Forty-seven years after a summer newsroom internship brought him to St. Petersburg, Paul Tash, the Tampa Bay Times’ longest-serving CEO and chairman, is retiring.
Stepping into the role of CEO is Times Publishing Co. president Conan Gallaty, who is also expected to become chairman when Tash leaves its board of directors July 1. Tash will continue to chair the board of trustees at the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which owns the newspaper.
Gallaty will be the fourth person to lead the Times since 1978, when former owner Nelson Poynter died and the torch passed to Eugene Patterson. Patterson named Andrew Barnes CEO and chairman in 1988 and Barnes named Tash in 2004.
Like his predecessors, Tash, 67, had full latitude to pick his successor.
“This seems like a very good time, both for the Times and for me, to make this move,” Tash said. “Especially for the Times, because I really am encouraged about some of the great work we’ve gotten done, and the trajectory that we are on going forward.”
For Gallaty, 45, the top job was on the table when he became the Times’ first chief digital officer in 2018. He’s held an array of executive roles in digital media, including three years at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and a decade with Arkansas media and communications company WEHCO Media. He became the Times’ president in 2020.
“I really enjoyed the technology and development side to help local journalism blossom, but never had intended to take the track to become president of the company, and certainly not CEO and chairman,” said Gallaty. “But it is an absolute honor and one that I cherish.”
The transition from Tash, whose first Times byline came in 1975, to Gallaty, whose career has centered on digital journalism, marks a new chapter in the Times’ 138-year history — one that reflects this century’s extraordinary change across the industry.
“He’s arguably the most consequential leader the Times has had since Nelson Poynter,” Neil Brown, president of the Poynter Institute and a former Times editor, said of Tash. “He presided over an unprecedented expansion of the company in its ambitions.”
Tash is among the few remaining employees to have worked with the man he still calls “Mr. Poynter.” He was an early recipient of a scholarship and internship named for Poynter, which has brought journalism students from Indiana University to St. Petersburg for decades.
Brown calls Tash “the ultimate city editor” for his belief that “we could well serve a local community with world ambitions.” Indeed, the Times has won nine of its 13 Pulitzer Prizes since Tash became editor in 1992 and later moved on to lead the company. Those Pulitzers include three in the local reporting category, more than any other news organization.
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“We are a news organization for all of Tampa Bay,” Tash said, “and that wasn’t always the case.”
Tash oversaw the Times’ most aggressive inroads in Hillsborough County. Two years after he became editor and president in 2000, the paper bought the naming rights to Tampa’s hockey arena, rechristening it the St. Pete Times Forum. Two years after that, the paper launched tbt*, a free tabloid aimed at younger readers, particularly those in Tampa.
The letters t-b-t stood for Tampa Bay Times — a trademark owned by the rival Tampa Tribune until it lapsed in 2004, enabling Tash and the Times to snatch it up. In 2012, the St. Petersburg Times became the Tampa Bay Times, a change that reflected Tash’s drive to be seen as the region’s newspaper of record. Four years later, that’s exactly what happened, as the Times bought and shuttered the Tribune.
Journalists who passed through the Times on their way to other publications remember his strolls through the newsroom to discuss the news of the day.
“There are journalists at outlets all over the country and beyond who had him come and sit at their desk and chat them up about their story,” said Monica Davey, who covered the city of St. Petersburg in the ‘90s and is now deputy national editor for the New York Times and a Poynter trustee.
In recent years, the Times has faced the same advertising and readership headwinds as nearly every other newspaper, leading to bureau closures and staff reductions.
“I missed, like I think everybody missed, that the Great Recession was different, that it signaled the beginning of a different era, rather than a cycle like previous cycles,” Tash said. “It was the beginning of some longer-term shifts. If I’d recognized that a little sooner, we might have taken some different steps.”
Five years ago, Tash recruited a group of local business leaders to loan the Times up to $15 million to restructure its debt. Tash and his wife Karyn were among the investors.
At the outset of the pandemic in 2020, the paper reduced its print edition to two days a week, eventually outsourcing its print operations to a facility in Lakeland and selling its St. Petersburg printing plant. The sale enabled the company to repay that $15 million loan and steady its finances.
“We’re at a big turning point right now,” Gallaty said. “I think 2022 is going to be the year, and the years beyond, where we start to grow and see new development of the company, a reinvestment in the company.”
Gallaty, whose first name is pronounced KAHN-an, lives in Oldsmar with his wife Natasha and two teenage children. He also started out as a newspaper reporter, at the Rome News-Tribune in his home state of Georgia. Since 2018, “he’s taken the Times to a new level as a digital company,” said editor and vice president Mark Katches, “and he has a solid vision to keep us moving forward.”
“Though he comes to this job from a different background than my own,” Tash said, “he comes to it with that deep appreciation for journalism, and helping journalists connect with readers and citizens.”