Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Mr. Tampa's Travel Agency

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Mr. Tampa's Travel Agency

Article excerpt

Tribune ignores its columnist's 'civic affairs'

Meet Tom McEwen, 76, civic icon, sports editor emeritus, 35 years a columnist, and CEO of the McEwen International Travel agency.

Listen to McEwen tell how his column and connections sold taxpayers on a 35-million-dollar spring-training stadium for New York Yankee owner George Steinbrenner - a close friend who helped the columnist start his travel agency.

Close your mouth as he recounts his Pied Pipering for an 84-million dollar arena for the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team while he collects tens of thousands of dollars in travel fees from them. But don't blame Tom McEwen for being Tom McEwen. He does what he does and did what he did because he was told he could.

"Tom is one of the few people in this world who could do that kind of thing and no one would think anything of it," explained Jack Butcher, his former publisher at the Tampa (Fla.) Tribune. "I never had one single complaint the whole time I was at the paper."

And the sports journalists knew all about it.

Hockey writers at the Tampa Tribune, and its blood rival across the bay, the St. Petersburg Times, used to call McEwen Travel to catch a flight with the team.

When McEwen was sports editor, his writers booked their flights and train connections through the travel agency, which is run by his wife, Linda. "We stopped doing that when Media General, which owns the Tribune, started its own travel agency," said McEwen. "I forget exactly when."

Everyone who knows McEwen or reads McEwen likes McEwen. Reporters who shudder at his conflicts say he is a gentle man. That he nurtures young journalists. That he plays with the rich and famous and writes about it.

There is black and white, and there is the gray area where Tom McEwen sits at his home, in his journalism dotage, pounding out two columns a week and one "Hey Tom" piece in which he answers letters from readers.

The Tribune wants its readers to believe that the gray is gone. That McEwen's kind of newsroom corporate behavior is a symbol of previous laissez-faire administrations. The paper even published a new ethics policy that forbids columnists and reporters from doing what Tom does.

"Credibility is a platform for words and ideas," trumpeted the 11-page ethics document posted on the paper's Web site. "Without it, no one can hear us. It's not a stomping ground for our personal gain."

But the Tribune has never uttered a syllable about McEwen's travel connections. And it looks like it never will, ethics policy or no. "I don't think we have to explain relationships to our readers," said Paul Smith, sports editor for the Tribune the past l0 years. …

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