Since I started here as a reporter in 1978, I have answered my phone with some version of "St. Pete Times." I now have to learn a new habit.
On Sunday, Jan. 1, we changed our name to the Tampa Bay Times. The new name reflects the growth of our newspaper and our vision for this region.
This change was a long time coming. For decades, the Times has been reaching north and east from St. Petersburg. Nearly 25 years ago, we launched our Tampa edition; on a typical Sunday, it routinely sells more than 100,000 copies. By a wide margin, the Times is Florida's favorite newspaper.
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With that success, our name no longer fit the newspaper or the audience we serve. Three-fourths of Times readers live outside St. Petersburg.
The new name does not signal any change in our coverage, our standards or our ownership — which remains local and independent, and we hope Tampa Bay Times sends a welcoming signal to readers beyond southern Pinellas County.
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The Times adopted this new name from our popular daily tabloid, which will continue to be known by its initials — tbt*. Both newspapers and our website — tampabay.com — now have names that reinforce their connections to each other, and to our region.
Our counterparts at the St. Pete Times Forum, where we bought the naming rights in 2002, changed the name of the building to the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Jan. 1.
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We did not make this change lightly. The St. Petersburg Times built a national reputation on the kind of work that has won eight Pulitzer Prizes.
Nor did we mean any slight to the vibrant city where our principal offices and our production facilities remain. I met and married my wife in St. Petersburg. Our daughters were born here. My mother died here. I am proud to call St. Petersburg my home.
Throughout the Tampa Bay region, people feel such attachment to their own communities, and the Times has responded with robust local coverage and advertising, including sections for specific cities or counties. The Times' commitment to local communities does not change with our new name.
But like other citizens and civic leaders, we recognize that all our communities have a stronger future as part of a dynamic Tampa Bay region, rather than a constellation of towns and cities jockeying for advantage against each other.
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The power of our collective identity is clear. In 1990, when Major League Baseball was preparing to put an expansion team in Florida, forces in Orlando set out to steal the day. A wise-guy promoter put together a "St. Pete Night," featuring a wheelchair race and Tommy Dorsey tunes. The grand prize was a year's supply of light bulbs for drivers' right-turn signals. But Orlando was competing not against St. Petersburg, but all of Tampa Bay. The team came here.
The pro sports teams, starting with the Bucs, took the lead in establishing Tampa Bay as its own brand. The cause has been joined by other organizations and business groups, including the Tampa Bay Partnership which tries to recruit more companies and jobs here.
This summer, the Republican Party is bringing its convention to Tampa Bay. Some delegates will arrive on Southwest Airlines, which has more flights here than anybody else. It lists the destination: Tampa Bay.
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The Tampa Bay Times will continue to support our region's assets — whether they are schools or sports teams or performing arts halls — no matter where we find them. Since 2000, our philanthropic fund has awarded college scholarships to extraordinary young people who have succeeded against all odds. Of those 49 winners, 32 graduated from high schools outside Pinellas County.
Now we have put our own greatest asset — our good name — toward the future of the Tampa Bay region.
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Our new name brings the paper full circle. In 1884, this newspaper was born as a scrawny weekly in the back of a drugstore in Dunedin. There was no separate Pinellas County then, so the newspaper was christened the West Hillsborough Times.
Eight years later, a new owner bought the newspaper for $1,200, moved it to St. Petersburg and gave it a new name.
Because of the distance to Tampa and resentment that Hillsborough County officials were neglecting the western peninsula, the Times took up an editorial crusade to create a new, independent county. The Legislature went along, and Pinellas County came into being on Jan. 1, 1912.
History takes remarkable turns.
On the 100th anniversary of Pinellas County, the newspaper that campaigned to create it raised a new banner as the Tampa Bay Times.
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In each direction, first to create a separate local identity and now to reinforce our common regional future, the Times has been guided by the best interests of our community and its citizens. Today, that community is wider, deeper and more dynamic than it was a century ago. So is the newspaper.
As we open a new chapter as the Tampa Bay Times, I anticipate great things ahead, both for the paper and Tampa Bay. That is our history, and it will be our future.