The Suncoast Tiger Bay Club hosted two of the most well-known figures in area political journalism and communications at its Year in Review luncheon Wednesday.
Adam Smith, longtime political editor for the Tampa Bay Times and current communication director for the City of Tampa, joined Peter Schorsch, publisher of Florida Politics, for a spirited discussion on local, state and national politics. Hosted by the non-partisan Suncoast Tiger Bay, the event took place at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club.
The discussion began lightheartedly with Schorsch and Smith taking turns asking each other questions and delivering quips that elicited laughs from the crowd. Schorsch asked Smith to name the most fascinating politician he has interviewed over the last decade. Smith replied it was former governor and current senator and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist.
“Because there were about six different Charlie Crists over the years, and all of them were variously interesting,” said Smith to a roar of laughter. “For somebody that’s been around Florida politics a long time, Charlie Crist is interesting just because he’s been so many different things – and often successful.”
Smith asked Schorsch his thoughts on the Tampa Bay Rays and their proposed split season in Montreal, and Schorsch said the franchise should “just give us back those 80 acres.”
Schorsch called owner Stu Sternberg and the team the best baseball minds but the worst political minds in Tampa Bay. He said that out of all the major sports organizations in the state, the Rays are the only team with no representation in Tallahassee.
“You do that just so you can get intel and run your ideas,” said Schorsch. “They are really bad at politics.”
Schorsch went on to say it is crazy the team wants to give up the “hottest 80 acres in the southeast real estate market.” He suggested the city move Derby Lane to the Tropicana Field redevelopment site and create a casino and sportsbook operation.
The questioning would take on a slightly more serious tone when Smith stated that Florida Politics provides the best local political coverage but asked Schorsch about the publication receiving most of its funding from special interest groups.
Smith asked how much the public should worry about lobbyists sponsoring something they read, to which Schorsch replied in jest that his answer was brought to the audience in part by Florida Power and Light.
“They should worry intensely,” said Schorsch in earnest. “I welcome them to worry.”
He added that if people have questions, they should ask those questions. He also relayed how the largest stakeholder in the New York Times is a Mexican cell phone operator and would like to see them disclose that in the paper’s next article about narco-terrorism. Schorsch also called the Washington Post the Bezos Post, after its billionaire owner, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
In defense of Florida Politics, Schorsch stated that many reporters have left and moved on to other things. If there were anything nefarious going on, Schorsch said, it would have been reported on by now. Schorsch explained that 98% of the publication’s revenue is from advertising, although advertising has changed over the years.
“It’s more the 25 most powerful politicians list that comes out in February is brought to you by the Southern Group,” he said. “But that just makes me an entrepreneur as far as I’m concerned – it’s clearly shown, etc.”
Schorsch went on to say that he thinks it is ridiculous that he exists and that the Times and other publications have ceded the local political market to Florida Politics. He noted how he went from blogging from his mother’s house a decade ago to boasting a $2.5 million reporting payroll across 19 journalists – what he said is largest reporting footprint in the state.
A Tiger Bay member asked what media outlets people should turn to in the age of misinformation, and Schorsch responded that he thinks it is a golden age for journalism. He added there is now more journalism ready to be consumed “than people know what to do with.”
“Yes, the newspapers are declining, but take Tampa Bay,” began Schorsch. “Yes, the Tampa Bay Times is strong, I get that. But the other outlets that are there – the St. Pete Catalyst does a good job of covering local events.
“There’s a lot more good journalism out there than maybe we realize.”