Adam Smith, Mercury
The Times they are a'changing: Adam Smith talks the state of news, Florida politicians and hindsight
Former Tampa Bay Times Political Editor and Senior Vice President of Mercury, Adam Smith joins our host Joe Hamilton in the studio for a conversation on politics, media and the news business. Smith explains why regional newspapers are so important to the vitality of our republic and why he fears they may be on the way out. Joe and Adam cover everything from media silos like Fox News to the many characters of Florida politics past and present, and why Smith decided to leave the Times after 20 years to begin a new career in strategic communications.
- Today's guest: Adam Smith, senior vice president at Mercury and former political editor of the Tampa Bay Times.
- Wealth & running for public office: Politicians are, of necessity, higher income than the average American. Running for office, whether locally or nationally, Smith explains, is extremely expensive.
- "I believe the best representation, are the people that have to answer to the broadest audience. You know, that's where you have compromise, that's where you have to work together with both sides instead of just constantly looking over your shoulder if you're a republican for a primary challenge from the far-right and if you're a democrat a primary challenge on the far-left, that just excludes the middle, the vast middle in so many cases."
- Smith uses the issue of immigration to demonstrate the way media has stirred up fear and changed the minds of Floridians in places that don't have immigration problems.
- "Our republic was not founded to constantly response to every cry that the general population makes."
- On fear as a tool: "I think that's not entirely new ... you go back to the Red Scare and the Nixon policy on civil rights to scare everybody, it's not new to mobilize voters through fear and anger, it's a very effective tool."
- On the future of the Times and newspapers across the country: Newspapers will have a smaller reach, have more expensive subscriptions and use paywalls. Smith also predicts shorter newspapers using more local advertisers.
- "What really worries me more than the biggest markets are what's happening with the regional papers, because all across the country you're seeing these news deserts where a decent sized market is no longer sustaining a vibrant local paper, so nobody is covering those county commission meetings, no body is covering those districts and the shenanigans that can go on that are taking a lot of taxpayer money.
- These days, Smith is on the opposite side of the equation. He's working on strategic communications alongside politicians and businesses.
- Hindsight: Smith explains the effects of the Recession on The Times and the Tampa Tribune, and how the day the Tampa Tribune went under felt from his perspective.
- " I left the Times mostly because I was just getting a little tired of doing the same thing. As great as politics are in Florida, there's still sort of a wash, rinse, repeat on a different election cycle every two years."
- On the people he's met: "I mean, I've done all the presidential races, I've met all the presidential candidates and presidents since 2004, some closer than others..."
- On Florida politics: "There's no other state has the politics that Florida has and it's partly because there's so much unpredictable stuff that happens."
- On Charlie Crist: "This is a guy who was on the short-list for republican vice president, widely seen as the future president, who had astronomical approval ratings. Suddenly, he was basically cast out of his party, humiliated when Marco Rubio was foolish enough to challenge him for the U.S. Senate. Charlie went from a die hard Chain Gang Charlie republican to a moderate independents to now I would argue a reasonably liberal democrat. That's extraordinary."
- Rick Scott: "Normally if somebody calls you and says there's a guy running for governor that nobody has heard of you kind of dismiss it as nothing. When they say there's going to be a one million ad buy, you take it seriously."
- Jeb Bush: "Jeb Bush I still think was the most consequential governor we've had in decades - in a long, long time. The guy just went into office wanting to do stuff and really disrupt the status quo and he did."
- "I'm not sure after Trump there's going to be a great appetite for people that are constantly generating controversy, but I do think there will always be an appetite for people that say what's on their mind and are not so careful."
