Waveney Ann Moore - Journalist
Waveney Ann Moore’s first St. Pete Catalyst byline appeared just over two years ago, on Nov. 25, 2020, and her weekly columns have enriched and elevated our journalistic output a thousandfold. The Guyana-born Moore began writing for us following her retirement from the Tampa Bay Times, where she’d been a well-known reporter and columnist for 24 years. “My husband’s been telling everybody, for the past couple of years since I retired from the Times, that I failed retirement,” she says with a laugh in this SPX interview with Catalyst publisher Joe Hamilton. This month, however, Moore is taking another shot at slowing down. After more than 100 Catalyst columns - about community, about equity and about the abundance of positivity amongst the people of St. Petersburg – she is now officially, no-turning-back retired. With Hamilton, she discusses her career, from earliest days in Kansas and Oklahoma, to her work for a Clearwater-based trade magazine and, finally, to the vaunted Times staff in 1994, where she began in neighborhood news before graduating to general assignment reporter. In addition to extensive coverage of the St Pete Pier, Moore was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1998 and 2010. Reflecting on her work with the Catalyst: “I learned a lot about the African-American community that I thought I knew, and I didn’t,” Moore says. “I learned a lot more. And I was able to focus on other minorities … I think it was definitely the people that I met, and the things that I learned, that’s what I value.”
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Joe Hamilton 00:07
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.life. Now enjoy the conversation
Joe Hamilton 00:47
Joining me today on SPX, somewhat reluctantly, is the venerable Waveney Ann Moore welcome.
Waveney Ann Moore 00:56
Thank you, Joe.
Joe Hamilton 00:58
So I’m gonna get the, for me personally, bad news out of the way first, one of the reasons we’re having this conversation today is because you are going to retire from writing soon. And that’s many, many years of service at the Times and with us most recently, and it’s been so wonderful to work with you over the last year plus. You brought so much to the Catalyst, and I appreciate it beyond words. Really just lovely to have you involved.
Waveney Ann Moore 01:30
Well, thank you. You know, this really helped me, writing for the catalysts because it was a different kind of writing. And I really appreciate your inviting me to do this, because it stretched me a little in my old age. You allowed me to voice my opinion to talk and write about what I thought was interesting, which was different after decades of writing for a newspaper, which was much more regulated, much more objective. So thank you. And I have to tell you, my husband’s been telling everybody, for the past couple of years since I retired from the Times that I failed retirement. So now I’m not going to fail retirement.
Joe Hamilton 02:34
Change gears and relax a little and relax a little bit. Wonderful. Well, let’s let’s talk a little bit about how it all started. How did journalism come into your life? What, what made you need to cover things?
Waveney Ann Moore 02:51
Well, it was really I went to college in New York, a small Catholic College, College of New Rochelle, which is unfortunately no more because of some sort of financial scandal. And I took journalism classes at Iona College because it was, you know, closely associated with Iona college. And then I didn’t get into journalism immediately, but when we moved to Kansas, I was invited to be a news clerk for the Kansas City Star, which by the way in which really dates me because it was an afternoon paper. Do you know any that exist? So I started out as a news clerk and then began reporting and a wonderful editor, John Wiley, who then went on to buy his own newspaper and all ago, Oklahoma, was a wonderful mentor. And I started there. When we moved to St. Pete, I couldn’t get on to the Times. It was around the same time that the Times was doing away with it’s afternoon paper, the Evening Independent. So I went to work for a trade magazine, food trade magazine in Clearwater. I liked it. It was all right. But I wanted to get back into regular, quote, unquote, journalism. What was good about the trade magazine was that I was able to travel to Europe and round United States, you know, covering food shows that sort of thing. So that was good. And then I think somebody my daughter was babysitting for worked for the Times, and suggested that I apply. And I did. And I started freelancing, doing food and food column. And eventually, I got on to Neighborhood Times, which was very, very hyperlocal news. And, of course, that’s no more. But at one point, I think the Times had about seven sections, as I said, Clearwater for us and Pete sections. It was it was wonderful. People liked it. But do you know what’s happened with your new space books?
