The abrupt unpleasantness that recently befell The Tampa Tribune is still very much with me. It is sure to linger for quite some time. The newspaper had been my home for nearly a quarter-century, and I had grown attached.
The Tribune was more than a place to work and draw a steady paycheck. It wasn’t a place for punching time clocks. It was a calling, and it was family. I may recover the former; I shall always grieve the latter.
I was a kid reared near the Hillsborough River who left town only as a result of the death of the afternoon paper — the Tampa Times — where I’d cut my journalistic teeth. So, yes, I was on staff when both Tampa papers died. Believe me, that was not the sort of history I set out to make when, just 17, I fell in love with the business at the sight of my first byline, seven stilted paragraphs about a high school basketball game.
I wandered a bit after that first closing: a shade shy of three years in Washington D.C., almost seven on the Left Coast. The Tribune brought me home from far-off Sacramento, where the time zone never quite fit me, and you had to change planes to see family — as even seventh-generation Californians said, quaintly — “back East.”
And back home is where I stuck, most of seven years downtown on the river, a dozen winding miles downstream from my boyhood stomping grounds, then roughly 18 years and a month in Pasco County, watching it grow and change.
Understand this about newspapers, whether they are dailies publishing urgently about the prior day’s events, or weeklies such as this one that reflect, provide context and project what’s ahead: They are woven into the fabric of their communities.
When they perish, as they increasingly do — the dailies, anyway — squeezed by forces beyond their command, it diminishes the localities they once served. That loss is felt, even after the newspaper’s readers have readjusted and moved on, their memories of the old broadsheet dulled by time, and the fast rush of the endless news cycle streaming on their mobiles.
Am I suggesting the demise of a newspaper is somehow more devastating than when an air conditioner manufacturer or a giant cookie factory packs up and heads to Mexico? No. That would require hubris beyond even me.
Carrier and Nabisco gave jobs and life to Indianapolis and the southwest side of Chicago, and it’s hard to imagine anything soon arriving to replace them. While the Tribune also gave jobs and life, and reliably reported the pulse of its coverage areas to the very end, fans of the printed page can turn to reliable substitutes. You have one before you now.
That conceded, I am rooting, hard, for my colleagues who find themselves without jobs, without ready conduits for their skills and talents, without the thrum of deadlines organizing their lives.
As they scramble to resume, in some fashion, careers battered by difficult facts, I am fortunate to have landed here, to have reclaimed the blessing of filling white space with my words, even if it is just one day a week. At least for that one day, I will have the chance to feel normal. Normalcy after a life-shattering upheaval is a welcome blessing.
Some of you know me. After 18 years and a month, I know many of you. But, in this debut column I am not going to presume anything. Instead, I am going to rely on the example set for me some 30 years ago by a friend who inevitably reintroduced himself at nearly every encounter.
Never mind that our wives and daughters were great friends, that we frequently visited each other’s homes and, in fact, that we spent a year teaching Sunday school together. Until the December day we set out bound for Tampa, he’d inevitably greet me with his right hand extended and an introduction on his lips.
In that friendly spirit, hello. I’m Tom Jackson.
I like (in no particular order) cake donuts with chocolate icing (not jelly-filled, no matter what my wife and the heir-apparent think), pulled-pork barbecue, thunderstorms, the Florida Gators, the St. Louis Cardinals, smallish government, low taxes, Paula O’Neil’s glow, Mike Fasano’s fervor, Jack Mariano’s goofy grin, honorary mayor’s races, the Beach Boys, the unflagging sincerity of retiring Toys for Tots leader Bob Loring, golf, Friday night football, the plans for the interchange at Interstate 75 and State Road 56, Chris Nocco’s handshake, energetic border disputes, Ted Schrader’s accent (yours, too, Kurt Browning) and the triumph of ordinary folks over life’s daunting challenges.
Yes. Especially triumphs. Especially now.
By Tom Jackson
Tom Jackson, a resident of New Tampa, is interested in your ideas. To reach him, email .