Steve Otto, longtime Tampa Tribune columnist, retiring

TAMPA — Columnist Steve Otto is retiring from the Tampa Tribune after over four decades of writing about community, politics and the essence of Tampa.

Otto's last column will run July 13. Though it will be his last publication as a full-time columnist for the newspaper, he will still be featured regularly as a freelance columnist, according to the newspaper.

Otto said that it wasn't his idea to leave the paper, but he was thankful for the support of the company and how things were handled.

"They were very generous about the whole thing," Otto said. "The truth is, I was probably going to retire anyhow, as I'm getting old and tired and decrepit."

The announcement was part of Otto's Sunday column, which detailed changes in the newspaper industry during his 45 years at the Tribune. He watched as the newsroom grew in diversity and as the technology evolved from typewriters to desktops.

Managing editor Ken Koehn did not return requests for comment Sunday and instead directed a Tampa Bay Times reporter to an editor's note preceding Otto's Sunday column.

"Steve will continue to keep his finger on the pulse of the Big Guava for all of us, and for that we are grateful," the note said, using a term Otto is credited with coining to describe Tampa.

Otto, who was born in Tampa, grew up in a military family and lived in places such as Japan and Germany. He graduated from Plant High School and served in the Air Force before landing his first full-time job at the Tribune.

During his time at the newspaper, he worked as a sports writer, political writer, editor and columnist, with stints critiquing food, movies and television.

He founded the Steve Otto Chili Cook-Off, which raises money for different charities and will celebrate its 25th year in November. A copy of his second book, Spirit of the Bay, was placed in the city's time capsule.

"He doesn't sit in his ivory tower and dream up stories," said former Hillsborough County Commissioner Jan Platt. "He's out there in the public, listening and creating stories based on what he sees and hears. He'll be sorely missed."

Platt said she was glad to see Otto will still be featured regularly as a freelance columnist.

"He knows who the bad guys are and what's good and bad around here, but he chose to show pretty much the positive side of things, and that's kind of rare," said Jack Espinosa, a former longtime spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Otto said his time at the newspaper provided him with an understanding of the city and allowed him to put events into context. Even after four decades, he said he still unearthed new stories and explored new characters.

"I was very lucky," Otto said. "I found people to be very generous. They allowed me into their homes and into their lives and I tried to respect that."

Times staff writer Patty Ryan contributed to this report. Contact Caitlin Johnston at cjohnston@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.

Steve Otto, longtime Tampa Tribune columnist, retiring 07/06/14 [Last modified: Sunday, July 6, 2014 9:30pm]

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