Episode 100

St Pete X features business and civic leaders in St. Petersburg Florida who share their insight, expertise and love of our special city. An initiative of the St. Petersburg Group, St Pete X strives to connect and elevate the city by sharing the voices of its citizens, and to bring awareness to the opportunities offered by the great St. Petersburg renaissance.

06/08/2024 | Episode 100 | 40:52

Neil Brown - Poynter Institute

On this special 100th episode of SPx, Neil Brown, President of the Poynter Institute, joins Joe for an in depth conversation about the current state of journalism. Brown believes that journalism is thriving, despite challenges, and highlights the need to move away from a negative narrative. They discuss objectivity in journalism, the impact of the internet on information dissemination and the importance of transparency and neutrality. Brown also details the acquisition of PolitiFact by Poynter, the purchase of the Tampa Tribune and the ownership structure of the Tampa Bay Times. The conversation underscores the evolving landscape of journalism and the role of innovative approaches in serving communities.



Joe Hamilton

Joining me on SpX today is the president of the Poynter Institute, Neil Brown. 

Welcome, sir. 

Neil Brown

Hi, Joe. Nice to see you.

Thanks for having me. 

Joe Hamilton

It’s my pleasure. As you are on the front lines of all things journalism, let’s start with your State of the Union for journalism.


Neil Brown

Journalism is thriving, actually. And I think it’s time that we move a little bit away from a perpetual narrative of lament and talk more about how journalism organizations, small, medium and large, all kinds of platforms, even some new definitions of journalism, are serving communities all over the country, including here in Tampa Bay and in Florida. And I think that sometimes this sort of frustration about the sort of noise on cable TV and certainly challenges in the economic environment create this kind of narrative of journalism is dying.

It’s not. There’s challenges to it for sure. But there are also really interesting new experimental forms going on.

Audiences are finding new ways to get information they care about. And the citizens care about information, quality information. And so it’s a wonderfully exciting, complicated, at times difficult, but often more vibrant than you sometimes get that sense from people.


Joe Hamilton

And there’s a couple elements, sort of different lanes within which journalism has struggled and is emerging out of that. One of the one I’d love to hear your take on is almost, I’ll say, another State of the Union question. What’s the State of the Union for objectivity?


Neil Brown

Objectivity is a great conversation piece right now. And sometimes, we find that, well, nobody can really be objective. So maybe a better word is neutrality or nonpartisanship, and not thinking that we don’t bring our own viewpoints, occasionally even biases, and experiences to the equation of journalism.

So the question is, have you pursued the information that constitutes journalism in a neutral way that makes the reporter open to whatever the story brings as opposed to a predisposition toward it? And so whether objectivity is the right word or whether that’s an old fashioned word, I don’t know. We really think that good journalism is independent.

The pursuit of information starts from a neutral position: follow wherever the facts take you.


Joe Hamilton

And do you think that with the advent, we think of, you mentioned objectivity being maybe an outdated term. And one of the things with the advent of the internet is it’s bloomed expertise, some of it real, some of it imagined. But for the most part, if you’re into left-handed butterflies, you can go find a hundred hours of content on about them.

And with that, what has emerged is deeply held and well-articulated stances from certain perspectives, right? So you think like the offshore drilling, which there’s a deeply held stance on why that’s bad for the environment or it’s a risk. There’s a deeply held stance on why that’s great for tax dollars and great for corporations.

And there’s some elements of truth in each of those perspectives. Along those lines of looking at the modern idea of the activity, how much of it potentially blends different perspectives?


Neil Brown

You know, I think you make a great point about the sort of fragmented nature of how we get information. If we were on video, you’d see me hold up my phone and say, you know, with this device, everybody can be a publisher, right? And you hear that all the time.

That’s true. But you know what? This device does not make everybody a journalist.

And the difference between journalism and just disseminating information, whatever your passions, whatever your advocacies are, that’s one thing. But journalism is something completely different. And that does require that level, at least independent journalism, that requires that level of neutrality, of welcoming a variety of positions, of putting them forward, of transparency about who you are and where you come from in ways that may be very niche sort of topic lines don’t feel the obligation to, or maybe we don’t need to.

I’m a big baseball fan. I’m a big Cubs fan. I’ll go to MLB.com and it’s the Cubs channel, right?

