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5 things I think I think about today's Tampa Bay Times and other media

By on July 14, 2012

After a month-long hiatus, one of this blog’s most popular features – 5 things I think I think about today’s Tampa Bay Times – is returning.

Actually, the name of this feature should be called “5 things I think I think about the political coverage in today’s Tampa Bay Times” because that’s what I am really critiquing . I’m not worried about the Floridian section or the sports page.  I am concerned with the coverage of state and local politics which is generally published in the front section, the editorial and op-ed pages, the metro section and, of course, online.

I just wanted to clear that up before I restarted this feature.

First things first, isn’t this is a great front page?

Sometimes I’m a real prick and wonder aloud silly ideas like, ‘I’m Steve Bousquet’s assignment editor’ after I see that Steve writing about a similar topic as I did, but only after I’ve posted what I’ve written.

First of all, after speaking with a senior political reporter at the Times, I am now quite sure that Bousquet doesn’t even read this or any other blog.  Do I think that others read this blog and then discuss with Bousquet what is written here? Of course, but that doesn’t mean Bousquet is not giving this blog its proper attribution. It just means two relatively intelligent political writers, one a journalist, the other a bloger and political consultant, can occasionally arrive at the same conclusion at about the same time.

Case in point, I wrote this post about Senator Joe Negron financing the attacks on senate candidate Jim Frishe and posted it at 12:46 p.m. on Friday.  Little did I know that Bousquet had already written this post for the Buzz blog about who was behind the anti-Frishe ads. I never saw Bousquet’s post.  All I can do is assume Bousquet and I share a well-informed source.

Still, I’ve been a little loose with my implications about the origin of Bousquet’s work. For that, I apologize.

In case you haven’t noticed, the Times has installed new reporters to cover the St. Petersburg and Pinellas County beats. Working the City Hall beat is Mark Puente, while Anna Phillips is covering Court Street. So far, both reporters are off to a strong start (Phillips even deigned to stop Quorum, our political happy hour where many local pols were in attendance.)

My first hope for Puente and Phillips is that they will be allowed to resurrect the Bay Buzz blog, the Times online repository for local political news. It has languished for months, if not years, now and should either be restarted or abandoned. Either direction would be better than the sporadic posting that occurs on the Bay Buzz now.

But I may be hoping for too much.

While I’ve been impressed with Puente and Phillips initial print stories, their contributions to the Bay Buzz left something to be desired.

One of Puente’s recent posts was a thumbnail sketch of the race between Jeff Brandes and Jim Frishe for State Senate District 22. In his post, Puente wrote, “Voters should expect the contest to get even nastier in the coming weeks. Thousands more will be spent on television advertisements. Mail carriers will deliver hundreds of fliers.”

Well, actually it’s more like hundreds of thousands more will be spent on television advertisements.  And mail carriers will deliver tens, if not hundreds of thousands of fliers. Puente’s post gives the impression he does not understand the scale of this race.

As for Phillips, she offered a routine update about a new website from the Pinellas Supervisor of Elections. Ho-hum. But it was her post about the endorsements of the Pinellas Realtors that left me unimpressed. I’m not sure why she wrote only about Charlie Justice being endorsed and not the other, some would say more interesting decisions, such as the endorsement of Bob Gualtieri and Janet Long.

Despite these weak notes, I believe Puente and Phillips can lend their substantial talents to revitalizing the Bay Buzz.

Another note about Puente. At least one serious possible candidate for St. Petersburg Mayor has told me that they are less inclined to run for the office because they don’t want to win and have to butt heads with a reporter with such a successful career in investigative reporting.

As his resume attests, Puente spent more than five years with The Plain Dealer in Cleveland where he won multiple journalism awards for his investigative work. The newspaper nominated him twice for the Pulitzer Prize. His reporting forced a 32-year sheriff in Ohio’s largest county to resign from office in 2009 and plead guilty to theft-in-office charges. His investigative work has been recognized by the Associated Press Society of Ohio, the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The University of Colorado presented him with the Al Nakkula Award in 2010, journalism’s only award devoted to police and crime reporting.

And now he’s already got some local politicians quaking in their proverbial boots.

One impressive feature about the Bay Buzz has been Bill Varian’s coverage of the Hillsborough political scene.  On Friday, Varian was constantly updating his post about which candidates were raising what in Hillsborough’s very active campaign cycle. If only Pinellas had received such coverage…

Other media notes

The American novelist Michael Cunningham was one of the Pulitzer fiction jurists this year, sifting through over 300 books to present the Board with three finalists. In a two-part essay at The New Yorker, he details the selection process, what makes literature great, and his thoughts on the Board not awarding a prize this year. It makes for fascinating reading. You can find the first installment here. A highlight (via Andrew Sullivan):

Utter objectivity … is not only impossible when judging literature, it’s not exactly desirable. Fiction involves trace elements of magic; it works for reasons we can explain and also for reasons we can’t. If novels or short-story collections could be weighed strictly in terms of their components (fully developed characters, check; original voice, check; solidly crafted structure, check; serious theme, check) they might satisfy, but they would fail to enchant. A great work of fiction involves a certain frisson that occurs when its various components cohere and then ignite. The cause of the fire should, to some extent, elude the experts sent to investigate.

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