Dependability is offline at Tampa Bay Online

The site known as Tampa Bay Online – www.tbo.com – has been around for decades. TBO was once tied to both Tampa Bay NBC affiliate WFLA News Channel 8 and former print publication The Tampa Tribune (both media entities were owned by Media General). Let me stress that with the decades aspect of Tampa Bay Online as TBO started out in the early 1990’s in a form that was accessible through the Prodigy dial-up network and America Online. It’s sort of hard to explain things before the internet as you know it now – some people were exposed to it well before the general public. I was introduced to the Net through Prodigy and later AOL.

Back to the topic, TBO has been around a while as a media hub (to say the least). With the Tribune leading the charge so often, the flavor of news and writing from the Trib (with its right-leaning slant) was always on display but its general news coverage was complimented by video coverage of news stories that News Channel 8 reported on.

Yet a downfall has been rampant for a while: Media General sold the Tribune in 2012, and while the new ownership vowed they were here to stay, it didn’t play out like that. I’m not sure if there was an official end-partnership between the Trib and WFLA but things scaled back and ceased after the Tribune moved away to its own property. In the spring of 2016 the Tampa Tribune was acquired by print news rival, the Tampa Bay Times. The Tribune ceased to be while certain columnists, reporters and employees were imported to Times staff while others were dismissed. TBO.com has continued operations since then but has become a quizzical online destination for news information in the area.

The Times’ major online property is www.tampabay.com, so it’s choice selection what gets on TBO.com and what gets prime exposure through the Times’ official site. The Times site has a fiscal fault that limits readership unless the reader is dedicated to the publication: the Times wants online subscriptions and non-subscribers are only allowed to view 10 articles a month before a pay-wall takes away article access. TBO isn’t subjected to this (yet?) but it’s what content gets pushed through the free-access site that makes this a moot point.

Tampa Bay was subjected to a fast-fast developing tropical system to end July and what wins approval from me is that the Times shared coverage and content regarding what became Tropical Storm Emily on TBO in a primary position. In some ways the coverage from the Times in general overhyped the fast-moving system and the risk it posed to the greater Tampa Bay area.

On Wednesday, August 2nd, just a few days after the Emily encounter, the Tampa Bay area was slammed by another tropically driven entity with torrential rain coming down throughout the day. What alert did the Times share on TBO about the situation? A memorial in Japan over a pro-wrestler who resided in Tampa Bay. With no disrespect intended toward a fallen man who was appreciated and revered by fans,  that kind of article is a side-item in a day marred by physical conditions which residents need to be aware of when threats (flooding, possible waterspouts and tornados) are tied in. While this is just one instance where news is passed over for exposure to other feature content, it’s a regular occurrence on the property and has become its norm.

The inconsistency of coverage hurts both the Times and TBO – if this is the kind of selection an online editor is doing, why go to the property to begin with? One could easily point to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay and suggest TBO is a higher-end version of the indie publication. That only continues the issue instead of explaining it properly. The Times already has its own publication devoted to competing with Creative Loafing by way of tbt*.

The Tampa Bay Times is the only true print news publication in the Tampa Bay area now and the TBO entity is just an asset they own and not nearly the all-access news hub that it once was. Perhaps with a strategic alliance between the Times and other media entities in TV and radio (Bay News 9 for example ) the TBO property can be taken back to its heights that it once held as a all-mediums online destination for news coverage of Tampa Bay. At this rate though, I’d sooner expect the TBO.com domain name to be sold off for a pittance to a start-up, non media company. There is great value in the short-short domain names out there, especially those with the traditional dot-com domain extension at the end.

Until things get settled, you’re better off elsewhere online – or paying the piper for unobstructed access to TampaBay.com.

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