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Times’ Tash, Gallaty talk newspaper past, present and future

Bill DeYoung

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Outgoing Tampa Bay Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, left, and his successor Conan Gallaty at the St. Petersburg Museum of History Tuesday. Photos by Bill DeYoung.

Outgoing Tampa Bay Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, along with his successor, Conan Gallaty, answered a round of questions from members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club Tuesday at the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

Tash, whose 18-year tenure at the top ends July 1, said he’d been thinking about retirement since 2020. “I’m leaving because every organization needs renewal,” he told the Catalyst. “The Times is on a great course. And I’m pleased to be able to turn it over to people I like and respect.”

He’d joined the paper as a reporter in 1976, when the editor and publisher was “a little guy in a bowtie” named Nelson Poynter.

The majority of Tuesday’s questions concerned the way management is dealing with competition from social media, loss of advertising and the various financial difficulties brought about by declining readership and revenue in the digital age.

The Tampa Bay Times is a for-profit enterprise owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

Gallaty was queried about the current cost of a digital subscription. “Do you think,” the man asked, “the price of the paper is too high?”

“I realize this is scant comfort,” the incoming CEO replied, “but if you look at relative prices of newspapers across the state of Florida and certainly across the country, you’ll find that the price for a subscription for the Times, on an annual basis, is one of the lowest in the state.

“Despite having the highest number of journalists in our newsroom, and the highest number of accolades in terms of awards and deep investigations that we put into our products every day.”

The economics of running a newspaper in the past, he added, were centered around print advertising. Ads paid the bills. In the pre-internet days, “the subscription price barely covered the cost of the ink and the newsprint and the delivery,” Gallaty said. “Everything else was paid for by advertising.”

Big national advertisers no longer buy massive amounts of space in newspapers, which is a major reason the Times’ print edition appears just two days per week. Gallaty was quick to remind the audience that the Times publishes fresh material online every day. “If you enjoy that journalism,” he said, “we think it’s worth paying for.”

That sentiment carried over into the next question – about the paper’s financial structure, now and into the future. The questioner noted that $125,000 was recently raised via a public plea for funds.

Yes, Tash said, private donations amounted to $75,000, and the Yerrid Family Foundation contributed $50,000.

“That kind of philanthropic effort helps provide a margin of excellence,” Tash added. “It’s not the cake, but it is some icing on that cake.”

Public appeals for money, he said, are commonplace among hospitals and universities. “And has anybody looked at their balance sheets lately? They’re doing just fine.”

Commentator Adam Smith noted that the Times’ recent Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative series, Poisoned, cost the company approximately $750,000 to research and publish. “If you could put that money towards the Pulitzer story, or you could put it toward covering your county commissions and your city councils, which brings more value to the reader and the community?” Smith asked.

Hard-hitting investigative reports, Gallaty said, are part of the “core mission” of the Times. “Yes, we will still cover the city councils, we’ll cover the county commissions, as best we can.

“But with limited resources, we rely on our subscribers and our donors to help us do as much of that as possible.”

After Gallaty was asked if the Times would eventually discontinue the print product altogether, he talked about the inevitability that all businesses – including newspapers – would have to make changes in the new, mostly-digital world of media.

“So, will we be out of print sometime in the future? I don’t know the answer to that.

“I do know that over the last 10, 20 years, that issue has come upon us. And we see it at the Times. We see it in publications across the country where printing and delivering seven days a week is becoming harder and harder to do.”

 

 

 

 

 

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    Charles W Brennan III

    June 8, 2022at3:09 pm

    The cost for my subscriptions to the Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald is much less than my subscription to the Times ($495). The current print editions cannot contain any up to date news, because the paper is printed (poorly) in Lakeland. The print edition usually contains wire service articles that were published online, sometimes weeks previously.

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