Table of Contents
(00:00 to 00:55) Introduction
(00:55 to 04:20) What It Takes To Become a Politician
(04:20 to 05:05) Political Facts
(05:05 to 08:50) Marketing and Media In Politics
(08:50 to 10:07) The Future of the News Business
(10:07 to 12:16) Newspaper Business Models
(12:16 to 15:29) Adam’s Journey Through The News Industry
(15:29 to 19:15) Looking Back
(19:15 to 23:43) Being a Political Writer
(23:43 to 25:14) Trump and the Political Landscape
(25:14 to 28:20) Being Authentic In Politics
(28:20 to 32:00) Other Local Political Figures
(32:00 to 34:13) Conclusion
Joe: Joining me on SPx is Adam Smith the long-time political editor at the Tampa Bay Times and now political consultant with Mercury Public Advisors, welcome.
Adam: Thanks for having me, Joe.
Joe: So, I want to know what makes a politician. They come onto the scene, what are the growth tracks that lead people to become a politician?
Adam: You know, I’m actually not as cynical as a lot of people. I think for the vast majority it’s idealism and genuinely trying to make the world or their community a little bit better of a place. I think also for the vast majority it’s ego because clearly, you’ve got to have an ego to step up and think you’re the one that can lead the country. But yeah, I think most of them start out with good intentions, sometimes if you stay awhile you get sort of so fawned over it can change your priorities and perceptions.
Joe: And a lot of these guys and women are they business people that sort of come to the end of their interest in business and find they can connect with what they’re really after in life by going into politics? Or are they issue driven? Is there one issue that will sort of catapult them into it?
Adam: You know, unfortunately, the vast majority are not necessarily representative of most of us because they have high income. You have to be fairly wealthy to run for some of these offices. If you’re running for congress that often times means you have to have two residences and that’s not cheap in Washington D.C. And you know, you get a decent salary of more than a hundred thousand dollars, but you’ve got a family, two residences, and that doesn’t necessarily go that far. You run for your local city council job that’s generally supposed to be a part-time job, but it’s a lot more than that, it’s tough to do that. Legislature, you know, it meets just a few months, but really, you’re constantly working. So, this is a business in most cases where you’ve got to be very comfortable financially.
Joe: One of the other disconnects that I think would be natural in we’ll call them high-functioning successful business people is in the sort of slam of necessity to connect with the weirdest and poorest and different looking and all these different people that you are responsible for now and they’re coming at you from all directions.
Adam: You know, yes and no because the way these districts are drawn these days. They’re so drawn to help the incumbent or a particular party win. So, if I’m Joe Schmoe running for the legislature in let’s say East Pasco Country, you know, your district is probably going- Actually, that’s not a good example because that’s one of the few swing areas, but most of these areas are not swing areas and you’re targeting very homogeneous populations consistently conservative or fiscally conservative, socially conservative in some cases. And likewise, if you’re a democrat you’re often packed into an overwhelmingly democratic district.
Joe: So, essentially just a bunch of little echo chambers laying next to each other?
Adam: Yeah, and that’s one of the reasons you’re going to see a ballot initiative in Florida where people who are not registered to either party may be able to vote in both primaries that way arguably, and I believe the best representation, are the people that have to answer to the broadest audience. You know, that’s where you have compromise, that’s where you have to work together with both sides instead of just constantly looking over your shoulder if you’re a republican for a primary challenge from the far-right and if you’re a democrat a primary challenge on the far-left, that just excludes the middle, the vast middle in so many cases.
Joe: So, you said you weren’t cynical about a lot of the initial intentions of all the politicians, what’s your take on the objectivity of the general population when it comes to the ones that are coming out and then being politically active?
Adam: Well, again, it’s kind of the problem with the way we have gotten so partisan. And that includes the media as well that people just, you know, one of the reasons The Times started PolitiFact was even before there was all this talk of alternative facts and we had a president who pretty routinely said demonstrably objectively false statement that people just view things in their own little window. So, you watch Fox News you have a very, very different perception of what’s happening in the world than if you’re watching MSNBC or CNN.
Joe: And a lot of this probably comes out of the marketing world where now if you want the people to do a certain thing and feel a certain way, when I look at issues like the border, and I think of all the education issues, poverty, starvation, a million issues that people could be firmly on one side or the other of this border, that’s because of marketing and effective marketing.
