As he prepares to leave the Tampa Bay Times, my thoughts on critic Eric Deggans

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My favorite writer at the Tampa Bay Times, Eric Deggans, is joining NPR as its first-ever TV critic.

To be sure, this is a tremendous blow to the Times and its readers, who have also had to suffer the loss of columnist Howard Troxler and PolitiFact editor Bill Adair, as well as several other key staffers (John Fleming, Jeff Testerman, Matt Waite), during the last two years. Fortunately, the Times has replaced these staffers with new talents, such as Michael Kruse and Alexandra Zayas.

Four years ago, I wrote a birthday tribute to Deggans. While its months before Deggans’ birthday and some of the details from the original post are now outdated (the newspaper changed its name; there’s no more Trox), the sentiment remains the same. 

In basketball, there are players so talented that they can win games without ever touching the ball. Coaches sometimes have a difficult time finding a place for them on the court, yet when they are in the game, they so clearly make everyone else around them better that it is foolish to keep them on the bench. Shane Battier, the mercurial forward on the Houston Rockets, is this kind of player, so much so that he was featured in this must-read New York Times article, “The No-Stats All-Star.”

If there are No-Stats All-Stars in sports, why can’t there be No-Stats All-Stars in journalism? I think there are because that is how I would describe my favorite writer at The St. Petersburg Times, media critic Eric Deggans.

Deggans is the No-Stats All-Star of the St. Petersburg Times. He’s not Howard Troxler, the well-known columnist who probably invented snark long before any blogger ever did, nor is he Adam Smith, uber-blogger and political editor capable of kneecapping an elected official with a single column. Nor is Deggans part of the PolitiFact team or a City Hall reporter or an op-ed writer. Rarely do the power brokers of Tampa Bay say to each other, “Have you read Deggans today?”

In other words, Deggans does not lead the league in any statistical categories. What he does is write excellent, cosmopolitan articles and blog posts on media and pop culture. What he writes doesn’t really fit it any of the newspapers traditional categories, yet his thoughts on modern life are as illuminating as anything the Times has to offer. I tend to believe Deggans is enjoyed most by Times readers who depend on the paper for local news, but rely on other, more important sources for national news.

At one point, Eric Deggans was a member of the editorial board, but that gig just didn’t work out for him. I think it was an issue of trying to force a square peg into a round hole. I don’t think he wanted to be limited by what others wanted for him. If this refers to Deggans’ race, so be it, because if there is any public face of the Times who best embodies the idea of a post-racial society, I think it’s Eric Deggans, the black guy who loves science-fiction as much as any pasty white kid.

I recently had a conversation with Eric about my controversial post about who really is the HNIC of St. Petersburg. To be sure, Eric was not a big fan of the piece, which I found interesting since I had received such favorable reaction from some of the other African-Americans I profiled. Regardless of his view about my work, I found Eric to be as interesting and engaging in person as his columns are to read.

So, without further ado, please let me wish Eric Deggans a belated happy birthday, which he celebrated on Friday. I hope he continues to offer his readers the gift of his published thought for many years to come.

Photo credit: Todd Bates.

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.