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The Tampa Bay Times' Michael Kruse has become a true 'Timesman'

By on December 3, 2012

Has there been a bigger fanboy than me of Times enterprise reporter Michael Kruse? I doubt it, although admirers of Kruse’s work are increasing almost exponentially, as best evidenced by his winning of the Paul Hansell Award for Distinguished Achievement in Florida Journalism, given by the Florida Society of News Editors to the best writer in the state.

No matter how many awards Michael wins, I will always think of him as that bearded fellow perched upon the bar at Kawha Coffee, wearing the blue on blue that is the de facto uniform of Times reporters, who was never too busy to talk about his writing or the work of other writers at the newspaper. In other words, Michael is just another guy, no matter how powerful are his words.

And, lest I forget, he is a “Timesman.”

This was a term shared with me by a former employee of the newspaper who uses it as a way to describe the most ardent of company men of Times Publishing Co. These are the men (and women — I’m looking at you Uriquedes) who do not put ‘the’ before Tampa Bay Times, just as there is no ‘the’ before Central Intelligence Agency. A Timesman is the staunchest defender of not just the Times, the actual, physical entity, but also of the Times brand of journalism.

For the most part, a Timesman is a noble soul, dedicated to the art and craft of big-J journalism. Their work speaks for itself and it is often awarded the highest honors within the industry.

Timesmen come and go and remain as such even after they leave First Avenue South. Ace Wall Street Journal reporter Peter Wallsten is a Timesman, even if he works a thousand miles away. In retirement, former columnist Howard Troxler is a Timesman, as evidenced by his swan song defense of his colleagues and the good works they perform.

Critics of Timesmen, found most often in competing newsrooms or on blogs such as this, complain about the better-than attitude of all those who work at the St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay Times. Most often, a Timesman’s response to these accusations of snobbery is, “…And your point?”

To me, the Achilles’ Heel of a Timesman is not his or her arrogance, but the blinders they wear to meta criticism of the Times itself.

If it has not been reported by the Times, it’s as if an event never happened.  And since Times reporters go by what they read in their own newspaper for too much of their own perspective, they are oblivious to much of what is going on around the very subjects they cover.

My most consistent criticism of, if not disappointment with, my favorite reporter/writer at the Times, Eric Deggans, is the double standard he employs as critic of local media.  For example, Deggans could not wait to blog about the ongoing saga of the sale of the Tampa Tribune, but he was all but silent on the Times’ disastrous reporting of a non-plan to buy $1 billion in regional properties. The story received the Poynter treatment, but it went unmentioned by the newspaper’s own media critic.

That’s because, as Deggans has reminded me on numerous occasions, he is not the Times‘ ombudsman.  It’s not his job to point out where the strong Timesman stumbled, only to notice when a local TV station loses their weatherman to another market.

For the record, I’ve never been sure if Deggans is a Timesman. He certainly is a defender of his employer, but there was that whole episode about Deggans moving to and then off the editorial board that makes one wonder if he’s a pure Timesman.

After yesterday, there’s no doubt that Michael Kruse is a Timesman.  His blog and his Twitter feed read like a tip sheet of what the Times did, in his estimation, well that day. One does not have to read the actual newspaper, only Kruse’s feed to know which stories are worth reading. As someone who assembled his own Twitter list of all of the Times reporters and follows (almost obsessively) each of their Tweets, no one is a homer for the Times like my man Michael Kruse.

So what’s wrong with this? Nothing I suppose, except that it does not allow for doubt or meta-introspection or self-effacement. There hasn’t been a moment where Kruse blogs, comments or Tweets ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’

By this perspective, the Times is all good, regardless if it is all powerful.

Like Deggans, Kruse can argue that it his not job, nor to his advantage, to criticize his employer. Just as a story that does not fit into the narrative the newspaper would like to construct would, perhaps unbeknownst to Kruse, not sit well with certain editors.

So when Kruse writes, as he did yesterday, about St. Petersburg’s welcoming sign on the Howard Franklin Bridge, of course the tone is negative because this fits into the Times publisher Paul Tash’s worldview that St. Petersburg’s parochialism runs counter to the regionalism he would like to see in order to make his newspaper more attractive to national and regional advertisers.

Of course Kruse and Co., have written nothing about the arduous process undergone to build the welcoming sign.

Of course Kruse quotes unnamed architects who find fault with the sign’s design.

Of course there is no mention of the hundreds of Facebook users and social networkers who upload photos of the welcoming sign as a declaration that they have returned “home” after a trip away.

No, it’s just that the sign is so big, those who envisioned, built and admire it, think so small.

All of which fits perfectly into the narrative being constructed by a newspaper bent on shaping coverage through its regionalism-first perspective.

Ask yourself this, if Kruse’s column from yesterday had sung the virtues of the donor who provided the funds for the welcoming sign or the mayor whose vision was to erect this declaration of existence, would it have made the newspaper?

I don’t know, really. I hope so, then again, I haven’t read that story in the newspaper.

What I read yesterday was a Timesman carrying water for his beloved Times. A skeptic might say it was also a company man subconsciously doing the bidding of his employer.

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