March 22, 2019

I hate to sound like the old guy yelling “get off my lawn” just when you are having fun googling “Florida Man” and laughing at all of the weird stories with Florida in their headlines.

The Miami Herald reported,“‘Google Florida Man followed by your birthday and tell me what you get’ seemed to start on Tumblr and spread to Twitter and Facebook Wednesday night and Thursday morning. Florida Man and birthday has become Throwback Thursday’s new trending novelty.”

What comes back is a mixture of wild-animal-attacks-human stories and bizarre articles involving people doing sadly destructive things — ignoring hurricane warnings, drinking and driving and various activities involving nudity.

Before you snicker too loudly at these “news” stories, consider what you are laughing at while you get those social media clicks.

Florida has a mental health crisis. The Orlando Sentinel, in a stunningly deep and thoughtful investigation, found that an estimated 70 percent of the people who need mental health treatment in this state do not have access to help. Three quarters of a million Florida adults and children suffer from some form of serious mental illness.

The Sentinel reported that psychosis is the second leading cause for hospitalizations in Florida, following only childbirth. Psychosis is ahead of heart disease, chest pains, pneumonia and accidents.

Also, as you look at those weird Florida stories, keep in mind that Florida is a huge state. A drive through Florida, tip to tip from Key West to Pensacola, is about the same as half of the East Coast — about 49 percent of a trip from Key West to Portland, Maine. It is the third most populated state and, considering its physical size, is among the higher per capita populations compared to land mass. Simply put, we have a lot of people in Florida, it is growing and we are crowded together more than most places.

We also have a lot of big media markets, so stories are reported and circulated here.

And we have a fair amount of crime. Florida has one of the highest populations per capita of incarceration even though violent crime is falling by a lot.

Florida is a melting pot for all kinds of people. We have alligators, snakes, hurricanes and a wide diversity of population and politics. Florida is both very rural and hip urban. People from all over the world come to our beaches to blow off steam and party.

And let’s not forget that you journalists contribute to the trend that you are now covering. You presuppose that the words “Florida man” will shoot your social media posts and news stories up in the ranks of search engines and news feeds, so you include those nouns in your headlines. If the same story happened in Montana or North Dakota would you include the state name in the headline? Not likely.

Look, I am just saying that as you post stories about people sitting in the middle of the road eating pancakes or tossing an alligator into a drive-thru window (both actually happened) remember that these are people, their victims are real victims, and they are not jokes. The story of a man who had a toddler with him while he solicited sex is not merely “strange,” it is tragic.

Cover that too, even if it does not get you “likes” and “clicks.”

This article was updated to clarify language about the size of Florida. 

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
Al Tompkins

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  • I’d like to see the math on that 49% of the east coast is Florida statement.
    My math is giving me 30% (if driving).