Wednesday, May 23, 2018
News Roundup

St. Pete Beach on east coast? Hernando mermaids in Ocala?

It sounded like a good idea.

Visit Florida, the state's tourism agency, struck a deal with Coastal Living magazine to persuade people to, well, visit Florida. At a reduced rate, visitor bureaus and resorts from the Panhandle to Key West chipped in to buy a seven-page glossy advertising section. On the first page, a barefoot, wispy-haired boy stands on a pristine beach and holds a lemon yellow kite over his head. Above a distant breaking surf, at the top of the page: "Florida — STAY & PLAY GUIDE."

The trouble is, if you used the subsequent pages as an actual guide, you would in several cases neither stay nor play anywhere near the places you intended.

The ad put the beaches of St. Pete and Clearwater on the east coast (not so bad if you dig sunrises and rocket launches); it said three of the Panhandle's most posh coastal communities were west of Destin, instead of east (Mississippi is just as nice anyway, right?); and it gave Ocala and Marion county Weeki Wachee Springs (mermaids for everyone!).

Though five of the pages prominently display "VISITFLORIDA.COM," spokeswoman Kathy Torian placed the blame entirely on the magazine.

Just because the agency put its "stamp of approval" on the package, she said, didn't mean state officials were responsible for its accuracy. In this case, Torian added, Coastal Living hired a freelance writer to produce the content and was contractually obligated to check the facts.

Still, she acknowledged that someone from Visit Florida had reviewed the pages before they went to press, but only to adjust the layout or point out anything "we're not comfortable with." For instance, Torian said, folks in the Panhandle don't like their home referred to as the "Panhandle."

Visit Florida doesn't take responsibility for the veracity of the ads because of how many of them it buys and arranges.

"That would require us to spend money to hire a full-time fact checker," Torian said of the agency, which the Legislature gave $63.5 million in public dollars for this fiscal year.

A spokeswoman for Coastal Living, which has a circulation of more than 650,000, declined to say where the freelancer lived or how much the ad cost. (Torian said she didn't know.) The magazine's publisher, Greg Keyes, issued a statement of regret and said the publication would issue corrections and offer new promotional pages in future issues.

People whose communities were miscast said Visit Florida shouldn't be spared of all blame.

"What a faux pas," said Walton County Commissioner Cindy Meadows. "Yow."

Just Tuesday, she said, county officials had debated how to better brand their beaches, which tourists tend to confuse with the horde of others in the region.

"This," she said, "is probably not going to help us a whole lot."

Tony Satterfield, a member of the Pinellas Tourist Development Council, feared that those not familiar with the area might actually believe our beaches are on the Atlantic coast.

Hernando Commissioner Dave Russell struggled to understand how a state agency that controls so much money, solely intended for marketing Florida, could allow such a mistake.

"I'm sure the people of Ocala are just thrilled," he said. "They got mermaids. Our mermaids."

Times news researchers Natalie Watson and Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

Comments
Pilot-hungry airlines are raiding flight schools - creating a shortage of instructors to train the next generation

Pilot-hungry airlines are raiding flight schools - creating a shortage of instructors to train the next generation

Airlines’ insatiable demand for pilots threatens to sabotage flight schools’ ability to train new ones. Carriers are raising wages and hoarding every available pilot - including the instructors schools rely on to teach incoming students.The very pilo...
Updated: 15 minutes ago
Philip Roth, towering novelist who explored lust, Jewish life and America, dies at 85

Philip Roth, towering novelist who explored lust, Jewish life and America, dies at 85

Philip Roth, whose sexually scandalous comic novel "Portnoy’s Complaint" brought him literary celebrity after its publication in 1969 and who was eventually hailed as one of America’s greatest living authors for the blunt force and controlled fury of...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
A 30-year-old demanded notice for eviction from his parents’ house. ‘Outrageous,’ a judge said.

A 30-year-old demanded notice for eviction from his parents’ house. ‘Outrageous,’ a judge said.

Michael Rotondo refuses to move out of his parents’ house.So much so that the 30-year-old argued for a half-hour with a judge in Upstate New York on Tuesday, saying that while he knew his parents wanted him out of their split-level ranch, he was enti...
Updated: 19 minutes ago
Rays morning after: Faria frustrated after latest letdown

Rays morning after: Faria frustrated after latest letdown

Whatever pain RHP Jake Faria was feeling as a result of the oblique muscle on the left side he strained throwing a fourth-inning slider to Boston's Hanley Ramirez couldn't compare to the hurt in his heart.Forced to leave Tuesday's game and likely hea...
Updated: 1 hour ago
All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

TAMPA — All those public watch parties during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s postseason run? And how about the rally at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park with the big white Lightning logo spray-painted on the grass? You need police to prote...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

Words of wisdom from Class of 2018 on how school shootings have transformed them

TAMPA — The pain of the Parkland shootings Feb. 14 was fresh on the minds of Hillsborough County’s graduating seniors when about 300 of them received an assignment. Write a 250-word essay on how decades of school shootings have touched y...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Forecast: Relative calm before Invest 90L threatens to deluge Tampa Bay this weekend

Forecast: Relative calm before Invest 90L threatens to deluge Tampa Bay this weekend

ST. PETERSBURG — While rain chances will decrease over the next two days, it is only a relative calm before a broad low pressure system moves into the Gulf of Mexico, producing strong storms across an already drenched Tampa Bay for Memorial Day weeke...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Now that we’ve got Gators-Bulls, what about the Willie Bowl?

Now that we’ve got Gators-Bulls, what about the Willie Bowl?

Now that USF has added another proverbial prime cut (Florida) to its non-conference football slate, one can only ponder how much beefier it can get.We know you've tossed around a few tantalizing matchups in your head, and truth be told, so have we.Re...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Winston: Bucs’ Ryan Jensen ‘one of the toughest, meanest, baddest centers’

Winston: Bucs’ Ryan Jensen ‘one of the toughest, meanest, baddest centers’

It's hard to miss new Bucs center Ryan Jensen at OTA workouts this week, with his long red hair visible from across the field even when he's wearing a helmet."Any recommendations for anti frizz shampoo and conditioner?" Jensen wrote on Twitter with a...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Woman, 87, killed in collision while driving wrong way near Brooksville, FHP says

Woman, 87, killed in collision while driving wrong way near Brooksville, FHP says

BROOKSVILLE— An 87-year-old motorist died Tuesday night after she collided with a pickup truck while driving on the wrong side of the road, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The crash occurred about 8:50 p.m. as Patricia Green Marlette of Brook...
Updated: 2 hours ago