It was our tie to the urban south, to the journalistic big-time.
We in Hernando County weren't just reporters — and editors, columnists and photographers — for a medium-size newspaper in a medium-size community. We worked for a real metro daily. One of the best, we always believed: the St. Petersburg Times.
It's how we answered our phones, with the proud, snappy abbreviation: "St. Pete Times."
It's how we thought of ourselves.
More than a decade ago, when a reporter from a national magazine came to town to write about the media coverage of Hank Earl Carr's murderous rampage, she asked if the story should identify me as a reporter for the Hernando Times.
"That would be my worst nightmare," I told her.
As you know by now, the St. Petersburg Times — the name, not the newspaper (I hope) — is on its way to becoming a relic. The day after tomorrow, when you grab a copy from the familiar spot on the driveway or one of those familiar-looking green boxes and feel the familiar Sunday-paper heft, it will bear an unfamiliar name: Tampa Bay Times.
I think I speak for most rank-and-file employees when I say that, initially, I didn't care for it.
I flashed back to a few years ago, when I first saw our website, tampabay.com. What sign was there on the site, at least that you could see without the help of a magnifying glass, to tell readers they were looking at the online version of the St. Petersburg Times? Why not at least pay homage to the mother publication with a little of its nameplate's characteristic archaic type?
Why turn our back on maybe the best, most-trusted brand name in Florida?
And now it's not just the website; it's the entire paper.
Imagine how you would feel if you found that the name of your hometown had been ash-canned on the advice of a marketing expert.
Well, I've worked here 22 years and have much more loyalty to this paper than I ever did to Glendale, Ohio. And I always found the name far less insipid. I like it a lot, as a matter of fact, especially when people called it, as they tended to, "St. Pete's Times," which implied a moral authority beyond even the winning of several Pulitzer Prizes.
I didn't mind that there is an identically named paper in Russia. The lead stories in the edition I have pinned to the inner wall of my cubicle say, basically, that Rasputin was framed and that Chernobyl was not all that bad. So, journalistically speaking, it's no threat. And all the cracks about our supposed communist sympathies that the name inspired from historically confused readers? (It's not as though we're the Leningrad Times, after all.) That was always funny to me.
So what did it feel like Wednesday, when we were issued new business cards identifying us as staffers of the Tampa Bay Times, when a cherry picker appeared in the parking lot to pull down the old sign?
Even with a couple of months to get used to the idea, it kind of stung.
We understand, of course. The paper is using the name "Tampa Bay" for the same reason as the Lightning and the Rays. We appeal to a metro-wide audience. We draw readers from the entire area and plan, eventually, to draw a lot more.
Hernando County is included in just about every definition of the Tampa Bay area, including, thankfully, this paper's.
Every year, it seems, we run more Hernando stories in the main news sections, a trend that will probably continue. I get the feeling that young reporters in this office think of themselves as writing for readers in Tampa Bay, not just Hernando or St. Petersburg.
In name and practice, in other words, we are becoming even more of a metro daily.
And the more I think about it, the more I find my own feelings match the feelings of readers. Most of the people who have called to complain are from St. Petersburg or Pinellas County. It's a little like this is a name change for their hometown.
The farther away people are, the less they seem to care.
I visit our main office in St. Petersburg about once a year and first have to drive around for a good long while, looking for the vaguely recognizable silhouette of the building, trying to remember whether it's on First Street or First Avenue.
As a reporter and columnist over the years, most of what I've written has appeared in the Hernando Times, which will continue to operate as is — same staff, same office, same name.
My sources are in Hernando, as are the people who read my columns — as are my family, my home and most of my friends.
So, really, who was I kidding? I've always worked for the Hernando Times.