Three top executives at Tampa Tribune and WFLA-Ch. 8 have been replaced as owner Media General restructures
Media General has replaced three top executives in charge of its Tampa Tribune, Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA-Ch. 8 and TBO.com as part of a restructuring which will also eventually include layoffs.
John Schueler, president of the company which controls Media General's Tampa operations, Florida Communications Group, has been transferred to an unspecified job in the company's Richmond, Va. headquarters. Tampa Tribune publisher Denise Palmer, who also served as vice president of news for the Tampa market, and the company's Tampa vice president of marketing Cathy Helean, were also replaced with no new positions named for them.
The company named Terry Jamerson, leader of the company's news outlets in Central Virginia, as the interim publisher of the Tampa Tribune. John Cottingham, president of the company's outlets in the mid-south, will serve as interim general manager of WFLA.
Both Jamerson and Cottingham will report to John Schauss, Media General's vice president of market operations, who told investors on a conference call last month that in the Tampa market "the burn (through cash) will be greatly improved" by an internal task force convened to "think boldly" about the money-losing newspaper operations.
The changes were announced to staff at 2 p.m. today through an emailed memo which said the company hoped to create "a more empowered workforce and simplified organizational structure." The memo also said such changes would involve additional layoffs at a company which has already endured many rounds of staff reductions and furloughs locally in recent years, including 29 people let go in June.
"There has been no economic recovery in Tampa since the downturn began in 2006," Schauss' memo said. "The impact has been most significant on our print operations...We do, however, need to improve the financial performance of the newspaper."
The company has had a convoluted management structure in Tampa, both due to the convergence of its newsgathering operations across print, broadcast and online, and staff departures. WFLA, for example, hasn't had a permanent general manager since the sudden departure of Mark Dvornik in May, gone after just eight months in the job.
Florida Communications Group, a subsidiary of Richmond, Va.-based Media General, includes: The Tampa Tribune, WFLA, TBO.com, Spanish-language CENTRO newspaper, broadcast and online platforms, two smaller daily newspapers, 12 weeklies, and several shopper and niche publications.
Media General's stock price has been in flux lately. Shares have traded as high as $7.73 in the past year but fell to $1.14 early last month when the Moody's rating service downgraded its stock outlook. The stock price has rebounded significantly in the last few weeks. It closed at $3.33 a share Wednesday, up 43 cents, or nearly 15 percent, on the day.
In the quarter that ended in September, Media General posted a net loss of $29.8 million, compared with a loss of $10.7 million a year ago. Revenue fell 11 percent to $144.7 million in the quarter. Print revenue fell 9 percent while broadcast revenue fell 13 percent.
Schauss' memo said more changes likely would be implemented by the end of the year; interim leaders are expected to serve for the next few months. A spokesman for the company said Media General had no plans to close the Tampa Tribune and that the timing of the changes -- revealed one day after the St. Petersburg Times announced a name change to the Tampa Bay Times on Jan. 1 -- was a coincidence.
"There is considerable brand equity in The Tampa Tribune name," Schuass' memo said. "Another newspaper this week made it clear that they want what we have, and we can understand why. We will remain Tampa’s #1 newspaper."
Look below to see the full memo:
Dear Tampa Employees:
Today I am announcing the appointment of new leaders for Media General’s Tampa operations. Terry Jamerson has been named interim Publisher of The Tampa Tribune, and John Cottingham has been named interim General Manager of WFLA-TV. Terry and John will report to me.
Departing our Tampa operations as of today are John Schueler, President, Market Leader-Florida; Denise Palmer, Vice President-News; and Cathy Helean, Vice President-Marketing. John, Denise and Cathy have been dedicated to our Tampa operations during their years of service, and I thank them for their hard work on many initiatives launched during their tenure. John will assume new duties in Richmond, reporting to me.
Terry currently serves as Group Leader of our Central Virginia multimedia partnership that includes our NBC affiliate WSLS-TV in Roanoke, the Lynchburg News & Advance, and the Danville Register and Bee, along with several community print publications. John Cottingham currently serves as Media General’s President, Market Leader-Mid-South, which includes 11 broadcast television stations, four daily newspapers and several community newspapers. Terry and John both have a proven and long track record of leading some of Media General’s most profitable operations. I expect them to serve in their Tampa roles for the next several months, and ultimately I will appoint permanent leaders to these two positions. We are returning to a strong platform focus at the leadership level in Tampa, the same structure that we have in all other Media General markets, while continuing to take full advantage of the many opportunities provided by our multimedia partnership.
As you well know, there has been no economic recovery in Tampa since the downturn began in 2006. The impact has been most significant on our print operations, and major revenue categories have fallen precipitously over the past five years. Unquestionably, the marketplace for print has changed, due to economic circumstances and the impact of digital technologies. Most U.S. newspapers are similarly situated.
At the same time, The Tampa Tribune has been Tampa’s hometown newspaper for well more than 100 years, and it is by far the leading newspaper in its core market. We have strong relationships with local advertisers. There is considerable brand equity in The Tampa Tribune name. Another newspaper this week made it clear that they want what we have, and we can understand why. We will remain Tampa’s #1 newspaper. The needs of our Tampa customers are paramount, and we are committed to serving our loyal Tampa readers and advertising clients.
We do, however, need to improve the financial performance of the newspaper. We believe that can be accomplished by focusing on our core market, where 90% of our circulation is concentrated, and by focusing on the strengths of our local focus. We can also improve performance by creating a more empowered workforce and simplified organization structure. Terry and a team of Tampa and Media General leaders will be working to create specific action plans. These plans will necessarily include workforce reductions. I cannot tell you today how many employees will be affected or what the timing of any reductions will be. Terry and her team will work as fast as humanly possible and the goal is to implement the plans before the end of this year. Affected employees will be given severance and outplacement support.
Assisting Terry will be Duke Maas, Managing Editor; Bill Barker, vice president-operations and circulation; Andy Lobred, Media General’s VP-Sales; and Lawrence McConnell, Group Leader for three daily newspapers in Central Virginia, including the Daily Progress, News Virginian, and Culpeper Star Exponent and for several weeklies; Lawrence was Managing Editor of The Tampa Tribune from 1987-1995.
On the broadcast side, John will be assisted by Don North, news director, and Brad Moses, general manager of WNCN in Raleigh, and a former WFLA marketing director who worked at the station from 2002-2007. WFLA is doing well and capturing its share of the core revenue opportunity in the market. Into next year, WFLA will benefit greatly from the elections, the Super Bowl and the Summer Olympics.
Terry, John and I will immediately begin small group meetings with our Tampa employees. We want to hear your ideas about how we can even better serve our customers in the wonderful Tampa community. I appreciate your hard work and dedication to our customers. I will be spending several days a week in Tampa in the coming months to support Terry and John, and I welcome all of you to seek me out and let me know what is on your mind.