Meet Phoebe, the giant pink flamingo turning heads at Tampa International Airport

By Jessica Grobstick

TAMPA – Throughout the years, Tampa International Airport has been home to a variety of artwork crafted by local, national and international artists. The newest piece by Matthew Mazzotta is just as eye-catching: a giant pink flamingo sculpture named Phoebe.

The sculpture, originally titled “HOME,” towers 21 feet and is located at the entrance of the airport.

Mazzotta named the sculpture “HOME” because, “An airport is a special place, are you leaving your home or coming back home? Home also extends to all the wildlife that considers Florida their home like the popular bird of Florida, the flamingo.”

Mazzotta’s artwork transports travelers underwater as the creation depicts a flamingo gently dipping its head below the surface of the water. This is created by attaching metal panels and lighting to the ceiling as part of the artwork. This eye-catching art piece was built after being chosen from more than 700 art proposals submitted from around the world.

“The airport wanted to have new public artworks, so they ran a call for interest online. I was selected with two other artists, this is known as being short-listed,” Mazzotta said.

Mazzotta and the two other artists were given some money to develop a proposal. He said he proposed the Flamingo installation called “HOME” and the jury selected it.

The flamingo was commissioned for $520,000 as a part of Tampa International Airport’s Public Art Program.

Mazzotta was selected in 2020 to create the piece but unfortunately, COVID-19 stopped the production. He was able to pick it back up in 2021 and had it installed in 2022.

“This is going to be a very joyous sculpture, just from the people who have come out and taken photos I can see this is actually going to bring light and brightness to the people traveling,” Mazzotta said.

Courtesy of Jessica Grobstick

Having been completed and receiving so much attention, the sculpture was missing one thing: a name. Tampa International Airport and the artist agreed that the flamingo needed a name. They created a contest called Name the Flamingo, and they wanted the public to help.

C.J. Johnson is TPA’s Communications Specialist and the man behind the social media and content.

“Given how much people have loved the flamingo from the time it was installed last year, we wanted to give people the chance to get even more involved with this iconic bird. While the art piece is still formally known as ‘HOME’ we thought having a naming contest would be an engaging and fun community effort,” Johnson said.

The winner of the contest would receive four round-trip tickets from Silver Airways and a VIP experience package to Busch Gardens, including four single-day admission tickets, four all-day dining passes, four quick queue unlimited passes and preferred parking.

Voting was done online. One entry was allowed per person and participants were asked to briefly explain on the form why they chose the name they submitted. The contest was open to the public for one week. The submission period ended on December 6, 2022. 

The Name the Flamingo contest received over 65,000 entries from all over the world.

In the following stages, the airport selected the top three names and let the public vote one last time. Originally, the flamingo’s name was to be announced on Dec. 16, 2022, but the judges asked for some additional time to review all the submissions.

“We assembled a panel of Hillsborough County Aviation Authority (HCAA) employees to review each of the entries. The panel was tasked with thoroughly reviewing tens of thousands of names and choosing the three most deserving,” Johnson said.

On Dec. 30, 2022, it was finally time for the public to name the bird. The three final names came down to Finn, Cora and Phoebe. Voting was left open to the public until Jan. 2, 2023. Johnson led the panel and said they had a lot of fun reviewing the entries and narrowing it down to three favorites agreed upon by the judges.

The community was very passionate about the flamingo. The three finalist names ended up receiving a total of 37,000 votes. Tampa International Airport felt this was an incredible response given that there was no prize for voting.

“We knew from the start of the contest that we wouldn’t be able to please everyone with the selections, but we were pleased to see an outpouring of support,” Johnson said. “People wanted to pick a favorite at that point.”

The winning name was Phoebe with 16,122 votes, Cora followed closely second with 14,341 votes and Finn with 6,779.

The winner of the contest is 63-year-old J. Bryan M., who is a retired educator.

“I went to elementary school in Tampa, just a mile down the road from Busch Gardens,” Bryan said. “When I heard about this contest I wanted to enter. After working in higher education for forty years, I thought I would submit a name that tied back to the scientific name for a flamingo.”

He submitted Phoebe for the following reason:

“A play on Phoenicopterus- the flamingo’s scientific name ‘Phoebe’ is also a playful alliterative to flamingo and means brilliantly inquisitive. The overall ‘HOME’ sculpture is literally brilliant and reveals the flamingo’s inquisitiveness as it hunts for food in the shallows,” he said.

