60 Minutes gives Brevard County an unfair “Hard Landing”

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Published on: April 15, 2012

And a shout out to my friend, Mark DeCotis

Two weeks ago the CBS News television program 60 Minutes broadcast a piece about Brevard County entitled “Hard Landing.”

The segment focused on several Space Coast workers and local business owners who were directly affected by the decision in 2004 to end the Space Shuttle program. While telling their stories, the accompanying pictures showed scenes of economic devastation, including boarded-up businesses and abandoned homes with lawns overgrown with weeds.

I’ve watched the segment several times now, and each time I look at it I am filled with sadness and frustration.

Sadness because there is absolutely no denying the serious impact the decision to end the shuttle program has had on thousands of very good, decent and hard-working people who were, and are, our friends, family and neighbors.

While the 60 Minutes piece takes political shots at the President and Congress, and the debate in the space community continues to rage on over who is to blame for where we’re at today, and whether or not we are on the right path to the future — all within a subtext of frenzied election-year posturing – none of that helps to soften the hard landing that CBS speaks of.

Those are real people and they deserve to be heard and respected.

But my respect only goes out to the people featured in the story, not to the story itself.

I reacted with frustration because 60 Minutes didn’t tell the whole story, and what they showed was misleading to the extreme, and clearly not an example of objective and quality journalism – which is puzzling to me because they apparently ignored the expertise of their CBS space consultant, Bill Harwood, who is simply the best in the business.

As reporter Scott Pelley says “Have a look around Brevard County. It’s shrinking. Lots of people are moving away, taking businesses down with them.” And while what he said, word for word, is absolutely, technically true, he doesn’t tell you that the buildings being shown have looked that way for years, long before the end of the shuttle program.

Committing a sin of omission appears all too easy for CBS.

I’m told that in putting this piece together, Pelley and the 60 Minutes crew were toured around the Kennedy Space Center and shown all the things being done out there that are building toward our future plans for space exploration. Pelley’s only reference to that effort was to say “At the very least it will be five years before America flies astronauts again.”

Factually correct, but where’s the rest of the story?

And there was no mention of all the other aerospace work being done in Brevard County, including the efforts by SpaceX, whose founder Elon Musk was practically gushed over by the very same reporter in a 60 Minutes piece that aired a week earlier. Nor was there even a hint of acknowledgement of all the other industries in Brevard County that drive our economic engine. No longer does this county solely rely on the space program for its fiscal wellbeing.

I understand the piece focused on the people and their stories, and I will say again their stories deserve to be told. Yes, the shuttle workforce here was devastated with the end of the program, and the wisdom of that decision will be debated for years to come. Yes, there are fewer workers here now, and the economic ripple effects are real and hurtful, but neither Brevard County nor the Kennedy Space Center is the ghost town suggested by CBS.

An online news pioneer moves on

I want to send a shout out to Mark DeCotis, who just recently spent his final day as an employee at Florida Today. Mark has been a part of that newspaper for probably close to 30 years. He was there when I started at the paper in 1988 and during the 12 years I spent there we worked together on a bunch of different projects.

While he is most recently known for his work on the sports page and as the paper’s resident NASCAR expert, you may not know that it was Mark DeCotis who started Florida Today’s first adventures in going online back in the mid-1990’s, originally with the CompuServe Information Service, which actually pre-dated AOL by several years. This was back when personal desktop computers were just beginning to make their big move into people’s homes, Windows 3.1 was about to be replaced by Windows 95, and the Atex mainframe system at the newspaper back then had no way to communicate with a desktop PC.

So each morning, and this was about 1994, Mark would come into the office, pick the best stories from that day’s paper, and actually re-type them into the computer, word for word. The stories would cover such topics as local crime, politics, sports and the space program. We quickly found that basically no one was reading any of our local stories, but people from all over the world were reading the space stories, making comments and sending us e-mail.

So long story short, I joined him and together we created Space Online, which was really the first space-related news site of its kind on the World Wide Web.

Things have changed a lot, of course, during the past 25 years, but it was Mark DeCotis who really deserves the credit for starting something at Florida Today that in the years since has grown to fundamentally change the entire newspaper business.

He’s by no means ready to retire, so I wish him well as he and his wife Pam plot their next adventures in life together.

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