Adam: That’s because of marketing and that’s really largely because of media, I think. You know, you have a lot of parts of Florida where there is virtually no problem with illegal immigration. And those areas where there is significant illegal immigration tend to be agricultural areas where many people are not that concerned about it because they need those workers. But you go down to Sarasota County, you know, generally has always been a moderate republican county, that was literally the number one issue driving republican votes, especially primary voters because of what they see on the media.
Joe: How do we reconcile that then if it’s not really in the places where it’s really not a problem people are up and arms about it and the places where it may be by actual quantity of illegal immigrants showing up there, they’re okay with it because they want them there. So, then how do you reconcile this idea that the media is pushing this issue?
Adam: Our republic was not founded to constantly response to every cry that the general population makes. That’s why we have a U.S. Senate that’s supposed to be a little bit more broad thinking. But that’s just not the world we live in now. Everybody is so concerned about a primary, and they’re terrified of that, especially republicans, because they’re terrified of that base. And any reporter, especially those in Washington, talks to the senators and U.S. House members every day that are often disgusted and will say off the record how disgusted they are about some of the divisive rhetoric that comes out, but they won’t say it on the record because they are terrified.
Joe: And it’s worth digging into. So, if it’s not an issue that’s supported by people living in that space, you know, it’s either like you said, just media, then am I led to believe that journalists that are putting stuff out on this feel like they have to and some it just becomes a fad and if you’re not writing about it the next person is and they’re going to get the readers and so they have to write about it? And it just sort of snowballs into an issue that’s not actually affecting people on a day to day basis other than in their heads?
Adam: Yeah, and I shouldn’t say there are areas where people just don’t care about it. In some of those agricultural areas the businesses certainly don’t care about it and broadly speaking the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is very supportive of immigration, they’re not going to be supportive of illegal immigration. But you know the president of the United States is saying this is a number one top priority virtually like a war facing the country, that’s a story. If every republican primary is being waged on who is softer on illegal immigrants, that’s a story. But you know, I spent a fair amount of time in the last election cycle going to various events and especially in the republican primary you would have thought that sanctuary cities was just a crisis afflicting every community in Florida – there are no sanctuary cities.
Joe: And that brings me back to the marketing aspect of it really. It just seems to be so powerful how much of a frenzy that concerted effort can whip up and create this fear and then this essentially creates this self-supporting cycle of fear becomes the news and the news has to report on the fear and then off we go.
Adam: Yeah, and I think that’s not entirely new. I’m not meaning to pick on the right because I think that the left certainly exploits things all the time. But you know, you go back to the Red Scare and the Nixon policy on civil rights to scare everybody, that’s not new to mobilize voters through fear and anger, it’s a very effective tool.
Joe: They’re just getting better and better at it.
Adam: Yeah, every year.
Joe: Let’s talk about the news business, you know, long time at The Times, obviously they’ve had their trials and tribulations. So, where do you see the news business going? Where do you see the large print-based and major newspapers in towns going?
Adam: Nobody has quite figured out the business model here. The Times has been for a long time more fortunate than most because we have this unique structure where we’re owned by a non-profit and there wasn’t an intense pressure on us to be giving giant returns to shareholders. But, you know, when so many of these national advertising deals dry up, it’s very tough. So, you know, I think you’re going to be seeing probably higher subscription rates, you know, it’s costly. And so, no longer are you going to have newspapers trying to cover a vast, vast geographic in terms of circulation, it’s just not cost effective. It’s going to be more expensive to subscribe to a newspaper. I think you’re seeing shorter newspapers and you’re going to see a lot more reliance on local advertising. And eventually, it’s happening too slowly for most, but online advertising, those rates are going to have to go up to sustain what we have. And likewise, you know, paywalls, The Times has now got a pay wall, we can’t be giving – I say we because I’m so used to being there. One can’t keep giving away product that’s very expensive to produce.
