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Moments stand out as Deggans says goodbye to Times audience

Eric Deggans, right, gets close to Sean Combs, left, during one of his annual trips to the Television Critics Association tour in Los Angeles.

Associated Press

Eric Deggans, right, gets close to Sean Combs, left, during one of his annual trips to the Television Critics Association tour in Los Angeles.

It's a tough sentence to write. This is my last column as the Tampa Bay Times TV and media critic.

As you read this piece, I'll be starting my first days as TV critic for NPR, attempting to bring the same eye for nuance, fun, quality and skepticism to public radio that I brought you here in 16 years as TV critic and 18 years at the newspaper overall.

Back when I started as the Times' pop music critic in 1995, it was a different time in television, media and pop culture. TV networks sent out review copies of shows on clunky videocassettes, DVRs didn't exist to capture TV shows with a button click, our 24/7 news cycle wasn't juiced by Twitter or smartphones, and Fox News Channel wouldn't emerge to change the news landscape for another year.

Compared to the pace of today's media — back then, we actually debated if we were "scooping ourselves" by putting stories online before they were printed — we were running in slow motion. But there was an inevitable sense that new technology was about to change the game.

I moved over to cover television in 1997; in part, because I realized nobody in the area's music scene seemed to be as old as me with a wife and kids. I also changed beats because it seemed all the things I really wanted to write about — race, social issues, politics, media ethics and corporate power — were happening on television.

Turns out, that was the smartest career move I ever made.

Even as television has changed us, uniting us around the tragedy of 9/11 and reaching to every cranny of our lives through tablets and smartphones, TV itself has changed tremendously. It's about what I called in a 2005 Times story "on demand attitude"; consumers increasingly demanding to watch what they want, when they want, where they want, regardless of how it destroys media profit margins.

A lot of moments stand out: unmasking a fraudulent gospel singer who lied about winning a Grammy and nearly got the key to St. Petersburg; focusing the community's attention on a Clear Channel Radio show in which shock jocks used racist terms; skeptically quizzing Oprah Winfrey backstage at the Tampa Convention Center after another journalist had asked for her autograph; seeing a story in which Tim Allen and I talked about the n-word get picked up from Britain's The Guardian newspaper to Melissa Harris-Perry's show on MSNBC.

And, of course, there's the instance when I turned Fox News anchor Bill O'Reilly's 2008 criticism of me as "one of the worst race-baiters in the country" into a book about prejudice and stereotypes in media published last year, called Race-Baiter.

I have jokingly referred to myself as the most critical guy at the Times, having served as pop music critic, then TV critic, then editorial writer/columnist, then media critic and then TV/Media Critic. Along the way, I developed a Twitter feed with more than 10,000 followers, a Facebook page with more than 5,000 friends, and a blog, The Feed, which drew nearly 1.5 million page views last year.

I had a lot of interesting interviews. Lou Dobbs, then an anchor on CNN, was such a bully, his publicist called me later to apologize. I was warned to be prepared with substantive questions for Tommy Lee Jones, who directed an intriguing version of the two-man play The Sunset Limited for HBO, but his dogged refusal to have a conversation forced me to reveal his prickliness in print.

And Shirley Manson, Scottish lead singer for the band Garbage, loved the way I slipped into a different, 'round-the-neighborhood dialect when talking about James Brown and the Isley Brothers.

Perhaps most of all, I will miss the regular contact with you, the readers of the Tampa Bay Times who have so often supported and encouraged me. You are the reason why this remains an amazing place to live and why the newspaper is a jewel.

And though my employer will change, my address won't. I'm renting office space in the Times building and working from Florida for a while.

Thank you for everything. And don't forget to turn on your radio every so often to catch up.

Moments stand out as Deggans says goodbye to Times audience 09/30/13 [Last modified: Monday, September 30, 2013 8:52pm]
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