Media General eliminates 80 positions in Florida, including 18 in the Tampa Tribune newsroom
Media General eliminated 80 positions at its outlets in Florida today -- including a number of experienced journalists at the Tampa Tribune newspaper, such as longtime columnist Dan Ruth and editorial page editor Rosemary Goudreau.
The job reductions were made necessary by the worsening newspaper economy, particularly the large drops in classified advertising revenue every newspaper has faced in recent months and years, said John Schueler, president of Media General's Florida Communications Group, which oversees the Tribune, WFLA-Ch. 8, TBO.com, Hernando Today and all the corporation's other Florida-based outlets.
"Circuit City just declared bankruptcy and Macy's has signaled in the first quarter they're going to cut all of their magazine ads," Schueler said. "All of those signs tell us that in the short run it's going to be much tougher, so we're trying to get ahead of that."
Schueler said about one-third of the eliminated positions were unfilled jobs; the reductions will leave FCG with about 1,150 employees total, down from 1,326 in April. At the Tampa Tribune, the names of those laid off today included some of the longest-tenured and best-known journalists on the staff: Ruth, Goudreau, senior editor Larry Fletcher, senior editor/presentation Pat Mitchell, longtime reporter Phil Morgan and many others.
"We're all cognizant of the economic realities of this business," said Ruth, who was packing up his desk when I reached him by phone this morning. "For the last two years, hardly a day has gone by when I didn't wonder if this would be the day . . . I've given 36 years of my life to this business . . . now that day has come."
Ruth is arguably the most visible name yet at the Tribune to be included in staff reductions (he also hosts a Sunday afternoon radio show on WWBA-AM 820). Rumors surfaced a couple of weeks ago that the worsening economy was forcing the newspaper to cut 20 more positions; Tribune executive editor Janet Coats eventually confirmed that 18 positions were eliminated at the Tribune.
Having reorganized the newsrooms of the Tribune, WFLA and TBO.com into a "Web first" converged operation, Coats remained confident the remaining staff could still produce compelling content for TV, print and online. "We still have 235 journalists in this newsroom -- that is a strong enough staff to produce the product line we have now," she said. "Even though it's been a rough year, I think we are strong enough and deep enough to figure this out."
The big problem: how to replace the huge drops in revenue that have come from losing auto ads, retail ads, real estate ads and classified ads to the recession and competition from Web sites such as eBay and Monster.com. Throughout the year, Media General has tried to shave costs by offering buyouts, instituting layoffs and reducing the size of the newspaper.
And Coats acknowledged the frustration some staffers felt as people with decades of tenure saw their jobs eliminated so quickly. “Some of the people who left today . . . were people who were at my wedding,” she said. “But, as heartless as it may sound, it’s business. There are certain ways you have to handle this . . . but there were still several standing ovations today in the newsroom.”
Over the years, staff reductions and voluntary departures have taken some well-known names from the Tribune's roster, including movie critic Bob Ross, classical music critic Kurt Loft, political columnist/editorial writer Joe Brown (at right) and now Ruth.
The question left: What kind of paper can the Tribune produce with such a reduced staff? And will crucial connections with readers be lost as writers well known in the community leave?
"Of course, we're concerned about our connection to readers...but we're working hard to make those connections with the reporters we do have," said Scheuler, who did not expect any platform to be significantly remade following the staff reductions. "It's a balancing act."
Ruth actually worked at the Tribune in two stints, from 1973 to 1981, leaving for Chicago where he worked, among other jobs, as the TV critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and from 1991 to now. The columnist says he got a phone call this morning notifying him of the layoff, and isn't sure what he may do next.
"I'm 59 years old and I've had a triple bypass . . . I don't quite know what my marketability is," Ruth said. "But I feel like I can walk out of here with my head held high. I did the best job I could as a columnist for as long as I could, and that's all you can really do."*
MEMO TO: All FCG Employees
FROM: John Schueler
Today we announced the elimination of eighty positions in
Advertising, News, Marketing, Administration, IT, HR and the Business
Office. About one third came from open positions and the remainder
Our revenue base continues to be challenged as the market and
advertising economy stumble, so we will continue to work on
efficiencies in our operational areas that are likely to result in
further employee reductions.
Despite these very difficult decisions, we are working to preserve
our purpose and mission so that we can thrive in the long term. Your
talent, commitment and dedication to outstanding local journalism
remain the cornerstone of our community service and our progress in
this tough economy. Our ongoing investments in operational efficiency
as well as in profitable products and services across all of our
platforms will help to see us through this very difficult period.
As we face the continuing uncertain economic conditions in the months
ahead, I look to your dedication and professionalism as we chart the
best course for success.