Joe: And I had a thought looking around at some of the other institutions, you know, theoretically one person can report, put out their own publication or whatever. And you see small news outlets springing up all the time. But there’s a certain critical mass you need to achieve to have the support and to be able to in something a month or two months and have the lawyers, and the editors, and then also the reach and everything. And I kind of started to think about art, and the symphony, and other institutions in our society that if you’re going to have a symphony, you need to have a symphony hall, and you need to have a hundred musicians that need to be able to practice. But really no where is that really supported by ticket sales. And the same goes with the Dali and Art Museum, you have to have these big buildings to put this beautiful art in to create the experience. And so, we’ve come to a place where wealthy people support it because they believe it benefits the common good. And I wonder if journalism might not go that same way where it’s a thing that benefits the common good that you need to have a certain critical mass to that maybe just simply can’t support itself as a business model.
Adam: Well, I’m optimistic that eventually the business model will stabilize, and it will work. But there’s no question that has been the model. I mean, the Washington Post was in at least as much financial trouble as The Times, probably worse, but then Jeff Bezos stepped in and now they’ve got a vast every-growing staff doing phenomenal journalism. That’s the case in Boston, in Philadelphia, and Las Vegas, where you’ve got wealthy, wealthy philanthropist subsidizing these outlets. I mean then the danger is when you have people that have a clear agenda and aren’t really hands off. And then what really worries me more than the biggest markets are what’s happening with the regional papers because, you know, all across the country you’re seeing these news deserts where, you know, a decent sized market is no longer sustaining a vibrant local paper, so nobody is covering those county commission meetings, nobody is covering those districts and the shenanigans that can go on that are taking a lot of tax payer money. That’s the foundation of democracy. One of the things our republic was built on is a free press, a vibrant free press that can inform people, so they know the right decisions to make.
Joe: All right. So, you recently flipped to the other side of that equation. You went from being on the coverage of the candidate to sort of being next to the candidate. So, can you talk about that journey for you?
Adam: Yeah, I’m doing much more than candidates, I’m doing a lot of business help too. I’m mostly focusing on communications and helping get sort of a message and a strategy out for communicating. But yeah, it’s eye-opening. You see a lot of justice, some of the reporters don’t quite understand how a campaign works. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about how a journalist works, a lot of misunderstanding.
Adam: You know, what is going to generate media interest, sometimes it is not quite understood how the editorial board works versus how the straight newsroom works. They really don’t overlap. Everybody has a hard time understanding that, but it’s just true.
Joe: I’m assuming you had a lot of latitude in what you wrote about, so what was the process for envisioning a story and then pushing it out? What was your decision criteria? What did you look for? What did you feel like your unique take on things was?
Adam: You know, I was just interested in what was interesting to me and what I thought was important for people to know. You know, sometimes it’s just covering an event. If Donald Trump comes to town we’re going to cover it and ideally I think a local outlet should cover it in a way, you know, if we’re covering the U.S. Senate, you know, with our Washington reporters, we don’t want to be covering the exact same thing that we can get from the associated press or for the New York Times, we should have a more localized take on it or a distinctive take on it. But yeah, if I’m covering any election I think generally The Times wants to own the coverage of a state-wide race, I think that’s the job of the political editor at The Times which has always been a very, very, high profile position, but at the same time not get bogged down in the total minutiae that only insiders care about.
Joe: Right, and how conscious were you of your own voice? Did you feel like people had an expectation for your perspective? I mean, I’m assuming the answer to be able to deliver that all the time is simply being authentic all the time. But you know, I was a big fan of Hunter S. Thompson who came out a certain way and ended up being trapped by that. And I wonder how often that happens to people who are widely read.
Adam: Yeah, I mean, Hunter S. Thompson had the luxury, or the box, that he came from a very distinctive left-point of view.
Adam: If you’re at the Tampa Bay Times you can’t antagonize 50% of the readers. And, you know, I don’t happen to come from a very particularly left or right point of view anyway. But yeah, I think you want to write distinctively. I was always encouraged to use my voice. At the same time, I think there’s just way too much punditry out there. So, I did my share of punditry, I usually try to make it blended in with actual reporting. But just to blather on about what you think about this or that or what’s good and what’s bad I don’t think is that valuable. If you spend any time watching cable TV, you know, it can be like a root canal after a while, everybody blathering about their opinions and saying the same thing over and over.
