The big news in Florida Monday wasn’t only about the pandemic. It was also about one of the state’s most important news outlets, announcing it would only publish a print edition two days a week. Partly as a result of the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus, the Tampa Bay Times is doing the unthinkable and the decision is raising concerns and increasing anxiety in the newspaper industry.
The Tampa Bay Times is fighting to stay alive in the local news apocalypse. It’s has dramatically cut its work force, closed news bureaus, sold its property, borrowed millions from community leaders and reduced its news pages. Monday, the institution that calls itself Florida’s best newspaper, took a much more dramatic step by suspending print publication five days a week – the only paper in the country to take such an action during the current economic and health crisis. Starting next week, the print version of the Times will be available only on Sunday and Wednesday. Times Chairman Paul Tash said the change was forced by the coronavirus pandemic. He announced it in a YouTube video to staff members forced to work from their homes.
We’ll publish the newspaper electronically every day of the week, and all our journalism is available online at tampabay.com. But during the crisis, it is simply too expensive for us to print and bring to you a newspaper every day,” said Tash.
The paper that for most of its life was known as the St. Petersburg Times has been a revered institution that has won 13 Pulitzer Prizes. But it has struggled mightily to adapt to the digital age. It has managed to keep a fiercely loyal base of print subscribers, many of them older transplants from the Midwest who crave reading a printed newspaper in their hands every morning.
“I know an awful lot of folks, my age and older, who like the feel of the printed newspaper. They like being Newspaper readers are notoriously creatures of habit. If the paper lands in the driveway later than usual, or the crossword puzzles moves to a different page, they are known to get very ornery,” said Craig Pittman, the paper’s popular environmental reporter who was laid off two weeks ago after 21 years. He doubts those older readers will embrace a digital-only newspaper.
Careful readers of the Times could see this measure was coming. In recent weeks, the Times has run ads, some of them clearly targeted to older readers, urging them to switch to digital subscriptions. In addition, at least 50 Times employees who do not work in the newsroom will be furloughed without pay for eight weeks.
The newspaper publisher Gannett has also announced paycuts and plans to furlough employees.
Bousquet is a former Tallahassee reporter for the newspaper.
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