Bryan lives in Daytona Beach Shores. His childhood was spent in Tampa. He visited the airport on Jan. 25 to pick up his prize and take a photo with Phoebe.

“We are excited to see many on social media already referring to the flamingo as Phoebe. This contest did everything we wanted it to do: Bring more awareness to Tampa International Airport and the Tampa Bay region from all over the world and give our traveling community a fun way to play along with us,” Johnson said.

Grove Surf & Coffee Shop: A new gem on St. Pete Beach

By Brandi Bottger

Courtesy of Brandi Bottger

ST. PETE BEACH — As customers enter the doors of Grove Surf & Coffee Shop, an instant feeling of being at the Gulf beaches settles in with the smell of the salty air.

People are greeted by the staff and a wide variety of options for beachy merchandise to choose from. The walls are covered in pictures of Pinellas County’s finest landmarks, past and present, and there are plenty of options when it comes to beverages and food.

Grove is located on St. Pete Beach, just a 20-minute drive from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus. Using the familiar roasts of Bandit Coffee Co. in downtown St. Petersburg, they’re well known for using their staple roasts to mix in with their signature lattes.

Their menu includes traditional coffee options, from hot coffee to cold brews, kombucha, tea and many more. Grove also offers a limited seasonal menu. Not only that, but options for pastries and bakery items are available for purchase as well.

What is great about Grove is the community it brings into the shop.

“Our goal was to have a spot that people felt welcomed and felt like a second home,” said Lindsay Guttschling, one of the owners of Grove. “We have had so many regulars who have become friends and family.”

Kaylee Eorgan, a 21-year-old St. Petersburg native and a student at USFSP, is also a frequent customer at Grove.

“I like trying different items on their menu that they have to offer, making them different from any other coffee shop,” Eorgan said.

What also sets Grove apart from most coffee shops is that it has a retail side to it.

“So many customers always come in here and have no idea we have retail,” Guttschling said.

Fan favorite brands like RVCA, Rainbow Sandals, REEF and Billabong are a part of the many items available for purchase. Grove also has their own shirts available for $24.99.

If you’re interested in visiting Grove Surf & Coffee, the address is 7370 Gulf Blvd, St. Pete Beach.

Grove is open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with Fridays and Saturdays closing at 6 p.m.

USF St. Petersburg students can even get a free ride to Grove and other spots on St. Pete Beach using the new SunRunner bus, which has a stop next to the parking garage on 6th Avenue South.

Why college seniors shouldn’t be worried about what’s next

By Audrey Ward

Courtesy of USF St. Petersburg

ST PETERSBURG — While there is no way to completely avoid stress, especially during college, there are strategies students can employ to better manage it and, as a result, become more resilient.

We all experience stress at some point in our lives. And preparing for graduation is one of the biggest for college seniors. It is critical to establish a balanced routine so that deadlines do not pile up. Graduation preparation in addition to finishing strong in classes can be overwhelming. Here are a few main tricks to remaining stress-free.

Using a planner or an online calendar to keep track of assignments and important dates is a great way to stay organized and on top of everything. Many students say an old-fashioned hand-written planner is the most effective for them.

At the start of each school year, most colleges provide free planners, including the University of South Florida.

“I keep track of all of my things to do including homework, tests, events, etc. in an app on my phone, a written planner and a whiteboard so that I wouldn’t forget anything. To relax I find things to do off-campus away from my studies like markets or I’d relax with YouTube, tv shows, and video games in my dorm,” Nash said.

Graduating seniors can also be overwhelmed with balancing class schedules with extracurricular activities like clubs and student organizations and working full- or part-time.

Seniors are expected to have an answer to “where do you see yourself in five years with your career” from both professors and parents, which can add to the stress of trying to finish school and find their first post-college job.

“There are so many different people and things pulling us in many directions. I would say taking it day by day slows everything down. Instead of thinking of your end goal focus on becoming better by 1% each day. Me personally I weight lift and run to destress,” said Nathan Poinsette, a senior majoring in digital communications multimedia journalism set to graduate in December.

Students may be dealing with a personal issue that is interfering with their participation in class lectures. Those who are suffering from anxiety and stress should know that they are not alone; there are resources available on campus.

“I make school my main priority over going out that way I’m not stressing last minute to get my homework done. And I journal every morning and night it’s like therapy and relaxing to me,” said Jessica Grobstick, a senior majoring in digital communications and multimedia journalism, who is graduating in May.