Joe: Yeah, I agree. Now that you’re outside of the times, had a chance to breathe and get some fresh air in your lungs, looking back at The Times what do you think, if you could change a couple of things there or you could go back and time and change a couple of things, what would you say that those would be?
Adam: Well, yeah, hindsight is 20/20. So, a lot of it would be on the business side and it’s easy for me to second guess. And I’m not really second guessing because hindsight is 20/20, but clearly right before the economy tanked, we and most other newspapers were spending significantly more than we should have been.
Adam: And that made it tougher. We at The Times had a very particularly challenging situation because we had a market with two major newspapers. At one time we were always number one and number two newspapers in the state and there are very few really almost no markets except maybe New York City and even then, that’s suspect that can sustain two newspapers anymore. So, you know, sadly, one of us was going to die and that made it more challenging. And you know, for us to compete we very much spent a lot of money to expand into Hillsborough and to make sure we were the dominant newspaper when there could ultimately only be one.
Joe: So, if the Tribune could have gone away quicker by a year or two, or three then perhaps The Times would have gone on a different trajectory you’re saying that in battling them?
Adam: Yeah, I’m not wishing that they had, in a way I am because I think if the Tribune had gone under quicker our financial footing would have been a lot stronger going into these really tough times and we would have been able to withstand it because we hadn’t been spending so much money on things like, you know, virtually giving away the paper in lots of parts of Hillsborough. And maybe we would have done the naming rights on the stadium, maybe we wouldn’t, but that was clearly part of the strategy to compete with the Tribune.
Joe: What do you remember from when that deal went down? I mean, it seems a little bit legendary in my mind where Paul Tash just walked into the Tribune office and just said, “Hello, all. I bought you.”
Adam: Yeah, and I got to say it was amazingly well-choreographed from the point of view nobody knew. They really did keep it under wraps because, you know, in the newsroom is pretty good at figuring out any gossip. And it was no secret for years that that was our goal to take over the Tribune or wait for the Tribune to disappear so we could better position ourselves. But yeah, that was very sudden. And I can say it was great news for the Tampa Bay Times when that happened.
Adam: But I honestly was personally found it to be a really, really sad day. I knew a lot of these people who worked at the Tribune and they were really talented, and committed, and idealistic. These are people who work really hard basically with the goal of making the world a better place, and I don’t mean to be corny, and they do it for much less pay often times then they could give their skills. And lord knows a community is better off when media outlets are competing. So, I was very sad, but it was frankly good news for the Times.
Joe: We started a little news platform called The Catalyst; I think you’ve seen it. And I love being in the middle of everything. And I find it exhilarating, but I often at times find it exhausting because I didn’t expect this pressure. We come with the mindset more like in Atlantic or a place that you would go for insight versus what I would call being a completist where you say, “This is where I get my news from.” Right? But then we picked up a really solid, the best business writer I think in the area, and all of a sudden everybody was coming and expecting all the news to be there. And we’re like, okay, let’s go with it, but from that sort of action flow – And I noticed last time you came into the studio, I think you were looking for a podium to help one of your clients out, talk and there was a lot of energy there, so I mean, are you pretty much just jacked up all the time on action and the flow of life?
Adam: Yeah, I mean I got to say one of the reasons I finally- I was at the Times for 27 years, which is a heck of a long-time. And I was political editor for like 15 years. I’ve had some pretty prominent people in that job, and most have done one election cycle. And before they get exhausted or- So, I left the Times mostly because I was just getting a little tired of doing the same thing. As great as politics are in Florida, there’s still sort of a wash, rinse, repeat on a different election cycle every two years. But I was definitely concerned about being a journalist and being a political editor in a lot of ways is the greatest job in the world. And I was concerned about am I going to be bored from now on? And I got to say, you know, as a journalist you finish the day and you go home and you say well, this cool thing happened, that cool thing happened, it’s not something that an insurance salesman is able to say. You know, not to slam the insurance salesman. And I got to say my new job, first of all, I am swamped with different stuff, and it’s mostly very interesting stuff.
