The ugly side of business reporting

Not sure whether to categorize this story, that I did for the Tampa Bay Business Journal in 1997, as business journalism or investigatory journalism. Maybe a little of both. I don’t recall very much about it, but I think what happened was this: The Business Journal did an annual Book of Lists, categorizing different businesses according to size. Fort example, ad agencies would be listed on the Ad Agency List page according to their size. I believe this business wanted to be listed in the Book of Lists, and submitted an application. But the numbers in the application resulted in the paper taking a closer look at the business, and this story resulted.

By Arthur Frederick
Staff Writer

A self-described sports promoter who served a federal prison sentence for tax fraud in Hawaii has established a number of businesses in Lakeland in ways that echo his days in the Aloha State.

Elijah Jackson Jr., a one-time Lakeland High School basketball star, was convicted in the late 1980s for trying to gain illicit refunds from the IRS.

He also illegally tried to sell several million dollars’ worth of stock in businesses he owned, an act that elicited fines and two cease-and-desist orders — including one issued this spring — from Hawaii’s Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

Jackson closed his Hawaii business in 1995, and now operates several Lakeland-based businesses under the name JBS Inc. The businesses include JBS Management Corp., which allegedly provides everything from sports promotions to an escort service; and JBS-Jackson Real Estate Investment Trust, which claims to provide real estate investor services and property management services.

Efforts to reach Jackson were unsuccessful. Calls to his office were picked up by an answering machine.

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Tampa Bay’s seawall master

Back in the late 1990s, I worked as a writer for the Tampa Bay Business Journal, covering the business of sports, commercial real estate and the local advertising and marketing business. It was a good place to work and I enjoyed my time there. I don’t really remember doing this story, but I do dimly remember that I used to drive by this place of business on my way to and from work.

By ARTHUR FREDERICK
Staff Writer

Bill McNamara wasn’t thinking much about docks and seawalls when he was installing chain link fences around schools and prisons in Philadelphia. But when he moved to the Bay Area in the early 1970s, he found there wasn’t much of a market for chain link fences here.

“There was no money in it, no volume, and it was too competitive,” McNamara recalled of his Florida chain link fence prospects. “It got old.”

He needed something else to do, but he didn’t know what. To fill in the time, he started doing some work for a Clearwater-based company that installed boat lifts.

“I just started putting in boat lifts,” said McNamara, whose McNamara & Son is now the biggest dock builder in the Bay Area. “We made one connection after another, and things started to grow for us, just like things were starting to grow for Tampa. I had to hire help, and soon we were doing everything. Before long, we were all the way at the top. We are bigger than anyone as far as residential stuff is concerned.”

“We” is really McNamara, his 36-year-old son Kevin, and a group of employees and subcontractors that right now stands at around 15 people. The 60-year-old McNamara usually stays close to the company’s offices on West Hillsborough Avenue. The younger McNamara can usually be found on one of the company’s barges, placing seawall material or overseeing dock construction.

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Writing in the first person

I think most journalists will tell you that writing in the first person is difficult and even a bit unpleasant. It’s hard to lift the curtain on your own life and let people see you — it’s much easier to write about others. This is the only story I can recall that I ever wrote about myself, except perhaps for things like travel pieces. I wrote it to acknowledge National Birth Defects Prevention Month, and to commemorate the 40th birthday (and day of death) of my first child. Three newspapers — in Salt Lake City, Norfolk, Va. and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — ran this on their op-ed pages.

By Arthur Frederick

Dear Baby Boy:

On a day in the not-to-distant future, I’ll pause to quietly take note of your 40th birthday. It is unimaginable that you, my first-born child, was born so long ago.

Things were different back then, in the early 1970s. For one thing, sonograms were not a regular part of a doctor’s tool kit, as they are today. If they were, your birth defect would have been noted very early in your mom’s pregnancy. As it was, your undeveloped skull and brain were not discovered until a number of hours after your mother went into labor.

“When I examined your wife, I felt soft tissue rather than a hard skull,” the doctor told me as we huddled outside your mother’s hospital room.

Today, because of that ability to diagnose anencephaly at somewhere between the 11th and 14th week, around 95 percent of families elect to terminate such pregnancies. That means that only about 1,000 anencephalic babies are now born in the U.S. each year; back around the time of your birth, that number was more like 20,000.

We didn’t have that option. But, to be honest with you, it’s a decision we probably would have made. Not because we didn’t already love you, but because I believe we would have accepted the inevitability of what was about to happen to you, and to us.

Those who end their pregnancies early avoid the indescribable pain of their child’s certain death. About half of anencephalic babies are stillborn; others, like you, are born alive, but are destined to die in as little as a few minutes or as much as a few days.

No babies born with anencephaly survive.

You died in an incubator in the hospital nursery, surrounded by a half-dozen healthy babies. I stood and watched through the big viewing window during the 20 minutes or so that it took you to go.

I’ll tell you a few things that have happened since then:

Your mom and I didn’t stay together very long after you were born. We were both devastated by what happened to you, and to us. But our parting wasn’t your fault.