Professional support is also available to all students on campus.

“USF offers resources such as speaking to a counseling professional (and) attending a drop-in support group. For psychological services, download TimelyCare, make an appointment, or request a wellness presentation,” said Aubrey Hall, who oversees student life and wellness on the USF St. Petersburg campus.

To cope with stress, remind yourself that including time for yourself is healthy. Outside of student life, do what brings you joy and peace. Finding ways to laugh is a simple de-stress strategy and it provides additional health benefits.

Alicia Keys returns to Tampa for electric concert

Alicia Keys returns to Tampa for electric concert

By Juron Traill

TAMPA – Global songstress Alicia Keys returned to Tampa on Sept. 18 for an intimate concert from her Alicia + Keys World Tour to support her new albums.

The 15-time GRAMMY winner opened the show in a bedazzled jumpsuit hugged by a trench coat, strutting into “Nat King Cole” accompanied by crooning strings and heavy bass, as if she’s some type of spy sneaking in for her audience. She belted notes that were sure to shake up the walls of the Seminole Hard Rock Casino.

Occasional listeners might have expected Keys to be dropping ballads throughout the night with her fingers on the ivories but she surpassed expectations. She dropped reggae-tinged tunes like “Wasted Energy”, played gospel collaborations like “Nobody” and danced afrobeat to “In Common.” Her album “ALICIA” was released in September 2020 after many setbacks due to COVID-19 and her latest “KEYS” dropped in December 2021.

“I bought the tickets around three months ago and I want more songs from the ‘KEYS’ album,” said 34-year-old fan Tony Johnson.

Photos by Juron Traill

Keys sang every new song from her album with lyrical emotions and heavy sonics of the instrumentals which never gave a dull feeling to anyone in the crowd because she eventually transitioned to the big hits that we’ve known her for. She occasionally engaged the audience to keep them curious and even choose which records they liked better.

“I’ve been following her since the Paris tour in Europe and I’ve been to more than 10 shows,” said 24-year-old French nurse Kandia Wague. “I’ve been booking Airbnbs and she’s seen me several times in the crowd.”

It was a special moment for many fans who even left their hometowns just to see Keys perform. Her tour started in June with the European leg kicking off with bigger arenas. She dimmed the audience size for her North American leg that began mid-August.

Tampa was no exception to the smaller size and that evidently created missing tour props. Compared to her arena tours in Europe, her stage was smaller in Tampa which didn’t give her much room to walk, especially around her grey piano. She still embraced the venue’s limitations as much as she could with her 4-piece band in the back.

Keys had a busy weekend in Florida where she played two days consecutively in Hollywood and Orlando before her Tampa show. Most likely tired, it caused her to skip several songs on the setlist including “Time Machine”, “So Done”, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” and more. She didn’t give an encore at the end even after the crowd was yelling for her.

Despite the venue’s limited scale for an artist as renowned as Keys, she still showcased why she’s one of the world’s greatest virtuosos in the music industry and Tampa proudly welcomed her back.

How Tampa Bay college students can help protect monarch butterflies

How Tampa Bay college students can help protect monarch butterflies

By Mason Moore

ST. PETERSBURG—Have you ever wondered why you may be seeing fewer monarch butterflies?

Well, the monarch butterfly, also known as its scientific name Danaus Plexippus, is struggling to successfully make its annual migration to the west. But there are ways Tampa Bay locals, including college students, can help the species along with other important insects.

The International Union of Conservation for Nature reported that “monarch butterflies’ population have been declining rapidly over the last 40 years due to issues such as climate change, disease, and harmful pesticides.”

Butterflies are one of the most important and helpful pollinators alongside other insects. And just simply planting a native pollinating plant and reducing your use of chemical pesticides in the yard or garden can help save them from endangerment.

Monarchs are slowly losing their host plant called milkweed, on which they feed and lay their eggs. It is encouraged to plant only native milkweed according to where you live. If not, it places the butterflies in areas they typically wouldn’t be, and they are prone to freezing.

A monarch butterfly perches on milkweed at Willow Tree Nursery in St. Petersburg. Photo by Mason Moore

Dale McClung is the owner of the Florida Monarch Butterfly Farm in St. Petersburg. The farm has been in business supplying local butterflies since 1996, up until this year when McClung decided to shut down the farm to go into his retirement.