Joe: Pleasantly swamped.
Joe: You know, in that 15 years – heard on wash, rinse, and repeat, and then definitely feel you there. Who were some of the standouts? Who were some of the people that you’re glad that you got a chance to cover and interact with?
Adam: Oh, tons, tons. I mean, I’ve done all the presidential races, I’ve met all the presidential candidates and presidents since 2004, some closer than others, and I’ve met Trump a few times, couldn’t be more charming in person. People think whatever they think of him, many people can’t stand him, and many people think he’s just terrible to the press. He couldn’t be more charming and solicitous of the media and that was even well before he was running for president. There’s no other state I don’t think that has the politics that Florida has and it’s partly because there’s so much unpredictable stuff that happens. And we have, you know, in our own neck of the woods we have Charlie Crist who is a unique individual himself personality wise. And it’s, you know, we come to take it for granted that this is a guy who was on the short-list for republican vice president, widely seen as the future president who had astronomical approval ratings, suddenly he was basically cast out of his party, humiliatingly when Marco Rubio was foolish enough to challenge him for the U.S. Senate, you know, Charlie went from a die hard chain gang Charlie republican to a moderate independents to now I would argue a reasonably liberal democrat. That’s extraordinary.
Rick Scott, I remember I was on a Marco Rubio campaign bus and somebody called me, I think we were the first people to report on Rick Scott, somebody called me from Tennessee saying, “Hey, I’ve got this candidate, he’s about to run for governor.” This was when everybody assumed Bill McCollum, a fairly dull candidate, was going to be the republican nominee. “And so, I want you to be aware of it, we’re about to get going with a one-million-dollar ad buy.” And normally if somebody calls you and says there’s a guy running for governor that nobody has heard of you kind of dismiss it as nothing. When they say there’s going to be a one million ad buy, you take it seriously. And I remember I turned to Marco Rubio and said- I think he was speaker than, or former speaker. And I said, “Speaker, do you know a guy named Rick Scott?” And he said, “No.” And I said, “Well, he’s about to announce for governor.” And he said, “Yeah, well good luck.” You know, so I think everybody in Florida, except maybe the out-of-state consultants working for Rick Scott underestimated what a force he would be.
Jeb Bush I still think was the most consequential governor we’ve had in decades – in a long, long time. The guy just went into office wanting to do stuff and really disrupt the status quo and he did. And as a reporter he was one of those guys, you show up to his gaggle, which is when the press gathers around him to sort of throw questions at him, he could generate five news stories saying things. You show up to a gaggle for Charlie Crist or Rick Scott there’s no need almost, they never say anything. Rick Scott was all talking points, Crist was sort of pablum and just sort of nice things. I think Rick DeSantis is more in the mode of Jeb Bush that way. He actually engages and answers questions directly.
Joe: And that brings me to a question. I’ve asked this question of some other guests, but when you talk about Trump – And this is in the spirit of the rinse, wash, and repeat, or whatever, you know, when I think back of campaigns in the past it’s always been avoiding gotcha’s right? So, Mitt Romney had the 47% of people and something related to welfare and then deplorables with Hilary. And then Trump just comes in and says whatever he wants, and it just rolls, it just rolls. So, do you think he’s changed the way people feel they can talk now in political campaigns?
Adam: Well, I think because it was so ingrained into candidates avoid the gotcha, don’t say anything that’s going to get you in trouble that most of us just got tired of listening to these robots so cautious not saying much or saying what sounded like BS talking points that Trump tapped into a hunger for people to be actually authentic. I think that’s what’s happened to a lot of candidates now. So, you’ve seen some candidates that want to sort of adopt the Trump mode and be shocking. I think sometimes it’s not just shocking, it’s really not shocking, it’s more just sound like a person that is a real person and not just a consultant driven machine. So, yeah, I’m not sure after Trump there’s going to be a great appetite for people that are constantly generating controversy, but I do think there will always be an appetite for people that say what’s on their mind and are not so careful. You know, I think that’s what happened to Hillary Clinton to a large extent.
