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. 'Road to Nowhere' is back: Next phase of Suncoast Parkway coming


    Despite intense public opposition and dubious traffic projections, the Florida Department of Transportation has announced that construction of the toll road known as "Suncoast 2" is expected to start in early 2018.

    The Suncoast Parkway ends at U.S. 98 just south of Citrus County. For years residents have opposed extending the toll road, a project dubbed the "Suncoast 2" into Citrus County. But state officials recently announced that the Suncoast 2 should start construction in early 2018. [Stephen J. Coddington  |  TIMES]
  2. A sports rout on Wall Street


    NEW YORK — Sporting goods retailers can't shake their losing streak.

  3. Grocery chain Aldi hosting hiring event in Brandon Aug. 24


    BRANDON — German grocery chain Aldi is holding a hiring event for its Brandon store Aug. 24. It is looking to fill store associate, shift manager and manager trainee positions.

  4. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik backs film company pursuing global blockbusters


    TAMPA — Jeff Vinik's latest investment might be coming to a theater near you.

    Jeff Vinik, Tampa Bay Lightning owner, invested in a new movie company looking to appeal to a global audience. | [Times file photo]
  5. Trigaux: Look to new Inc. 5000 rankings for Tampa Bay's future heavyweights


    There's a whole lotta fast-growing private companies here in Tampa Bay. Odds are good you have not heard of most of them.


    Kyle Taylor, CEO and founder of The Penny Hoarder, fills a glass for his employees this past Wednesday as the young St. Petersburg personal advice business celebrates its landing at No. 25 on the 2017 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing private companies in the country. Taylor, still in his 20s, wins kudos from executive editor Alexis Grant for keeping the firm's culture innovative. The business ranked No. 32 last year. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]