
“I believe in what we do,” Maxwell said. “I know we sometimes make a difference.”
Maxwell remains a highly recognizable, widely quoted and trusted figure in local journalism as the Sentinel’s and Central Florida’s most popular columnist.
Despite the decimated staff, Maxwell and Sentinel reporters have managed to carry out the time-honored duty of journalists to“comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable.”
In one example, Maxwell described how he and Sentinel reporters doggedly pursued the case of the “ghost candidate” in the 2020 Florida Senate District 9 race. At least in part because of their work, prosecutors brought charges in May 2022 againstJestine Iannotti, the independent candidate who didn’t campaign and spent part of her campaign in Sweden,and a political consultant and Seminole County GOP chair who are accused of making contributions to Iannotti’s campaign in the names of other people, according to the Sentinel.
The sell-out Hot Topics luncheon program had 250 registered—the highest in the Orange County League’s history. Next up are the popular local Judicial Candidate Forums for July and August.