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

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Undoubtedly,the Tampa Bay Times is proud of its new name, but the roll-out over the weekend can be described as nothing less than propaganda.

Look at the sheer volume of coverage the Times gave itself:

There is a (brave!) editorial praising the newspaper for the name change.

There’s a video, modestly titled “It’s an evolution born of success…”

There’s a rah-rah piece by Richard Danielson about the renaming of the Tampa Bay Times Forum.  The story included boosterism cloaked in false modesty, such as this line: “The change heartened fans who sometimes scratched their heads over why an iconic building in downtown Tampa was called the St. Pete Times Forum.”

There’s more video here.

There was also a slew of micro op-eds from Times reporters about what the term “Tampa Bay” means, including this one from Michael Kruse which kinda reads like a criticism of the “regionalism” at the heart of the newspaper’s decision to change its name.

Nowhere — nowhere! — in this coverage is a single voice of dissent.  If you read the Tampa Bay Times, one might conclude there isn’t one reader who disagrees with the decision.

But read the Times Facebook page and the overwhelming majority of the comments are fiercely negative towards the name change.  A sampling:

From Crystal Rose Nyerick:

I think changing the name is ridiculous and unnecessary. Isn’t there enough ‘real’ news to be covered and researched to keep the new CEO so busy that even having time to think about changing the name of a historic newspaper would be an insult to where our concerns should truly be.

From Kelsey Parker:

Where is the DISlike button?? NOBODY I haven’t spoken to likes the switch to ‘Tampa Bay Times’. Noone. St. Pete Times is OUR city’s name…..St. Petersburg is a very unique city and shouldn’t be gobbled up and clumped into Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay is a region – NOT a CITY. Personally, I’d like to stay as far away from the word “Tampa” as I can!!!!

There are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of these comments on the Times Facebook page, yet none of this sentiment can be found in any of the Times coverage of itself.

The closest a Times reporter gets to being critical of the company they work at is Eric Deggans:

“I will certainly admit twinges of odd feelings as the newspaper went about the business of officially changing its name from the St. Petersburg Times to the Tampa Bay Times — a transition which became official on the front page today. We had an internal sale of promotional items with the old logos last month which felt a bit like a wake, and the day the signs were replaced on our downtown headquarters, you felt the sense of something momentous clicking into place.”

But Eric doesn’t stray too far, writing:

“I hope readers who may be most angered by the change today, at least know that its rooted in the desire to maintain the newspaper as a vital resource for us all.”

And therein lies the GRAND fallacy of this entire enterprise.

The Times is making this change because it believes it is/wants to be a regional newspaper.  The newspaper’s commitment to this mission is embodied in the front-page editorial it published discussing the rebranding.

But the reality is something different.

The Times can barely cover St. Petersburg and Pinellas, but now it wants to focus more on Hernancdo, Lutz and Thonotosassa.  The Times has one reporter covering St. Petersburg’s City Hall; it has one reporter covering Pinellas’ County Commission; it has significantly reduced its coverage in north Pinellas.

Talk to the reporters who cover these beats and they’ll tell you that, despite working fifty or sixty hours a week, they know there are stories – big, interesting stories – that they are missing.

Over the last six months, the Times has laid off key reporters, lost Pulitzer-prize winning storytellers and reduced staff pay for the second time in as many years.

Yet their strategy is to expand into East Hillsborough in order to convince ad buyers for the Sports Authority that the Times is a regional media outlet.

In other words, what the Times propagandists will tell you, basically, is that they are a national newspaper trapped in our little small town.

“What it reflects,” Eric Deggans writes “more than anything, is the changing nature of the not-so local newspaper. As much as I love serving the people of St. Petersburg in my work, I’ve become Exhibit A for the multiple levels on which a writer’s stories can reach the world. Many of the local media outlets I cover are based in Tampa, of course, and my stories on NPR and appearances on CNN and PBS spread what I do to a national audience.”

So yes, the Times does national well. Deggans is great. The Buzz blog is great. The enterprise reporting is great. PolitiFact is great. The sports page is great.

But what the Times no longer does well is local. The columnists – Carlton, Gadsden, etc., – are weak. The Bay Buzz is weak.  The local political coverage – of City Halls, elections, County Commissions – is spread too thin.

It’s almost as if, with this rebranding, the Tampa Bay Times has created a tremendous void.  Maybe someone should create a blog and focus on local politics…

The highlight from WUSF story about me hating the name change:

How much does the man behind Saint Petersblog hate “Tampa Bay Times,” the proposed new name for the St. Petersburg Times?

Enough to suggest some mild vandalism to the new Tampa Bay Times signs, if only in jest.

“I am close enough where I could almost knock over their new signs, if I had a baseball bat,” Peter Schorsch said in an interview with WUSF. “Fortunately for them and me, I have neither.”

Picture of me burning an early edition of the first Tampa Bay Times:

Channel 10’s Noah Pransky tweeted an excellent point this morning:

Sunday’s “What is Tampa Bay?” series in @TB_Times conveniently de-emphasized areas paper doesn’t cover (Polk, Manasota)

Actually, @adamsmithtimes, the Tampa Bay TV market is 10 counties, including all of Sarasota, Polk, & Citrus. Not to mention Manatee!

It doesn’t look Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus got the memo about the Times’ name change, issuing the required call for the 2012 convention while still using the old name for the St. Pete Times Forum.

A year-end compilation of the best bloopers in local TV news:

Check out Mashable’s list of 2011’s best spoof Twitter accounts.  I’m still hoping to find inspiration for the Times-centric Twitter handles I set up in advance of the name change.  Included among those handles are @TBTimesBucs, @TBTimesMoney, @TBTimesRays, @TBTimesPolitics, and @TBTimesSports.

On Jan. 2, the Monday-Saturday newsstand price of The New York Times increases from $2.00 to $2.50. The Sunday newsstand price will be unchanged. Home delivery prices will go up by 20 cents to 60 cents per week, depending on location and the days of delivery.

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.