Financial woes continue to plague the Tampa Bay Times. In another sign that its struggles have not gone away, the St. Petersburg-based newspaper announced on Wednesday that it will shut down and sell its 27-acre production facility at 1301 34th Street North and outsource printing of the newspaper to the Gannett Co. plant in Lakeland, which also turns out editions of the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Orlando Sentinel.
The move will result in 150 job losses, Times chairman and CEO Paul Tash stated in a letter to subscribers. Home delivery of the newspaper, which had already been cut back to Wednesdays and Sundays only, will not be affected.
“As newspapers become more digital,” Tash wrote, “the consolidation of printing is a trend in our industry, and the logic of efficiency is compelling. Inside the Times, however, this decision is melancholy.”
The decision to outsource production, he added, ends “a proud chapter in Times history, one that recorded every story, big and small, for six decades. The news came off those presses when Americans landed on the moon and when terrorists crashed passenger jets into the World Trade Center, when presidents were elected and when one resigned in scandal.”
The coronavirus pandemic brought an advertising hit to the Times that added to a series of financial setbacks suffered by the heavily awarded, proudly independent newspaper in recent years. In addition to scaling back home delivery to just two days per week, the paper has sold its downtown St. Pete headquarters building and taken loans totaling $15 million from FBN Partners, a group of prominent area investors including Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and health care entrepreneur and philanthropist Dr. Kiran Patel. FBN Partners holds a mortgage on the printing facility.
The Times also received $8.5 million from the federal Paycheck Protection Program, but Tash said the funds weren’t enough to stave off another major operational change. Advertising sales are still down by 30 percent, Tash stated, and with snowbirds — a valuable and normally reliable source of subscription revenue — choosing not to travel because of the coronavirus pandemic, the paper’s cloudy business outlook called for an overhaul.
“The virus has accelerated changes in the news business,” he wrote, “and to remain Tampa Bay’s trusted source for news, the Times must change with them. At the Times, there is no turning back to a time when our presses and the wonderful people who run them were printing newspapers every single day.”
Tash stated that the entire organization, not just printing staff, will feel some pain, with temporary pay cuts for all employees who are not affected by the production facility sale. Even before the pandemic hit, 2020 started off with 10 percent pay cuts for all full-time staff and 15 percent cuts for Tash and other top executives.
However, the paper’s increased emphasis on a digital strategy has been a bright spot during a bleak period. According to Tash, traffic and subscriptions are “way up” for both the tampabay.com website and tampabaytimes.com e-newspaper.
“As newspapers become more digital, the consolidation of printing is a trend in our industry, and the logic of efficiency is compelling,” he stated. “This decision to move our printing, although hard, is part of the Times’ evolution in an increasingly digital world. Last April, we reduced our days in print so that we could keep our news coverage strong, especially when our readers and our region needed us most. In a time of difficult choices, we chose news.”