Joe Hamilton 05:39
Well, we’ll definitely get into that. But before we do when you started in Kansas City, what was the draw? Was it the craft of journalism? Was it the action in the city and caring about getting information out to as many people or influencee in the city or, you know, what, what was your driver to keep pushing down this road
Waveney Ann Moore 06:09
You know, at that time, I wouldn’t say my goals were that lofty. I have to be honest, I always like to write. And so that was great. And I enjoyed it. And then what I did enjoy and continue to enjoy is meeting people. Being a journalist has allowed me to meet so many wonderful people, tell their stories, hear their stories. Not everybody has been nice, but you know, you sort of learn to be more accepting of people, because you see so many people, you hear them, you hear their stories. And you know, we can get into such a rut if if you don’t meet people unlike yourself. And so I’ve enjoyed it, you know, ordinary people, people who are important people who think they’re important. And just telling those stories. I think that’s been important to me.
Joe Hamilton 07:18
And as you as you kind of look at the landscape of those stories, you mentioned, people who think they’re important, stories that don’t get told stories get told too much: How is the stepping back and looking at power flowing through a city, how imbalanced is it were a few people control so much of the narrative, and you know, so many people will have no real impact on the narrative. Was that sort of scale pretty evident to you as you worked?
Waveney Ann Moore 07:53
Um, I would say so, because a lot of the stories, I think weren’t told. And as I said, I have to go back to Neighborhood Times, I think that helped to tell the stories of people who normally would have been ignored. I know, at one point in neighborhood times, it was a column that focused on the African American community. I mean, that did not last very long as I recall. But that was good. And then, you know, those stories began to be told within the paper, and I think that was important to tell the stories. And as you know, one of my pet peeves is, and I’m branching off here, the whole South St. Pete.
Joe Hamilton 08:58
Calling it south side.
Waveney Ann Moore 08:59
Yes. And South St. Pete and Southside. And I’ve always felt that that’s been somewhat disparaging. And I never say South St. Pete, I never say south side, unless it’s in within a quote, or, you know, the South St. Pete CRA. So I think those stories weren’t being told, unless, you know, it was on radio station or TV or even in one of the local newspapers. You saw there was a crime and South St. Pete. If it happened elsewhere, there is no mention of where that happened. But I do think that’s changed. I do think that there is more emphasis in telling everyone’s stories. I don’t know if I answered your question.
Joe Hamilton 09:56
You did. Well, this I’d like to you know, and I know you wrote a piece about this for us about using south side as a as a term, let’s dig in a little more. First, just sort of as a juxtaposition, is there a place that as we get more equity and more success in certain areas that it could become a neighborhood, like the warehouse arts district and have its own positive cachet around it? Or at that point, does it represent something bigger and and maybe not as pleasant that it’s better just to move on and look at the individual neighbors themselves? Or said another way, can we dig a little bit into why you think that that is a problem?
Waveney Ann Moore 10:44
Well, it’s possible. I think everybody has tried to do something different. The mayor’s have tried to, you know, name, a particular area. And again, Southside, or South St. Pete, typically, I think, represented an area of this southern part of the city. I think that it’s possible that it could just be the north side, just like the north side. And how many people know that the South side there is, quote, unquote, there is Bahamas shore service there are pink streets, and you hear people referred, people who live there, say, the pink street’s down, say they live on the south side or South St. Pete.
Joe Hamilton 11:39
And perhaps therein lies the problem, because it isn’t actually referring to a geographical area, it’s referring to a group of people. So with that, you know, having this awareness, and obviously having an awareness that your stories can influence things, and that’s where I get into, how do you just as a human, who cares about the community she lives in, you know that the injustice is there, you know that you with your words can help that a little bit? And so how much does the work shift? How can it not shift really to, you know, to that been a big part of it, seeing the impact you can literally have with it with the stroke of a pen or the press of a keyboard? So how did that change for you as you got a bigger and bigger voice in the community?
