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Monday, Jul 28, 2014

Scullin: ‘Farewell’ sometimes means ‘hello’

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Published:   |   Updated: December 2, 2013 at 05:32 AM

There’s a personal nature to the relationship between a newspaper and its readers. Stories are written with readers in mind. Someone from the newspaper delivers it to your door. You bring the paper inside your home, read it with your morning coffee. Maybe sometimes you even read about people you know.

That personal relationship is even more pronounced between a columnist and readers. Ideally, a good column should feel like an ongoing conversation with someone you’ve come to know. Over time, you explore a range of topics together and come to know each other a little better, along with the topic at hand, be it politics, food or your local community.

Today that relationship is changing between you and me, and I wanted to tell you here, in this space where we’ve gotten to know one another. I’ve accepted a new job — one I start today — and so it’s time to conclude this conversation we’ve been having, wish each other well and be on our way. This job has been among the most fun and fulfilling I’ve had; but I also think you need to be open to a change when the right opportunity arises.

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When the conversation began 11 months ago, the Tribune was just starting its resurgence into Pinellas County, an effort I was proud to lead. I began by saying I wanted to talk about ways we could all get more involved in our communities. Since then, we’ve talked about nonprofit agencies and individuals doing important work, community efforts worthy of support, the role a free and independent press should play in society and ways to get more involved in civic affairs.

As of Monday, my role in that conversation has changed. Like you, I’ll be waiting, every day, to see what comes next in the St. Petersburg Tribune and, during the day, on TBO.com. I’m looking forward to being surprised by the thoughtful stories this staff of journalists produces — as opposed to scanning stories I’ve already read or edited. I’m looking forward to discovering my community through their eyes. In short, I’m looking forward to being, like you, a reader.

I also look forward to crossing the divide journalists never are supposed to — the line that separates actor from observer. This is a profession that puts you in the know but precludes you from becoming personally involved in many affairs, lest you compromise your objectivity. I’d feel OK, for example, serving food at the soup kitchen but not serving on the agency’s board of board of directors. You don’t want to be seen as preferring one group over another or to run aground of conflicted loyalties. By the same token, I have not signed a petition in years, worked on a political campaign, joined a fraternal organization or supported an advocacy group of any sort. Now, I’ll be free to do so — and looking to smart journalists, such as the ones at this newspaper, to provide me the critical information I’ll need to make informed choices.

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I feel good knowing such a talented group is watching out for our community. That’s especially true of my replacement, Steve Girardi, who starts today. Steve has lived in Pinellas County for many years and has spent many of them covering it as a reporter and editor, starting with the old Clearwater Sun and then with the Tribune. Under his leadership, we readers can expect the St. Petersburg Tribune to continue providing insightful, unbiased coverage of what’s happening in Pinellas.

As for me, you’ll probably run into me at the Saturday Morning Market, at an art walk or volunteering someplace. If so, let’s keep the conversation going.

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