As it quietly turned 21 on Friday, June 18, the South Florida Times had much to celebrate.
In addition to expanding its size to include new sections, the newspaper has also increased its distribution channels, partnered with an internationally prominent spiritual figure, and made its online publication available in dozens of languages.
Formerly The Broward Times, SFT has been owned and operated by publisher Robert Beatty since 2007. The former Miami Herald attorney said the paper’s birthday is significant because it indicates that the “community has embraced an extraordinary and important publication.”
Beatty said the paper’s progress over the past three years has been phenomenal, and that it has received an overwhelmingly positive response from the community.
“What we have seen over these three years…is the result of a collective effort here that essentially taps into what our community has been seeking,” he explained. “And that is a newspaper filled with content that is relevant and that is inspiring.”
The newspaper’s distribution expansion has resulted in its increased availability in Walmart, Publix, Winn-Dixie, CVS and other stores throughout Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
Bill Diggs, president of the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, which advocates for black-owned businesses, said he is impressed with the paper’s growth.
“Anytime a black business thrives in today’s economy is incredible because we all know that the number one hirer of people of color, are companies of color,” Diggs said.
He said that in addition to the paper’s growth, its mission to “elevate the dialogue” serves a crucial function in the black community.
“Raising the intellectual dialogue in our community means that…questions continue to be asked so that in the long term…the ability for [the black community] being able to make [the black community] better is significant,” he added. “The most important thing in any community are the mediums that we use to define ourselves. That determines everything.”
Beatty said that “elevating the dialogue” also means looking at issues in the black community from a different perspective. He cites the disturbing trend of young black men killing each other as an example.
“That's an issue too and that issue must be addressed, but the dialogue can be raised so that we can talk about the various things that are happening in the community to address that problem,” he explained. “If we stay mired in the muck of looking at who killed whom and why, we can never get to the point of resolving that issue. Elevating the dialogue seeks to raise that conversation to the point of resolution.”
The publication's newest feature allows it to “elevate the dialogue” in over 50 different languages on its website.
“It’s critically important that we speak to people where they are,” Beatty said. “We have a diverse community. We have a strong population of Haitian Americans. We need to speak to them, very directly, in their voice. We have a very strong population of people from the African Diaspora who speak Spanish.
We need to speak to them in their voice,” the publisher said of the online feature that allows a reader to have the English version of the publication translated into another language with the click of a mouse.
The publication’s Prayerful Living page has also grown. In addition to a column written by The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis of the Church of the Open Door in Liberty City, the Rev. Dr. Walter Richardson, former pastor of Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in Richmond Heights also writes a column.
In the next two weeks, SFT will begin publishing a monthly column written by the Rev. Bill Winston, founder and pastor of Living Word Christian Center, a 15,000-member church in Forest Park, Illinois, near Chicago.
“Bill Winston is, in his own right, a man of extraordinary talent whose voice has resonated throughout the world. He has blessed us with his presence. I think from that process we will see the South Florida Times really coming of age,” Beatty said.
To strengthen its connection to the Liberty City community, SFT entered into a unique partnership with Florida International University’s journalism department.
The result is Liberty City Link, a full page of the paper’s Metro section that is written by FIU journalism students, many of whom are venturing into the inner city for the first time in their lives.
Edited by FIU journalism professor Neil Reisner, the students share stories about people, businesses and events occurring in Liberty City that typically do not make it onto the pages or airwaves of mainstream media.
A new Caribbean page captures news and information important to South Florida’s large Caribbean community, an addition to the paper’s coverage of the African Diaspora.
The newspaper’s newest section is SoFlo LIVE, a lifestyle section that debuted in March, focused on South Florida’s young urban entertainment scene. In addition to spotlighting coming events, the section includes reviews of concerts, movies and plays; while also keeping an eye on popular cultural events and what’s fresh and new in the world of technology. The section’s SoFlo Nights feature provides a listing of night clubs throughout the tri-county area.
Beatty said SoFlo LIVE has “resonated in the community,” so much so, he said, that advertisers have contacted the paper to appear in the section.
“There are two things that you must have for a successful newspaper – readership, and advertising. You must have readers who want to read your paper, and you must have advertisers who want to appear on your pages. SoFlo Live has achieved both in its infancy, and it’s only been operational for three months,” he said.
Michele Green is the paper's director of advertising and business development. Green said the paper's new sections demonstrate to advertisers its ability to penetrate a variety of markets within the black community better than anyone else.
“Through our efforts to raise the bar on the level of journalism, [and with] our [level of] integrity, how we’re viewed has enabled us…to show advertisers that we are a major and legitimate source of news,” Green said.
Going above and beyond seems to be a staff mantra.
“We're always looking at ways to exceed the expectations of our advertisers from a sales perspective and our readers from a business perspective,” she added.
Beatty said the paper’s success is a blessing, and he’s thrilled about its future.
“All of these things are the result of [God’s] might, mighty hand reaching into what we do, shining a brilliant light on each and every step that we take so that our steps are clear. Our path is as solid as a rock and…we’re doing His work,” Beatty said.
Photo: Michele Green