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Sunday, Apr 20, 2014

Girardi: ‘Never’ arrives as editor returns to Tribune


Never just isn’t as long as it used to be.

For me, it lasted approximately five years and one week.

That’s how long it was from the time my career at The Tampa Tribune was halted abruptly by a really bad economy to when I returned a few weeks ago, which I said I would never do.

It’s not that I didn’t want to come back. I had a 19-year run here and I liked it almost every day. But when hundreds of newspaper journalists across the country were being let go, I didn’t take it as a particularly good sign.

So when people asked, when are you going back? I said: “Never.” Really? “Nope. Ain’t gonna happen.”

Well, as my wife would confirm, I don’t know everything. And here I am. Back at the Tribune. Never happier to do what I said I would never do.

I’m working as the editor of The St. Petersburg Tribune with a crew of journalists — each of them talented and, like Florida’s teachers, all above average — to cover news and people in Pinellas County.

I return after four years running a thrift store in Clearwater for a Catholic charity, a most unlikely occurrence considering I had never been in a thrift store, except maybe Wal-Mart. I learned a lot, not the least of which is many struggling and homeless people are more grateful than you might think they ought to be. And they have great faith. It’s enough to make you reconsider you own life. OK, some were cranky and surly. But if you live on the street and you’re hungry and you’re wearing all the clothes you own, you might not be having a good day.

I’m not exactly new to Pinellas. I spent about 12 of my Tribune years working here as a reporter or an editor. I’ve covered all sorts of things. I even wrote editorials once, but nobody thought that was a good idea. My wife and I have raised four kids here, and still are raising one of them – our 16-year-old daughter.

I’m not saying I’m old, but the reality is my wife and I came to Clearwater the first time in 1979, newly married and just out of college. I worked for a spunky daily newspaper called the Clearwater Sun that, sadly, since has expired.

Pinellas was different then. Palm Harbor was largely an orange grove. We covered multi-acre brush fires in Countryside. The Vinoy Hotel was abandoned, windowless and in danger of being demolished. The Sunshine Skyway had twin steel-girder spans – until the next year when a freighter tragically knocked one down. We had four Major League Baseball teams, but they only played in the spring. Pretty much nothing happened without the now-late County Commissioner Chuck Rainey knowing about it first. And St. Petersburg had a pier building shaped like an upside-down triangle.

We left for a few years in the mid-80s. I went to Fort Lauderdale to work for the Sun-Sentinel, and we had two kids there. Then we went home again to Massachusetts, only to find you really can’t do that, but we had another kid. I left that paper and we moved back to Pinellas and to the Tribune in 1989, and another kid. Then my wife said no more moving.

As I return to The Tribune, a few things here are different, too.

I have a smart phone that does more things than my computer, and probably is smarter than me. Reporters can file stories from just about any coffee shop, street corner or park bench, I suppose. And last time I was here tweeting somebody would have got you fired.

This is new, too: The St. Petersburg Tribune. We started this edition in January, branded and edited specifically for Pinellas readers. It is our intention to provide you with stories about things that are important, interesting, unusual or just fun – and some you won’t find anywhere else. And, I will continue to write these columns on occasion – and promise from now on to write about something more interesting than me. So, if you have something, please feel free to write or call whenever you like. We are happy to hear from you.

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