So I’m hoping I’m going to get a pretty smart, neutral take on my favorite baseball team. But I also simply know where I’m getting it. And I can make that judgment.

And if I want some other takes, I got to go to some other places. So topically oriented information isn’t necessarily just journalism. And journalism can be topically oriented.

So look, you take arts, people who cover performing arts, they’re experts in their field. And it’s a very narrow niche. And that can provide real information, including criticism, which is going to seem like it was biased.

So now we blend these things together. And I think that’s okay, rather than these sort of very sort of strict, rigid definitions of what constitutes useful information. I think the key is I just need to know who you are, where it’s coming from, and how you got it.

And then I, as an audience member, I get to decide after that.


Joe Hamilton

And with that example, a couple actually interesting threads to pull there. But with that example of the critique of the art and that expertise, does that shrink the viable lanes that the standard journalists complain about because they can’t have that expertise by the nature of their job? They’re doing a story a day or a couple stories a week.

I mean, does that change the nature of what journalists can effectively cover?


Neil Brown

Well, you know, it’s a funny, you raise a great question. Here’s the thing. Journalism used to strive on being generalists who became informed.

Well, now generalists doesn’t get it done for a lot of people. They want the expertise. They want to know where you get it from.

And they want to know why you came up with your opinions if you are an expert. And they want to know what your credentials are. But what you’re describing is this tension that has happened, particularly as we have sort of chased every eyeball, where being a generalist gets you a lot of traffic, but it gets you very little expertise, even less.

And with less and less expertise, you become less and less valuable. And then the eyeballs actually go down. So we’ve got this weird dynamic in an information age where it’s moving at such speed.

And like you said, so many journalists are going after so many different things and doing none of them particularly well. And then the audience is saying, you know what, my time is tight. I think I’m just going to go with a few experts that I like.

So we have a real tension point.

Joe Hamilton

And, you know, the other thing I thought was interesting when you use the Cubs example, because everybody can be a publisher but not a journalist, typically that means they’re going to publish things that appeal to them in a way that appeals to them. But that’s also going to appeal to the people who choose to listen to them, self-selected by sort of definition of that bias. And so I wonder, you know, would it be a fair example to say that comparing journalism to bias publisher, you know, influencer type pieces would be the equivalent of you trying to go to the MLB site for the White Sox to get your to get your Cubs news?

It wouldn’t feel as good, right?


Neil Brown

You understand this tension. I applaud that. You’re on to something.

It contributes to the feedback loop if you’re into the same expertise. Now, maybe that baseball analogy wasn’t perfect because, you know, as a sports fan, people like to debate. And in a lot of our political news, people actually don’t like to debate.

They only want validation of things that they already believe. So I do think and you see this in your own website and things like that, that creating a community of interest is a good way to sort of say and hopefully on a civil level, let’s let’s kick this around. Let’s debate it.

I will say in some of these sports sites, you will see some people mixing it up. And maybe that’s the healthier thing, if you can do that in a civil way, that’s been a little harder in the political space. So I don’t think just a niche thing means feedback loop, but it can and it certainly can in the space of the political environment we’re in right now where things are so polarized and people only want validation of what they already know.

I do know and as a baseball fan or sports fan of anything, people do like to mix it up like, no, he should start. He shouldn’t start that type of thing. And so I do think that there is an opportunity for journalism to be not just the public square, but sort of the place where we could debate this stuff.

Let’s see if we can figure out how to debate it a little bit more civilly than sometimes happens. Yeah.


Joe Hamilton

Well, a couple more threads there that, you know, the first one I wonder when you talk about the identity piece of it. Right. And to some extent, our knowledge, the amount of information available has grown in a way that that we as a species just aren’t haven’t been capable of keeping up with.

Right. And within one generation had infinite information available to us. Right.

So it seems somewhat natural that you would look to distillers of that. Right. And people who you trust, who you think are looking into these things, that you can just say, you know, I like the way this person thinks, whatever they say, I’m good with.

But that came at a time when social media also came up. And, you know, a lot of those folks had financial or ideological reasons to go heavy in one direction. And and so therefore, you know, people follow them down that rabbit hole and you get into this weird spot where because of that, they almost can’t pull out a piece of it.

It’s like almost an all or nothing thing because their identity is so wrapped up into it. They can’t pull a piece out of it or they’d be essentially disloyal to to that sort of identity they’ve partnered themselves with.