Joe: So, if you’re putting your consulting hat and you’re advising the candidate on communicating, are you pushing them to be more authentic? And if they tell you it feels risky what do you say to them?
Adam: You know, some candidates can do it and some candidates just can’t. There are some candidates that are just so wary of the press that they want to rehearse everything that’s said before they talk to the press or want to avoid the press. And there are a lot of candidates that just have that natural ability.
Joe: And do you feel like that’s a valid fear with the press? One of the things I always get stuck on it seems, I can’t remember a time where we’ve been so collective, right? It’s just the press. The press is thousands of individuals who have every kind of personality and every kind of motive, right? So, I would assume in a group of 10 reporters, five are going to be standard, write it down, report it reporters and then there’s going to be the other five maybe have an agenda or whatever. So, do they have a reason to be afraid of that? Is it just pretty much people there specifically to take their words and knife them with them?
Adam: Yeah, unfortunately I think they do. I think there was a time 40, 50 years ago where you sort of had a select few boys on the bus that followed candidates around and there was a lot of off the record, there was a lot of chatting, nobody was jumping on every mildly stupid thing that a candidate said, that’s not an ideal situation. But then that’s turned into a much more democratic press where anybody with a video camera can be a reporter and suddenly, I’m just thinking of running for president, there is a camera on everything they do. And they’re just in a crowd of people saying hi, there’s a camera and a boom mic around to catch anything they say. And so, that’s unfortunate.
Joe: Jordan Peterson who is a Canadian professor/intellectual and somewhat controversial, came to the Mahaffey awhile ago. I like listening to him and he’s very intelligent. And I was able to get backstage and spend some time with them. And I brought my phone and sat it down and just recorded our little conversation, let them know, “Hey, I’m going to do a quick interview.” And I was with one of the other guys from the paper and we were like let’s get a couple of pictures and autographic while we’re at it, but I didn’t turn off my phone. And after he sort of signed the first autographic, I notice him look down, he reached down himself and hit the stop button on my recordings. Like how aware does he have to be, just hanging out with a couple of guys getting a picture with them, he’s actually thinking about stopping recording that phone. And that’s a tough world to live in to have to be that on-guard all the time.
Adam: I have a friend who was interviewing a congressman, who I won’t name, but a prominent congressman— this is not somebody from our neck of the woods— but and he was interviewing him and then his phone rang and he just had to take the call for some reason, he said, “Please, please forgive me if I run outside and take it,” the guy was fine, but he left his recorder going. And then he heard the congressman just totally flirting more with his aide and the aide was saying do you want me to cut off this interview and the guy was just like oh no, the press loves me, I can tell them any bullshit. And he didn’t actually use that because it wouldn’t have been fair.
Joe: So, on the Catalyst we move media, the podcast, we love recording video and audio, and we recently launched a new show called He Said, She Said with Peter Schorsch and his wife Michelle. And so, I would love to hear- I’m sure you interacted with him over the years, what’s your take on him and some of the other local political figures?
Adam: You know, Peter is really an effective entrepreneur. I have not always been a fan, but the website is fun, it’s good. He has a business model – I don’t know these days if he’s calling himself a journalist or not, I don’t think so, but you know, he has a business model where basically the lobbying shops pay him on retainer and they can get what they want for their clients off and on there, and that’s an effective model. And that’s a model we’re seeing more and more. Politico Florida is largely subsidized by lobbying shops and political professionals in Tallahassee. I don’t think clients can get necessarily what they want on there, but Peter has really been cutting edge in that way.
