The Best Reporter

The media speak out on the media

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click to enlarge "HE'S A GENIUS:" Thomas Lake's peers believe his narrative writing style makes him one of the best reporters around. - Courtesy Thomas Lake
Courtesy Thomas Lake
"HE'S A GENIUS:" Thomas Lake's peers believe his narrative writing style makes him one of the best reporters around.

It used to be that daily newspaper scribes were largely nameless, faceless providers of information. The theory was that they weren't important; only their objective, informed stories mattered.

No more. They show up on TV. Their photos adorn house ads. Their blogs offer glimpses into their personalities.

Dr. Tony Silvia, a career broadcaster who now is director of the journalism department at the University of South Florida-St. Pete, said converging media forms have put print reporters increasingly on the air or online, upping their profiles with media consumers.

"I think convergence has a lot to do with this," Silvia said. "People start to get the feel for who these reporters are. I have a tendency to think that people sort of shop for their conduits of news in a very personalized fashion now — 'I'll read this guy because I believe in the kinds of things he writes about.'"

So in this age of (at least slightly) enhanced media celebrity, I thought it would be interesting to ask: Who is the best reporter in Tampa Bay? Each year, in our Best of the Bay, Creative Loafing staffers award one such lucky journalist that honor. Last year it was feature writer Lane DeGregory of the St. Petersburg Times; the year before, investigative reporter Jeff Testerman of the same paper. Perennial favorites Howard Troxler and Gayle Sierens won the readers' poll both years for best print and TV journalist, respectively.

But I wanted to see who's tops from the journalists' point of view. I listed a few of my favorites on our Blurbex blog (Ben Montgomery and Eric Deggans at the Times; Warren Elly at Fox 13; Mitch Perry at WMNF; Mike Deeson at Tampa Bay's 10, plus some of those listed below). Then I asked Blurbex readers, who include quite a few lurking journalists, for additional suggestions.

Here is a sampling of the nominees:

John Allman, Tampa Tribune: Allman was on the now-disbanded Trib investigative team, and his most recent work has been dismantling the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority. (He got the most votes on the blog, albeit from friends and his wife. It doesn't hurt to have a fan club, even if you are stuffing the ballot box.)

Thomas Lake, St. Petersburg Times: He was almost unknown a year ago (working in the Pasco bureau can do that to you), but Lake got more non-friends-and-family nods on the blog than any other reporter. His specialty is narrative stories, often from breaking police beat stuff, and one colleague said, "He's a genius."

Craig Pittman and Matt Waite, St. Petersburg Times: Team a computer-assisted whiz with your environmental reporter and you get a series of stories about how Florida's wetlands have been screwed.

Susan Taylor Martin, St. Petersburg Times: A longtime reporter and editor in this area, her beat is the world, getting stories bigger dailies miss.

Doug Smith, WTVT-Ch. 13: He was nominated for his "ongoing work looking at a black truck driver, Jean Claude Meus, who was given 30 years prison time for a traffic accident which killed two people — cops said he fell asleep at the wheel, he says he didn't — not long before Jennifer Porter got two years house arrest for killing two kids with her car, leaving the scene and trying to cover up the crime."

Mark Douglas, WFLA-Ch. 8: Douglas has been ripping the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary a new one for a number of questionable practices, including its luxury yacht and bikini cheesecake modeling sessions for young teens.

William March, Tampa Tribune: March stayed on Katherine Harris' backside this past election the way her Starbucks triple venti, nonfat, no foam, extra hot, with pink sugar latte stayed on her lips.

Other nominees included: from the St. Pete Times, Troxler, Testerman and DeGregory; Erin Sullivan and Jodie Tillman in Pasco, Sara Rosenbaum in Brandon, Michael Kruse in Hernando, feature writers Kelley Benham and Colleen Jenkins, baseball writer Marc Topkin, Tampa writer Alexandra Zaya, biz columnist Robert Trigaux, Ron Matus, Latin America correspondent David Adams and Al-Arian beat reporter Meg Laughlin; from the Trib, Christian Wade in Pasco, Shannon Behnken on real estate and Donna Koehn on the social services beat; Bobbie O'Brien of WUSF-FM; CL's own theater critic, Mark E. Leib; and Jane Meinhardt and Carl Cronan from the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Now I want to hear from readers. Who do you like? Whose byline is a sure sign of a great story? Drop me an e-mail at [email protected] or go online and post a comment below. I'll follow up and let you know what I hear.

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