Waveney Ann Moore 12:29
Well, it changed in, oh, you know, being able to say to your editor, you know, I don’t think I don’t think that’s a good idea or just to maybe hint that, you know, maybe that approach isn’t that great. And I’m gonna move away a little bit from race. And so I remember, a few years back, there was a headline in the Times that talked about an elderly man being the first to go to, I can’t remember if it was Chick fil A, or one of those places that it was just opening. And so I read it, and then I cringed, because this elderly man, was at least two years younger than I. So, you know, those are things that I might joke about and say, and and, you know, might help somebody to be aware that, you know, sort of be careful of how you approach things. You know, if you saw all them, and that’s, you know, the Times and many other places have dropped mug shots when you look at a list of mug shots, and you just saw black faces. So I do think that people are becoming more conscious of how they approach things, I think leaders are. And of course, this is historic, we have a black mayor and something which you have to marvel about in a city that once had the KKK marching through the streets, people in leadership positions, you know, I have to be positive and look at things like that and think this is wonderful. This means that not everybody’s thinking the same the same as before. Even though the you know, there’s so much turmoil in the country, people are speaking out and doing what they believe is right.
Joe Hamilton 15:00
And so as you look at sort of the mechanics of a city, and as you’ve reported on money flowing or opportunity flowing, any observations that you have of things that have maybe gone better than you expected, or things that are still lagging behind, where they could be, you know, whether it be education or anything else that jumps out at you.
Waveney Ann Moore 15:24
Such a difficult question, because one does wonder why certain areas still are undeveloped. Why is Fourth Street North booming, and other areas are not. Why is it taking such a long time for 22nd Street south to boom, 16th Street, where trees were planted, people were promised that traffic from Tropicana Field was going to go south, and people were going to go into the neighborhoods and shop at businesses. You sort of wonder, well, why hasn’t that really happened? I’ve noticed that some of the, you know, the crosswalks, the solar activated crosswalks, to me, it took a long time to go south. I could be wrong, you know, but that was just my observation. So I think things need to definitely continue to focus there. The Tangerine Plaza supermarket? Why is it that a Publix is not interested? Why do people have to jump on a bus to get to a decent supermarket? And then when a supermarket closes, you hear all these rumors that it was because people were shoplifting, and nobody beats that down. So there definitely needs to be focused on it. And I have to say that every mayor has tried. But, you know, large supermarkets close there, and there’s nothing there now.
Joe Hamilton 17:27
That’s amazing. I think they’re where I live eight supermarkets within literally two miles.
Waveney Ann Moore 17:36
I live within two supermarkets, I mean, to Publix, you know, you think, okay, but I tried to, and again, I’ve become strategic, I make sure, most of the time I go to the Publix near to me, because I keep telling my husband, I want to keep it open, right? By myself.
Joe Hamilton 18:04
So, in part of the, you know, the underlying result of systemic racism is that the developers and the people who have the money to develop the areas for certain constituents or have historically been white, and therefore that’s, you know, 4th Street North, makes in their minds sense to do that. So as we look at the, you know, it’s always a little awkward to say, the white community in the black community, all communities have leaders, and that could be around a religion or an ethnicity or a geography. So if we were to look at it, but certainly with racism, the black community needed leaders to, to represent folks to help combat racism, right, and take that effort to take that on. So when you look at the leadership in that regard, and then that leadership as you know, progress was made, turning to being involved in politics, starting to do some development, what are your observations of the evolution over the last 20 years or so have that sort of group in working from that end of things to make things better?
