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Times launching Community Reader Panel to engage with the newsroom

A group of readers will be assembled to meet quarterly with journalists about coverage and news initiatives.
The Tampa Bay Times will launch a new Community Reader Panel of readers who will meet quarterly with journalists in the newsroom to discuss coverage. Readers can apply to be a part of the new group.
The Tampa Bay Times will launch a new Community Reader Panel of readers who will meet quarterly with journalists in the newsroom to discuss coverage. Readers can apply to be a part of the new group. [ Johnson, Pope, Bokor, Ruppel and Burns ]
Published Jun. 6
Updated Jun. 6

At the Tampa Bay Times, we believe it’s important for our journalists to engage with you.

We can forge deeper bonds than, say, a big national news outlet. We’re your neighbors, after all. We shop at the same places and cheer for the same sports teams. We celebrate many of the same events, and share similar concerns. It fulfills us when we produce stories that resonate with our readers. And one of the real benefits that comes with working in a local newsroom is seeing up close how stories can impact our community and lead to positive change.

But it’s been a challenge to stay connected during the pandemic, especially responding to written letters that have been sent to the office since we’re still working remotely. As circumstances improve, we hope to be more visible and accessible again.

Today, we’re announcing one step toward that goal. We are creating a committee of subscribers who can share their thoughts directly with us. Our new Tampa Bay Times Community Reader Panel will be made up of people who we will count upon to provide honest feedback about our journalism and to serve as a sounding board for ideas.

The group hasn’t been assembled yet. That’s the first step. We envision about 25 to 30 people who will meet quarterly. When the group gathers, we’ll discuss specific topics, such as our coverage of politics, education, health or the justice system, and invite reaction to our most recent work. There will be opportunities to brainstorm about a wider range of issues and challenges.

This is a volunteer gig that would require two hours every quarter to meet with journalists, virtually to begin with. We expect those selected will be regular readers of the Times. A level of familiarity, we believe, will contribute to a better dialogue about the work that we do, or could be doing. It’s important to us that the panel also reflects the diversity of our region and a diversity of opinions. Over time, the Community Reader Panel will meet with reporters, editors, engagement producers, visual journalists and senior leaders.

This panel is just one way we plan to engage more with readers here at your independent, and locally-owned news organization. Community forums and discussions are another. Throughout the pandemic, we’ve held virtual sessions featuring some of our journalists or notable authors or experts. Readers have had opportunities to pose questions. We expect that to continue.

If you’d like to apply to be a part of our Community Reader Panel, please fill out the brief questionnaire. We’ll review submissions and select our initial group.

We are looking forward to the conversation.

***

Speaking of virtual sessions featuring notable authors, our book editor Colette Bancroft will interview CNN’s Jake Tapper on Wednesday about his new political thriller, The Devil May Dance.

Colette, who organizes and hosts our Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading every year, is moderating a new author’s series that will be a companion to a reconfigured festival in the fall. She plans to roll out more moderated discussions throughout the year.

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The conversation with Tapper will be available on Zoom, and viewers will have the opportunity to ask questions. The event starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50. The admission price includes a hardcover copy of Tapper’s book, which will be shipped to your home.

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Today, many of you will open your newspaper and look for results from the Lightning playoff game. And you might wonder why those results aren’t there. It bears repeating that our print newspaper deadlines are now much earlier since we’ve begun printing the Wednesday and Sunday newspapers in Lakeland.

It also bears repeating how much we’ve expanded our e-Newspaper to take advantage of much later deadlines for the replica product. Our deadlines for sports news in the e-Newspaper are about seven hours later. A lot can happen in seven hours. And our newsroom is poised to capture as much of it as we can.

On print publication days, we have been adding as many as five pages of sports content produced by our award-winning Sports staff to the replica edition. Late sports coverage, including West Coast results, has become a staple of our daily e-Newspaper every single day. It’s even more pronounced on print days, where our earlier deadlines mean we will showcase more enterprise, analysis and columns in print. If you’re still on the fence, I’d like to encourage you to try the e-Newspaper to find all the latest sports presented in a familiar newspaper format.