Why one newspaper reporter went to ‘the dark side’

Tom Scherberger

Tom Scherberger has been with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times) for nearly 20 years and, he tells me, “I used to joke that they would have to put a bullet in my head to get rid of me, it was such a great place to work.”

Tomorrow is his last day at the Poynter-owned newspaper.

Why is the 56-year-old newsman leaving the place now? “The bullets got a little too close last year,” he says. “It was suggested to me several months ago that I should look around because I might not make it, and so I began a job search in earnest (I had been keeping my ears open for a couple of years, but very quietly and very informally).”

While I survived the last round of layoffs, I figured I could be next if there is another round. I switched to business reporting at the start of the year, but continued looking for other work. While you never want to hear that you should be looking for work because you might get laid off, it turned out to be the push I needed. So in some ways it was good advice and I’m happy I took it.

In eleven days, he starts his new job as communications director at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

While the school has been around for about 45 years, “it has the feel of a start-up, a place that is really on the move,” says Scherberger. “I see this as a chance to tell that story, using all the skills I have developed as a journalist (I spent the past four years as the breaking news editor for tampabay.com and am particularly proud of helping to lead the newsroom toward a web-first mentality to news-gathering).

He notes that there’s been “a distressing number of departures in recent months” at the St. Petersburg-based Times. “It’s hard to blame anyone for leaving; they have bills to pay, after all. And when an editor I greatly admired, who had been with the Times for some 40 years and had schooled literally hundreds of us over the years, was laid off last year, I figured no one was safe.”

The Times, he says, is still “a great paper, one of the best in the country, and the excellence of its journalism has continued partly because of the sacrifices the staff has made – layoffs, buyouts, no pay raises in four years, a 10 percent cut in pay, frozen pensions, a health insurance plan that many find inadequate. The old saw about people working harder for less is certainly true at the Times.”

I have been in the newspaper business almost 34 years, which is as long as my dad served in the Army. The timing seems right, the job seems to match my skills and the chance to help a growing university seems too good to be true. …

It’s been interesting to hear people at the paper joke about my going over to the “dark side.” Sometimes I think such that is journalism’s way of keeping people in the fold. But the more time I spend on the USF St. Petersburg campus and feel the energy and optimism of the students, the more I think: It’s not so dark after all!

Comments

comments

4 comments
  1. Catherine Marenghi said:

    Been there, done that. They always say PR is like journalism; you just get to wear nicer clothes. The differences, of course, are much deeper. For years I missed the adrenaline rush of newsroom noise and deadlines, and initially it was hard on the ego to feel less important to people. They always answered my calls as a reporter, but never as a PR person. They took note of me when I wore a press badge at events, but avoided me entirely with a PR badge. In the end, every job is only as rich and rewarding as what you put into it.

  2. I saw this happen in the tech journalism world in the late 2000s. A solid core of talented mid-career writers and editors witnessed repeated cycles of layoffs and cutbacks, and opted to take up positions in industry rather than endure a very uncertain, squeezed future in technology journalism.

  3. wubbly said:

    Journalism sucks. Glad this guy is happy out of it. And “dark side” my hind-end. I doubt there are many organizations outside of Chinese Apple factories whose workers toil in more despair than the ink-stained journos. Never apologize for leaving for decent pay and respectable working conditions.

  4. CA said:

    I completely agree that calling other, related industries the “dark side” and pumping up the fading glory of journalism is really the only tool dying papers have to keep newspaper reporters working for extremely little money in a job that doesn’t have a future. I say this as a mid-career journalist who sometimes wonders if I should have chosen a different path. In my 20s, I believed the canard that I had to pay my dues. But, looking back, I now think that this was just a convenient story to tell young reporters so that they would continue to overwork themselves for less than a living wage.