Waveney Ann Moore 19:31
Well, I think definitely, you’ve seen progress with that. You see Pastor Louis Murphy’s church and his congregation trying to improve the neighborhoods around them. Of course, he’s involved with the Sugar Hill project for Tropicana development. A lot of the pastor’s have been working on that. And I think Pastor Murphy and other leaders were also involved with the Manhattan casino,
Joe Hamilton 20:16
Somewhat unique to the African American community that the pastor’s have that role. They’re a different presence than a wealthy developer.
Waveney Ann Moore 20:30
Yes, definitely. But these are the leaders. People respect them. They’ve been able to go to the administrations and represent people and talk and point out injustices. It hasn’t necessarily worked all the time, but I do think that without those leaders, there wouldn’t have been progress. You know, people have to, I hate this phrase, speak truth to power, but those are the people that that maybe, the quote unquote, white community looks to speak on behalf of the rest of the community. I think that might probably change because I don’t know if the younger people are necessarily church-going and and turning to pastors, I think the younger people are advocating for themselves, you know, when you see the tenant unions, when you see other actions, when you see the people who’ve got together to try to save the Manhattan Casino. So I think they’ve played a role, religious leaders, but I think that the younger people are now going to be more advocates for the community.
Joe Hamilton 22:14
Which I mean theoretically, if we’re not thinking about it as “one or” but “one and”, that’s a positive, and perhaps something that wouldn’t have been as easy to accomplish 20 years ago.
Waveney Ann Moore 22:26
And they are running for office, so they are getting into politics more, that’s probably going to help.
Joe Hamilton 22:36
And so, you know, obviously, we talked a little bit about that one of the roles of the Fourth Estate is a little bit of objective truth to power. And you were a finalist for a Pulitzer for your Investigative Journalism. That was wonderful. Let’s talk about that. So celebrate that for a moment. How was that experience?
Waveney Ann Moore 22:59
Oh, that was wonderful. Actually, I was a finalist in two projects, one with a number of us including Dave Barstow, who went on to the New York Times and won, I think, two more Pulitzers. But, yes, one was the Reverend Henry Lyons, who went to prison for financial corruption with the National Baptist organization. And the other was a Dozier school in Marianna. I worked with Ben Montgomery and that was grueling, because I do remember trying to manage my Neighborhood Times editor’s expectations. You know, local news, feeding the beast, and then also trying to work on this other project. But everyone was supportive. It meant going up to Mariana several times. That was unique, because I had not gone into that part of the state before. There was a lot of antagonism. That school was the livelihood of our town. And it was sad, interviewing some of the men who were so traumatized as boys at that reform school, quote, unquote, and treated so badly. I don’t know how many people actually died or were killed because of that. And that was a good experience. It was a good experience. And the Lyons was also good, though it was sort of difficult, again, being that I was the only black reporter in that group writing about this black pastor who was a hero in St. Pete, at one point. Someone, again, who everyone looked up to.
Joe Hamilton 25:28
Journalists, with the ideally objective mindset, what was the experience being the only black journalist reporting on a black icon amongst another group of white journalists?
Waveney Ann Moore 25:43
Well, it was a little difficult. I have to say, it gave me access that the others didn’t have because I became invisible. In the black community, I didn’t stand out a lot, because a lot of other people were chasing the same story. But people would talk around me, because, you know, I look like them. And they wouldn’t necessarily think of me as a reporter.
Joe Hamilton 26:23
And then the actual writing itself, did that goes smoothly? Was it just about the story, or were there elements of it, with the overlay of race that made it interesting for you to work and write together with that group?
Waveney Ann Moore 26:43
Writing went smoothly, because we, you know, we each contributed, and I don’t know that race played a part in the writing, except, as I said, this was someone who was respected in the community. I mean, there was another story that I did. And someone said to me, I won’t go into details, “You’re black first”.
Joe Hamilton 27:14
And that was my next question. So then after that story came out, did it change? Was there more awareness of your presence? It’s bittersweet, right, because it’s someone who was respected, but it was also true, and so the story needed to be told. But that also then had some negative ramifications on a community that was already working hard to move forward. So what was it like for you after the story came out?
