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Florida Matters: The End Of The Tampa Tribune

May 24, 2016

On May 3, the Tampa Bay Times purchased its rival across the Bay -- The Tampa Tribune -- and promptly shutdown the 123-year-old newspaper. 

The event ended a three-decade Tampa rivalry that had grown especially difficult for both newspapers in recent years, as they struggled to survive in a media landscape veering toward online devices and away from their legacy products.

  Florida Matters host Carson Cooper recently discussed the local newspaper war and the end of the Tribune. Guests included Wayne Garcia, a journalism professor at the University of South Florida and a former reporter at both the Times and Tribune,  and Alexis Muellner, editor of the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Also on the panel was Ken Koehn, who was serving as the Tribune’s managing editor up until its final edition. He said while the staff knew the paper’s building had been sold and they had to move out of the downtown Tampa offices, they didn’t realize that final day that the end had arrived.

“We knew there was going to be a major announcement and we also knew we had to get out of the building pretty soon because they were going to start developing it and we had to be out by May 16,” he said.

“Our owners up until that time hadn’t signed a lease for us to move, so we knew things were a little precarious. But we still held out some hope that some other media company like Gannett or Gatehouse (Media) would buy us.”

Koehn said most employees came into work that day expecting business as usual.

"I conducted a news meeting at 10:15 that morning and one of the things we sketched out for the front page was news about The Tribune because we knew there was going to be an announcement,” he said.

The first realization that the sale was to the Tampa Bay Times came at 2:45 p.m., at a manager's meeting held in a small conference room inside the Parker Street building.

"In walked Paul Tash, the CEO of Times Publishing, and Neil Brown, the editor of the Times. At that moment, most of us recognized them, so you could hear audible gasps in the room. The woman sitting next to me started crying before anybody even said anything," Koehn said.

Wayne Garcia, a University of South Florida journalism professor who worked as a reporter at both the Tribune and the Times in the 1980s and early 1990s, said the rivalry was strong, but pushed reporters to do their best. Also, there was a level of respect between most of the journalists working at the papers.

“There’s a lot of familiarity…and they also knew that there was a difference between corporate philosophies and the people who led us and the reporters and editors who were really involved in being on the street,” he said.