Job cuts are coming to The Tampa Bay Times

The Tampa Bay Times will eliminate some jobs as it prepares its budget for the upcoming year, Times Publishing Company Chairman and CEO Paul Tash announced in a memo to employees Monday.

The job cuts come five months after the Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times bought the Tampa Tribune, ending a decades-long turf war over subscribers and advertisers in Florida's Tampa Bay region.

The newspaper will trim headcount back to the same staffing levels it had in 2015, according to Tash's memo:

Payroll is our biggest single expense, and in 2017 we will return to the same overall levels we had in 2015 — before we bought The Tribune (without The Tribune purchase, the cuts would have gone much deeper).

Managers will build their payroll budgets for the next year based on what their departments spent last year. And managers will fill those jobs with staffers who best help the company meet its goals, including staff we hired this year from The Tribune and elsewhere.

The newspaper declined to comment on the memo and the paper's current staffing levels.

A March 2015 story by Columbia Journalism Review put the Times' newsroom headcount at about 200, down from a peak of 406 full-time employees in 2006.

In his memo, Tash cited the Tampa Tribune's lower-than-expected advertising revenues and the continued decline in retail advertising as the two primary factors behind the cuts:

First, in the last months of its life, The Tribune’s advertising revenues were unravelling faster than we understood. So, our ad revenues are up substantially since we bought The Tribune but not as much as we anticipated. Second, the advertising climate remains challenging for all newspapers, in part because of the turmoil in retailing. The recent closing of Sports Authority is one example.

Here's the full memo:

Five months have passed since we bought the Tampa Tribune. We have absorbed its customers and now see clearly the revenue that the combination will yield. To make the Times profitable and sturdy, we will be reshaping the operation and reducing expenses. Those steps will include the elimination of some jobs.

We have long known that after we bought The Tribune our top business priority would shift from bigger market share to better profits. But it’s also true that we come to these measures sooner than we anticipated. There are two reasons.

First, in the last months of its life, The Tribune’s advertising revenues were unravelling faster than we understood. So, our ad revenues are up substantially since we bought The Tribune but not as much as we anticipated. Second, the advertising climate remains challenging for all newspapers, in part because of the turmoil in retailing. The recent closing of Sports Authority is one example.

Payroll is our biggest single expense, and in 2017 we will return to the same overall levels we had in 2015 — before we bought The Tribune (without The Tribune purchase, the cuts would have gone much deeper).

Managers will build their payroll budgets for the next year based on what their departments spent last year. And managers will fill those jobs with staffers who best help the company meet its goals, including staff we hired this year from The Tribune and elsewhere.

Also, we do not plan any further across-the-board pay reductions. All of us chafe under the reduction already in place, and we prefer to have fewer jobs rather than lower every staffer’s pay. The Times will also preserve our health insurance coverage with no increase in premiums.

Beyond pay and benefits, we are putting a fresh eye on all expenses across the company. Having ended the competition with The Tribune, we have the opportunity to consider which costs we can reduce or eliminate. All suggestions are welcome.

We will have our budget and staffing decisions in place by the beginning of 2017, three months from now. In the meantime, staffers who are concerned about their own jobs should consult their managers.

This work will not be easy, but our company will be stronger for it. And because we bought The Tribune, the Times survives to serve Tampa Bay. That remains good news for the region, and for us.

Correction: A previous version of this story misquoted a word of Tash's memo.

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    Benjamin Mullin

    Benjamin Mullin is the managing editor of Poynter.org. He previously reported for Poynter as a staff writer, Google Journalism Fellow and Naughton Fellow, covering journalism innovation, business practices and ethics.

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