He said that the best thing to do is, “Create habitats. Plant milkweed for monarchs. Plant other host plants for other butterflies and moths.”

Some St. Petersburg plant shops that sell Florida native milkweed for butterflies are Dolin’s Garden Center at 801 62nd Ave N. and Terah Gardens at 200 49th St. N.

In Tampa, Citrus Park Landscape Nursery at 8334 Gunn Highway also sells native milkweed.

Planting native milkweed gives monarch butterflies food and energy, but it also gives a safe place for them to lay their eggs after they reproduce.

McClung advocated for protecting other insects that are on the decline as well, such as moths, who don’t get as much love as butterflies.

“Insects, in general, are in decline, not just butterflies. If you want to bring butterflies to your yard, simply plant the right plants. Nobody thinks of moths, but they’re important too. There are many more moth species than butterflies, but they lack the good PR butterflies receive,” McClung said.

The USF St. Petersburg Garden Club has big plans to help the monarch population this year.

“I hope that this is the year we get the RHO garden together because I heard many years ago it used to be a great and wonderful place to get free herbs and fruit, I definitely want to bring that back,” club president Lucinda Duah said.

Lucinda plans to reach out to an organization called, which sends free milkweed plants to schools and nonprofits. They hope to create a butterfly garden flourishing with milkweed along with other native plants in the RHO garden at USFS within the near future.

“I want to help put out some signs in the garden and around the school to educate people. Because when they’re not aware, they just don’t care” Lucinda said.

Landmark St. Pete artist’s absence leaves residents yearning for more

Landmark St. Pete artist’s absence leaves residents yearning for more

A friendly familiar face has been missing from the Saturday Morning Market for several months.

By Emily Zambrano

ST. PETERSBURG – With every St. Petersburg landmark you can think of, there’s a painting of it signed “Juan Santos Garanton” in someone’s room.

Having sold more than 1,000 paintings, Garanton is renowned in the St. Pete community for turning everyday sights into iconic landmarks for residents and visitors through his watercolor paintings. The presence of his art at the Saturday Morning Market, located downtown, will be missed as his absence continues.

Garanton hasn’t attended the market in a few months so he can support his wife, ChiChi Garanton, as she battles breast cancer. ChiChi has been by his side through all his adventures, and now it’s his turn to be there for her.

“That’s ChiChi, my wife… she’s my muse,” Garanton said when reminiscing on old sketchbooks.

Garanton says that this break is temporary and that he will return to share more of his art with the community.

With the hope of one day traveling back to their hometown of Caracas, Venezuela, to paint the landmarks holding the memories from their childhood, Garanton’s style continues to develop, and ChiChi continues to smile proudly at the years of hard work she has witnessed.

With a profound bond like theirs, they will bring about wonders to be loved by all.

Juan Santos Garanton’s painting studio is in the St. Petersburg home he’s shared with his wife for the last 40 years.
Photo by Emily Zambrano

After meeting in St. Petersburg in 1979, when Garanton was studying at Eckerd College, they moved to South Florida, where he earned his degree in advertising design at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale.

Their next adventure was getting married and moving back to Venezuela within three days of his graduation. They could only stay away from St. Pete for a couple of years, and eventually came back and moved into their current home of 40 years.

Now, they are facing the fight against cancer together.

As a member of the St. Pete community for so many years, he has watched it continue to change and develop. He has been going to the Saturday Morning Market for 20 years and was one of its first vendors.

“When it first started, we just looked like seven idiots,” Garanton said. “And then it just grew and grew.”

It was at this market that Garanton became known for his paintings of St. Pete. As a non-believer in prints, every piece he sells is an original Garanton, an image transferred straight from his eyes and heart onto a canvas.

“Having his paintings makes me so happy to look at,” St. Pete resident Kate Walker said. “I have a painting of Ceviche, and it reminds me of all the memories I have there. I have been wanting to get more of his pieces and have no idea where to find him since he hasn’t been at the market in a while.”

Although Garanton and ChiChi are taking a break from the market, fans don’t have to worry about saying goodbye forever. They plan to make a reappearance next season and are excited to be back in that environment.

“A lot of people love everything he does,” ChiChi said. “Plus what we love about the market is the stories, it’s wonderful, and the memories people share.”

Despite the challenges he has faced, Garanton has found ways to follow his passion and share his work with the world. His latest focus: abstract oil paintings.