Neil Brown

I think your example is a real good one. And probably let’s start with because I think it gets under discussed the financial incentives, which I think are problematic and go to that lack of transparency. Everything from cable TV to say when you watch CNN, I’m not here just to pick on CNN, but when you watch CNN and they have a panel of seven pundits and they don’t really disclose that every one of those people are being paid.

Now, we know what their political biases are, but what we don’t know is that they’re being paid. And guess what? They’re not getting invited back on unless they’re provocative so that they’re.

They’re what they may have to say is, in fact, clouded a little bit by the financial dynamics around it, as opposed to the quality of the information around it. This is not unique to CNN. It happens everywhere.

But I think whether it’s on social media, television, I mean, you name it, that we think about political bias, obviously. But I think that there’s financial incentives. We certainly know that misinformation pays on the Internet, people making a bundle off of it and without any accountability for it.

So I think there needs to be a lot more conversation about how can we be more transparent about the financial components that are underpinning these opinions or this news? Again, I think we should respect audiences to at some point be able to discern for themselves, but they can also be forgiven if, well, I had no idea. And so they saw things through a different prism and that financial incentive.


Joe Hamilton

You mentioned a publisher versus journalist. Every one of those publishers is financially incentivized to attack and devalue the journalism to put themselves on the same playing field. This is fake news.

This is not. And therefore, what I say is more real. And marketers are savvy and they’re effective.

And we’ve learned how to just tweak the colors exactly right to get a desired effect and treat the words exactly right. It’s become a science. And it’s easy to see why a lot of people go for it.


Neil Brown

There’s money in playing with those dials. There’s no doubt about it. And that’s what they’re doing.

They’re playing with our emotional dials, the information dials, and there’s a financial payoff to it. I don’t think we sound naive by decrying that, but we just need a lot more openness about it so people can understand what it is they’re seeing and whether they’re being manipulated or not. And you have a vehicle in PolitiFact.


Joe Hamilton

And I think there’s actually a political pundit or a pundit. Yeah. You know, and so you started a Poynter in 2017, acquired PolitiFact Poynter.

It was started at the Times, but then acquired by Poynter in 2018. Can you kind of walk us through that acquisition, why that happened and sort of how you ingested that?


Neil Brown

Sure. I mean, it’s a fairly passionate and shameless effort. I was there at the beginning at the Times.

I helped start PolitiFact in 2007. So when I left the newspaper to go over to Poynter, which we own the paper, I sought to take it with me because two things were true. It was extremely popular.

That’s great. But it was also a national play. And I also knew that the financial wherewithal of the local newspaper to support a national product was pretty limited and that we would need to invest both in the user experience in more reporters and taking PolitiFact even more nationally.

And so the Tampa Bay Times was just not in a position to support it. What’s more, because it was a national play, we saw membership in philanthropy as part of its business model and to make it easier on the fans of PolitiFact so that if I made a donation, it was tax deductible. We needed to move it over to the nonprofit Poynter Institute.

So part of it is just it’s a passion project for me. I’ve been involved since the beginning. And we just also thought that PolitiFact, which was in a huge growth mode, needed tech and financial support that only Poynter could provide, not the Tampa Bay Times.

As you know, if you watch it, Tampa Bay Times gets to run PolitiFact. It’s still part of the family. We get to run the PolitiFact stories in the newspaper all the time and on his website.

But it continues to grow. PolitiFact, when I brought it over in 2018 to Poynter, was probably a staff of six. Now it’s a staff of about 15.

And we’re in multiple states and we’re doing all kinds of great work that only being part of a national nonprofit can make happen.


Joe Hamilton

That’s great. So essentially, you’re happy with it.

Neil Brown

I mean, it’s roaring. And of course, in 2024, obviously, every election year, it’s bigger and better. One of the biggest developments subsequent to moving it from the Times to Poynter was we are part of a program called the Third Party Fact Checking Program.

We’re one of five in the U.S. And then there’s more than 100 organizations internationally that fact check information stories. I’ll even use the word crap on Facebook meta. We’re paid by meta to do this.

And all the fact checkers are. And what it is, meta’s effort to at least try to slow down the spread of bad information. So there is a queue full of meta Facebook posts of political information and fact checkers are paid to check them.

And when we find that they’re false or pants on fire, as we like to say, PolitiFact, we tag them as such and they get downgraded within the social media channel. It’s a drop in the bucket against the against the ton of misinformation that’s out there. But meta understood that, look, we can’t be responsible for every single post that’s out there.

And so among the big organizations that do this work and get paid to do it are the AP, Reuters, USA Today, PolitiFact, FactCheck.org. And as I said, in more than 100 other countries, there’s fact checkers. Now, here’s the nature of both transparency and potential conflict.

We fact check it. We get paid by meta and meta pays us enough that it also bankrolls other fact checking bias. So we decide that’s a calculation we’re willing to do as long as everybody knows it’s up front.

There’s no censorship on the part of they never tell us what we can fact check or what we have to rate anything. But they do pay us fee for service for the service. And that throws off enough money that we can do lots more fact checking of other material.


Joe Hamilton

Give us an idea of the scale of active and intentional misinformation. You said it was just a drop in the bucket. What do you can check?

Can you articulate what the scale of this?


Neil Brown

What I’ll tell you is we probably fact check, I don’t know, 125 different Facebook claims in a month, just Politifact. There’s probably 500,000 fact checks. I mean, things you could be fact checking.

So we’re just one of, again, it’s all around the globe. So there’s just a lot of stuff out there. Some of it’s true.

A lot of it’s not. But I still feel like anybody who winds up seeing something or a relative pass something along, oh, you should see this. But now you see that it’s been downgraded.

And now you as a consumer have some whiff that this may or may not be true or where does it come from? We’re helping.


Joe Hamilton

Right, right. So that leads me to want to sort of throw out a couple sentences around free speech and get your opinion of them. So obviously, Elon’s big on free speech.

And while he doesn’t censor, they have their some terms and services stuff about really off color stuff, but they will downgrade rate, which is the same word you used. They’ll kick it down the algorithm. So nobody sees it, but the person and their mom, essentially.

We at the Catalyst have been moderating our comments from day one. We did this as an experiment. I do this because my belief is while technically social media offers a platform for free speech, the culture of social media with the toxicity and the trolls and whatever actually makes it in reality a place where only a certain tranche of people actually use it and then they therefore dominate it.

And so, you know, but believe in free speech. We didn’t want to mess with ideas. So we moderate for civility.

So you can say wear a mask, don’t wear a mask. We but you have to say in a civil way that doesn’t shut down the conversation, because that to me is one of the greatest crimes of social media. So, you know, given the active disinformation, given that, you know, even the folks who advocate free speech as fervently as Elon does still do things to essentially bring make sure stuff doesn’t see the light of day, you know, and then the whole concept of, you know, sort of my theory on who actually uses social and actually it does preclude people who we should want to hear the voices from participating. You know, where do you think free speech should play when it comes to all the, you know, the vehicles that are out there for people to talk through?


Neil Brown

Yeah, I mean, this is absolutely one of the most tricky and interesting and complicated issues of our day. It really is. So hate speech, for instance.

I mean, like you said, you’re moderating for civility. Well, that’s that’s really appropriate. I mean, it’s an ugly, ugly environment out there.

And your brand is at risk if, in my opinion, if you don’t do what you can to assure that civil and appropriate, I don’t know, environment, environment. So that’s different in censorship. Right.

And what happens is censorship is a flag that’s waved very quickly when somebody doesn’t like the judgment made about their material. Absolutely. And there’s a couple of things I would say that one from a journalism and even a fact checking standpoint of our job is to be popular.

Right. So, again, our big phrase at PolitiFact and at Poynters, show your math. Here’s why we downgraded it.

Here’s what the problem was with it. Don’t just take it down without explanation. Don’t just downgrade it without explanation.

Here’s what the facts show. Here’s the language that was used, which was hate speech. And that’s sort of why that’s one thing to back to the volume of material versus what we can comment on it.

We’re not limiting anything. We’re making judgments about in the case of PolitiFact about what’s relevant and what may be being spread and whether there’s a consequence for it and again, whether there’s a transparency around it. We show all of that.

There are still tons of stuff we’re not even touching. So this notion that any one journalistic organization or or journalists specifically can somehow be part of a censorship regime, as it’s sometimes called, it’s usually because you didn’t like the verdict. Right.

Yeah. So I think we just have to be willing to take some heat. We have to show again, show our work, show where we come from.

Don’t say I believe I think you have to be judged on those things over the course of a period of time, not at any one constant moment. You didn’t like this story yet, but over the course of, you know, people say, like, well, who have you fact checked the most? The answer is Obama.

Then Trump. Now Trump will catch up. That’s just because these are the people in power.

Right. Right. You know, so we just need to not just buy into the narrative that you’re against me, you’re against me and and explain to our audiences.

And then ultimately the audience gets to decide for themselves this value. This has value for you. Fantastic.

If it doesn’t, we accept that and move on to something else.


Joe Hamilton

So you started at the Congressional Quarterly way back when.

Neil Brown

Actually, my first job in journalism was the Miami Herald

Joe Hamilton

Yes, I’m actually going to Mr. Poynter.

Neil Brown

I never met Nelson Poynter was long dead before I ever joined the company. 

Joe Hamilton

All right. Let’s talk about the idea of Nelson Poynter. You know, the family has been still around and the trust.


Neil Brown

So Nelson Poynter did found Congressional Quarterly where I went to work. And that’s where I met Paul Tash, who was the Washington chief for The St. Pete Times at the time. We were all in the same building in Washington, D.C. But Nelson Poynter and his wife, Henry, had to start a congressional quarterly in 1945. And the idea there was a thought back then that the people of St. Petersburg, where they own the newspaper, also the St. Petersburg Times, needed to find out how the members of Congress from their area were voting. And they had no there was no Internet. They didn’t have any really easy way to do that.

They could obviously they had news, but nobody was literally counting every vote that they ever did. So they just started a service and they would just track the votes of people who were in the House or in the Senate in Washington for their audiences back here in St. Pete and Florida overall. And it grew into this.

And so it was a quarterly list of voting. And it grew into a weekly magazine covering Congress. And then ironically, almost that I mean, constantly Nelson Poynter was a visionary ahead of his time.

He understood, like, you know what, quality information, you should charge a lot, not a little, a lot. And they were able to get lobbyists who had a lot of money to buy subscriptions to Congressional Quarterly for several thousand a year because these folks needed the information because it was key to their business. Yeah, the Bloomberg terminal.

Joe Hamilton


Neil Brown

It was ahead of the Bloomberg terminal. It was that very that very kind of thing.

Joe Hamilton

I got it exactly right.

Neil Brown

So my experience was I went from the Miami Herald and I went to Congressional Quarterly where I was in charge of features about Congress. And then I became the managing editor there and then came to St. Pete to join the St. Pete Times. Tell me about working with Paul Tash.

Well, I’ve been let’s see, Paul remains chairman of the Institute to this day, and he hired me in ninety three. So you do the math. That’s me saying, like, I can’t do math, but I’ve worked with him for over 30 years.

Let’s see. Thirty five years, probably. And great guy.

He came up to the chairs. He did know he worked under Nelson Poynter when Paul was an intern here. So he I think Paul is synonymous with Tampa Bay journalism.

And he carrying on the tradition of his predecessors believed that this area, this region could be passionate about local news, but have the aspiration of a global news organization. And so he was able to help this organization run with both local commitment and national and international ambition. And that’s a good combo.

And I think we try to do that even even at Poynter. So he helped grow the Tampa Bay Times into the largest news organization in the state, which stays that way today. And Poynter could be more proud to own it.

All of it is built around Nelson Poynter’s incredible vision in the 1930s and 40s when he bought the St. Petersburg Times from his father. And then over time, he feared that the newspaper business that he loved so much and that was so lucrative for him, for himself and for other families around the country, that someday the heirs won’t want to be in the journalism business. They’re going to want to cash out.

So ahead of Nelson Poynter’s death, three years, in fact, ahead of it, he created a school then called the Modern Media Institute. It was in a little bank building on Central Avenue right next to the Emerald Bar, which is still there. If you go to the Emerald, I do sometimes.

So right next area, he created a school. And the idea was it’s going to do professional training, professional development, training for professional journalists, photography, make your stories better, ethics, because he felt that news organizations around the country weren’t investing enough in training. They were just so busy doing the work.

