Meet the Newest Alternative Media Capital: Tampa Bay
I was in Los Angeles beating down the producers of ABC's Cavemen when Creative Loafing's purchase of the Chicago Reader and Washington City Paper was originally announced. so I couldn't do much besides throw up a blog post announcing it all with the text of the press release.
But when I got back to the Tampa Bay area, I got to thinking: This makes our odd little hometown quite the media mecca.
You've already got a rare circumstance in which two powerful daily newspapers are regularly competing against each other -- an increasing oddity given the shrinkage of the print industry. We also have five different local TV news operations also competing heatedly, with a minimum of sensationalism and maximum of professionalism.
Major radio chains such as Clear Channel Cox and CBS Radio all have major footprints here, along with a growing cluster of smaller print publications.
And then there's Creative Loafing. Founded in 1972, the Atlanta paper became part of a small chain including papers in Tampa and Charlotte, N.C. when founders Deb and Elton Eason sold to a group of investors which included their son, Ben. Now, Ben has masterminded an eight-figure deal to purchase two of the biggest names in alt weekly newspapering, effectively moving a locus of the industry to our corner of the Sunshine State.
Since Ben Eason had always been an affable source in the past, I decided to chat him up about his plans for the chain and integrating the two new papers, outlined in this Q&A from Sunday's paper.
Eason on Tampa's status as a media capital: "It’s not obvious. But let’s just go back a few years: Howell Raines, New York Times editor was a St. Pete Times guy (political editor in the mid-'70s). Florida from a journalism perspective has been one of the great states. When you’ve having to build community out of sprawl, out of these little tiny towns....The Tampa Bay area is in some instances 10 times harder from a publishing standpoint than a center city like a Chicago. It’s a tough place to cut your teeth from a publishing standpoint. There’s a ton of success stories that come out of Florida. Its an unlikely place to run a large media group, though.”
The open question for Eason: will Creative Loafing change the Reader and City Paper more than those storied newspapers change the parent company? And can you run a chain of newspapers that large without becoming the media monster you've always tried to fight?