Tampa Bay Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash announced Monday that the Times would reduce print editions to Sunday and Wednesday only, starting next week, and simultaneously furlough approximately 50 Times staffers and reduce delivery contracts.
The announcement comes after the newspaper lost $1 million in advertising in the last two weeks, as retailers cancelled ads in the midst of tumultuous markets and uncertain economic futures fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.
In an interview with Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds, Tash explained the economics of the plan, which would significantly reduce printing costs and furlough approximately 5o employees. “Ad sales are running down about 50%,” Tash wrote. “We expect this plan to make up roughly half of that gap. At that rate, we can tough things out for a few months. If things get worse, or if the crisis goes on indefinitely, we’ll have to reconsider our approach.”
Tash said the Times does not plan cuts to the newsroom, but rather focus on staff whose main workload revolves around the production of the Times print edition. “We don’t plan furloughs in news,” he said. “Our purpose is to keep the news report strong. We have shifted reporters to other assignments. For now, everybody is covering the coronavirus.”
It is yet another punch to the newspaper, on heels of a slate of layoffs (the latest 11 employees) and a memo sent to Times employees last month, announcing an across-the-board 10 percent pay cut for three months. According to documents obtained by Florida Politics, liens against the paper’s parent company now total more than $103 million.
“Newspaper publishing was already a challenging business, even before the pandemic,” Tash said in an email to subscribers. “More than half our revenue comes from advertisers. The screeching halt to the economy has sent sales plummeting for many businesses, and everybody is anxious about the future.”
The bright spot? Tash said digital subscriptions are picking up, even as most coronavirus coverage is free to non-subscribers, and more new subscribers are paying for a full year subscription, not just a one-month promotional offer.