St. Petersburg Times Turns 125

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

The St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times is getting up there in age. This month the paper turns 125.

The paper’s longevity is a testament to the good work that its journalists have produced throughout the years and that they continue to produce during a tumultuous time in the news industry. In a special, July 19 pull-out section commemorating the paper’s birthday, Paul Tash, editor, chairman and CEO of the Times, listed 10 reasons why the Times has made it to its 125th birthday:

1. Air conditioning

2. Local roots

3. Society secured (and Medicare)

4. Continuity

5. Highways (and bridges)

6. Ambition

7. War

8. Resilience

9. Sports

10. Good friends

You can read his explanations of these reasons here
. Be sure to read the kicker of the piece.

Also in the birthday pull-out section is a thoughtful article about Nelson Poynter, a former editor of the St. Petersburg Times who ran the paper for nearly 40 years. Wanting to keep the paper locally controlled, he created a nonprofit educational institution that would own the Times, ensuring that it remained independent.

I should note that I work at this institution, The Poynter Institute for Media Studies. Journalists worldwide know of this institute, but when I mention it to people outside of the profession, they often frown at me and ask for explanation. For those who need more help understanding it, here’s a good explanation from the aforementioned article. (I couldn’t find it online or I’d link to it.)

“Poynter embraced no idea more firmly than his desire to keep his newspaper locally controlled, in the hands of a single person, once he died. But to do that, he took the extraordinary step of giving the paper away. Although he left a widow and two daughters, Poynter stipulated in his will that most of his stock in the paper would go to a nonprofit educational institution that he established to help train working and student journalists. The institution would own majority interest in the Times and its stock would be voted by an executive whom Poynter designated as his successor. That ensured that his beloved newspaper would not have to be sold to pay estate taxes. It also would be safe from chain ownership.

“The institution, which began in 1975 in an old bank building two blocks from the paper in downtown St. Petersburg, was first called Modern Media Institute. Several years after Poynter’s death, it was renamed the Poynter Institute for Media Studies and moved into a new, elegant building near the city waterfront. Although the institute is tax exempt, the newspaper is a private, for-profit company that pays federal, state and local taxes. …”

I wish I could have met Poynter, the man who played such a critical role in making the Times the paper that it is today and who understood and valued the importance of local ownership and professional training. I wish I could thank him for giving me a place to grow and work as a young journalist, and congratulate him on helping the Times reach its 125th birthday. Good work, Nelson, and happy b-day, St. Pete Times.

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