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Creative Loafing’s slurping of Scott Wagman — and its downward spiral in general

in Peter/The Bay and the 'Burg by

Last week, Political Whore Wayne Garcia and I got into a minor scrape over my accusation of a bias by Creative Loafing for St. Petesburg mayoral candidate Scott Wagman, whose political consultant is the domestic partner of CL editor David Warner.

My accusation began as just a gentle nudge; I left this comment at the end of a story about Wagman receiving Sierra Club’s endorsement: “Lots of stories about Wagman from the paper edited by his consultant’s partner.”

Garcia unloaded with this response: “Peter, as you know, and as I have written time and time again (but apologize for forgetting to include in this post) yes, our editor David Warner has a conflict in this race, as his partner is a paid consultant to the Wagman campaign. Because of that conflict, David plays no role in our mayoral coverage, neither in terms of selecting stories nor editing them. I get to have that fun solo. And I suppose you missed my post on Deveron’s first TV ad being up? We’ve done stories on just about every candidate (except for the second-tier folks) and I’m prepping a podcast with John Warren today. So your insinuation that we’re in the tank for Wagman doesn’t hold up, does it, Peter?”

Now, as you can read, I never went so far as to say that CL was in the tank for Scott Wagman. But after a cursory review of their coverage of the mayoral race, it’s difficult to dismiss my suggestion that a gentle bias for Wagman has seeped into Creative Loafing‘s coverage.

If you don’t count the general interest articles about the mayoral race that feature multiple candidates, such as this one about candidate qualifying or the requisite article about a candidate’s formal announcement, there has been significantly more — and increasingly more — coverage of Scott Wagman’s campaign, despite Wagman’s fourth place showing in the latest polls.

A review of the Political Whore’s archives suggest (and again I didn’t count the obligatory announcement articles, podcasts or any posts I wrote), an almost overwhelming bias for Scott Wagman’s campaign.

In terms of the number of posts featuring a candidate, here’s how they stack up:

Bennett: 5 posts (two of which covered Ticketgate)
Ford: 1 post (other than a post about rumors of her running)
Foster: 1 post (other than a story about my endorsement)
Gibbons: 3 posts
Wagman: 7 posts

If you take away the posts Garcia wrote about Jamie Bennett’s involvement in Ticketgate, there has been as much coverage of Scott Wagman as there has been the rest of the field combined. This coverage comes despite the fact that Wagman ranked fourth in the latest poll by the St. Petersburg Times, but even when he polls poorly, Wagman gets this story from CL about how his poor showing is to his advantage. That’s a bias.

Bias is when another candidate leads the field in 1st quarter fundraising, but CL writes about Wagman’s money in the bank, which needed a correction from Joe Bardi about the money being a loan rather than contributions.

Bias is when CL writes about Wagman receiving an endorsement from Sierra Club, but doesn’t write about other candidates receiving more significant endorsements, such as the PBA’s endorsement of Bill Foster (Garcia did write about Charlie Crist endorsing Gibbons).

Bias is when Garcia writes the article “How to Fix Tampa Bay Politics” and the only politician he mentions is Scott Wagman for posting a statement on his campaign website defining ethical behavior (this praise coming during the same week Wagman violated city policy by placing hundreds of his yard signs in right-of-ways and being notified of an FEC investigation over not disclaiming ads on Google. How ethical!)

Perhaps it is not bias. Perhaps the coverage is a result of what happens when a candidate like Wagman — smartly — presses his advantage in online campaigning. When he receives an endorsement, it can be read about on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, whereas a candidate like Bill Foster, who is less familiar with these mediums, does not.

But I believe there is a bias. And I think CL has problems with its coverage that go beyond issues of bias. The local blogosphere that CL hoped to preside over is increasingly disappointed with Creative Loafing. On the blog Pushing Rope, there is a post that begins, “I am searching for the words to perfectly describe just how bad is the Creative Loaf blog Daily Loaf.” Former CL writer Alex Pickett recently offered a highly critical post about Creative Loafing’s current efforts: “How anyone left can be “optimistic about the future of this company is beyond me.”

I can’t say either of these writers are far off the mark. At first, I was supportive and involved with, as Pickett defines it, Creative Loafing’s pursuit of a new model similar to the Huffington Post, or — perhaps more likely — Examiner.com. A model that calls for a select few editorial staff members that curate content from “contributors” who write blog posts more or less for free. A model that pushes reporters and bloggers to write about subjects that will attain the most hits, not what’s the most important or even germane to a local alternative weekly magazine.

But something isn’t working. I think some of it has to do with the choice of contributors, some of it with the choices of which stories to cover. For the life of me, I cannot understand why Garcia has written almost as much, if not more, in terms of actual words written, about the All-American City awards than he has about St. Petersburg’s mayoral race.

Maybe Scott Wagman needs to send out more press releases.

Hey, there’s a lot of good stuff in Creative Loafing. The Food and Wine section is second to none. But there was a time when CL, or the Weekly Planet as it was known, was the alternative to the mainstream media. I’d argue that the local blogosphere is better positioned to occupy that role.

Creative Loafing needs to seriously think about its place in the Tampa Bay media world. In the meantime, stop slurping Scott Wagman.

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.

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