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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

St. Petersburg Times announces more cost-saving moves

3

February

Timeslogo One week after announcing plans to explore the sale of Congressional Quarterly, Times Publishing Co. has revealed several cost-saving measures at the St. Petersburg Times, including freezing staff pay for another year, suspending contributions to the company's 401(K) program, suspending credits for additional service to the pension program and reopening early retirement incentives to staffers over age 50 with more than five years' service.

Last year, the Times avoided layoffs by offering a package of incentives for staffers 50 and above; about 200 employees signed up for the program, including Pulitzer Prize winner Tom French, business columnist Helen Huntley, Pulitzer Prize winner and editorial writer Jack Reed and former food critic Chris Sherman.

The company also froze staffer salaries effective June 1, 2008, except for those whose jobs changed. That wage freeze will be extended another year. Times chairman, CEO and editor Paul Tash outlined the changes in a memo to staffers today, in which he noted his own 5 percent pay cut will also extend another year.

"Every day, the Times relies on talented and dedicated professionals who pull together on behalf of their company and in service to the Tampa Bay region," Tash wrote. "On hard days (and lately there have been a couple), your commitment stokes my confidence about our future. We will get there together, and each day brings us a little closer."

Such moves have increasingly been adopted by other media companies as the economic recession drags on. Media General, owner of Times rival the Tampa Tribune, announced two weeks ago it would suspend contributions to its employees' 401(K) retirement plans, joining big names such as Sears and General Motors in the cost-saving action.

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To: St. Petersburg Times staff

From: Paul Tash

Last week, I wrote to you about our decision to offer Congressional Quarterly for sale. Today, I want to let you know about measures we are taking here in Florida to meet the challenges of the recession.

1. As much as it disappoints me, we need to extend the pay freeze for another year. As you recall, the freeze took effect on June 1, 2008, and we expected to lift it four months from now. Of course, the economy has gotten worse, not better. I regret the strain a wage freeze puts on staffers, and the 5 percent reduction in my own pay will remain in place for its duration.

2. Starting April 1, we will suspend company contributions to the 401K plan, and for members of the pension plan, we will freeze the credits for additional service. Let me emphasize: the benefits you have earned already under the pension plan are safe, but your service during this freeze will not count toward your pension payments.

3. Because of this action in the retirement plans, staffers who were eligible for the 5-plus-5 enhanced pension plan last year will get another chance to take it. We do not renew this offer to encourage more departures, or out of any legal obligation. Rather, eligible staffers can make a fresh decision in light of circumstances no one could anticipate last summer. The HR department will provide details soon.

This is a lot to absorb, especially combined with all the other news of general economic turmoil, and you may wonder what conclusions you should draw about the Times and your place in it. So, let me offer some thoughts that guide our thinking through this very rough stretch.

1. Eventually, the business climate in Tampa Bay will recover. When it does, the Times will be in a very strong position. Over 125 years, the patterns of history are clear.

2. Even now, we have enormous opportunity to serve our customers – readers and advertisers. They are counting on us, and they will reward us.

3. Every day, the Times relies on talented and dedicated professionals who pull together on behalf of their company and in service to the Tampa Bay region. On hard days (and lately there have been a couple), your commitment stokes my confidence about our future.

We will get there together, and each day brings us a little closer.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:55pm]

    

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