Waveney Ann Moore 27:47
What happened, I think, after that, because I covered religion as well, that was one of my beats, and I really enjoyed that, I got a call at home once, and that’s the first time I changed my home number, from a person who said to me, this was very early in the morning, I think it was, everybody’s saying you’re trying to bring down black pastors. And it’s silly now that I changed my number, but it sort of rattled me a little. And it just happened to be that certain people started calling me about some of the things that were going on. And these were black people in black congregations,
Joe Hamilton 28:45
Because they still need the same truth told as anybody. So how, conflicting emotions as far as a journalist and member of the community, how did taking on that role, and having people see you as someone to come to, for these things, change your existence?
Waveney Ann Moore 29:09
It make it a little uncomfortable for me, and I still think sometimes, I’m not sure how people regard me. I don’t know, because, you know, it might have been someone’s pastor that I wrote something negative about.
Joe Hamilton 29:31
And while I love what we’ve built at the Catalyst, I know the Achilles heel of that is our lack of resources to do investigative reporting. We’ve tried to come at it from as a solutions-based publication, trying to be positive and trying to say there are problems, let’s talk about these problems in ways or be a Catalyst for talking about these problems in ways that lead to solutions but do we have the wherewithal or resources, or does it fit our mission to go do the Dozier Boys School Story? Probably not. And does that reporting needs to be done? Absolutely. So as you know, it’s been harder and harder to get those types of stories, and the general resources have been drained away, how have you seen the community change? How leaders’ behavior changes without enough people watching?
Waveney Ann Moore 30:34
Yeah, I’ve wondered about quote unquote, smaller things that are not being covered. But I do think that I’ve seen, you know, stories that have been done that show that people are watching. I mean, probably not everything. But I think it’s important, even if one piece is done once a month, it keeps those leaders on their toes. And I think that’s one of the reasons people like the Catalyst, because there is so much local news. Nothing is too little or unimportant. And the larger organizations don’t have those resources. You can’t hire that many people. I mean, Gannett just laid off a whole bunch of people. It’s getting tougher and tougher. My nephew, came to help us set up our Smart TV, which is much smarter than we are. And he said, Well, you know, I don’t look at TV. And I know he doesn’t read the newspaper either. And he looks at his phone, and whatever is interesting. So we’re battling a lot, because younger people aren’t necessarily reading the newspaper. They’re reading whatever feed they’re interested in. And so I sort of wonder what happens next? And as you said, you’re wondering, what about the leaders? How you keep them on their toes? How do you make sure that they know that somebody’s watching? To cover City Hall? That takes a lot of resources? I mean, those meetings go on forever.
Joe Hamilton 32:36
And on and on.
Waveney Ann Moore 32:39
Yes! And there’s so many stories in just that. In one meeting, or all the commission meetings. There’s so many things and you’ve just got to pick one and run with it.
Joe Hamilton 32:53
And that begs the question, I think part of the audience moving away is because social media offered, amongst other addictive negative things, a more interactive experience with content. And especially now, I think there’s more of a demand for expertise, because the Internet has brought endless and infinite information to us. And so if you’re into something, you can really get into it in a way and know about it. And that makes it harder for a journalist that’s doing a couple stories a day to get to the depth that people who care about that subject matter expect, which then, is where I don’t think citizen journalists are right, but crowdsourcing this knowledge and this awareness, every phone has a camera, everybody has distribution now, so it begs the question is there a way to leverage the community to almost understand: can the community value journalism principles like objectivity, or the basics of fact collecting and things like that. Is crowdsourcing news, where the future is going? I mean, obviously, building Cityverse I think it is, but again, you know, the thing that just nags is that you still don’t get that objective, truth-driven deep dive into things that require resources. I mean, it’s nice to go down to the city council if you’re into that sort of thing and do some tweets and do some stuff, but then you’re going out with your friends later. You’re not driving up to the school day after day after day, and that’s the thing, I fear, that we lose. So we’re gonna find a way to fund it.
