O-Town interview: Earl Crittenden, Jr., a true Renaissance man

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(Photo courtesy of Earl Crittenden)

An Orlando native, Earl Crittenden, Jr. graduated from University of Florida in 1986 with a B.S. in journalism and quickly moved to New York, where he studied acting under the tutelage of renowned German-born American actress Uta Hagan. Transitioning from the soap opera and theater world to journalism, he worked as an associate producer of CNBC’s Straight Forward with Roger Ailes and wrote for such prominent magazines as New York Magazine, Hamptons, George and Manhattan File. In his short-lived but highly successful journalism career, he covered politics—one of his features included Bill Clinton’s second inauguration and inaugural ball—political fundraising, current events and social culture. After graduating with a law degree from Fordham University School of Law, he moved back to Orlando, in 2003, and has since practiced general civil litigation and is of counsel to GrayRobinson.

Of all his accomplishments, he perhaps takes the greatest pride in his role as chairman of the board of trustees for the onePULSE Foundation, a nonprofit that will support the construction and maintenance of the Pulse Memorial and Museum, confer scholarships in the names of the 49 lives that were lost and donate community grants to the survivors and the victims’ families.

With such a sprawling background, Crittenden embodies what Orlando is all about: sophistication, diversity, benevolence, and, above all, giving back.

After working as an actor and a journalist in New York, what made you decide to go into law?

After doing a daily television show that featured news anchors, I started to feel like there were spectators and doers. From my perspective, newsmakers seemed to be promoting an agenda rather than reporting news. I guess maybe I was a bit idealistic, but I just didn’t want to be on that side of it. I wanted to be the person who goes out and—I know this sounds trite—changes the world, and getting a law degree was infinitely more helpful in allowing me to pursue that goal in a more active way.

There’s a lot of speculation right now about what constitutes real news and conscientious journalism. Where do you go to find news?

I look everywhere. I start out on Google News and see what some of the headlines are, and I personally like to break it down to see which publications are saying what. If I’m curious enough about a subject, I’ll go to two different sources with opposing viewpoints. However, that partisanship is exactly what disappoints me about journalism today. It saddens me to see that there’s editorialism in journalism; there’s just no more Walter Cronkite. I know some people would argue that he skewed left, but having looked back at some of those clips and seeing those news accounts, I think he was reporting facts.

In the current digital and social media climate, what are the best ways for journalists to obtain facts?

I see a lot of journalists not going directly to the sources or working hard enough to do their homework. A Google search is not really comprehensive preparation. I certainly would not have trusted that had that even existed back when I was a journalist.

In the past decade, Orlando residents have seen a lot of industrial growth downtown. What do you think about some of the major developments happening right now, like the expansion of I4 and the Creative Village?

I sat on the DTO (Downtown Orlando Project), and one of the things that kept coming up was the I4 project. It’s interesting how they’re going to take such a big transportation project and also use every bit they can for a cultural venue underneath. I think it’s really exciting what’s happening in Orlando, and I also think that some people might get frustrated with all the growth because it’s already causing a lot of traffic congestion. But those are issues we’re going to have to figure out, and I’m confident we will.

On the flipside of that you have so much sophistication and arts and culture that’s coming here. I find Orlando is a great place where you can get involved, if you want to. It’s a welcoming place, and I think that’s one of the biggest characteristics that sets us apart.

As regards UCF coming downtown, I keep hearing the term game changer, and I think that’s true. It’s going to bring so many of thousands of people here and create ancillary jobs and restaurants and stores—things that really keep an urban community going.

Earl with Kay Rawlins attending an Orlando City game. (Photo courtesy of Earl Crittenden)

What image do you think Orlando is projecting nationally and globally? Are we still recognized expressly as a tourist city?

That [image] has evolved over the years from my point of view. One of my passions is travelling, especially international travel. What I’ve found is that Orlando has always been a marquee name; you never have to tell people you’re from Orlando, Florida. However, some people would pretentiously raise an eyebrow if you said you were from here because they associated it with theme parks. But now Orlando has turned into this very sophisticated place that has something for everyone, and I think people are finally starting to see that.

How do you think we compare to other major cities in the U.S.? Would you say we’re trying to be more like New York City?

I think most cities want to go the way of New York, but having been a New Yorker, I know how difficult that is. New York is limited to being in that physical space and all that’s going on in that location. The people coming to Orlando now are more the creative class, which New York has in abundance. So I think it’s those elements that Orlando has adopted and is working toward. One of the things that has always impressed me about Orlando is that people can get involved here, and they can actually get things done. You just don’t see that in bigger cities, or it takes infinitely longer.

As chairman of the board of trustees for the one- PULSE Foundation, you’ve been immersed in helping the city commemorate the 49 lives lost in the Pulse shooting. In your view, how has this unspeakable and unforgettable tragedy affected the community?

I think it let Orlando see what it already had, which is love and acceptance. We didn’t get there because of what happened 48 hours after a tragedy. It was already there. Orlando saw itself in the mirror, and the world saw it, too. We’re very diverse and accepting here, and unfortunately, not every part of the country has the level of civil rights that Orlando and Orange County has. If you look back, Orlando has a track record of saying, “We love everybody. You’re welcome here. It’s all good.”

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