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'It's time.' WFLA-Ch. 8 reporter Mark Douglas retires after 42 years

WFLA-Ch. 8 investigative reporter Mark Douglas, 65, is retiring after four decades in the business. He’s a licensed pilot, avid sailor and one of the region’s last true muckrakers. [Courtesy of WFLA-ch.8]

Mark Douglas spent decades uncovering government waste, exposing shady public officials and helping put criminals away across the Tampa Bay area.

That era has ended. After four decades, the longtime WFLA-Ch. 8 investigative reporter will walk away from the camera on Friday.

One of the region's last true muckrakers, the 65-year-old Douglas said it's simply time to retire.

"It's time," he said. "For 42 years, I couldn't imagine doing anything else. Now I can."

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The Buffalo native was an old-school newshound. When his calls were ignored he'd show up at government offices, homes and businesses. When people refused to talk to him, he'd confront them outside elevators or in parking lots with a video camera in tow, a staple of TV news. Some subjects he chased down sidewalks.

His regular "You Paid for It" segments exposed how public officials and agencies spent tax dollars. But it was the shoe-leather reporting that he enjoyed the most.

"I loved digging into things," he said. "I loved the hunt. I really believe we help people and inform them."

Douglas entered journalism in 1976 after graduating from Florida State University. He later earned a master's degree from the University of Missouri. He spent 12 years as a senior reporter and bureau chief for WTSP-TV, then joined WFLA in 1995. He has collected numerous awards through his career, including a 2012 Emmy and another two in 2018.

His career took him from Florida's execution chamber to Russia. Douglas recounted some of his most memorable stories: There was the case of Delbert Tibbs, the anti-death penalty activist who was wrongfully convicted of murder and then freed from Florida's Death Row in 1977; there was the scandal he uncovered inside the Largo Police Department explorer's program; and the stories he told about the foster children sleeping in cars at a gas station.

"A fixture on the local news scene for decades, Mark will be missed," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said in a statement. "His stories spoke for themselves, and his dogged pursuit of truth and justice resulted in this community being a better and safer place."

Sometimes, Douglas found stories that he wasn't even looking for. In April, he and WFLA photojournalist Michael Egger were staking out a St. Petersburg apartment complex when they stumbled upon an 8-month-old baby, strapped to a car seat left in a parking lot. Minutes earlier, the child had been reporting missing along with a stolen car. The car thief discovered the baby after stealing the car and then abandoned him.

Douglas is also a licensed pilot and longtime sailor. His departure thins the ranks of the bay area's TV news watchdogs. In March 2017, 10News WTSP reporter Mike Deeson retired after 50 years in the business. Just weeks ago, WTSP reporter Noah Pransky announced he was leaving the station after 10 years.

Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long said she often clashed with Douglas over what she called his "abrasive style" of reporting. Still, she praised the work he did.

"I hope he will stay engaged," she said. "He's a pretty nice guy one-on-one. He had a job to do."

Contact Mark Puente at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente.

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