The Plantain and Billy Corben Start “Because Miami” News Site

Miami will soon have a new media site called BecauseMiami.com, a venture started by two well-known and irreverent local voices and created in response to what they see as a deficiency in local journalism.

Yesterday, filmmaker Billy Corben, best known for the documentaries Screwball and Cocaine Cowboys, and lawyer Justin Wales, who runs the satirical local news site The Plantain, announced the launch of their new project: a news aggregation website with an editorial board that they hope will be truly representative of the Miami-Dade community.

“We’re not gonna be doing a lot of indigenous reporting — it’ll be like a Drudge Report thing with links to other outlets,” Corben tells New Times, adding that the site may do some investigative news reporting if it has the budget.

Corben and Wales say they have been discussing launching their own news site for years. The site won’t fully launch until October, but the two decided to announce the project early because of recent news about El Nuevo Herald.

Last Friday, an insert called “Libre” that was distributed in El Nuevo Herald included a column that compared Black Lives Matter protesters to Nazis in Germany and that questioned the logic of Jewish people who support the Black Lives Matter movement. After Corben tweeted about the insert, Miami Herald publisher and executive editor Mindy Marques apologized on Twitter and launched an internal investigation.

“I’ve been shaking since Friday, since I saw that Libre insert,” Corben tells New Times. “My hands have been shaking. We were aware of that kind of racism and anti-Semitism in our community, but to see it published in our local paper of record is a scumbag move.”

Wales says that after years of being disappointed with the Herald’s business decisions and editorial board —  which operates the opinions section, including political endorsements — he and Corben finally got the push they needed to make it happen.

“I think it’s time in 2020 for an independent editorial source and a resource for community to know how to get better involved,” says Wales.

The pair cited some publicly criticized moves by the Herald that prompted them to create their own site, including Marques’ response to a tweet from sports columnist Armando Salguero that claimed the three-fifths compromise wasn’t racist, and the editorial board’s political endorsement of incumbent State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who was subsequently reelected.

The moment that originally sparked the idea for Because Miami, however, came two years earlier, when the Herald editorial board endorsed a congressional candidate who claimed she’d been abducted by aliens.

“This idea was really born when they endorsed the alien-abduction lady,” says Corben.

The website takes its name from a hashtag Corben has been using for years whenever something terrible, strange, or uniquely Miami comes up on social media: #BecauseMiami.

“It’s shorthand to answer so many questions people have about our city. Sometimes there’s no explanation, and it’s a good answer to questions to some of the most unexplainable things down here: because Miami,” Corben explains.

The website will aggregate relevant news from a variety of local sources, including New Times and the Herald.

“We’re looking to support, promote, and aggregate the awesome news reporters at places like the Herald. They don’t get good support from the editorial board, and we’d like to give them that love,” Corben says. “We respect and value their reporting.”

Corben and Wales say they’re also putting together their own editorial board, which they expect to be diverse not only in race, ethnicity, and religious background, but also in social class, age, and geographic location. They don’t have a board set in stone yet, but their website will include editorials, opinions, and news analysis from a variety of voices that may not normally have a platform.

“We’re going to build out a board of journalists, editors, and volunteers to make it community led. This isn’t Billy and The Plantain — we want this to be a resource for the public,” Wales emphasizes.

Readers can expect to see some columns by Wales with the same irreverent tone he takes on his own website, though he says community service, not satire, will be the ultimate purpose of Because Miami.

For now, the site consists of a landing page with an email sign-up form and a note explaining the genesis of the site, outlining Corben and Wales’ grievances with the Herald and their mission to separate the paper’s news reporters from the blowback from scandals involving other parts of their newspaper.

Once it launches, readers will see the news aggregation, editorials, and a link to submit their own opinion columns or become a part of the Because Miami board.

“This is an experiment in local journalism. Things still need to be worked out. The goal of this is, first and foremost, [to be] a resource for the community, to be community-led rather than by an investor or small group,” Wales says.

Corben echoes the sentiment that the site will be a source for good in the community.

“Because Miami can also be a good thing, I hope. It can be an answer to certain good things about our community that, unfortunately, don’t happen as often,” he says.