Jeff Houck Writes about Food and Life
Food writer Jeff Houck of the Tampa Tribune writes about the life of food while working to appeal to reader’s changing tastes through varying mediums.
By: Meghan Mangrum
Nov. 10, 2010
TAMPA, FLA. – After 21 years in the newspaper industry, Jeff Houck has a job he enjoys as a food writer for the Tampa Tribune. He continues to be successful in the industry that he has watched change because of his own natural curiosity, versatility and willingness to “try something different.”
Houck writes for the Flavor section of the Tampa Tribune, located in Tampa, Fla. Though he also covers other areas of news when needed, Houck mainly writes feature stories about food. He attends food events like dinners and festivals and weighs in on issues with a local angle. Houck did not always plan on being a food writer.
Raised in St. Petersburg, Fla., Houck began college as an English major at Florida State University. When he realized that he didn’t want to teach English or go to law school, he decided to transfer to the Journalism School at the University of Florida.
“I had always done journalism since high school, even grade school a little bit,” Houck said, “so I transferred to UF and finished up at the J-School and got my degree and really fell in love with it.”
After an internship in Pensacola, Houck found himself very far from home in Alaska. “I got a job as a columnist in Alaska for about three years in the late ’80s/early ’90s,” Houck said. When he first started in Alaska, computers were still new and not very common. “I still had co-workers who distrusted [the computer] to the point that they would take notes on a typewriter and then type the story into the system,” Houck said.
Houck’s work in Alaska was competitive. “It was a competitive situation where there were two papers. I really enjoyed that,” Houck said. “There is an adrenaline rush that comes from that. I liked getting up every day and wondering whether I kicked them in the teeth or did they kick me?”
After three years in Alaska, Houck returned to Florida. Since then he has worked as a city editor for the Tribune in Fort Pierce, Fla., a sports business writer for FoxSports.com and a features writer and editor for the Palm Beach Post. Houck arrived at the Tampa Tribune in 2002 and worked as an assistant feature editor until he accidently became a food writer.
While overseeing several feature sections, Houck led the food and flavor sections. “We wanted to try something different than what the food section normally had,” Houck said. Houck jokes that the food section was like “the old lady hat club.” It had always been done a certain way, and the Tribune wanted to try something new and innovative.
“I wanted to tell the stories about food and around food, not just necessarily write about carrot soup,” Houck said. “I wanted to write about the life of food.”
Along the way, Houck began working with some of the outlets offered by the new online world. Houck unsuccessfully proposed the idea of being an online reporter at the Palm Beach Post, but as the internet grew so did his curiosity. Houck now maintains a blog called The Stew at TBO.com, a podcast called Table Conversations and actively updates a Twitter account.
“You want to be like a Swiss Army knife reporter where you can do anything at any time,” Houck said. “The more I can do, the more I can bring to stories which is the number one goal, because the taste of readers and viewers and listeners is constantly changing.”
Houck’s versatility and curiosity allow him to adapt to the changing industry and continue writing about what he enjoys. “I tell people that you might not like politics, and you might not like to read about crime, or not be into business or sports, but everyone eats three times a day and there is always a great story there.”