The Power of Twos: An interview with Sue Carlton & John Hill

Best Yin-and-Yang Journalist Duo, 2012

click to enlarge "People would just assume we're lockstep on stuff, and we don't agree on a lot of things" —Sue Carlton, w. John Hill. - Photo by Todd Bates
Photo by Todd Bates
"People would just assume we're lockstep on stuff, and we don't agree on a lot of things" —Sue Carlton, w. John Hill.

John Hill, an editorial writer, and Sue Carlton, a columnist, both work for the Tampa Bay Times. They've been married 22 years, and dated five years before that.

The Times had a nepotism policy back in the late ’80s, when Sue began working there.

Sue: ”The Times tried to hire John first, but they had the nepotism policy and he didn’t want to commit.”

John: “...I started in May or June of 1996, they lifted the policy that spring....”

Sue: "I was an intern there in the late ‘80s… and then I was just coming into Tampa at the time, I began at a bureau in Northdale. Then I became a reporter, a courts reporter, the City Editor for Tampa, an editor for the Floridian, then the editor for Tampa, then came back as a columnist."

They have different bosses, work in different departments. Sue works in News, John in Editorial. Sue answers to news editors and John answers to editorial.

John: "As an editorial writer, I’m not writing a column. This is not my personal opinion. These are things I run by the board, we have full discussions on these issues before they're written and before they're published and many things never get written, and never get published, because we talk them out and we’re not ‘there’ yet. So everything you see in the paper that I write goes thru the board. It’s a board process. I’m a writer, I’m a member of the board, ultimately we’re speaking for the newspaper and not an individual, so I think that, beyond that, we answer to different editors and different sides of the newspaper. I think that’s a big difference. Ours are institutional in approach and style as opposed to columns."

Sue: "Sure we talk about this stuff, because it’s your day and we’re both really interested in local politics, but it’s funny. People would just assume we’re lockstep on stuff and we don’t agree on a lot of things. We don’t agree on what kind of mustard to buy for the house, so you know. We do have fun conversations about things sometimes."

John: "We have different backgrounds. Her background is in the courts. my background is in government, they're different, we have different sources, we use very different sources, it’s not unlike anybody on the news side. We in editorial develop our news sources and do our own interviews…

The Gandy/Friendship Trail bridge

Sue: "I’m a huge believer that that was a wonderful thing that we had here and if there’s a way to save it without making it into an utter boondoggle – and I think there is, and John didn’t like it from the start."

John: "When they decided to take that over and make that into a pedestrian trail, I just didn’t see any ..I saw a lot of loss there, a lot of risk and I agreed that it’s a great asset but you have to make choices and I thought that was one that was going to. A weak business plan and no real vision for it so I haven't’d be great to save but I’ve never really come around on that/’s in worse shape...the initial plan was in terrible shape. It’s gone from an F to a D-."

In April, Hill and his editorial board colleagues (Joni James, Tim Nickens and Robyn Blumner) were nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The Pulitzer board said the Times board was nominated "For editorials that examined the policies of a new, inexperienced governor and their impact on the state, using techniques that stretched the typical editorial format and caused the governor to mend some of his ways.”

Hill's editorials generally focus on Tampa, Hillsborough County, the environment and a host of other issues. He's a big soccer fan, and is currently working on a book on former Lake County, Florida Sheriff Willis V. McCall.

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