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Sunday, Sep 14, 2014
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Otto: Remembering the great ones at Tropical Tranquility

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Sitting in the chair on the narrow deck, I could see two dolphins rising and dipping in unison maybe 30 yards out. Beyond was the broad expanse of the gulf. Far off to the south on the horizon I could barely make out steam rising from the twin stacks at the Crystal River nuclear plant.

Even farther out the great thunderclouds were beginning to assemble for what would be the daily thunderboomer that would drift into Cedar Key in not too many minutes.

Sure enough, soon I could see the gray curtain of rain moving in our direction. A small fishing boat that was going out into the gulf directly toward the storm did a quick U-turn back into port. I went back inside to the room immediately behind me. It was one of nine such rooms out over the water at Cedar Key. The woman at the desk had said the rooms didn’t have numbers, but ours was called “Tropical Tranquility,’’ which so far had lived up to its moniker.

We were there for an annual event the next day called “Geezerfest,’’ which was really a gathering of mostly retired newspaper people, almost all with a connection to Mother Trib.

I was particularly interested, not only because of my approaching geezerness, but because the theme of the lunch was honoring two of Tampa’s best journalists — Charlie Robins and Leland Hawes — both of whom passed away in recent months.

It was actually Charlie who gave the group the “Geezerfest’’ name. He was the longtime columnist for the old Tampa Times afternoon paper. Over his career he wrote more than 5,500 columns. His former editor Michael Foerster wrote of him, “...his style was unique. This was no formula writing that is all too rampant and recognizable in today’s journals...He exposed our biases and vices and often cast a cynical eye on our institutions, but always expressed hope that we eventually would do the right thing.’’

Charlie was also not above doing things such as joining me and another reporter on an expedition into the Everglades in search of the elusive Yeti-like Skunk Ape, which fortunately turned out to be too elusive for us.

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Leland Hawes was technically our history editor at the Trib, but what has given him nearly legendary status among his peers — other than being a quiet and true gentleman in an often chaotic newsroom — was his insistence on absolute accuracy. He hated mistakes, but he particularly loathed seeing the same mistakes repeated by reporters too lazy to check sources themselves.

I know there is an effort being made to gather up many of Leland’s history columns and publish them as a book. I hope it’s successful and that future reporters, bloggers and those who appreciate the written word might have an opportunity to read what good journalism is about.

In our brave new world where “social media’’ often passes as journalism and rumors sweep across the Internet faster than a western wildfire, it’s good to remember people such as Charlie Robins and Leland Hawes, who did their best to get it fearlessly and to get it right.

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