“Watercolor is my forte, but this is more freedom,” Garanton said. “I’ve been dealing with all these personal things but when I paint these, I feel like I’m going in the right direction.”

Garanton is submitting his work to be on display at the Art Fusion Museum in downtown St. Pete. His work was recently on display at the Dali Museum in a special exhibition, along with 11 other local artists.

As a strong believer in the power and diversity of art, Garanton encourages anyone and everyone to let their emotions flow and express themselves in their own style of art.

“Just do it,” Garanton said. “I think just do not critique yourself, just do what you feel. Let it flow. You can make art with anything. For some people it’s garbage, for other people it’s art.”

The style of art that Garanton will be sharing in the future may be different from his watercolors, but it is guaranteed that the art he shares will hold a sense of passion and freedom. His latest creations demonstrate his love for painting in its truest form.

To Garanton, art is meant to be shared. It is meant to be seen and appreciated by other people, and with the endless walls of canvases gathered in his studio, his impact on the St. Pete community is far from over.

You can find more of his work on his website,

Guiding towards faith and liberation

Guiding towards faith and liberation

By Sierra Laico

ST. PETERSBURG—In a city known to locals for being progressive and passionate about social causes, it is no surprise that the city is home to Allendale United Methodist Church (UMC), a church that welcomes all walks of life.

A congregation like this requires a revolutionary leader—and they found one in Reverend Andy Oliver.

Oliver, 42, has been the Senior Pastor at Allendale UMC since 2016. Born in St. Petersburg and having grown up all over the state of Florida, he returned to his birthplace after his years of social justice work, including doing grassroots organizing in Chicago.

His journey to get to where he is now was not uncurving. After attending seminary school at Duke Divinity School, he served two United Methodist Churches in Fort Lauderdale and Lakeland. After that, he felt he was not serving in the way he was supposed to—so he left to become a bartender. While bartending, he met a community organizer, who told him he was going to make an organizer out of Oliver. They protested Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and he joined in the efforts of legalizing gay marriage, among many other efforts.

In 2012, he took a job in Chicago as communications director for the Reconciling Ministries Network, a network United Methodists organized for full inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. And four years later, Oliver was appointed to Allendale—a church that was experiencing nearly 50 years of decline.

He turned the church around almost immediately. Oliver told the Tampa Bay Times in 2020 that “the church had nothing to lose. We embraced the urgency. I practiced ministry without fear.”

Reverend Andy Oliver wears a stole with an LGBTQ+ rainbow flag pin and a Black Power fist on it as he poses with the Allendale UMC sign.
Courtesy of Andy Oliver

Since he became pastor of Allendale, the church has become involved in various community outreach projects and social justice movements such as immigration rights, farm workers’ rights, rights for the LGBTQ+ community, women’s rights, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

In a recent post by the Allendale UMC Facebook group, the church celebrated Oliver’s seven-year anniversary since being appointed as pastor of the church.

The flooding of over two dozen congratulatory comments spoke volumes about how valued Oliver is by the community.

“Great news! We started going back to church because of Andy,” Allendale UMC church-goer Ed Lally said. “Not afraid to speak up about injustices here and around the world.”

Despite the agreeable community that has been formed within Allendale, the subheading on the church’s website reads “A community of seekers, followers, and doubters.” With this, Oliver and members of the Allendale community embrace skepticism and doubt, too.

“Skepticism, questions and doubting—those things are welcome. I think those are a part of one’s faith. We want people to question and to ask questions. We have a lot of people who are part of us who are atheists,” Oliver said. “We’re all on a different point on this journey and trying to figure it out together, and we can best figure that out in community with each other.”

When skepticism and doubt are discussed regarding Christianity, criticism of the church arises when arriving at the topic of the Christian church’s decades-old, overarching intolerance of the LGBTQ+ community, abortion rights, and other progressive ideals. However, Allendale UMC places great emphasis on supporting community outreach projects and progressive values.

“This church and community [are] a blessing and what all Christian churches ought to strive for,” said Jen Lamont, a member of the church’s Facebook page.

Not only do skeptics arrive in the form of individuals, but they also present themselves as neighboring churches. While Allendale pairs with other churches in the Tampa Bay community, they have run into opposition from other congregations about certain things the church believes. Oliver says that although the church may receive pushback at first, it does not always stay that way.

