Columnist Steve Otto retiring from Tampa Tribune after 45 years

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After more than four decades of reporting on Tampa Bay’s diverse people and politics, Tampa Tribune columnist Steve Otto announced his retirement on Sunday.

Otto’s final column is on July 13.

Although Otto will no longer be a full-time columnist, his work will still be featured on an occasional basis as a freelance columnist.

It was not his decision to leave the Tribune, Otto said, but he did express gratitude for how his leaving was handled.

“They were very generous about the whole thing,” Otto told Tampa Bay Times reporter Caitlin Johnston. “The truth is, I was probably going to retire anyhow as I’m getting old and tired and decrepit.”

Otto’s column Sunday featured the announcement, which talked about changes in the newspaper business over 45 years at the Tribune, such as increased diversity and technological evolution from typewriters to computers.

“Steve will continue to keep his finger on the pulse of the Big Guava for all of us, and for that we are grateful,” said an editor’s note before Otto’s column, using the term coined by Otto to describe Tampa.

Otto, a Tampa native, was from a military family, living in places like Japan and Germany. He graduated from Plant High School and served in the U.S. Air Force prior to his full-time role at the Tribune.

During his tenure at the paper, Otto wrote about sports, politics, food, movies and television, before becoming an editor and columnist.

He also launched the Steve Otto Chili Cook-Off, a fundraiser in its 25th year to benefit a variety of charities. Otto’s second book, Spirit of the Bay, was a part of Tampa’s time capsule.

“He doesn’t sit in his ivory tower and dream up stories,” said Jan Platt, a former Hillsborough County Commissioner. “He’s out there in the public, listening and creating stories based on what he sees and hears. He’ll be sorely missed.”

Platt said she was glad to see Otto will still be regularly featured  as a freelance columnist.

Jack Espinosa, a former spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said that Otto “ knows who the bad guys are and what’s good and bad around here, but he chose to show pretty much the positive side of things, and that’s kind of rare.”

Otto said his experiences at the newspaper provided an understanding of the city, and allowed him to put events in a larger context. He still unearths new stories and new characters, even after more than four decades.

“I was very lucky,” Otto told Johnson. “I found people to be very generous. They allowed me into their homes and into their lives and I tried to respect that.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.