Surprise, surprise: I have a beef this week with the Tampa Bay Times.
Over the weekend, President Donald Trump supporters took to their boats for a massive boat parade through John’s Pass that attracted some 1,500 boats. It was so big, the group is now trying to get a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest such event.
But the Times couldn’t be bothered to cover it.
A few disclosures before I explain why that’s a big deal.
First, we didn’t cover it either. But, our team worked all weekend on wall-to-wall coverage of Tuesday’s election — more than 100 races that yielded just as many stories on our website between Saturday and Sunday alone. The Times, meanwhile, had scant coverage about the primaries on its website (more on that in a minute.)
Second, I hate the politicization of boating. I just want to go to the sandbar and NOT think about the election.
That said, the Times really showed its hand here.
The paper has taken a lot of flak for its bias, and its silence on the boat parade only proves the point.
The Times invested multiple reporters, at a time when its newsroom is shrinking, to cover Black Lives Matter protests. It’s not that it wasn’t a worthy investment — America is and was in crisis, and the movement deserved attention. I’ve been a huge supporter of the Black Lives Matter protests and calls for police reform, and our team extensively covered the issue, too.
But a paper can’t expect to be taken seriously as an unbiased source of news and information if it covers protests on one issue, but ignores a massive political rally.
The Times’ absence of coverage is troubling for other reasons, too. It’s evidence the paper is struggling to manage its dwarfed newsroom.
Its Senior Deputy Managing Editor appears to be on vacation while Florida’s primary elections, the Democratic National Convention, and back-to-school are all happening this week.
It is Media 101 that you don’t send staff off on vacation during peak news cycles.
That sort of decision-making shows.
On Monday night, the Times homepage showed stories discussing the U.S. Postal Service crisis, reopening schools, and COVID-19 — all important topics. Further down, there were stories about mortgage delinquencies and St. Pete’s planned Sunrunner, some sports headlines and Hillsborough deputies wearing bodycams.
But nowhere was there any coverage of the local races appearing on Tuesday’s ballot.
It’s not like these races are sleepy.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Ross Spano faces a credible threat in the primary against Republican Lakeland City Commissioner Scott Franklin. It’s a huge race with national implications — an opportunity for Democrats to claim another seat in the House.
There’s also the Republican primary in Congressional District 13, where Republicans are vying for the chance to topple Charlie Crist. Anna Paulina Luna is surging in the race. If she wins, which she may very well, it’s a bellwether on how much President Donald Trump still affects local races.
Even further down-ballot, several competitive races could alter Tampa Bay area politics fundamentally.
Harry Cohen has an opportunity to grow Democrats’ majority on the Hillsborough County Commission.
Voters will decide who should replace retiring Hillsborough County Clerk Pat Frank in a contentious Democratic primary between former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin Beckner and School Board member Cindy Stuart. The race has been anything but sleepy.
Two Democrats also are on the ballot hoping to replace Hillsborough Tax Collector Doug Belden.
In Pinellas, voters will decide whether a White candidate should advance in a school board race that could lead to an all-White board.
It’s not that the Times has ignored these races — the newspaper has offered some coverage in most of these races. However, election coverage is never as important as it is the days before the election, and the Times was missing in action.
The bottom line is, the Tampa Bay Times is this region’s newspaper of record. Readers expect it to know what to cover and, almost as importantly, when to cover it.
The silence on Trump’s boat parade was deafening.