Sep 21, 2023 - News

Remembering Lucy Morgan, a titan of Florida journalism

A group of seven people, six women and one man, smiling and posing for a photo at a restaurant. In the background, a poster says "Burgers and buckets $5"

Lucy Morgan (center) surrounded by Kathryn Varn and other journalism students and journalism professor Mike Foley. Photo: Courtesy of Kathryn Varn/Axios.

Lucy Morgan had stories. The kind that won her a Pulitzer Prize and countless other journalism awards but also the behind-the-scenes tales that made her decades-long career so iconic.

  • There was the one about the subject of one of her fiery investigations (maybe) poisoning her cat, or the one about how she got into journalism to begin with: a newspaper editor had heard from a local librarian that she read more books than anyone else in town.

What's happening: Morgan, a titan of Florida journalism who spent much of her career at the Tampa Bay Times, died Wednesday from complications from a fall, her old newspaper reported. She was 82.

Her life: For decades, Morgan held politicians and public officials across the state to account, charming them with her raspy, southern drawl before going in for the kill.

  • As a woman rooting out misdeeds in the male-dominated capital city, she reveled in being underestimated, once telling a reporter, "To be a Southern woman in a Capitol full of good old boys is an advantage. When they find out I'm serious, it's too late."

Her legacy: To many young journalists, she was a source of inspiration and mentorship.

That includes me, pictured above with Morgan after she gave a guest lecture at the University of Florida, where I graduated from journalism school in 2015.

  • I regrettably hadn't been in touch with her recently, but that lunch, and the emails and Facebook correspondence we shared in the years after, meant more to me than I can say: A legend like her, rooting for little old me.

I reached out to the other four baby journalists in the photo to get some help putting her gargantuan impact into words. We're all, a decade later, still in journalism, in no small part thanks to trailblazers like Morgan.

  • Alex Harris, lead climate change reporter for the Miami Herald: "Lucy's tenacity was legendary, for male or female reporters. It was an inspirational and formative experience as a young reporter to hear her Florida war stories ... Her work was genre-defining for the state, and she will be missed."
  • Colleen Wright, St. Petersburg City Hall reporter for the Tampa Bay Times: "Lucy gave a master class in how to be loved and feared as a reporter. Her service to Florida has inspired so many to do the same: Seek the truth. I'm blessed to have known and learned from a legend."
  • Kristan Wiggins, national real-time editor at McClatchy: "I appreciated how generous Lucy was with her time and advice for young journalists."
  • Rachel Crosby, enterprise editor and director of internships at The Salt Lake Tribune: "When I met Lucy, the industry sounded like a layoff waiting to happen ... Meeting Lucy cut through the noise. She was kind, badass, and made journalism sound more worthwhile, and possible, than most reporting classes did. I didn't know her, but she's a big part of why I wanted to work at a newspaper. I could see myself in her."

To get Morgan's attention as someone in power... well, good luck. But to feel her light as a young reporter was a gift that will live on for generations.

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