Newspapers' biggest charitable contribution to their hometowns is the journalism they practice. But in these days of economic turmoil ripping through Florida newspapers, the legacy of St. Petersburg Times owner Nelson Poynter was described Wednesday as the ultimate philanthropic act.
"In a decision that may be the largest charitable contribution in the history of the Tampa Bay region, he kept the Times independent, locally owned and rooted here in these communities," said Paul Tash, the third editor, chairman and chief executive of Times Publishing Co. since Poynter's death 30 years ago in June. "In today's world of corporate journalism, the Times is a rare creature. Our health is tied directly to the health of the Tampa Bay community. It's not like we have somewhere else to go if things don't work out here."
Poynter, who railed against the growth of newspaper chains, gave his paper to a journalism school he created, the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, rather than to heirs who had little interest in the business.
It was an arrangement that has buffered the Times from many of the financial pressures confronting other publicly traded Florida newspaper chains where "profits must always be the first priority," Tash said.
"Mr. Poynter was driven by affection for his newspaper and his town and his faith that one would help make the other better," Tash said.
Tash made the remarks Wednesday in keynote address at the annual luncheon of the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg. Near collapse a decade ago with only 600 members and outdated facilities next door to the Times building, the organization subsequently raised $14-million in private donations for a centrally located complex that gave it a new lease on life. Today the YMCA has more than 10,000 members and is raising money for a $3-million branch that opens this fall in the Childs Park neighborhood.
The Times was among the contributors that helped the YMCA move to Central Plaza.
Speaking on the evolution of charitable contributions businesses make to improve the lot of their communities and the potential work force that lives there, Tash said the Times'
$1-million in annual contributions to education, literacy, arts and other nonprofit groups was "dwarfed" by the power of a paper's news coverage and editorials to better the community.
"Newspapers around the country are making their communities better informed and more vital day in and day out, in ways large and small," he said. "Nelson Poynter gave us a tremendous gift. It is our job to make the most of it."
Mark Albright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or