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Headwinds bring sale and closure of “The Tampa Tribune”

Published on: May 11, 2016

By MITCH TRAPHAGEN

There was no farewell edition for The Tampa Tribune, a major daily newspaper that has been publishing since the late 1800s. On May 3, The Tampa Bay Times announced that it had purchased and effectively closed the Tribune. This edition, delivered to readers that morning, was the last. The sale and closure came as a surprise to Tribune staff members and readers alike.

There was no farewell edition for The Tampa Tribune, a major daily newspaper that has been publishing since the late 1800s. On May 3, The Tampa Bay Times announced that it had purchased and effectively closed the Tribune. This edition, delivered to readers that morning, was the last. The sale and closure came as a surprise to Tribune staff members and readers alike.

There was no farewell edition. When the approximately 265 staff members of The Tampa Tribune produced their copy for the Tuesday edition of the newspaper, they had no idea that it would be the last. There were no goodbyes.

At 3 p.m. on May 3, Tampa joined the growing list of cities served by only one major daily newspaper. In a move that was apparently abrupt to all but top management, The Tampa Bay Times acquired and effectively shut down The Tampa Tribune.

The Tribune’s website, tbo.com, was redirected to the Times website, tampabay.com. The redirect is said to be temporary while the Times brings tbo.com content into line with tampabay.com content.

The Times website is protected by a paywall that goes into effect after a limited number of articles are read by those who are not subscribers. Tbo.com, however, had no such paywall and was free, even for nonsubscribers. The Times has stated that once back online, tbo.com will remain available free of charge. What it will be remains to be seen. Tbo.com, as of press time, was still being redirected to the Times.

It appears that most staff members found out when the public did that their newspaper, which began daily publication in 1895, technically no longer existed. Times Publisher Paul Tash stated that the acquisition would likely result in the loss of “at least” 100 jobs, largely positions that are already duplicated at the Times. There was no specific comment regarding the fate of the Tribune weekly newspapers, The South Shore News and The Sun, both of which served South Hillsborough readers.

With the closure of The Tampa Tribune, the metro area joins cities such as Denver and Seattle in effectively becoming cities represented by one, rather than two daily newspapers. Such news has long since passed being a surprise as many major newspapers have struggled with declining advertising revenue and decreasing subscription numbers for nearly a decade. Increasingly former readers are finding their news online, a platform that does not yield the ad revenue of print.

The Times purchase of the Tribune, however, has positioned it as the largest newspaper in Florida. Former Tribune subscribers began receiving the Times last Wednesday. According to the Times, the Tribune will become a Hillsborough County section printed two to three times per week in acknowledgment of the long history of the newspaper.

The Times website has run stories in remembrance of its former competitor that described the Tribune as “one big family” and another with the sub-headline of “We were scrappy but powerful.”

Steve Otto, a former Tribune staff member and one of the best-known and most beloved columnists in the Bay area, made a public Facebook post on the day of the closure saying, “Can’t say what tomorrow will bring. I’ll write more later but for now I would say I am toast. Your thoughts should be with so many who have lost their jobs after a brave struggle and for a community that has lost a great and caring voice.”

While his many friends and fans posted words of thanks and praise to his page, Otto added another public post one day later.

“No eulogy here, although after 47 years with Mother Trib there is a sense of entitlement,” he wrote. “Maybe it’s because the Tribune died years ago and nobody told those loyal troops who never quit, despite the waves of layoffs and greedy owners and despite odds overwhelmingly stacked against them.”

The abrupt closure of The Tampa Tribune ended the long history of Tampa’s major newspaper of record. The newspaper began daily publishing in 1895. University of Florida Digital Collection.

The abrupt closure of The Tampa Tribune ended the long history of Tampa’s major newspaper of record. The newspaper began daily publishing in 1895. University of Florida Digital Collection.

The Tampa Tribune was the recipient of numerous awards, including a 1966 Pulitzer Prize won by John Anthony Frasca for local investigative special reporting. Despite making an investment in online publishing under then-parent Media General, the paper, like many newspapers, began to suffer financially, resulting in layoffs and smaller editions. In 2012, investment company Berkshire Hathaway purchased all of the Media General newspapers, largely spread along the East Coast, with the sole exception of The Tampa Tribune and its associated publications. In October 2012, Media General sold the Tribune and publications to Tampa Media Group Inc., a company formed by development company Revolution Capital Group. The purchase of the newspaper included valuable land holdings in downtown Tampa.

Much of the property has been sold by Revolution Capitol, including the printing plant, for nearly $8 million over the 2012 purchase price. As such, the Times began printing the Tribune back in February.

On the closure, Otto continued by writing, “The Times is a quality and comprehensive newspaper. But we have lost something that was a part of the very fabric of our city and that gave us so much. That will never be replaced and it hurts.”

His further words echoed the shock many felt at the abrupt closure of Tampa’s long-running newspaper.

“I was surprised when they announced that the Tribune was closing its doors,” said Wes Mullins, owner and CEO of M&M Printing and publisher of the four Observer News Publications newspapers. “For 123 years it has been a part of our lives. The coined phrase ‘Life printed daily’… I love that. They will be missed.”

The Times’ Tash said that the Tampa Bay area is simply not a region that can continue to support two major newspapers. He went on to state that the acquisition would ensure that at least one major regional newspaper could serve the metro area for the long term. The Times has won numerous Pulitzer Prizes, including two this year. Yet while things have indeed changed for virtually all print newspapers, not all of the headwinds faced by print media affects all newspapers the same.

“As to the Observer, I feel that our success is that we are part of our community,” Mullins continued. “We have a vested interest in our advertisers, and we want all of them to succeed. As they struggle, we struggle, and as they do well, we enjoy their success. We are a good-news newspaper, and we love sharing the positive qualities of our community. We live in a highly talented community with great people that are working together to help people out.”

Mullins is a longtime resident of South Hillsborough and, together with David Payne, formerly of The Bradenton Herald, purchased the company from the Mixon family who had owned it since the late 1950s. Prior to that Mullins spent a decade as the company CEO. Under his watch the company has made significant investments in everything from new office space for newspaper staff to substantial new printing technology.

The Observer has been here since 1958, and we have grown in 10 years from 20,000 in distribution to over 56,000 now (which equates to a readership in excess of 100,000 people),” he said. “Our area covers from north of the river in Manatee County to Bloomingdale in Hillsborough County. We have the best writers who care about our community, and we have the best staff that consistently win the most community newspaper awards. We are very blessed. For the future, we will carry on this proud tradition.”

Steve Otto said that Tribune staffers were working hard against the odds. The recent article describes them as “scrappy.” Both were true in the long, distinguished history of Tampa’s major newspaper. And while the fate of many employees is yet to be determined, not all of their voices have been silenced.

Lois Kindle spent nearly 40 years with the Tribune in a variety of positions, from an award-winning reporter to editor. Working with The South Shore News, she became one of the best-known writers in South Hillsborough. And she will remain so.

Late last week, Observer News editor Chere Simmons announced that Kindle would join a select group of journalists for the Observer News Publications. Kindle is known for her love of the communities and people of South Hillsborough. She will continue to share that love and her unique talents with readers of The Observer News in the growing number of communities the newspapers serve.

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