SL7: Not too many people in Tallahassee know that journalism wasn’t your only chosen profession. You went to law school after years of practicing journalism. What led you to that and how long ago was it?
Rosica: I started working at the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, and was still there in 2005 when Gannett bought it from Knight Ridder. They said, “Don’t worry, change is good.” I figured, if change is good, maybe I needed my own change. A buddy of mine soon let me know his alma mater – Drexel University in Philadelphia – was opening a new law school and half-jokingly suggested I apply.
I scrambled to take the LSAT, applied, and was accepted, with a scholarship to boot. I’m from South Jersey so it was a homecoming. I passed the bar in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but the problem was I graduated in 2009 – the height of the Great Recession. After not being able to find more than part-time work, Brendan Farrington let me know he was looking for an annual session reporter at the Associated Press.
I wound up taking multiple leaves and covered three sessions in a row for the AP before the Tampa Tribune came calling in 2013. An editor there asked me to consider staffing the Trib’s Tallahassee bureau, which had been dormant for a few years and they wanted to restart it. I wound up getting that job, then jumped to Florida Politics in 2015.
SL7: How does having a working knowledge of the law help you cover politics, politicians, and public policy?
Rosica: Early on, maybe 2012, I was in a gaggle with a lawmaker about some bill and he was saying something that didn’t ring true. He then spouted the old saying, “I’m not a lawyer, but…” I had to pipe up and say, “Well, I am a lawyer, and…” That didn’t go over well. Bottom line: It does help me figure out the signal from the noise. Another time was when the House quit early in 2015. I remember asking then-Senate President Andy Gardiner if he was going to take them to court, citing the constitution. He kind of shrugged it off, but then later the Senate Democrats did just that, unsuccessfully of course.
Obviously, it’s most helpful covering trials and court proceedings, which I do a fair amount of. I think I’m one of the few, if not the only, capital reporter who frequently checks the circuit and federal civil court filings. Not that it was earthshaking, but I scooped the Tallahassee Democrat on the lawsuit filed against the local Mexican restaurant over the donkey statue.
SL7: You also have the unique distinction of going from traditional reporting at the Tampa Tribune to now reporting for FloridaPolitics.com With the news cycle constantly speeding up, how do you keep up with stories?
Rosica: Mainly, I’m up at 5:30 weekdays starting to read the morning emails, check the various news websites, court filings, etc. I hate to resort to cliches, but it’s like drinking from a firehose, particularly during session. We do our best to compete with the newspapers and other mainstream outlets, and break news as much as they do. Not that we always get credit when we do.
I kept the gambling beat I started at the Trib and have done a good job staying on top of the Seminole Tribe’s fight to keep blackjack and the effort to pass a gambling bill every session. I do think one thing we can all get better at is looking back to see what stories we’ve covered that need revisiting.
SL7: What’s it like to work with Peter Schorsch? What can you share about him that not too many regularly see or know?
Rosica: This may come as a surprise to some, but he is a decent guy with a good sense of humor. He’s always treated me like a prince and makes clear he appreciates my contributions to the operation. Peter also is one of the most incredibly connected people in Florida politics and in the Tallahassee process. He is a “tip”-getting machine.
SL7: To date, what has been your favorite legislative issue? Why?
Rosica: I tend to like booze bills. There was the growler bill a few years ago, and now the fight over free beer glasses. For the record, I’m more of a brown liquor guy. But there’s craft distilling bills up this year too, so I’m covered. And of course, I may have been the first reporter to cover the whiskey and Wheaties bill when it was first filed back in 2014.
SL7: As a reporter, what are your thoughts about fake news and the national mainstream media coverage? Is that paradigm, whether you agree with it or not, influencing how state news, out of the capital, is covered?
Rosica: So really, the “fake news” thing is the agitation by some who don’t like a particular story or line of coverage. Reporters have always dealt with accusations of bias, fair or not. But I honestly don’t think we deal with it as much in Tallahassee as the D.C. reporters do. I know I don’t worry about it, and it doesn’t sway how I write any given story.
I can’t remember the last time I got hate mail or an angry phone call, which is a lot different than when I first got into the business in the 1990s. And I am nowhere near as confrontational on Twitter as some other reporters are. More often than not, if I’m not tweeting a story, I’m just cracking wise about something.
SL7: You have become quite the family guy over the last several years. Tell us about your wife and children. How have they changed you for the better? Assuming that was ever possible.
Rosica: My wife Erin works for the state, but when I first met her she was getting her master’s in divinity at Princeton. She’s also on the board at First Presbyterian Church downtown. I can’t adequately describe what influence she has had on me in terms of following Christ’s example. She is a support and a blessing, as are Nicolas (almost 3) and Emilia (9 months). Nothing happens at the Capitol that can compare to those kids’ smiles and giggles.
SL7: Jim, thank you for sharing a bit of yourself for the SL7 Interviews series.
Rosica: My pleasure. See you around the 4th floor!
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Patrick Slevin is founder and CEO of SL7 Consulting. A Tallahassee based, global public relations and stakeholder engagement practice that serves clients seeking to educate stakeholders on the benefits of change in a status quo world spanning corporate, public affairs, issues management, crisis, zoning & development, political, and workforce communications.
Go to www.PatrickSlevin.com for more information.