ST. PETERSBURG — Neil Brown, editor and vice president of the Tampa Bay Times, will become the new president of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, the center for journalism education that owns the Times.
In a meeting with the Times staff Monday, Brown, 59, said that while he is neither "bored nor weary" of his current job, he is excited about the chance to "make a difference more broadly" in an industry facing almost unprecedented challenges and attacks.
As he thought about the job, he said he began to wonder whether he could help Poynter "be a more powerful voice… trying to get to the bottom of these issues, so complicated at a time many people are defaulting to very dispiriting ideas."
Brown said he also hoped to strengthen ties between the non-profit Poynter and the for-profit Times in terms of sharing ideas that could improve the quality of journalism.
"There are extraordinary resources in each," he said, noting that Poynter will provide a greater opportunity to "take our show on the road."
A graduate of the University of Iowa, Brown joined Times Publishing Company in 1988 as managing editor of Congressional Quarterly, a former Times affiliate. He came to the Tampa Bay Times, then called the St. Petersburg Times, as its world editor in 1993 and assumed a series of leadership roles, including managing editor and executive editor. Brown became the paper's top editor in 2010.
Under Brown's leadership, the Times has won six Pulitzer Prizes in the last eight years and launched PolitiFact, the fact-checking website that has been replicated nationally and inspired similar efforts worldwide. Brown is a member of the Pulitzer Prize board and a former board member of the American Society of News Editors.
Poynter has been without a president since this spring when Tim Franklin left to become associate dean at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Initially, Brown was part of the search committee interviewing candidates to replace Franklin. But he said he decided to apply for the job himself after he attended an international fact checking conference in Madrid and was impressed by both the number of participants (180) and their innovative methods.
"People are doing stuff — TV, videos, more on the street — that we're not doing here," he said. "But you can take away all the global stuff and it's what we're all about here and at Poynter — people and content… If we bring really, really talented people together, we are going to make the world a better place together."
One of more than 100 candidates for the Poynter post, Brown "made a terrific case for himself, a compelling, unassailable case for himself," said Paul Tash, chairman of Poynter's board of trustees and also chairman and CEO of Times Publishing. "This is not the easiest time in journalism. Aside from the economic problems… there are some huge political and cultural problems as well. There are those that think of us as an enemy of the people. We need Poynter to be a strong leader… for journalism as a bastion of democracy. And I can think of nobody better for that than our friend, Mr. Brown."
Both the Times and the Poynter Institute have had to adapt as more readers get their news through a growing range of online sources. Over the past several years, both organizations have cut staff and expenses while beefing up their online presence
Brown, who will start his new job in mid-September, said later that he especially hopes that Poynter and the Times can work together in showing other newspapers how to do quality local reporting in an era when "local news is under duress because of financial pressures." Brown has had a close hand in editing many Times investigative projects, including recent stories on teenage car thieves and a deadly accident at a TECO power plant.
"I'd like to play a role as contributing editor,'' Brown said, though he joked that he won't "roam the halls, going, 'Gee, does anybody have anything for me?' "
Tash said the search for Brown's replacement will start later this fall.
Brown lives with his wife, Gelareh, a writer, in St. Petersburg. They have two children, Max, a film student at New York University, and Mina, a Brown University graduate who is in marketing in Boston.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate