Ray Roa - Creative Loafing Tampa
Ray Roa is the Editor-In-Chief at Creative Loafing Tampa, a weekly publication that focuses on city news, arts and culture, and more. Roa has held this position for nearly four years, building on a career writing for various publications in the Tampa Bay area. In this podcast, Hamilton and Roa cover the evolution of local news, and the alt-weekly in particular. They discuss the role of reporters in the local community, including how journalists strive for objectivity, what is worth reporting on, and what grace, civility, and good faith debate looks like in a world where much of our activity and perspective lives online for all to see.
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Joe Hamilton 00:06
You’re listening to St. Pete X Today’s episode is brought to you by Cityverse. Cityverse brings the community together on a new Civic Platform powered by Catalyst News. St. Pete Cityverse is launching soon. You can learn more and reserve your Homespace at Cityverse-dot-life. Now, enjoy the conversation. Joining me on SPX is the Editor-in-Chief at Creative Loafing Tampa Ray Roa. Welcome, sir.
Ray Roa 00:52
Thanks for having me.
Joe Hamilton 00:53
So I said CL Tampa, what’s the coverage area?
Ray Roa 00:55
We like to call it Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. So Creative Loafing is obviously a name of a publication that was born before the internet and SEO and things like that. But we cover Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater, you know, the surrounding Bay Area. We’ll reach down into Sarasota when we need to. I wish we could do it more. As far west as Pasco. I get Pasco and Poe confused all the time. But we’ll go out there and we need to. Our news reporter Justin Garcia in spending a lot of time in New Port Richey lately.
Joe Hamilton 01:24
Alright, so Creative Loafing is historically, sort alt weekly, they call it. So it’s an alternative to standard news. Those historically have also been really carriers of the art torch, arts and culture and music, all that good stuff, foodies. And then again, alternative views on the news. So how do you define the modern mission?
Ray Roa 01:44
Somewhere along the way, the word alternative and the phrase alternative facts got all… messed everything up for all weeklies. And just the notion that it’s a weekly I think is so outdated. We have a website, CL tampa.com, And that’s a 24 hour website that gets updated five days a week, we’re still really good at taking the weekends off, outside of like concert things. But yeah, I mean, it’s changed a lot. I look back at old mastheads, and there’s like 30 people on it. And we just got back to having four full time staffers and editorial, which is where we were before the pandemic. So that’s a drastic change from what alt-weeklies were in their heyday, and what maybe the romanticized version of an alt weekly was. I mean, for so long, alt-weeklies were like that cool hip, almost too cool, sometimes–There was another alt-weekly, I forget what town it was, but they opened a Twitter post with like, “we don’t normally cover artists like this because they’re too mainstream”. And the artists was Les Claypool, you know, I’m like, wow. And Les Claypool was like too mainstream? So we’ve had to adapt. I did a blog on Beyonce coming to Tampa yesterday, and that’s maybe 20 years ago, maybe not something that an alt-weekly would pick up right away. So we’ve adapted to do all of it, not just the stuff that we were known for, operating outside of the, you know, on the fringes and outside voices, alternative voices as they used to be called. So we still do that. But we have to adapt and listen to people’s tastes and and give them what they want. Things to do. That’s a huge thing. And as far as the arts, I mean, we’ve definitely tried to continue carrying that torch. But it’s been a challenge. I think Tampa Bay is lucky to have outlets that cover that kind of stuff. Creative. Pinellas has its own blog, and St. Pete Catalyst certainly picks things up. I know Bill DeYoung’s on top of pretty much theater all the time. So we’re lucky in this area that we have other outlets to do that. But we certainly still do that. We put out a thicc boy the other week, it was I don’t know, 64 pages for arts preview and, and those are getting stronger every year.
Joe Hamilton 03:43
And the funny thing is, is you’re still doing the print but by having to update so often, it actually makes the the load to bear even bigger because it isn’t just “I’ve got a little space, I’ve got to get it out once a week”– Not that that isn’t frenetic–But now it’s, you got to keep the site alive every day.
Ray Roa 03:59
Yeah. So I’m the editor in chief there. We have a digital editor Colin Wolfe. And then we have a staff writer, Justin and Kyla Fields is a St. Pete-based managing editor for us, former intern by the way, just a great success story of Creative Loafing, but, I mean, yeah, we publish about 60 to 70 new URLs every week. And I think as bad as the pandemic was, keep in mind, we continued to publish every week during the pandemic, I mean, never stopped, in fact, increased our page count many times during that which is crazy, but I think it taught us a lot about how to further streamline our process and sometimes streamlining and refining this notion of repeating your process and finding efficiencies can feel soul sucking and not alternative. But you’d have to do that to survive. All publications had to do that. So I think we learn a lot about our processes. We’re extremely web first now. When stuff goes online, it finds a home in the print book. The only exceptions to that are maybe some music stories and show previews that week that we kind of write that week.
Joe Hamilton 05:01
And you know, in talking about the term alternative, I felt like, to your point, it had a different kind of edge, a more comfortableness with being judgey. And, you know, it seems now like there’s an edge to it. But underneath that there’s a real sense of the edge is about being inclusive versus being judgey. And I say that, you know, I’ve heard you talk a couple of times and you know, CL maybe it has a reputation for being edgy or whatever, having opinions, but what comes out of your mouth usually is “Yeah, I like the Backstreet Boys”, or “Yeah, I’m a Taylor Swift Fan”, right?
Ray Roa 05:34
I’m a famous Taylor Swift fan, yes.
Joe Hamilton 05:36
And so, you know, it’s almost like the energy that used to be a little more negative Hardcore is now more turned towards, let’s let people be weird or, or not weird or mainstream, and that the energy goes around accepting that everybody has different tastes and celebrating that versus trying to bash somebody for not being like somebody else. Is that fair?
Ray Roa 05:55
Sure. I think in the arts world, I mean, the world’s always been big, right? Just plain and simple. But the internet’s made it bigger and brought more people. And so your tastes vary, and things like that. And I think there’s a big difference between being edgy–and even I don’t like saying we’re edgy intentionally, right? It just happens how we are–and then there’s like being contrarian, too. We don’t ever want to be too cool for the room. Do we say things how we feel them? Are we a little bit unfiltered? Can we be judgy? And mean, at times? Sure. We’ve gotten in trouble for some things we’ve said. But I think the vastness and the interconnectedness that now exists in the world has kind of shone a light on how the same we all are, like, I love Taylor Swift. I’ll stand right like a stand, man. And I get a lot of crap for it. Yeah, I wouldn’t call myself a Swifty just because he had there’s a certain level of expertise and familiarity with the catalog and easter eggs and things like that, that I just don’t have. I definitely got dragged for my Taylor Swift review when I make a simple joke that she’s not human, she sweats but you know, like, I also love They Hate Change, Kyla Fields brought that band to us in a story. And these are two artists who came up playing in garages and St. Pete backyards at Kyla’s house at one point. She’s a DIY Booker. And we like that. And you can enjoy all that right next to the other stuff. And I don’t know that that’s too different from everybody that lives–our neighbors–we’re all multifaceted. I remember the moment I learned some of my favorite indie artists also like the NFL. We’re all so basic in a lot of ways, quote, unquote, basic, and we all have the same interest. So we do want to include all those people. And I’m not judging you if you cried at a Bruce Springsteen show last night, you know what I mean? Like I had fun, too.
Joe Hamilton 07:41
And I wonder how much of that is a product–it doesn’t mean necessarily that alt-weeklies have changed, but maybe the kind of people who now self select into being part of alt-weeklies, because what they see the role of an alt-weekly being, whereas before, when you could make a living at it, and there were only a few rags out there, you know, as the main newspaper and a couple of alternatives in the world, and 10 billion smart bloggers out there competing for your attention. You know, now it seems like the role has been to foster the arts that you almost as an alt-weekly have the duty to make sure the art torch burns bright, because it might just crash the whole thing if we don’t have support for it. And, you know, to that end, kind of what we just talked about, being jazzed about any kind of art, as long as you’re into music and doing stuff, that public good is more the mission than it is, you know, raging against specific things, like it might have been in the past.
Ray Roa 08:36
Yeah, I think a common thread–I mean, throughout this, and whenever I make comments, I do always talk about our small staff. But you always have to remember that there’s a small army of regular contributors who continue to keep the publication going. Some of them have been contributing to the paper longer than I have. And my byline has been in there for more than 10 years. So these are people, as you said, who live here, just live and breathe and love these things, whether they’re the arts, whether it’s a certain dish–what is it called, the Floridian cafe? Yeah. And they bring that to the publication. So we’re lucky to have that. We thrive on their enthusiasm. I kind of talked about it with Kai the other day about a certain food blog that went off and that particular blog, just you could feel us in it, our excitement for it. When I interviewed for a full time position, I was still kind of obsessed or interested in this idea of a neutral objectivity. And I asked the editor in chief at the time, David Warner like so what do we do? Can we like say something’s awesome, and they’re like, yeah, you should be a cheerleader for things that you love. If you think something’s great, do that. So we do that and we still are fair and balanced and pretty much accurate all the time.
Joe Hamilton 09:55
Yeah, so I think a lot about objectivity. Our golden rule at the catalyst is that we actually want to keep all minds open to us. We have a little different role in the community, we’re more in the city council civic stuff, and a lot of decision makers read us and stuff for that reason. That’s why the name Catalyst: we want to start the conversation. We don’t want to influence it, but where we do influence it, we want to do so with a sense of, you know, aspiration and problem solving and togetherness, you know, which I think is a similar vibe to what we want to do what you want to do in the arts as well. And, you know, so that’s sort of presents as objectivity because we don’t give political endorsements. We don’t even take political advertising dollars or anything. We want to just maintain that purity, I guess. But as I started thinking about objectivity, I think it’s evolved on two major axes. One used to be when we had only a few news outlets, that 90% of the world happened behind this veil, and you relied on these folks to give you a lot of information. The internet exploded all that. And what that did was, it brought like, if you’re into left-handed butterflies, you can go find 2000 hours of YouTube content about left-handed butterflies. And it changed our desire for expertise, it changed our expectations around how deeply we need to know something, or how deeply we can know something, and if you’re a journalist, cranking out two stories a day presents a real challenge for you to be able to deliver on that sufficiently to people. Secondly, I think, as people fragmented into different groups, or whatever, they tend to have different perspectives. And, you know, the old adage is, you see a house through a telescope, or see a house through a microscope, or you see a house from the front, or you see a house from the back, or you see house standing inside of it, it’s all the same house. And there’s truth that you can say about each of those views, but they’re completely different views, right, the microscope and telescope and inside, and you won’t even know you’re talking about the same thing. And so I think there’s been more of an appreciation for… What hasn’t worked historically, is just having one perspective and banging and somebody else has a different perspective, in such a way that you’re not respecting that there’s truth in each of the perspectives and you never meet, right? And that got worse when people try and tie that to their identities and stuff. So we look at it as A, we try to respect and be a catalyst for that expertise to get injected into it. And B, try to present perspectives with respect–I call it the the steel man where if you can, if you have one perspective, and you can explain somebody else’s perspective better than them, now you’re winning in the modern age. So objectivity, to me now, is highly rooted in respecting different perspectives and respecting the depth of expertise within each of those perspectives.
Ray Roa 12:30
Yeah, for sure. And I would take that even a step further, in that our roles as publishers also involves us being–and this kind of plays back into something you said–I mean, some people call it gatekeeping. But filter–you have to decide when somebody is full of it, you have to look back historically on somebody’s comments or your reporting on them, and maybe find out that they aren’t that trustworthy. So while you may have included their voice in a previous story, maybe it doesn’t belong in the next one, because you found that maybe you were misled a little bit. So you end up becoming a little bit of a gatekeeper. And you kind of alluded to that, you know, back in the day, when there weren’t that many outlets. I think that’s how we got this mythical ivory tower. And there’s a lot of tropes in journalism, about democracy dying in the darkness, or speaking truth to power or comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. And I think our journalism has definitely done that. And I think more than any other outlet, we do show our bias. We’ve covered a lot of right now, you know, we’re still talking about rent control, and landlords and affordable housing. Now we’re getting into keywords and stuff. But at the end of the day, what we’re talking about is people being able to afford to live. So let’s say in St. Pete, it’s happening in Tampa too right now, if you’re writing about that, you’re kind of cataloging a major shift in what a municipality looks like, and who can afford to live there. And that’s the big picture, right, you’re gonna start on one end, and at the end, you’re gonna end up with whatever the end product is. But in between, there’s a lot of really difficult, nuanced and colorful stories to be told and difficult issues to tackle. And I think we do that. And one thing we believe at our papers–this, your request for like a kind of neutral objectivity has kind of hurt the communities that we’re trying to speak up for when we say things like, comfort the afflicted or afflict the comfortable, and you can include those voices on every side. I’m not a huge fan of both sides in everything to oblivion, but you can still be balanced, fair, and include the most thoughtful and accurate and noteworthy voices on every side of the argument. You know, how you look at the house, and when you’re in the house and things like that. But you can still arrange your stories–and this is how we do it–to place you know, the most vulnerable person and their perspective at the top and I think that’s something we’ve really leaned into here, starting with the pandemic and people really standing up for themselves.
Joe Hamilton 14:57
That makes a lot of sense. Can you dig in a little more to that when you said how the quote unquote neutral objectivity can hurt surfaces?
Ray Roa 15:04
Yeah, so neutrality is interesting, right? Because there’s this ideal in journalism, quote, unquote, that we stay neutral, because the reader should be allowed to make up their mind. But if something is hurting somebody, I think it’s okay to explicitly say so, right. If somebody is lying, then if it’s a lie, it’s a lie. Maybe it’s a falsehood. That’s a falsehood. Questionable comment, maybe it’s a, some people call it controversial or highly debated. You know, sometimes people dance around language in the quest of objectivity. And I get it. You don’t want to lose people when you’re writing, but you also don’t want to lose this principle of just calling things as they are. There’s so many bad tropes in journalism, writing–the first draft of history isn’t always right. I think if you stick to your principles when you write it, then I think for us, at least we are doing the closest version of like our mission, to really be outspoken for the most vulnerable people. And I’m talking about the news vertical right now, really, and that extends to the arts and everything else. I mean, everything’s political and governmental, right, even restaurant openings and closings. Those are highly connected to permitting and rents and things like that. And if you’re going to start to kind of scale back on your critiques, or how deeply you look into something, then I think you start to hurt stuff. Like, you know, we missed something when The Mill closed, right? We wrote about the mill closing, and we took a statement from the owner and ran it, but then the Business Journal went through the taxes, right? So they found that, and that’s just a small example of why you should look further into things and do it equally without prejudice. Yeah, everybody gets the same treatment. I’m lucky that my publishers that yell at me for writing about our advertisers in a critical way. But we still do that. And I think, whatever. I’m lucky, James, my publisher handles all that. I don’t have to worry about the advertisers, but I think a lot of them, they advertise with us because they know what we are. And even when we’ve written about them critically, I think we’ve been fair, and they stayed on, so I’m proud of that. I don’t know if that answered your question, though.
Joe Hamilton 17:16
It does. I agree with all of that. And I think there’s a role for that. I think that you are boosting a signal into the universe that needs to get boosted for your mission. So in a weird way, I mean, not coming from a journalism background, I almost feel like that job has been done, to some extent. That the Times will come out and say what they say, you will come out and push the issues you want to push and good will come with that or influence will come with that for whatever, you know, therein lies my point. I look at say, well, can we be another booster? In that way we could, right? But the unique experiment, again, not coming from a journalism background and seeing it more from a sociological, socio-economic standpoint is there are people at Fox News who can say that same thing, like our job is to push out this stuff and speak stand up for what’s right. But in the industry, what CNN or pick something on the other end of the spectrum that can kind of say the same thing, and feel very true about it. Which goes back to my prospective spot where someone from Fox News can literally be the Ray Roa of Fox News and say, with equal authenticity, things about “We should build a wall on the border,” and “we should not subsidize homelessness, because people need to stand on their own two feet” and believe it and feel like they’re boosting that signal. And that’s fine. But what has happened in the world is now the audience is self-selected into that, and so to me, our magic spot is that we cross, right, and that we can get ideas to start conversations into everybody’s head, versus some truncated audience. We tried to be undefinable in that way, because our original tagline was “Ideas first”. That was the experiment. And can we just put ideas out there? And I guess I should add to that too, we also moderate all of our comments.
Ray Roa 17:46
We turned ours off.
Joe Hamilton 18:19
And I don’t want to switch into different ideas, so maybe we’ll come back to that, but we ran the experiment of moderating comments for civility only. So you can have a contrarian idea or an out-there idea. We have clear posting guidelines. If you start doing “you lefties this, you righties that” it doesn’t go up. Any kind of insults or whatever, anything that closes the conversation down to further exchange doesn’t go up. And you know, I thought it was gonna be a war because of free speech and all that, I believe in free speech too, you know, my motto was “this is our experiment. If you want to be on the platform, this is what we’re trying if you don’t like it to go back to Twitter,” and I have been shocked at how easy it has been like it has been barely anybody has said–I’ll write them back, I’ll say “hey, this comment was actually a pretty interesting point, and then you call the mayor a bastard at the end of it. Take that out because then people gonna talk about that. Didn’t need to do that.” And half the people are like, “Oh, thank you. I’m so used to communicating that way.” And what we found is those retired professors and people that say, “I’m not going to go on Facebook or wherever anymore,” or “Twitter is just so toxic” are now bringing their ideas back to the table, because we moderate, which probably the most of it, and because they don’t see it as throwing against a bias, right, they see it as a legitimate table where they can bring a plate and that people can try that food and see if they like it or not. So that’s the specific experiment we’re running for that specific reason. And we do sacrifice. There’s a lot of times it’s killed me to say, we just got to put this news out as news, because it goes against what I personally believe. But having that golden rule of sacrifice the micro to maintain this macro, I think has helped us win what we want this far.
Ray Roa 20:34
Yeah, I think it’s important to stick with your ethos in what you believe your publication, you know, should be, talking about the Fox Newses and things like that. And I think that’s a clear distinction between what we do and what the talking heads there do is we report based on truth, right, facts, right? So here are the facts. We can use a mayor, for example, a certain one in Tampa City Hall, who has called for transparency out of City Hall, specifically from city council members, but then we can bring five instances of when said mayor contradicted themselves and wasn’t transparent, whether it was with a municipal construction project, with a budget that ballooned more than a million dollars without an RFP, and didn’t include union apprenticeship and minority stakeholders until after it was called out. That’s not transparent. So at times, I guess things can feel like we’re biased or things like that. But we’re basically pointing out a contradiction. And I think I use the relationship analogy a lot. And I hate anecdotes, because you start to get into just falsehoods, right? Like feeling and emotion. But, you know, when you’re in a relationship with somebody, those relationships aren’t easy. And it’s hard to be told something about yourself that you don’t necessarily want to hear. And believe me, we hear a lot about our coverage from plenty of people.We might have turned off the comments on the website, but we still get them everywhere else in our email boxes. But you have to be able to talk about the hard things. And I think if you root them in facts, and the facts are balanced. Talk about like Castro is running for city council, we looked at his political donations to the governor and pushed to open restaurants, you know, before a vaccine and things like that. And we were critical of that in the piece. But Mr. Castro was also in our story. So we go directly to these people that we write about and who we’re critical of and the mic is turned on.
Joe Hamilton 22:23
But those facts are just facts, right? So that’s different than saying which facts are most important, or choosing which facts, you know, obviously it’s a constant balancing exercise to say, “Well, we did this for Castro, and then we did this for this other candidate.” I mean, you have to literally document that you put the equal amount of hours into researching every single person to not introduce bias. And that’s where it gets to be a tricky line to walk. Almost impossible.
Ray Roa 22:46
It is rough. And then that’s where it’s like, Hey, are we going to cover this particular city council candidate’s liens on their debt, what they owe to taxes? And we’re like, Yeah, I mean, this person is gonna be balancing a budget, right? And we are going to have to write about how they handle their finances, right? And politics can be dirty, sometimes. I’m sure this city council race will get weird. And there’s some things we don’t cover. You know, there’s some quotes that we don’t put in there, just because we kind of know who’s saying them. And we’ve heard those talking points before and they haven’t been constructive.
Joe Hamilton 23:17
So along those lines, as an example, I did a talk at Tiger bay with the three mayors a couple of weeks ago. And I asked this question and it didn’t play well. I don’t think he articulated it well enough. But I think you’ll understand where I’m coming from, because I think this is a big deal. Something I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about lately. Comments and social media push everything to the end to the extreme. And a case in point of that was this police chief who was on a golf cart, and just having an evening, wasn’t even driving, was sitting in the passenger seat. And for whatever reason, got pulled over. No tag or something like that. A cop came up, and she was like, Hey, by the way, I’m the police chief, you know, wink, wink. And he’s like, cool, have a good evening and went away. And 10 years ago, that would not have made a single ripple in the universe, right? Just yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of terrible things that also should have made a ripple and universe that didn’t. So this os where you run into problems. It’s all or nothing, it seems like, right, so to have that everybody wearing a camera does bring accountability, but it also brings the ability for people to use those things to the extreme. And so, you know, obviously, you talked about how city council and the mayor in Tampa are going back and forth to the point where City Council is pushing for charter changes, to literally change how government works in Tampa Bay. And one of the keys and points of the transparency thing was this police chief. So now because of that 30 second clip–you don’t want to diminish it because it was wrong, what she did–But the question is, how wrong was it that we lost her as the police chief, which technically is the best candidate for the job because that’s why she’s in the job, just assuming things work the way they’re supposed to. Maybe she’s not maybe she is. But a good candidate or the best candidate for the job. And now City Council, rightly so, is using that as a hammer to push through some of their potential charter changes. So literally, Tampa’s government may change because of this whole butterfly flaps its wings and causes tsunami and their side of the world thing. So it’s like, what the question is, is how do you live in a world, how do you operate as a leader in a world where every little utterance, if it makes it into the wrong flow straight, you know, social flow, even the Times reports that as, I forget what it was, like, “Golf Cart Gate”, or whatever, it turns into the most extreme thing in the world. And because if you just take the technicality of it, “chief abuses power”, there’s no nuance right? Chief abuses power, fired, shouldn’t have been put in there, change government to make that never happen again. And there’s just no room for forgiveness, for grace, for context, for understanding. It’s just wrong, people get it, hammer, hammer, hammer, hammer, and it just takes a life of its own and becomes so big that you’re just done, right? And this is kind of canceling and all that sort of stuff, too. And Welch’s answer was, just act like your mom standing next to you 24 hours a day, and act like… You know, is that necessarily always the best way to have tough conversations? And I don’t know. But so my question to you is, what’s the responsibility of CL to make sure there is forgiveness and nuance and context and it isn’t just this single report is bad, therefore that person is bad, destroy, destroy, destroy?
Ray Roa 26:23
Yeah. So if we use the chief as an example, I think her end was the book end on a long journey. As a rookie cop, she was pulled–her husband or boyfriend at the time, the same guy that was driving the cart–they were pulled over together, everything. The parallels are interesting, right? Suspected DUI. And I think, you know, this, and maybe the listeners know this, but, you know, during that, I think it was in the 90s, Hills Sheriff pulled her over, she ended up committing battery on a law enforcement officer, kicking windows in the squad car, so I think from the beginning, during that selection process, these transparency issues had started. So that’s over here, you can’t see this, because it’s a podcast. And her getting caught with the golf cart is over here. But it all starts there. Right. And even before that, we had been asking questions of the mayor who promised a transparent search for a chief, how that was going. And they couldn’t produce records about how that was going, or like, couldn’t tell us who they’d interviewed. And keep in mind underlying all this is that police eats a majority of the budget all the time. And if you believe in government accountability, then why not hold cops to the highest absolute standards for them under a microscope? So there was that. And then during the selection process, the mayor had selected Mary O’Connor, and the semantics and the language around it was like, Well, that’s it. She’s the Chief. If we’re talking about the charter, the charter actually says there has to be a vote. City Council has to approve that. And she did end up getting approved, but to name someone chief and use semantics like they’ve already got the job was an interesting influence because Mary started doing the job before she was appointed Chief, which is interesting. And it’s not fair to people who love their city who maybe don’t understand the nuance of the charter. Anything, but like holding up as a chief? So I think people are upset about that, too. And then the vote happened. I think only two council people rejected the mayor’s appointment. And then, you know, all that happens and we get to the golf cart thing. And it’s interesting that it was the golf cart thing. Like you’re right. Like, it was interesting that it’s a golf cart thing that brought her down, just looking at it on its face, police officer, the top cop tasked with upholding the law, uses their influence to skirt a law. I mean, for me, sure it happened on a golf cart. But at the end of the day, if you’re the top cop, then you should be held to the highest standard. But it’s interesting that because this particular police officer Mary O’Connor had been involved in two programs in Tampa, one of them the DOJ completed an investigation found that the program disproportionately ticketed black bicyclists. I mean, that’s objectively bad, right? And then there was another crime, free housing, quote, unquote, where that’s currently under a Department of Justice investigation where a journalist at the time has found that Tampa Police were working with landlords to disproportionately evict renters of color, sometimes for charges as petty as shoplifting that weren’t convictions, and that’s under investigation. So it’s funny that it was a golf cart thing. And a tip that we got that we followed up on that kind of took her down. And I think some people were happy to see that just because if there’s rules for me, and there should be rules for everybody, especially the person at the top. It sounds like so I guess another reason why this is a poor question is because– I don’t think it’s a poor question.
Joe Hamilton 29:44
Well, maybe she deserved everything she got. I don’t know. I don’t know, you know, assuming that she didn’t have that history, that the spirit of the question was, are we better off as a community because we have this ability to lay the hammer down, cancel, whatever you want to call it, on things that are true. But it’s just too easy to manipulate them. I see people who want to take somebody down can take a little, you can say anything you want about anybody on the internet. And if it gets viral, you’re done. It’s just a really tricky spot. And that’s where I take, you know, that’s why I’m asking you as someone who’s in charge of a lot of influences as I am. How do we do this?
Ray Roa 30:17
I mean, my experience is probably the same as yours. You’ve probably heard a lot of stuff in between your inbox and being at the bar. And I mean, I don’t know about you, but I would say less than 5% of what I hear and gets said even gets a sniff in our room. So there’s people who say crazy stuff. They accuse people of crazy things, and we look into some of them, we don’t look into some of them. And they don’t make it to our website unless it’s been vetted out, right? Like, we’re not Page Six, it’s fine as that, sometimes we’ll make fun of Tom Brady in a Page Six way, but we don’t play that game with police or things like that. Everything’s vetted pretty well.
Joe Hamilton 31:00
Yeah, and I’ve just played it, I think, for every bit of criticism you get for being too biased, we get an equal amount of criticism for the opposite of that. Toothless, you know, or sort of just do-good and bright eyes, and that we’re not asking the tough questions. And you know, I’m just like, I don’t think we’re qualified. I think we’re qualified to put the information out there and let experts and the community people who know this stuff weigh in. So you know, I’m much more comfortable as a platform than I am as…
Ray Roa 31:28
I think you have good connections, and you can get those people’s voices in there, right. And you have a clear mission and edict and ethos and the way you want to do things. And that’s the way you want to do things. And if people want to criticize you for being toothless, or maybe backing down and just printing something as is without coming down on something, I would invite them to look at other websites that are maybe covering things that really don’t, at least when we read the Catalyst, we know who the players are, oftentimes we know where the money comes from. And I read the Catalyst. You know what I mean? And it’s good for information. Have I been like, God, I wish they would have said something about this one, and this one, or they left this out? Sure. But I mean, what do you expect me to do? Sure, I’m engaged with your website, I’m engaged with the things that you’re writing about. And I’m smarter for having read your website.
Joe Hamilton 32:16
We are punching above our weight. I mean, we have a small staff, we have same as you, or less than you. And so I think that’s the other part of it, too, we can’t hope to cover everything.
Ray Roa 32:25
Oh, there’s so much stuff that’s not getting covered on both sides. I mean, Ariel Stevenson has really picked up a lot of stuff for us in St. Pete, but you know, Justin’s really focused on Tampa and Port Richey recently. And, I mean, there’s just so much stuff that we’re missing. And it’s sad, because I don’t know, I mean, I love where I live here. And I wish we could write about more stuff so that people know more, whether it’s the arts or city hall.
Joe Hamilton 32:47
Well, and I won’t–just because I don’t know how much you’ve dug into yet, so I won’t spend too much on it–but this is where the Cityverse project that I’m working on comes in, which is a full platform for cities with sort of news at the core of it. But, you know, I kind of looked at where traditional news started to fall down, and why social media sort of ate its lunch for attention. Not for quality of content, but attention. And so we’re trying to marry those two worlds. And so we’re going to launch Tampa Catalyst soon, probably in February, hopefully. And then probably a month after that the Cityverse concept will come out, which is, like, you know, easiest thing is to compare it to is a Facebook kind of vibe. You have a profile, you have a feed, and that sort of thing. We do it differently, we do it our own way, pretty significantly different. But then we’re building tools. So we’re gonna give high schools sports reporting tools, and we’re gonna get neighborhood associations newsletter tools, because they’re already writing newsletters, and then they can still serve their folks and send out their newsletters, and that content will also get ported up onto the platform, and be in their Homespace. And then the best of that will get aggregated into a neighborhood writing section, or Neighborhood News section, then we can sort of rebuild the high school sports section, right, because but instead of us having to hire a journalist, which is that model, that doesn’t work anymore, you know, the coaches or trusted parents or whomever can upload the scores and some photos, and maybe it’s not as amazing as having a full-on skilled journalist sitting there writing everything out, but it gets you back to the spot where you can go, you know, get up in the morning, see what’s going on in your neighborhood, see what’s going on at the high school with your favorite nonprofit catalyst and all this stuff, you know, and we can start to cycle sort of citizen news around and stuff. So that’s, as I’ve tried to figure out how we can evolve this model, that’s where we landed. And then you know, ideally, if we do all that, we build this on-platform existence, we can give other tools. Like one of the first things we’re going to launch–the Rays invested, so we’re gonna do something with them–but I’m looking forward to giving every artist a free virtual gallery in an art district, and, you know, to point some of those out to like an art marketplace. And then, as they sell NFTS or sell whatever, we can take a small percentage of that, you know, we make money when they make money. But what it starts to do is change the narrative away from subscriptions or ads.
Ray Roa 34:52
I’m a big believer that news should be free and you’re allowed to do whatever you want to make money. But yeah, I love taking down the barriers.
Joe Hamilton 34:59
Agreed. So that way you’re monetizing, you’re actually leveraging attention to lift the community up and making your money when the community makes money. And the news remains free. So I’m there with you on that. So look forward to that coming on our end. Let’s talk about money a little bit. So can you give me just the brief history since you’ve been through it all, how you went up to a certain point, and then you got boughtm and went down…
Ray Roa 35:22
Sure, so this is the best understanding that I have, with the caveat that with CL, I’ve been so lucky to have this deep separation between what sales and advertising is doing and what we do. I don’t tell them what to sell. They don’t tell me what to write. It’s great. So I’ve been freelancing for them, or my byline started there more than a decade ago. I mean, it was founded in the 80s. Kind of an offshoot in conjunction with Atlanta. At a certain point, there were several Creative Loafing outlets in several cities. There’s one in like, one of the Carolinas, Atlanta, at one point, the parent company of Loafing owned the Chicago Reader, the Washington City Paper, I think, a lot of alt-weeklies, you know, and everybody knows what happened in the recession, and things like that. So you end up with different owners. When I got there, we were owned by a company called SOUTHCOM out of Nashville. They did a heavy b2b business. I mean they had small weeklies too, Nashville Scene and things like that. And we operated in a way that was good at the time. But as you know, demands change and the way revenue comes in changes. And maybe we weren’t keeping up with that. I mean, I don’t know, I was still just a music editor at the time. So pretty far removed from that. And we got bought by Euclid media company based out of Cleveland, or Cleveland and Texas. Now, we’re one of eight alt-weeklies at that company owns, and they’ve revamped the way we look at things. It’s amazing. It took this long, but we really doubled down on being digital first, publishing online, looking at those numbers, making sure that we’re getting revenue that way. And I think I’ve been really lucky that James, Howard and Anthony in the sales room have really had these deep relationships with their community partners and advertisers. The advertisers really believe in what we do. So I mean, you can’t see it while you’re in it. But I think it’s remarkable that we continue to produce a paper that was at least 48 pages every week, even through the pandemic, as you know, a lot of these advertisers weren’t going through it. And I think they found a way. And we’ve been lucky. Like I said, we’ve hired two new staffers and in two years, and I think we paid better than some other publications in town. And yeah, I don’t know how James does it. I think we’re doing pretty well. You’d have to ask James, I think he would do that. But he doesn’t ride my ass over the budget too much.
Joe Hamilton 37:45
So Euclid owns it now.
Ray Roa 37:46
Yeah, we’re owned by a company called Euclid media. So we have papers in Orlando, San Antonio, St. Louis, Louisville, all through the Midwest and in the south.
Joe Hamilton 37:54
And obviously, the Times finances took them down to two days a week. Has there ever been a discussion of going full digital?
Ray Roa 37:59
Imean, I think some of our papers in that market, I don’t know if there’s not one that doesn’t publish, some of them go bi weekly. I think James has been really reluctant to do that. One, because he has a great relationship with all the advertisers and the advertising is there for him. What we usually fight about during the week is how many pages that thing’s going to be. So you get, you know, 22 pages for 48 page book or like this week, can you give me 25 or 26, and I can bump it up to 64, 72. And you can imagine the strain on a small staff that’s building web ads and putting a book together. So those are the things we butt heads on. But those are the things we discuss. So we never really talked about, hey, do we need to go weekly. I mean, I don’t know what paper is going to cost five years from now. But I think as long as he can find a way, we’ll continue to be weekly, and we like being weekly, we like being out there every week, putting a book together is a pain. It is hard, sucks the life out of me. But it’s pretty great to hold one. And it’s really cool to be able to put people’s faces in there, specifically artists, people who just aren’t getting the kind of attention that, you know, I can’t tell you how many people are like, “Oh, my mom saw this and it’s, it was awesome,” and that will be, if I died on the way home today, you know, outside of, you know, my son and my family, that would be like, the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me, is to be able to like make a difference in people’s lives. And part of that is because of that print thing. We’re gonna keep doing it. I don’t I don’t care what people say. that it is an antiquated thing. But gosh, people still pick it up. I love seeing it. I love putting it together as much as it’s a labor but we’re not going anywhere in terms of that. Man, I feel for the Times, I mean, subscribers, I’m sure they’re mad that they’re only getting it. They’ll push their digital issue, but I grew up reading that paper. It’s great man, learning where things are, learning how to jump to different stories, so I’m sure they didn’t like going to two days.
Joe Hamilton 39:51
Cool. Well, thank you so much for sharing the info and it’s good to catch up.
Ray Roa 39:56
Yeah, it’s great to meet you and talk about stuff.
Joe Hamilton 39:59
Wonderful. Well, keep reading and keep doing what you do and anything we can do to help you let us know. And onwards and upwards.
Ray Roa 40:07
Yeah, CLtampa.com is where we’re at and you can reach into some of the boxes in town. Most of them are stocked pretty good, but you never know these days.
Joe Hamilton 40:15
We’re gonna have a conversation after this about CLTampaStPete.com. I know it’s a long name, but wow.
Ray Roa 40:20
I mean, CL Tampa was… Creative Loafing is such a non-web name. Like I love the name, but man, I was like, man, these guys came up with a great name, but Tampa Weekly would have been great, you know?
Joe Hamilton 40:33
Maybe you can change brand. All right, man. Thanks so much.