“[The church Allendale partners with on a community project] might not be a church that is fully welcoming to LGBTQ+ people, for example,” Oliver said. “But because they get to know us working on housing, they start to realize that they might be wrong about the LGBTQ+ community. We start to see some growth.”

When asked if Oliver had anything he would say to someone that is interested in joining Allendale’s community, he has a simple yet fruitful answer.

“Allendale United Methodist Church is a community that is open to all people who want to be in community with other people who are trying to figure out life, and to work together in solidarity for liberation of all people,” He said.

Local freelance social media manager’s days revolve around engagement

Social media is a big part of everyone’s life. For Nicole Billing, her world revolves around it.

By Emily Zambrano

ST. PETERSBURG – Nicole Billing is thriving as a freelance social media manager and has been since May 2021.

Her days include multiple moving parts that demonstrate how much work goes into managing popular social media sites when you’re passionate about what you do.

“When you run a popular account, it’s easy to feel like you’ve made someone’s day by interacting, which just feels wholesome and nice,” Billing said.

Every freelance job requires discipline and planning, and over the years Billing has developed a productive and fun workday for herself.

“The great thing about social media management is that every day looks somewhat similar so it’s easy to fall into a routine,” Billing said.

Billing’s routine consists of making a checklist of everything that needs to be done for the day. This can include engagement, stat tracking, creating campaigns, etc. By allotting a certain amount of time for each task, Billing is able to ensure she spends her time wisely and effectively.

Nicole Billing has been a freelance journalist and social media manager for the last two years.
Courtesy of Nicole Billing

She likes to start her day slowly through engagement, which usually consists of scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, commenting on posts and replying to comments on the company’s page. After this, she checks her email for any messages from brand partners, making sure to stay in touch with them in regards to any questions or assets (promo codes, images, etc.) they may have.

Billing spends most of her day working on email blasts that are sent out to subscribers. These are email campaigns that partners pay for to promote their product, and Billing works with them to create it. She generally works on three to five of these a day.

In between all these moving pieces, she makes sure to keep her calendar and schedule up to date to keep everything balanced in her routine.

Billing makes sure to create a checklist of these tasks every day. Dividing her time in this way allows her to avoid any missed or late deadlines.

“I make sure that everything gets done in advance so that there is wiggle room to correct mistakes or push trendy content,” Billing said.

Whether it be an Instagram post, story, reel, giveaway or any other visual content you might find on her pages, Billing makes sure to schedule engaging with followers and replying to comments into her day. This helps her appreciate the successful feeling that comes with these interactions, as well as learn what content the audience likes to see.

An example of this was when Billing would run a Facebook Live every Friday; the audience loved her and her team, and she was constantly engaging the audience, according to the Facebook account @GlutenFreeandMore.

A few months ago, Billing was working full-time as a social media manager for Simply Gluten-Free. With this position, she was working a typical 9-5 and worked with colleagues to ensure everything was done right and on time.

“When I worked with her, Nicole was always willing to lend a helping hand no matter how busy she was and always came up with innovative new ideas,” Billing’s former co-worker Julia Gennocro said.

Now, working freelance, her days are fully under her own control. This kind of job comes with a lot of responsibility, but Billing is able to keep herself disciplined and focused and gets just as much work done as she would in a regular office.

She recommends using social media management checklists that can be found online for anyone starting off with this type of work.

Right now, Billing is working with mostly allergen-friendly food/wine companies, such as Planet Oat, Pastene, Cocina 54 and several more. Although she would like to explore more niches in the future, she loves watching the reactions and engagement of this audience.

“Watching how much engagement [posts get when they perform well] makes me feel successful at my job and like I was making a difference for those in the allergen-friendly community,” Billing said.

Right now, out of all the social media platforms out there, Billing’s favorites are Instagram and TikTok.

“I think that humans are visual creatures and this is the ultimate way to attract their attention,” Billing said. “They also tend to feel more personal, which is great for connecting with your audience and forming relationships.”

Social media has a large role in today’s world. It’s people like Billing who have a huge impact on what we see, so it’s important to consider their opinions on what they do.

“Ultimately, I believe that social media is a great tool for keeping us connected, sharing information, and promoting one’s business or product,” Billing said.

However, she also agrees that social media can be detrimental to a person’s health if used incorrectly, and the breaks and moderation of use are essential. She emphasized the importance of remembering that social media feeds are branding tools and that not everything that is online is real.

