St. Petersburg just made an auspicious debut in a city-ranking list — thanks to newspaper readers.
This marks the first year St. Petersburg has been included in the annual America's Most Literate Cities survey, which is based on six criteria. In one of those — newspaper circulation — St. Petersburg, home of the Tampa Bay Times, ranks No. 2 in the nation.
Paul Tash, chairman and CEO of the Times Publishing Co., said, "This is a wonderful hometown for the Times, and we try to return the favor by giving our town a good newspaper."
The only city with more newspaper readers per capita is news-hungry Washington, D.C., which also ranks No. 1 overall in the literacy survey.
The survey has been conducted by Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Conn., since 2003, according to Jack Miller, the university's president emeritus. Miller has retired to Pinellas County but still directs the project.
That first year, Miller says, "the university's PR guy pitched it to USA Today, and they said, 'We'll do a page.' " The survey website got 200,000 hits in the first hour the day it was published, crashing the university's system.
"(Stephen) Colbert did a thing on it. It was even on ESPN," Miller said.
St. Petersburg is new to the rankings because size matters: Its population passed the threshold of 250,000 in time for the 2016 survey. Tampa, with its larger population, has been on the list since the 2003 survey, when it ranked 16th overall.
In this year's overall ranking of 82 cities with populations over 250,000, St. Petersburg came in at No. 37, Tampa at No. 51. The top 10, in addition to Washington, are Seattle; Minneapolis; Atlanta; San Francisco; Pittsburgh; Portland, Ore.; Cincinnati; St. Paul, Minn.; and Boston.
The university's survey team compiles existing data from a variety of sources to create the ranking. It compares cities in six categories, relative to population: number of booksellers, educational levels, online book sales, libraries, magazines and journals published, and newspaper circulation.
The criteria do not include student test scores. The survey, Miller says, is not a measure of how many people are able to read. It's "a set of measures of literate behavior — not just the ability to read but whether they read." Support for bookstores, libraries and local newspapers are ways of measuring that behavior.
The newspaper rankings are based on daily and Sunday circulation figures from the Alliance for Audited Media. In the 2016 survey, Tampa was not ranked for newspaper circulation because no data was available, Miller said. The Tampa Tribune ceased publication in May 2016 after it was purchased by the Times. In the previous survey in 2014 (there was no 2015 survey), Tampa ranked 16th in the newspaper category and tied with Lincoln, Neb., for 29th overall.
Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.