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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Tension over impending layoffs sends rumors flying at Tampa Tribune, WFLA-Ch. 8

7

December

tampatribune-redesign2010.jpgFor several weeks, staffers at the Tampa Tribune and WFLA-Ch. 8 have been buzzing about rumors of impending new layoffs at the local outlets owned by Richmond, Va.-based Media General.

Last week, emails and buzz indicated layoffs might come Monday. Now, some staffers fear job reductions could come early next week, possibly next Monday.

Company spokesman Ray Kozakewicz would only reiterate what company officials told investors today at the 39th Annual UBS Global Media & Communications Conference in New York, where vice president of market operations John Schauss said "our goal is to finalize action plans for The Tampa Tribune before the end of this year."

There, the company also touted its focus on digital media -- saying seven of its newspapers now charge for some content -- while noting total operating expenses will decrease by $20-million in 2011.

The numbers of expected layoffs theorized by staffers range from a couple of dozen in the newspaper's newsroom to many more across the company -- which includes Spanish-language newspaper CENTRO, TBO.com and several smaller daily and weekly newspapers.

For years, some WFLA staffers have groused that Media General sacrificed resources from the market's top TV station to shore up a failing newspaper. Now, changes at hand may further separate them from the print side in an essential acknowledgement that its ambitous convergence operation, once considered the cutting edge of modern journalism, may have gone too far.

The downsizing was noted last month, when company officials removed three top executives from jobs at Florida Communications Group, the Media General subsidiary which runs its Tampa outlets.  Back then, the memo announcing changes said FCG would strengthen its local focus, and such changes would "necessarily include workforce reductions."

wfla-logo3.jpgSuch words were bitter news for Media General staffers in Tampa, who have already endured many rounds of job reductions and unpaid furloughs, including a layoff of 29 people in June. Now as then, staffers have had weeks to worry about who may be downsized and who will survive; because WFLA has performed better financially than the newspaper, TV staffers hope to be spared in any downsizing.

Terry Jamerson, the leader of Media General news outlets in Virginia who became publisher of the Tampa Tribune in last month's reorganization, declined to answer questions on the timetable of staff reductions, telling me to call Kozakewicz in Virginia.

All this comes at a time when several newspapers have implemented staff cuts. The St. Petersburg Times laid off 6 percent of its staff in October; at the Denver Post, 19 newsroom staffers took buyouts last week, while the Kalamazoo Gazette and Grand Rapids Press in Michigan announced plans to lay off 223 staffers in early 2012.

[Last modified: Wednesday, December 7, 2011 1:50pm]

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