Currently, Billing is enrolled in a Digital Marketing Certification course so she can take her career to the next step. She will be incorporating this course into her daily work routine for the next six months in hopes of learning more in the marketing/branding field.

Another thing that Billing is working toward is combining her passion for talking and communicating with people with her passion for social media. The end goal: become a radio program or podcast host.

Traffic Advertising’s fluffiest employee specializes in tail pitches

Traffic Advertising’s fluffiest employee specializes in tail pitches

Social media specialist Brooke Nolan often uses Lily Bella the Shih-Tzu as inspiration for advertising content.

By Mikayla Lewis

PALM HARBOR, FL – While seated at her desk enjoying her boost of morning caffeine, Brooke Nolan is greeted by a small, fluffy thing: Lily Bella. The elderly Shih-Tzu fueled the inspiration for a day’s worth of social media posts at Traffic Advertising.

Nolan, 22, spends most of her day glued to a bright red iPad, producing social media content for over 13 car dealerships in Florida. She’s been with the company for about a year, continually growing in her own craft and expanding her horizons within the companies she works for.

“Traffic Advertising is a full-service marketing and advertising agency in Palm Harbor, providing clients with a range of services including traditional media buying (such as radio and print), social media marketing, digital marketing, and more. We have clients throughout the country ranging from automotive to hospitality,” said Shana Moran, the digital director at Traffic Advertising.

Nolan starts off the day like most by checking her social media accounts; only, she does this pretty much all day. It sounds like a Gen-Z dream to spend all day browsing Instagram and Facebook, but Nolan puts more effort into the posts she makes than the casual food pictures and filter-ridden selfies that saturate social media platforms.

Nolan has gained a reputation in her office for finding opportunities in the mundane, or areas one might not normally explore.

“I look for inspiration all around me. From national days to other brands’ content, to even music. It’s all about trusting the process,” Nolan said.

Nolan used Lily Bella as her inspiration for a stream of Instagram story posts on Traffic Advertising’s account, serving as an example of how Nolan utilizes her surroundings to create interesting content.

Lily Bella is Traffic Advertising’s fluffiest employee. Courtesy of Brooke Nolan

A lot of Nolan’s posts revolve around relevancy to months or seasons, holidays, current events or trends by creating eye-grabbing visuals. She most often uses Canva to create Instagram and Facebook content – the company currently only works through these two social media platforms, and soon, they will expand to Twitter.

There was a clear shift in content when Nolan started at Traffic Advertising – she goes the extra mile to create interactive content.

“A lot of content creators in the scene have stuck to the old ways, from advertisement strategies, to not putting effort into social media,” Nolan said. “And I came from a background in film and music. Plus, I’m a lot younger for my role, and that allows me to put my own twist on it.”

She brings a creative outlook to the company through her background working in the arts. The current idea she is working on is an adoption event at Volkswagen Wesley Chapel, which only opened a year ago. May is national pet month, making a pet-related event relevant, especially because it’s for a good cause. She plans on using organic posts to boost the event, as well as creating an Instagram filter and reaching out to local animal shelters to collaborate.

Nolan has put time and effort into curating posts for their clients and has had success in promoting and covering events before.

Brooke Nolan, the social media specialist at Traffic Advertising, uses her iPad to do most of her daily tasks. Courtesy of Brooke Nolan

“My most successful post would have to be a family Halloween event I photographed at Hyundai New Port Richey,” Nolan said. “It got a few thousand impressions organically. I also got to see how impactful events are on the community.”

While Nolan is the creative mind behind Traffic Advertising’s content, Dan Consoli acts as a curator of sorts. Consoli is the social media manager and oversees the content before it is put out. He is a first-time social media manager but has worked with social media at other jobs in the past. He works with the budget and manages all social media content before they are posted to clients’ pages.

“My favorite part of my job is creating a well-performing ad with the ever-changing landscape of Facebook Ads Manager,” Consoli. “With Facebook’s updates that seem to come out of nowhere constantly messing with your ads, it feels nice to be up to speed and use those changes to optimize my ads rather than fall prey to them.”

Consoli has also found success in advertising events with Nolan. Together, they created a buy-back event in March for a client.

“It maintained one of the lowest cost-per-result and highest messaging rates that this company has seen in the last few months,” Consoli said.