Waveney Ann Moore 34:46
Yeah, we are losing some of that unless, as you said, you’re absolutely focused on something. I might look at a school board meeting and think, “this is so interesting”. But how many people are doing that? And you miss all the craziness that happens.
Joe Hamilton 35:11
You have to make it into a reality show.
Waveney Ann Moore 35:14
Joe Hamilton 35:17
Well, I just want to celebrate that you’ve had such a wonderful career. Obviously the Pulitzers were, we’ll say, gems in the crown.
Waveney Ann Moore 35:28
Joe Hamilton 35:29
Well, should have won.
Waveney Ann Moore 35:35
I’m pleased just to have been in that category.
Joe Hamilton 35:43
And what else sort of flavors your memory of your 25 or 24 years of at Times?
Waveney Ann Moore 35:54
I keep saying, the people that I met, and what I have learned, I’ve learned a whole lot. As you know, I didn’t grew up in the United States or so on. And this has just helped me enormously to learn. I keep telling people, I went to work at McDonald’s when I was in college. I had just come to the United States. And I learned so much, about people, about just counting the currency, you know, and so I use that to say that I learned so much going out to live in Kansas and work in the Kansas City area. Here, in St. Petersburg, I mean, writing what you asked me to write, to focus on equity issues, that was important, because I learned a lot about the African American community that I thought I knew, and I didn’t, I learned a lot more. And I was able to focus on an other minorities, the fact that there was all this anti-Asian hate, I felt honored to be able to write about the Holocaust Museum as it developed, as it moved from Madeira beach to St. Pete, and to tell the stories of some of the survivors, because so many people don’t know. To talk to people who, after the riots in 1996 to go into the neighborhood and talk to people who said, and we weren’t really hearing this, we don’t agree with that sort of thing. And these were people who had made a living, their husbands, maybe they were widows, their husbands had worked for a sanitation department or something in the city, and they had their own homes. And, you know, they, they were terrified of all of the violence that occurred. So I think it was definitely the people that I met and the things that I learned. That’s what I value, and I probably am not expressing it properly. But you know, it was good to learn about people and to learn about different faiths, and to respect what people believed and to respect people who don’t believe and to know that, you know, everybody is sort of searching for an answer, and trying to do their best. To me, it sounds trite, but it’s true.
Joe Hamilton 39:20
So given that, you kind of went a couple different sides of the spectrum of positive and negative with all of that and in general, your decades of living in St. Pete’s, aer you optimistic or pessimistic right now?
Waveney Ann Moore 39:36
I’m optimistic. I am optimistic. But I’m also very curious to see where things are going. You know, I come downtown less but I marvel at what’s going on in the city. I mean it does make me little uncomfortable sometimes, though, you know, the city has changed. But when I moved here, Tampa was the place. And now, you know, St. Petersburg is growing. I feel optimistic about it. I am curious to see what happens with the stadium. I’m curious to see what will happen if Mayor Walsh will get a second term. I can say that out loud. I’m looking at this school district. Curious to see what’s happening there. There are changes, but I think people are engaged.
Joe Hamilton 40:51
That’s a lot. People are engaged. I think that’s winning. Well, thank you again, it really was a privilege to have someone of your skill level and pedigree willing to jump in for our little experiment. It made us feel a little grown up, which was nice. And it was very much appreciated. And of course, I think you have just another couple of columns left, but obviously whenever anything needs to be written, you always have a place to get it out to the community through us and much appreciation.
Waveney Ann Moore 41:26
Joe, thank you, thank you for the opportunity. It really helped my growth and you can’t you can’t stop growing, but I am retiring.
Joe Hamilton 41:40
Waveney Ann Moore, retired. Thank you.