5 things I think I think about today’s Tampa Bay Times

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Yes, it has been a while since I last posted one of these “5 things” columns.

I sort of lost my heart for it after the imbroglio over the Times publishing the story of a 39-year-old woman who suffered from persistent genital arousal disorder and committed suicide a day after the story went online. The Times handling of this story — near universal defense of its decision to go with the story — prompted me to cancel my subscription to the newspaper. I was that upset with the Times.  (It didn’t help matters that some Times reporters attacked me personally after my criticism of the newspaper went national.)

But, with the 2013 legislative session beginning on Tuesday, I have relented and signed up again for home delivery. And with that renewed home delivery, comes this column. Like before, my thoughts are mostly related to its political coverage. 

Here are five things I think I think about the political coverage today’s Tampa Bay Times.

Retiring Times senior correspondent Lucy Morgan has penned a letter to House Speaker Will Weatherford, with a few words of advice since she won’t be around the Capitol.

Long story short: Talking a lot to reporters is good; talking a lot to lobbyists is bad.

What Morgan writes about lobbyists could easily be said about reporters.

For example, Morgan writes: “Take the lobbyists seriously but keep them at arm’s length. There are nice ones, some smart ones and some downright cutthroats…”

Substitute reporter for lobbyist in those sentences and the advice still make sense. 

Since this is Morgan’s last official column, it is due a great deal of respect. And Morgan does mean well with her advice. But it also represents the typical viewpoint of traditional political journalism — that is is somehow on equal footing with not only the lobby corps, but the lawmakers themselves.

Media critic Eric Deggans is upset that the Washington Post‘s idea to convert its ombudsman job to a reader’s representative. 

“It’s easy for me to write this, I know, given that the Tampa Bay Times doesn’t have an ombudsman,” writes Deggans. “But that’s exactly why I have always valued newspapers which do feature them; it’s an extra level of accountability few other major institutions in American business or media employs.”

Knowing his affinity for ombudsmanship, what’s keeping Deggans from writing more often about his employer? 

How far will the Times go to see the Rays moved to Tampa? It’s echoing the team’s ownership’s touting of the 85-acre Tropicana Field site as a “chance for neighborhood rehabilitation” if only St. Pete will take “another leap of civic faith.”

Reporter Stephen Nohlgren, who, it is disclaimed at the bottom of the story, owns a small office building two blocks from Tropicana Field, is able to grab quotes from several prominent developers who “can’t sleep at night” they’re so excited at the prospect of redeveloping the Trop site.

But it’s not a developer who gives Nohlgren the best wood, but Rays vice president Michael Kalt who offers the most eye-opening quote. Kalt recently told the Pinellas County Commission, the city “is sitting on an enormous piece of land in a rapidly growing downtown that is, frankly, lying fallow.” 

The Rays’ owners always seem to know what’s best for St. Pete, don’t they?

Boss. Buddy. Chief. According to columnist Bill Maxwell, these are all terms “disingenuous form of address. (They) pretend to be deferential when, in fact, it is masking disrespect.”

Maxwell points these out as part of a column insisting “employers whose bottom lines depend on quality customer service should adequately train their white male employees to treat blacks with respect.”

“Label me a hypersensitive old man for caring about how I am addressed and greeted by white male employees in customer service after all these years,” wrties Maxwell. “How I am greeted or addressed, in fact, determines if I stay to be served or immediately walk out of a place.”

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with caring how you are addressed by ANY (not just white) employees in customer service, but Maxwell sees racism behind every host stand.

“Although I’m not a social scientist, I am convinced that racism, conscious or unconscious, drives many white males in customer service to use these demeaning addresses and greetings. They cannot bring themselves to use terms of respect for black men, particularly graybeards like me.”

Mr. Maxwell, I’ve been a general manager at a prominent St. Petersburg restaurant (where you once dined and I made sure you were treated especially well, not because you are a graybeard, but because that’s how we treated all of our customers).

I, too, am not a social scientist, but just as you are absolute in your opinions, so am I in mine and I’ve never heard a waiter, waitress, bartender or hostess or anyone else whose livelihood depends on tipping refer to a black man as “boss man” or “chief.”

I don’t know where you are eating, sir, but I suggest you find frequent different restaurants where racism isn’t on the menu. 

(By the way, Bill, you weren’t the most gregarious guest or generous tipper to ever grace a dining room. Just an FYI.)

For those who missed it, a new poll indicates a high approval rating among Saint Petersburg voters for the Tampa Bay Times, while also revealing ambivalence, if not, resistance to the newspaper’s candidate recommendations and fierce opposition to its name change.

The results of an automated survey conducted by St. Pete Polls commissioned by SaintPetersBlog show that 62% of registered St. Petersburg voters have a favorable opinion of the Times, while 24% of respondents registered a negative view and 15% said that they were unsure. 

Despite this high approval rating, the Times‘ editorial board’s recommendation of a political candidate hurts more than it helps.  Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate endorsed by the newspaper, while 33% said they would be more likely. Almost 30% said they were unsure if the Times‘ recommendation would make a difference.

Among Republican voters, the Times’ recommendation is the kiss of death. 60% of those Republicans surveyed said they would be less likely to support a candidate endorsed by theTimes.

While apparently doing little damage to its brand, the Times‘ decision to change its name from theSt. Petersburg Times to the Tampa Bay Times does not sit well with St. Pete voters, a high percentage of whom the Times counts as its readers. Fifty-two percent said they did not support the name change, while 22% said they were supportive. Twenty-six percent of those surveyed said they did not care.

The Times coverage of two hot-button issues, the debate concerning the new St. Petersburg Pier and the Tampa Bay Rays pursuit of a new stadium. is viewed generally as fair and balanced, although a third of respondents said they were unsure. 

This poll of City of St. Petersburg registered voters was conducted on Wednesday, February 27. This poll used the registered voter lists supplied by the state of Florida as of January 3rd, 2013. The sample of voters that were called included random samples of registered voters in the City of St. Petersburg.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.