Tampa Bay Times head honcho Paul Tash tames a mellow Tiger Bay Club

Tash said he didn't want to distance himself from the editorial, adding that he thought the piece stated that the funding should be approved because the Lens project had been thoroughly discussed and sufficiently vetted.

"This remains the plan for downtown St. Petersburg for the replacement of the Pier. We've got three months to go, and I think the board's view was that this was not the time to totally just shut it down and wait and see what happens," he said.

Other people asked questions with the seeming intention to get a rise out of Tash, or at least a notable quote, but the 58-year-old chief executive was keenly aware of his choice of words. But he couldn't help himself when referring to the "market share" that the Times owns over the Tampa Tribune.

When asked why he thinks that business magnate and investor Warren Buffett purchased virtually every newspaper in Media General's collection last May except for the Tribune, Tash replied, "I think he would like to avoid competitive markets, and we have about two-thirds of the market share in the Tampa Bay market. So he prefers markets that you don't have that type of competition.."

(The private equity group Revolution Capital Group ended up purchasing the Tribune in October of 2012.)

Tash passed on making any editorial comment on what might happen if Charles and David Koch (i.e. the Koch Brothers) end up buying the ailing Tribune Company (whose papers include the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel). Loathed by the political left for their financial support of conservative and Libertarian viewpoints, the idea has led liberal activists to protest against that possibility in recent weeks.

Tash said there were similar concerns expressed years ago when Rupert Murdoch was in negotiations to purchase the Wall Street Journal, and that didn't come to fruition. He said he trusts that the Koch brothers are looking at the acquisition as a business proposition rather than a vehicle for their conservative points of view.

"Until we see otherwise, I take them at that word," Tash said.

In his prepared speech that preceded the Q-and-A session, Tash discussed his role as a member on the Pulitzer Prize Board. He's served the last nine years as a board member and was named last month to serve as chairman of the board for the coming year.

He discussed many of the print stories that won or were nominated for the Pulitzer this past year (the ceremony took place last week in New York City), including the Pulitzer that two members of his own editorial board — Tim Nickens and Daniel Ruth — were awarded for their columns that led to the Pinellas County Commission reversing its decision to end fluoridation of the water supply.

Tash mentioned Pulitzer rules that state no board members with a personal or professional connection to a finalist are "gently banished to the hallway for the discussion and vote." He joked that if he had any say so in the matter, the Times would have taken home three Pulitzers.

Tash said there were 2,637 entries for the 21 distributed awards (14 of them in journalism). But the other statistics he invoked were stark in regards to the fragile nature of the print industry.

"Today there are 15,000 fewer journalists working in American newspapers than in 2006," he said. However, he said the caliber of work that he reviews as a judge hasn't dropped at all. He also said the term "bankruptcy" no longer carries the same stigma that it might have in the past, because 11 of the 42 finalists in this year's journalism categories came from reporters working at companies that have gone through that process in recent years.

Referring to the Times' own Pulitzers, the chief executive said that the daily's "sphere of influence" remains considerable in the Tampa Bay area, but less so in Tallahassee, where he later described as having a "corrupt political culture" — not in a literal way of politicians taking bribes, but more of a breakdown in the system where it is not serving the public good, and used as an example the continuing problems with the closed Crystal River nuclear power plant in Levy County, where Duke Energy is asking its customers to pay more than $1.6 billion in related expenses.

  • Paul Tash

Dubbed on the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club's website as (arguably) "the most powerful person in town," Tampa Bay Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash was the featured speaker at the group's luncheon at the St. Petersburg Marriott Clearwater hotel on Friday.

The piece on Tiger Bay's website says, "As powerful as Tash is, is he powerful enough to withstand the tough questioning of the members of Suncoast Tiger Bay? This is not a group that will lob softballs at him like his own reporters do."

Perhaps they weren't softballs, but the questions fired at him weren't exactly Nolan Ryan style, either.

One of the most challenging queries came from Pinellas County School Board member Linda Lerner. She asked why, "with a divided (City) Council," the editorial board recently called for city lawmakers to approve funding for the demolition of the Pier — and limited design work for its replacement — despite the fact that a referendum that might make the matter moot is destined to appear on the ballot at the end of summer (the Times editorial board has been an unflagging booster of the Lens design).

"That's a lot of taxpayer money, and I just don't why the editorial board supported that," Lerner said, referring to the $869,000 that the board approved (though it was whittled down from $1.5 million that was originally proposed).

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