Saying goodbye to Howard Troxler: Tampa Bay's best columnist exits stage right
It always meant something to me that Howard Troxler loves good television.
Unlike so many big thinkers in the journalism world, Troxler made no bones about his passion for favored TV shows. When ABC's convoluted Lost finally went the way of all things, we spent lots of time dissecting the big finale, well aware that we both knew too much about the subject for most serious-minded people. Knowing that a guy as smart and passionate as Troxler could bat around the fate of Jack and Sawyer made me feel a little less guilty for getting a paycheck to sit in front of the boob tube.
That's why this week is particularly affecting for me; the final days at the St. Petersburg Times for Troxler, our best current columnist and most penetrating voice on politics and life. He's decided to return to the land of his birth, saying he's grown tired at the sound of his own voice after 20 years schooling us on the absurdities of Florida politics. It's fitting that a guy as modest and creative as Troxler would sign off at the height of his influence and ability, but it also means he's leaving us wanting much more.
As Creative Loafing noted in its well-done profile, we've never needed a voice like Troxler's more than right now. The state legislature and governor's office seems strangled by a hyper-partisan view that has rolled back many hard-won reforms over development issues and social problems. If the legislature is going to start drug testing welfare recipients and throwing out growth management rules, we need someone to note the social carnage sure to follow.
And because it will make him squirm, please check out this feature on Troxler in Tampa Bay Magazine from 1991, the year he joined the St. Petersburg Times.
But that's somebody else's gig now. On Thursday, many of the staff assembled for a lunchtime sit-down with the man himself, discussing how he comes up with column ideas and dissecting what's worked -- and didn't -- during his storied run here. For somebody like me, who tries to inform and entertain by splashing a bit of himself on a blank page every day, the session was a master class on how to keep a community in conversation with itself.
Sometimes it takes repetition, like multiple stories on the evil of the leadership funds re-installed by the legislature. Sometimes, it's humor, like the political cartoon-style rendering of a menu with rare animals, poking fun at the guy who advocated taking the manatee off the endangered species list. Sometimes it's pure passion, like this recent column noting all the great journalism perpetrated by a newspaper that many critics take for granted.
I've always been in awe of Troxler's ability to find new, creative ways to come at his core task -- making us care about a political process intentionally made so obtuse, average citizens won't try to keep up. In an increasingly distracted, hyper-partisan world, he's been focused, even-handed, honest and illuminating. He estimated by his own count, that about 51 percent of columns told readers something new; I'd hate to think about how my own work would hold up in a similar analysis.
Farewell, Howard. Even though your departure likely comes at the perfect time for your own purposes, it's going to leave the rest of us hungry for more and aching over your absence.
As it should be.