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The Cold War Between Tampa Bay's Newspapers Heats Up



I've heard people say we are lucky in the Tampa Bay area to have real newspaper competition.

But, as a colleague of mine noted, we don't have a direct newspaper competition so much as a journalism cold war -- where the Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times fight each other directly for subscribers mostly in a few select communities, like, Pasco County.

Still, the Tribune owns Hillsborough County circulation-wise, and the Times owns its side of the Bay -- for the most part. But that competition may be heating up following news that the Times has decided to expand publication of its free tabloid tbt* to five days a week, with a special pull out section on Fridays. The news prompted a federal lawsuit by the Tampa Tribune, which has complained that the tbt* name -- which I always thought stood for Tampa Bay Times -- violates a copyright they hold for the name Tampa Times.

The news comes as Media General released profit figures this week noting that advertising revenue at the Tampa Tribune rose 13.9 percent from January 2005 levels, including an 18 percent rise in classified advertising. That's interesting news in the wake of competition from online services such as Craigslist and eBay.

The news about tbt* had been rumored in the Times newsroom for many days. Advertisers seem to love the scrappy tabloid, which has developed a snarky, unique voice in presenting splashy stories about a porn video filmed at The Pier and media coverage of the Debra LaFave case. Already, the tab has become a significant competitor for Tampa's alternative newspaper the Weekly Planet; news that tbt* will be stepping up production can't be good news for them, either.

Industry convention says such tabloids are a combination starter kit/laboratory for newspapers -- getting younger readers to consider a regular newspaper habit, while acting as an incubator for fresh approaches which can be imported to the mothership publication. Much as I love my friends who work at tbt*, I worry that such publications really encourage young readers to see newspapers as irrelevant to their lives outside of entertainment. That's not a perception which will help traditional newspapers improve their brand much.

Still, with tbt* expanded to five days, the writing is indeed on the wall. Readers who complained about our front page story on Chuck Norris jokes or the big spread on allegedly gay strip club owner Joe Redner should steel themselves; the importation of attitude and coverage style from our youth-focused sister publication has only begun.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]


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