The social media team at Traffic Advertising composed of Nolan and Consoli reflects the significance of successful advertising and event planning and execution through social media. Creating interactive, eye-grabbing and relevant content is a key component in sales success within an ever-changing, technologically evolved society. As trends ebb and flow, advertisers have to stay on their toes.

Swim trunks and miraculous circumstances

Swim trunks and miraculous circumstances

How borrowing a pair of swim trunks and trying to win back your girlfriend can land you on the front page of The New York Times.

By Sierra Laico

SARASOTA—As he flips through pages of notes, types away on his computer, and scrolls through his phone searching for the right contacts, freelance journalist Isaac Eger forages for his next story.

Being a freelance journalist does not offer a typical day-to-day routine, so shadowing one on any given day may not give you the riveting reporter story you would hope for. But Eger enjoys the creative freedom that working freelance provides. As someone who makes a living from writing articles—he has quite an abnormal view of writing.

“My day consists of lots of phone calls, lots of emails. Like, reaching out to potential subjects. I’d say that there’s a lot less writing than there is anything. I find writing to be incredibly painful—it’s probably my least favorite part of the job, actually,” he said.

Eger did not plan on becoming a journalist. Shortly after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history from Reed College, Eger says he stumbled upon journalism under extraordinary circumstances. While on his first trip to New York, Eger met Joe Sexton, who was the editor of the sports page of The New York Times, by borrowing his swim trunks. About a year after graduating college and going through a breakup with his girlfriend who told him he was not ambitious enough, Eger set his sights on sports writing.

“To prove to her I was ambitious I was like, ‘I’m going to become a sportswriter,’ because I enjoyed writing and talking about sports. So that’s when I reached out to Joe Sexton, I said ‘Hey, remember me? I borrowed your swim trunks, I’m going to move to New York to become a writer.’ I asked him if he had any advice or anything I could do for him, and he said ‘Come to New York, settle down for a little while, and then we can talk,'” he said.

Eger spent the first month in New York playing basketball around the city, and by the time he met with Sexton, Sexton wanted to hear his basketball tales. After telling him stories, Sexton told him to write them down, which Eger did. After receiving some edits from Sexton, Eger got a call a week later from Sexton telling him to buy a copy of The New York Times—and Eger’s story was on the front page.

“It was funny, I couldn’t really appreciate what had happened because all I wanted to do was win back my girlfriend,” he said.

Isaac Eger often does fieldwork to speak to potential sources for his Florida-based stories. Courtesy of Isaac Eger

Eger has since narrowed his journalism to a more local lens, and for the past few years has been writing for Sarasota Magazine. His passion for local journalism runs in the family, as his mother worked as editor-in-chief of the magazine from 2018 to 2022. Eger says he enjoys working for the magazine because of the personal relationships he has made there and the trust the magazine has in his writing. This has allowed him to take on stories that would otherwise be a tough sell for other publications, such as a recent story he wrote about the September 11th terrorist attacks and its connection to Sarasota—which is where former President George W. Bush was at the time.

Along with the story connecting 9/11 to local roots, Eger has developed a beat writing about environmental issues affecting Florida as well as beach privatization along Florida’s coasts, one of which won multiple local awards, in addition to the national Folio Eddie award in the category of “Single Article, City & Region, Overall” at the prestigious Eddie & Ozzie Awards.

As for his stories about environmental issues affecting Florida, late last year subsequent to the infamous Gabby Petitio disappearance, Eger wrote a story about how the manhunt for Brian Laundrie devastated Venice’s Carlton Reserve.

“Petito and her family are the victims of this sad story, but so is the Carlton Reserve. The depiction of Florida as a wild and untamable landscape couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Eger wrote. “The last slivers of untouched Florida exist only as archipelagos between sprawling sub-developments. Florida does not need to be tamed. Rather, it is in desperate need of re-wilding. If we continue to think of Florida as a hellhole, it’s easier for developers to convince us to pave over it.”

Eger also has a newsletter called “Apocalypse Florida,” where he writes stories about “Florida and the end of the world.” The newsletter, which you can receive for free or by paying a small optional fee, features stories about politics, culture, the environment, and other topics—most of which find roots in Florida.

What could be next for Eger? Eger says he is “going with the flow,” but has a lot of projects in mind, including two book ideas—one about basketball and Buddhism, and the other about Florida—which he eventually wants to walk the entire coast of to continue his research on beach privatization within the state.