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Tampa Bay Times St. Pete printing facility to be shut down, sold

Brian Hartz

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The Tampa Bay Times will outsource printing of the newspaper to Gannett's facility in Lakeland. Photo courtesy of Tampa Bay Times/Chris Urso.

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.”

 

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Deborah Dean

    January 7, 2021at10:51 pm

    Really, really sad to hear this. I remember well when we could not only support one thriving newspaper in St Pete, but two. Sad to say “bye” to the Evening Independent, the St Petersburg Times & now the TampaBay times as downtown fixtures 🙁

  2. Avatar

    josh

    January 8, 2021at11:59 am

    This has affected everyone at the times from employees to the independent contractors. Everyone is feeling the impact. It was a good gig while it was still 7 days of delivery. I didn’t mind the 7 days a week – matter of fact I enjoyed it. It was the best money I ever made. The hardest thing was learning to survive with severely decreased income, but that’s what a second income is for I suppose. In time we will all have to find new income, I just hope its not sooner then later but much later

  3. Avatar

    JOHN J DARLING

    January 11, 2021at6:16 am

    So very sad.

    We should all try to do anything and everything we can (subscriptions and advertising) to keep this incredibly important asset alive and thriving in our community.

    Thank you Tampa Bay Times – which I still refer to as The St Petersburg Times – for so many years of top-notch journalism.

  4. Avatar

    John

    January 17, 2021at3:48 pm

    I work at the Times for 15 years in the press department. I used to work with some great people. We were one of the first major newspapers printing color. We had numerous color Awards back in the 80s and 90s. That was a trade that you had to learn a computer did not set up the press for you. Every Saturday night I was on the main color lead for Sunday paper. My crew leader at the time I was capable of doing the job. I hope the property goes to good use not more fast food and gas station how about housing for First Responders and veterans who have illnesses and physical disabilities from their service to us

  5. Avatar

    John williams sr

    March 4, 2021at11:43 am

    Fresh out of high school and needing xtra money for my hot rods, a friend of mine said come on down to the times plant tonight – they always need help. I went in the back door of the plant and started working. I came out the back door 27 years later! I saw many changes from 66 – 93, mostly good. I worked with, for, over, under and alongside many wonderful people. Seems such a travesty to have it end this way. My first CEO was Mr. Poynter. Then Mr. Patterson, Mr. Barnes and I think I finished with me. Tash? Such a shame. As a retiree it’s sad. Hope the acreage is used for something worthwhile. John a. Williams, sr.

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