They weren’t training their folks. That’s all great. But he had this dream and he announced it ahead of his death that when he died, instead of leaving the St. Petersburg Times, which was, again, a very profitable, worth several hundred million dollars, instead of leaving it to his heirs, when he died upon his death, the ownership would go to that institute now called the Poynter Institute, was called the Modern Media Institute. And people say, what are you doing? Why are you leaving this? Why don’t you leave it to your heirs?

And he said, well, there’s two things. One, I’m very worried that someday local news companies will fall into the hands of chain corporate owners who don’t live locally because the heirs are going to want to cash out and they’re going to sell to big companies. And Nelson Poynter believed that local news organizations ought to be owned in their local communities.

And he said, so the only way I can guarantee doing that is I got to put this out of the hands of the heirs. But still, they’re your heirs. And he supposedly responded to that by saying, look, I’ve never met my great grandchildren and I’m not sure I’d like them.

And so upon his death in 1978, the ownership of the Tampa Bay St. Pete Times fell to this school and it’s unique in the world of American journalism to this day it is preserved the local ownership in Tampa Bay of this news organization and its independence And that was prescient on a couple of levels.


Joe Hamilton

I mean obviously chains were buying them But even now with you know with the decline a lot of these sort of vulture VC firms are coming in stripping them up and Stripping them down So, you know, he’s protected from that so as I understand it the times Cannot be sold essentially. 


Neil Brown

Poynter said one other thing. I think he was asked by Jack Knight who ran Knight Ritter at the time How are you going to guarantee that this paper doesn’t fall into the hands of chain ownership and Nelson Poynter supposedly said well at some But you do have to trust somebody and in his case He trusted a guy named Eugene Patterson who was a legendary Pulitzer Prize winning editor who was the editor of the st Pete times and he put the entire voting share of stock in Patterson’s hands Patterson passed that down to a guy named Andy Barnes So we have a board of directors and a board of trustees at Poynter and the chairman is the only person who can vote the stock So first it was Patterson after Poynter Patterson put the hands of Andy Barnes Barnes put it in the hands of Tash and to this day Tash has it so at some point there’s no ultimate guarantee except the will the Nelson Poynter’s intentions are very well known and there was in fact a hostile takeover attempt in the early 90s and We beat that back by making sure that all the shares were consolidated in the hands now at Poynter So, is there an ultimate bulletproof guarantee? No, but it is held up now for 50 years And there’s no sign of that obeying and you know being a


Joe Hamilton

business guy and competitive I wish It could have been a fly on the wall You know the Tampa Tribune Well, I mean, it’s sort of now legendary, you know They call it a meeting and didn’t tell anybody why again, maybe this is just the story but And then, you know, basically Paul walked out and sort of like here I am. Do  you remember that I was there tell me how that rolled


Neil Brown

so a couple of things for context, so keep in mind that the media general longtime owner of the Tampa Tribune and did write by the Tampa Tribune for years and temperature news a very good newspaper Um sold the paper to a couple of those VC guys you described a guy named Robert Laurie, I guess his name and that the Tribune was in a cut cut cut mode as we all were because as You can look around the country It’s unfortunate, but pretty much no metropolitan area can sustain more than one Metropolitan newspaper That’s just the nature of the business model in an internet age with so many choices as we talked earlier in this in the program and so the only way to survive was for this market to be consolidated in the hands of one news organization for the longest time Antitrust and trademark issues kept that from happening. We tried a few times to acquire the Tribune Media general didn’t want to sell and then media general sold all their properties to Warren Buffett All their newspaper properties because Warren Buffett loved newspapers Except Buffett said I’ll take them all except for one.


This is true He would not take the Tampa Tribune and the reason was he knew that there was such a strong Competitor across the way and it did not make sense It wasn’t super personal against the Tampa Tribune But he knew that all every other market only had one and the larger paper was the st Petersburg Times and he was not going to take on the Times as a competitor Get to be Warren Buffett and a billionaire by making smart judgments. So That then ended up in the hands of those two investors of the investment group that I mentioned so they started cutting it and cutting it and we started to get some opinions and we were able to get the name of our own Organization changed to include the Tampa Bay Times. It’s a much longer story for another podcast, but great battle for the trademark name And it was clear.


There was only going to be one surviving news organization, and with all due respect to the great audiences in Tampa and the Tampa Tribune, it was not going to be the Tampa Tribune. They were not investing; they were shrinking. We were the place to go To Obtain the financing needed to buy the Tribune.


