By: Anne Geggis
What was once just a way to connect neighbors who were used to mailed, monthly newsletters, Talk Media’s online publications are now must-reads for residents in Northwest Broward after growing into a multi-city publication.
This month, Talk Media, based in Coral Springs, has broken its own records in readership. Typically receiving 300-400k hits per month, readership has skyrocketed to over 900k due to the stay-at-home measures from COVID-19, along with timely news coverage on the virus.
“This past month has been overwhelming,” said Sharon Aron Baron, editor, and Parkland resident. “I thought the news would slow down a bit during the pandemic and we could all relax a bit, but the emails and messages haven’t stopped from readers.”
Parkland Talk, which started a year before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedy, has covered the lives of the victims, their families, with continued coverage on the foundations and nonprofits created in their honor.
Her love of creating community news websites happened after her family moved to the Woodlands Country Club, in 2009, where Baron noticed that the 900-home community had no online means of connecting neighbors.
Notes were posted at various bulletin boards, or the homeowner’s association would send out a monthly newsletter. This form of communication didn’t connect the residents, nor did it provide a quick way to find out about crime, lost pets, or news about the golf course.
Created in 2011, Tamarac Talk, was popular in a city with declining local coverage. Baron put the spotlight on the good and the bad — especially on elected officials who accepted illegal payments from father and son developers.
Covering city government hasn’t been without some friction. In 2017, the City of Tamarac sent her a cease-and-desist letter for writing an article poking fun of the mayor in an editorial using the city logo in an illustration.
The city demanded she take it down, citing its right to protect city property. But Baron said the First Amendment’s protection of parody allowed her to use it.
Due to the recent pandemic, her annual April Fool’s Day joke was canceled in Coral Springs.
“This wasn’t the year to do it,” Baron said. “People are already too much on edge.”
Her pranks have included moving the Coral Springs Charter School to Tamarac and opening more mattress stores in the city — which residents were already complaining were far too numerous. And in 2016, she ran a joke story about Coral Springs annexing Parkland — which caused the phones to light up at city hall.
“Mayor Skip Campbell, while at first was shocked by the deluge of calls, actually thought it was hilarious, and never failed to publicly bring up whenever he saw me in the audience somewhere,” Baron said.
The websites, built and maintained by her, have been a ten-year work in progress. Over the years, she has taught herself basic HTML and PHP as well as website design to give it an engaging look.
“Well, it takes a village. My hosting company helps. I have crashed a lot of times over the years, and I have also changed servers. But I’m able to handle the traffic now, and I’m constantly trying to make the user experience easy — while showcasing my advertisers at the same time.”
For the third year in a row, Talk Media earned First Place for Independent Website at the Florida Press Club’s 2019 Excellence in Journalism competition, which took place in Boca Raton last November.
Talk Media was chosen based on timely and relevant news of the day as well as articles that were good examples of feature reporting in independent online news.
Articles have been quoted in the Washington Post, the Sun-Sentinel, and The Huffington Post.
Now, it isn’t all done alone. The company currently has a team of writers, as well as a large online fan following on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, which she says “has taken years” to build.
Her publications are well-known for promoting restaurants, new businesses, students, sports, and citizens.
She has also reunited hundreds of lost pets on social media before only pages were created that did so.
“I’ve reunited hundreds of dogs and cats, but also rabbits, birds, turtles, and a pig. I’m very proud of this,” she laughed.
Baron has even reunited lost Vietnam medals and photos.
“I had a Coral Springs resident contact me who found Vietnam War medals, a flag, and photos in her attic with the name of a deceased young man. I wrote a story hoping to find someone who knew him. Well, a relative in another state saw the story and contacted the veteran’s sister, who was reunited with the items which were lost during a move.”
Moments like these when she has connected people in the communities she covers — whether it’s a story about someone’s GoFundMe or highlighting a local business — makes it all worth it, she said.
“Rep Ted Deutch read that article about the veteran, and, at a Town Hall meeting, he recognized the woman who found the medals — along with the sister of the deceased and mentioned me, which was really nice,” Baron said.