At Tampa Bay Times, it’s no longer ‘who watches the watchmen’, but WHO are the watchmen?

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Breaking up is hard for me to do, so I am still reeling at the news that David DeCamp is leaving the Times to be Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown’s communications director.

And how can you blame him? Dude is going to be making a straight $100K a year. At best, DeCamp was making, what, $50,000 a year, — tops — at the Times.  How can you begrudge someone for accepting an offer which doubles their salary?

I can’t.

No, my issue is not with DeCamp, but with the Times itself.

All I want to know who is minding the store right now? Who is watching St. Petersburg’s City Hall while beat reporter Michael Van Sickler covers state politics?  Who is watching the Pinellas Sheriff’s Office, during one of the most tumultuous periods in that organization’s history, with Rita Farlow no longer at the paper?  Who is watching the Pinellas County Commission, which is enduring its own difficult period, while DeCamp cleans out his desk?

It’s no longer a question of quis custodiet ipsos custodes, it’s a question of who are the custodis.

Here’s the bittersweet irony of this whole matter: the newspaper, like most journalism organizations, has been dumping veteran reporters and their incrementally-accrued higher salaries in favor of fresh-out-of-J-school wunderkinds willing to work for less than their experienced colleagues.  But what DeCamp’s leaving shows (actually it was reporter twenty-something reporter Emily Nipps’ announced departure last week that really demonstrates this) is that even the kids are not alright.

Nipps told Creative Loafing that her finances were becoming more of a concern for her lately, and so in the last month she began to look outside the Times for the first time since she’s worked there.

Bottom line: the veterans are being laid off or bought out and the young guns don’t want to stick around.

God forbid something horrible were to happen in St. Petersburg/Pinellas right now, similar to the shootings of police officers last year. Who at the newspaper is in place to accurately report about it?

Of course, it doesn’t need to be a breaking story which prompts this question.  This year, the Pinellas Commission and Sheriff’s Office are both electing new leaders.  Charlie Justice is challenging Commissioner Nancy Bostock; Janet Long will be challenging Commissioner Neil Brickfield; and Bob Gualtieri and Everett Rice are duking it out to be Sheriff.

Who will be around to cover these critical elections?

The newspaper was soooo worried about sewing up the key Land o’ Lakes and Lutz markets that it ditched its name to appear as if its a more regional newspaper, yet it can barely cover the news coming out of its hometown.

Update: I do hear that the Times has hired a reporter to replace Farlow.

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.