You have three half-siblings, all girls. One is a doctor; another is a drug addict. Their lives, as well as your very short one, have taught me that having children, while joyful, is a risky business with unpredictable outcomes.

Both your mom and I are grandparents. Since you would be 40, you might well have had children of your own by now who would be approaching college age. I feel sad at having missed that, and even sadder when I think about all the things you missed.

You may have noticed that I opened this letter by referring to you as Baby Boy. You were going to be Matthew, but under the circumstances, we decided not to name you, and Baby Boy is how you are listed on your birth and death certificates. It was a decision, among many others, that we had to make in a hurry and under great stress. I hope it was the right one, but I don’t know.

Not naming you may leave the impression that we simply hoped to avoid the pain of your death by not acknowledging your life. That was not the case. Not at all.

Forty years after your brief time here, your dad still loves you very much.

Arthur Frederick is a journalist and a public relations consultant. He lives in Palm Harbor, Fla.

Blog and newsletter writing: Nature park opening

One thing I’ve always loved about journalism is that no matter where you are or what you are doing, there is probably a story close by that is worth telling, and a picture worth shooting. I wrote this story about a nature park opening (and took the picture of the duck, too) for St. Petersburg College. This could have been a routine story of little consequence, but I think it turned out better than that.

By ARTHUR FREDERICK

SEMINOLE, Fla. — In a small corner of Seminole, in the middle of Florida’s most heavily developed county, a tract of nearly-forgotten land plays host to a wide variety of Florida plants and animals.

The land, only about 40 acres in all, is owned by (St. Petersburg College). It is the undeveloped half of a tract that the college acquired in 1969; the other half is home to the Seminole campus.

For years, the college has had ambitions to turn the land into a nature park, where students could observe the environment first-hand, and where Seminole residents could enjoy nature. Those ambitions became reality this year, when non-native plants (28 species in all) were removed from the site and construction began on a boardwalk, a 50-seat teaching pavilion and a floating dock (for use in water sampling) on the largest pond on the property.

ImageThe nature park opens Tuesday. College officials knew there was plenty of wildlife on the site, which includes several ponds and wetlands as well as all sorts of plant life. But few people realized just how many species lived together in such close proximity on that small, suburban area.

“We knew that site was a true asset to both the college and the community,” said Jim Olliver, Seminole’s provost. “But I don’t think anyone really knew just how alive that 40 acres was.”

One person who was not surprised was Seminole resident Judy Fisher, an environmentalist who has spent many hours at the site, identifying plant and animal species of all types. Fisher’s research found rabbits, otters, opossums, raccoons, armadillos, coyotes and feral pigs; nearly 200 bird species; 24 species of dragonflies; 24 species of frogs, turtles, snakes and alligators; and seven species of butterflies.

Common plants include slash pines, wax myrtle shrubs and sweetgum trees. Some others include sand live oak trees, red bay trees, grape vines and giant leather ferns.

The recently completed boardwalk, nearly 200 yards long, offers a number of stations, which give visitors the opportunity to observe the site’s plants and animals. On one recent visit, a curious otter bounded up the boardwalk’s entryway and stopped to observe a human visitor before running off to a nearby pond.

The park and pavilion will support various SPC curricula (mostly in the sciences and especially for the Environmental Science Technology, and Parks and Leisure Services programs), and will offer recreation opportunities for the community. The Natural Habitat and Environmental Center will be open Monday through Friday from dawn to dusk; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.

 

I’ve been writing and shooting pictures forever. Almost.

I’ve worked for newspapers, wire services, ad agencies, PR shops, big corporations, politicians, colleges and all kinds of businesses, large and small.

I’ve written feature stories, obituaries and travel pieces. Speeches, ad copy and press releases.  Articles for trade journals, newsletters and motorcycle magazines.  I’ve photographed everything from wood furnaces to candles to dog shows to birds (actually, lots and LOTS of birds).

Recently, a prospective client said she would like to see my portfolio, and I was somewhat startled to realize that I had never put one together.  I’ve had a website for many years that focuses on my public relations business; but a portfolio that actually showcases my writing and my photos? For some reason, I simply never thought of it.

So I’ve spent some time scouring the Internet, looking through my computer files and paging through my dusty old filing cabinets in search of examples of my work. It’s been fun, and I’ve found quite a few examples that I don’t mind sharing (And a few things I would NEVER share in a million years. But that’s another story).

I decided the best way to showcase all this material was on a blog, where I can mix up words and pictures and post things as I find them. Since this is a blog, and newer stuff ends up on top of the pile, you may want to scroll all the way down to the bottom and then work your way back to the top.  But it really doesn’t matter; it’s all going to be a bit of a jumble anyway.

Thanks for visiting. If there is something you see here that sparks some sort of reaction in you, I’d love to hear it.

Bill Frederick

There’s one thing that you might find a little confusing. Most people know me as Bill, but my real first name is Arthur, and as a journalist I always wrote under my real name – Arthur Frederick. So if you see a story that is topped by a byline that says “By ARTHUR FREDERICK”, that’s why.