We needed to be in a stronger competitive situation as possible and at both the Council of our lawyers and our investors That needed to become one paper quickly, and so the judgment was made painful and difficult that and you saw this in other markets as well that As soon as you go and you obtain the one asset you got to close it Could we have done that? After a day or two, that’s what I think a lot of folks were saying. We should have given people a chance to get by The strong counsel from our investors was we couldn’t take a business risk of anything going wrong here We needed to close it instantly.


So Paul and I and two others went over there. It was a painful day We kept some of the staff that we could keep we were more generous than the previous owners of the Tribune were in Terms of severance going forward and we had to make a difficult decision to close it down Quickly, and so it I don’t I’m sure for any individual They might not have seen it coming, but everybody saw it coming So it’s one of those just difficult things and I say that with profound respect. We kept some really talented people TBO which was their the digital site for the Tribune was in fact turned out to be one of the most important assets we acquired So the Tampa Tribune’s work to be going to digital space was a strong component in in the acquisition And how did you?


Joe Hamilton

Decide when in that if it was shrinking Buffett had rejected it.


Neil Brown

These guys were cutting Why not let it just follow its trajectory downward for longer Sure, because from an advertising standpoint, it was becoming a war of attrition the more both sides were taking from each other First of all, both companies were losing money, right? that was not sustainable from an investment standpoint and For the longest time those guys wouldn’t sell and when they said they were to sell you had to jump It was just it made the most business sense for the future of a news organization in Tampa Bay at some point a war of attrition isn’t where you want to be where you both raised to the bottom and You know I’m thinking through the timing.


Joe Hamilton

I guess you joined Poynter in 2017 and when did Paul step down what three years ago four?


Neil Brown

No, no Not quite two. I think not quite two. Okay, so I think it’ll be two in June.




Joe Hamilton

Why did you want the Poynter job?


Neil Brown

So People joke and say it’s a Dick Cheney story. I was on the search committee to replace my predecessor and a guy named Tim Franklin who had gone to take a job at Northwestern University and I knew Tim I’ve been part of Poynter governance in some Tangential ways and have been coming there for a long time and always admired everything that was Poynter was doing and I was part of the family But I was on the search committee and as I probed more about what we were looking for and seeing Where journalism was struggling the PolitiFact Opportunity to grow that to figure out how to come up with some new and interesting answers with look for local news It became more and more interesting to me as a possible opportunity for something new and keep in mind I had been managing editor and the editor of the st.


Pete Times Tampa Bay Times for Like 15 years, that’s a that’s a longer run than most in that thing So I was interested in trying something that kept me within the family But kept me something new and so I helped particularly bringing PolitiFact along with it made it a great opportunity for me personally And it’s been total honor to work with everybody at Poynter and we hit the timing, right? So at Poynter where we support local news, we’ve gone into the media literacy space with a program We call Media Wise which is helping people discern fact from fiction online everywhere from middle-agers to senior citizens We’ve expanded fact-checking not just through PolitiFact, but with the international fact-check network We went to Craig’s you mentioned Craigslist. We went to Craig Newmark and got a major gift to create an ethics center of five million .So I’m a real big believer in the future of local news as I started this very podcast saying like let’s not Lament, let’s go for it So when I got to Poynter in 2017, we were 32 full-time staffers all here in Florida Today, we’re at 82 staffers in 12 states in the District of Columbia, so it’s it’s


Joe Hamilton

You’re a Business guy now, and you’re productizing things, and that’s a big change.


Neil Brown

It sounds like it’s been a blast. I think that Journalism and entrepreneurship, as you well know, Joe, are not in collision. In fact, it’s all about service to a marketplace, Serving with a lot of different kinds of products. That is compatible with journalism, and that’s what we’re trying to do at Poynter as well. Join the conversation, and we covered a lot of ground. It’s always fun to watch all the energy and action that comes out of Poynter.


Joe Hamilton

It’s just You know just putting stuff out into the universe non-stop and it’s always good stuff.

Neil Brown

So, well I appreciate the chance to be with you and congratulations and everything you’re doing here. It’s very exciting There are so many organizations like yours popping up and cities all over the country Trying to serve markets in new and different ways and that’s exciting,


Joe Hamilton

Neil Brown Poynter Institute. T

Neil Brown

Thank you.


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