Make us your home page
Encounters | An occasional feature

After 17 years, Pinellas News editor and publisher writes weekly's obituary


Robert Potter's run as editor and publisher of the Pinellas News is down to this: semicolons or commas?

He's alone in his newsroom at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, doing one last read of the final edition. Any other week, he might have been done already.

But this week, when he's done, it's over.

He marks suspect punctuation with a yellow highlighter.

Potter's grandfather was a newspaperman, too. Owned the Independent-Messenger in Emporia, Va. His dad later bought it and two weeklies in Culpeper, Va., that he merged and made daily. Ended up with five papers in all.

Now his dad's Culpeper Star-Exponent is owned by Media General, the company that also owns the Tampa Tribune. And the Pinellas News, which Potter bought 17 years ago, will simply cease to be.

He spent Wednesday writing its obituary.

The world has been changing, he notes. AOL and the modem reshaped our lives. The dwindling legal notices business reshaped his.

Potter has been down this path before: the time-to-change-careers path. A week before his wedding in the 1980s, his job running an Air Force Aero Club abruptly ended. He became a commuter airline pilot.

He watched his employer suffer through bankruptcy, and by the '90s knew another life was in order. He figured newspapers would be around a while.

He moved the Pinellas Park News to St. Petersburg, dropped the Park and focused on legal notices. The law requires certain legal action be published in a newspaper. Potter was your guy.

Notice of foreclosure, $150. Notice of adoption, $200. Public hearing, $10.75 per column inch.

The recession hit. Legal work plummeted.

Plus a Sarasota publication, Gulf Coast Business Review, had started to publish the notices cheaper for seven counties. You could spend $25 instead of $35 to print a notice that you're doing business under a name that's not your own or your corporation's.

At its height, Potter published 12,000 copies of the Pinellas News. At the end, he published 1,000. Some weeks, he sold 250 at 25 cents a copy. Some weeks, say, when it rained, he sold none.

Here's what he'll miss most.

Wrapped around those legal notices was his newspaper. Every Friday, he set up an easel at 9 a.m. to plan the next issue. He wrote an acronym down the side of the page: CHIPS. Community. Hot topics. Issues. Perspective. Sports.

He hired kids out of college, gave them their first breaks. They figured out whether they couldn't get enough of this journalism thing, or couldn't wait to get out. They became attorneys, journalists, professors.

That's what he'll miss most. Not driving "the route" — out to the plant to pick up the paper, then around to all 46 coin boxes. Not switching his staff from two full-timers to four part-timers.

He'll miss the kids who used his small brick newsroom at 533 Fourth St. N to figure out what to do with their lives.

The phone rings at 3:12 p.m. "Robert, Pinellas News."

Someone wants to buy an ad.

"Unfortunately, we're putting out the last issue of the paper," he explains. "We're closing."

He offers her the number of another paper, tells her to talk to Bob.

"Even if you're going out of business, you take care of people," he says.

He doesn't know what's next. He has reinvented himself before. But this time he's 57, with a teenage daughter and another in college. He'll figure it out. But first he's going to put out this paper.

He reads his lead headline one last time. It's all caps, right under the mast that says "Since 1954."


Becky Bowers can be reached at or (727) 893-8859. Follow her on Twitter at

Suggest an Encounter

Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of it. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Mike Wilson at or (727) 892-2924.

After 17 years, Pinellas News editor and publisher writes weekly's obituary 03/28/10 [Last modified: Monday, March 29, 2010 7:26am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park


    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  2. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  3. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood


    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  4. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa


    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  5. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county


    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.