A couple years back, the folks at CL did me a solid.
It was during the 2012 RNC. I was freelancing at the time, and they'd asked me to help cover the convention.
Among the ancillary events, a documentary about child hunger was screening at Channelside, narrated by none other than Jeff Bridges.
I'm a huge Big Lebowski fan, one of those geeks who can quote it practically verbatim. So when word got out that ol' Duder himself would be introducing the film in person, CL Editor David Warner let me cover it.
I sat in one of the theater's front rows next to a CL photographer. When the Dude walked in, the photog got up to snap photos, leaving an empty seat next to moi. Awaiting his introduction, Bridges sat down in said seat.
Of course, I didn't say anything to him. They were talking about child hunger, so it would have been inappropriate to lean over and say, "8-year-olds, Dude."' Plus I was nervous as hell.
But a Paper of Record did run some photos of the Dude sitting next to me, and they looked pretty cool.
So I owe my almost having met Jeff Bridges to CL.
In return, I've decided to give this alt-newsweekly my all as news and politics editor.
Kidding aside, this is an amazing opportunity, an honor I take very seriously.
Many people, upon hearing that an obscure reporter from the Tampa Tribune's obscure
(and now defunct)* St. Petersburg bureau is taking over for uber-news-mensch Mitch Perry, will talk about shoes. Mitch is a longtime mentor of mine, whom I consider a good friend. His shoes are big, people will point out, and it will be hard for me to fill them.
The thing is, I don't aim to fill his shoes. They're not my style. Plus, he's now wearing them over at SaintPetersBlog. My shoes are quirkier – I typically like something in a colorful wedge.
That means my take on local, state, and sometimes national news and politics will be different.
For one, I have tons of pent-up satirical energy from having played it straight for too long.
I do have some years in the alternative press under my belt, namely with Maui Time Weekly, where I worked after getting my master's from USF-St. Pete, and WMNF radio, where as a staff reporter I churned out tons of relatively straight-faced news reports for a spell. But for the last couple years I've been paying my dues at a serious daily.
As a general assignment reporter at the Trib, I covered nearly everything: politics, crime, the occasional sea turtle release. It was fun, and my coworkers and editors were an absolute joy to work with, but sometimes I had to write about bullshit even when I knew it was, well, bullshit (mostly when covering politics; not you, sea turtles).
But now, when an elected governing body that has a direct impact on our day-to-day lives seems to be little more than an expensive club for rich boys, I can say so. Or if some candidate reminds me more of Francis from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure than a future statesman, or when a local zillionaire plans to mow down one of our defining landmarks and put a Dunkin' Donuts or something in its place, I can tell it like it is.
One may ask, "Kate, why would you leave a perfectly normal reporting gig with a perfectly respectable paper to write like a total weirdo for a not-normal paper, thus compromising possible future mainstream reporting opportunities?”
Well, that's my secret. There are no future mainstream reporting opportunities (see: this most recent round of layoffs). Not for me, anyway.
Of course, some may say I'm revealing 'bias" or "attitude" or whatever, in which case I would ask him or her to go to the computer, fire up Internet Explorer or Netscape with a definitely dial-up connection, go to the Google, and type in “alternative weekly.” Oh, and don't forget to press “return.”
Given the current state of affairs, I obviously have some ground to cover when it comes to calling bullshit. I'll be watching issues unfold, updating you when necessary, and offering jokes as needed.
Among topics I'll be keeping an eye on is that Duke Energy controversy: you know, charging customers for the nuke plant that will never get built, etc. Leading up to the midterm elections, some State House and Senate candidates made some substantive promises (for politicians). I'll let you know if they actually make good during session.
There's also the state's perplexing failure to take renewable energy seriously on any level despite its obvious environmental and economic benefits.
The list of ways in which our state's rigged political culture is holding us back is a long one.
But politics, as simultaneously hilarious and depressing as it may be, is just part of the equation. I want to write stories about what makes this place so interesting to inhabit: the people at the forefront of helping Tampa Bay (and Florida as a whole) be all it can be.
That could mean talking to people who are fighting against the odds to make their communities better. It could mean looking into systemic injustice, or simply exploring why things like urban goats and youth hostels aren't as prevalent as they are in other cities. Oh, and transit, but that's now a political issue for some reason (teabaggers).
The way we deliver those stories online and in print is fluid. We may tweak the current format a little as we go, in print and online — yes, that may mean occasional (gasp) listicles, maybe even (gasp again) infographics when appropriate (but no clickbait; that is my promise to you).
Of course, some stories and blog posts will be more serious than others; it just depends on what the situation warrants. I'm very respectful, I promise, unless you're trying to screw over my neighbors or my generation (you've probably counted the number of times I use “I” and deduced that I am a Millennial).
Regardless of how we present our product, though, expect the same in-depth coverage as you did before, fortified occasionally with smartassery and the occasional f-bomb.
The most important player in all of this is you. I want you to be involved, to reach out with any ideas, observations, or insights you have that I, not being omniscient, don't. I'm already connected with many of you through social media, and all of you are welcome to email me at [email protected] or call me at 813-739-4805. With your input and involvement, I bet I can break in these new shoes, and maybe one day muster the guts to speak up the next time a CL assignment lands me in a spot next to El Duderino.
*An earlier version of this story described the Tampa Tribune's St. Petersburg bureau as defunct, which isn't entirely accurate. While the paper's Pinellas County staffers are vacating their physical downtown St. Petersburg office, a few Pinellas-based writers remain, and they are doggedly covering events and issues throughout the county with great zeal.