Conflicts of interest

The smoking-gun economic premise proposed in Eric Snider's "Conflict of Interest" article is ludicrous. It is a prudent and fairly routine business practice to buy ample land for future expansion long before the expansion is anticipated. You may have noticed that the St. Pete Times proper owns two full blocks south of its headquarters, now used for employee parking. It's cheaper that way, and you don't have to work around holdouts — remember The Piano Man Building? Whether the land rises in value is not very important — if so, that simply vindicates the timeliness of the decision to purchase. Businesses or institutions that are largely landlocked — Florida State University is a good example — face a lot of difficulty and expense in expanding. If either the Times or the Poynter Institute are engaged in acquiring land and flipping it for profit, that's news to me — and news period. But you don't offer any evidence of that.

Which is not to say that the merits of the airport issue, the Times editorial position and the fairness of the news coverage are anything but fair game — as treated in the balance of Snider's piece and Jim Harper's. There may be some extra sensitivity to the remote but real possibility that a plane could crash into the Institute, the Nelson Poynter Library or a classroom full of USF-St. Petersburg students. Institutional history may well have some relevance too. A wit once observed that had (former Times publisher) Jack Lake loved to fly and been indifferent to baseball, things might be quite different around here.

But you are woofing up the wrong tree to suggest there is any economic conflict of interest of consequence by virtue of the recent land purchase.

(Disclosure: I was a Times executive for 11 years and have done most of my research and writing the last two for Poynter. These are personal views, however, not offered on behalf of either. In fact, with three-quarters of my fellow citizens — Times story, October 26 — I will be voting no on Amendment 3.)

—Rick Edmonds
St. Petersburg

I thought "The Case for Albert Whitted" was the most accurate reporting I had seen on this subject. Then today I read the stories in the "Clout!" issue and am further impressed with your in-depth and fair coverage of the topic.

Like you, I count myself as a "fan" of the St. Pete Times but I've had to shake my head at the continued bias they carry on the subject of the airport and the land it occupies. It's sometime subtle, sometimes blatant (as you point out, their op/ed pieces are allowed to be biased), sometimes downright shrill.

Not being a pilot or airport user (but nonetheless a passionate supporter of the airport and all its potential to serve my city), I rarely feel as offended by the Times' coverage as my friends who are more closely tied to Whitted. But I have always felt there must be more to the story behind the Times' slant than some ancient vendetta between Nelson Poynter and someone or something to do with the airport. There are too many smart and principled people working hard at the Times for me to believe some old grudge would drive their strong opposition to the future of the airport.

The Times' ownership, especially their recent purchase of land in one of the Whitted flight paths, explains a lot.

Thank you for your accurate and in-depth coverage, including (park supporter) Peter Belmont's version of the issue. I have explained the ballot to countless people and the implications of each yes and no vote. Now I will refer folks to this issue of the Weekly Planet as well, for a terrific summation of the whole shebang.

—Shelley Manes
St. Petersburg

Thank you for your informative article about the St. Petersburg Times. I have always known the Times had a hidden agenda. I have never seen a paper with such distorted views not only in their editorial pages but also in their news articles, which we expect to be factual and unbiased. Thanks to your investigative journalism, the truth has finally come out.

Good job.

—Steve Tolliver
St. Petersburg

Hooray for your article in the Planet today. It lays out clearly (regardless of denials) the conspiracy between Poynter, the Times, Tim Clemmons, et al. Whether King David, his dishonor the Mayor of St Petersburg, is even intelligent enough to be directly connected to this scatology remains to be said. I will be curious to see if the number of voters saving their airport, while once again squashing the Times, will exceed the numbers of votes that elected him.

—Jim Epting

Editor's note: Rick Edmonds was very good to me when he was my editor at the Times. But I think he misunderstood the premise of our stories. It wasn't the Poynter Institute's expansion strategy we found questionable, but the failure of the Times ever to mention its owner's property when it wrote of neighbors who are affected by the airport.

On another potential conflict, a few readers asked if we shouldn't have mentioned that Eric Snider left the Times involuntarily 10 years ago. We did disclose that both Eric and I were former Times employees and said readers are free to judge if this had unfairly colored our stories. I did not go into greater detail last week because Eric's article was objective: factual matters of property ownership, zoning rights and the opinions of independent media ethicists we polled. I assigned him the story, and the critical analysis of the Times' news coverage was entirely mine. I left the Times voluntarily four years ago; I hope I made clear my ongoing respect for the paper and the people who work there. Another disclosure: as a Times retiree, I still get my health insurance through its group plan.

Finally, Karen Brown Dunlap is the president of the Poynter Institute. In a truly boneheaded move, just when we were holding ourselves up as paragons of good journalism, we gave her an outdated name in last week's story.


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