Joe: Yeah, my first interaction with him was – And I didn’t really know him, or I knew St. Petersblog and I was at a chamber event with Jack Latvala and he was giving a talk. And it started at 7:30 in the morning or I think we actually started talking at 8:00. And about 8:10 somebody kind of walked in and sat down and about 8:15 somebody kind of came in a little bit late and sat down. Like 8:30 somebody walked in and the whole place just stopped it was one of those four tiered classrooms and Latvala stopped talking mid-sentence and the guy walked up to the fourth tier and sat down and Latvala kind of nervously said, “Well, I guess I’m glad I said everything controversial.” And the guy goes does one of those royal things you may continue, you know, waved his arms and stuff. Wow. And then he said a couple more things and somebody asked him a somewhat tricky question, he goes, “Oh, I don’t know if I want to answer that now.” And the guys says off the record, off the record, right?
And then at the end the aide cut him off he’s like hey, sorry we have another event we have to get to, or something. And as he was actually walking out, he stopped and walked- This is Senator Latvala walked all the way up four tiers to shake this guys hand then took a selfie, turned around and left. And I leaned over next to me and I’m like who is that guy, right that is just commanding the room like that? And it was Peter Schorsch and I was like, wow. So, you know, after kind of looking into what he did and how he filled what was sort of a void in a certain kind of voice and presence. And I was completely, you know, I had no idea about pay for play or anything like that at that point, people are just paying attention to him. And he was somewhat of an inspiration. I thought well if he does that in the politics space then I’d love to do that in the business space. And it’s a different animal, nobody is paying for playing really in the business space in that way at least.
Adam: I would say Jack Latvala did not need to worry about Peter because Jack Latvala paid Peter a lot of money over the years and Peter was definitely his guy. But yeah, I think one of the reasons- And I’m trying not to be critical here, but one of the reasons Peter has made a lot of money and gotten some politicians as clients is because it’s an insurance policy.
Adam: He’s got an influential site that everybody in Tallahassee reads and if he starts really hammering a person that can be really damaging. And so, you’re better off paying something to help deflect from that point of view.
Joe: Yeah, and for what it’s worth the new podcast that he’s doing is largely there’s a lot of non-political content too. I mean, you know, I think him interacting with Michelle, you get to see his insight and some of his humor and-
Adam: He’s a smart guy.
Joe: Yeah. He said somebody was the Frye Festival of Democratic politics and I thought that was a great line. You know, I won’t say the name of who it was, but he comes up with some pretty good stuff. But there is that space potentially available to you to come and develop your own. You’ve got a lot of wind behind you from having The Times under your belt and we’ll just consider this an offer to do this for the Catalyst right now, but have you thought about developing your own personal brand that way and putting your voice out there in that way?
Adam: Yeah, that’s an interesting thought, I hadn’t thought about, you know, I’ve got so much to do and already a bunch of clients, but yeah, that’s an interesting thought. I think I wouldn’t be interested in doing it, I haven’t heard that podcast, I bet it’s good, but I wouldn’t be interested in doing the minutiae of politics anymore because I’ve just done that for too long.
Joe: I think there’s a hunger for a lot of stuff outside of that though too.
Joe: I mean, who better than you to know what’s missing out there and what would be fresh and interesting to people.
Adam: Yeah, definitely.
Joe: All right, well think about it.
Adam: I will. I enjoy it, I had a TV show for awhile with Al Roushelle and it was a whole lot of fun. very different. I learned a lot of interview techniques doing TV versus print.
Joe: Yeah, well I’ve enjoyed our conversation. I appreciate you coming in. And we have Tiger Bay today and I know you moderated an event not too long ago.
Adam: I will be there, that’s an interesting topic.
Joe: Yeah, I’m moderating in the panel today.
Adam: Oh good.
Joe: So, maybe you can give me a couple of questions asking.
Adam: Yeah, well good. I’m a fan of what you guys do, I think it’s great.
Joe: Well, thank you for coming in.
Joe: And we’ll keep an eye out.
Adam: Thanks a lot, appreciate it.
Transcript ends [00:33:13]
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About the host
Joe Hamilton is publisher of the St. Pete Catalyst, co-founder of The St. Petersburg Group, a partner at SeedFunders, fund director at the Catalyst Fund and host of St. Pete X.