Letters

A Letter From the Publisher

Friends:

Over the past week, we began a series of changes in the Planet that will make it a more vital paper in our community.

First, we have appointed a new editor, Jim Harper, who grew up in Tampa and has covered everything from police news to classical music during his 24-year career as a reporter, editor and columnist at the St. Petersburg Times. He has written about local politics, higher education, racial issues and just about everything else a good newspaper covers. Over the years, he won awards for general excellence in criticism, feature writing and public service.

We're excited about the energy and intellect that Jim's going to bring to the paper. Look for a renewed commitment to civic issues and ideas, more voices from the community, including Jim's own, as well as a continued commitment to hard- hitting investigation.

We are also excited that Susan Edwards, who has been the editor of the Planet for the past two years, is going to write a weekly column looking at the varied culture of the region. As senior editor of the paper, she will head up our arts and culture section and continue adding energy to our criticism.

We're going to unleash Eric Snider back into the paper to resume his writing after a stint as the editor for the arts and culture section. And we're going see some more stuff from Scott Harrell, who has a gifted pen in the music arena but also in a few areas that readers may not have noticed.

There were some tough decisions, too. Our changes also included cutting of three folks from our editorial staff — News Editor Fran Gilpin and writers Rochelle Renford and Trevor Aaronson. We have always devoted significant resources to news and commentary, but we still have to live on a budget.

The Planet has always taken pride in reporting on itself and on giving readers the benefit of knowing what's going on inside the paper. We've reported the good, the bad and the ugly. We don't like to let the daily newspapers define what we are trying to do through their filters. The Planet continues to take advertising dollars away from the dailies and our circulation is at record levels. The recession has been tough on everyone in the media, but we're pleased to be growing and not shrinking.

The cuts in our editorial staff were announced after we went to press last week. The articles in the local dailies created consternation among our readers that we are abandoning our commitment to local news and politics. For all of our efforts to tell their reporters it wasn't so, that was the theme dominating their stories. But even as we reduce the staff, we have strengthened the leadership of our paper and will have more writing from our most experienced journalists.

Jim's experience is a clear sign of our intentions for the paper because he has a strong record in both news and cultural issues. He has a degree in English and American literature from the University of the South, in Sewanee, Tenn. He studied cultural patterns in American politics at the University of California at Santa Barbara, under a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1985 he won a John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University, where he studied art, music, history, philosophy and modern dance.

Back at the Times, he wrote a column that sought to draw connections between cultural events and real life.

Jim worked several years as an editor in the Times' Tampa edition. More recently, he was responsible for exposing the cover-up of a series of sexual assault complaints involving a star basketball player at the University of South Florida; for helping to broaden his newspaper's coverage of racial issues after a controversial police shooting in St. Petersburg; and for challenging the media's initial coverage of USF professor Sami Al-Arian.

Jim also was among the first mainstream newspaper reporters in America to write publicly as a gay man, something he considered necessary in order to cover a major social movement both honestly and intelligently. "I believe journalists change the world by confronting things head-on," Jim said.

So take a close look at the Planet over the next couple of months. Jim's first day is Feb. 3. Send him a note on the skinny that you think we ought to be putting in the paper. He is at [email protected] weeklyplanet.com. For anything of a cultural bent, you can reach Susan at [email protected]. And stay tuned. We'll still be kicking butt, and the Times and the Trib will still pretend not to notice.

—Ben Eason, Publisher

A Letter From the Editor

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