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Ch. 10 anchor Matthews let go amid local media's cost-cutting moves

After more than 15 years delivering news to Tampa Bay area viewers, Marty Matthews' career at WTSP-Ch. 10 ended Tuesday with a manila envelope left on the doorstep of her St. Petersburg home.

That's where the 48-year-old discovered a letter saying the CBS affiliate was exercising a window in her contract and terminating her job co-anchoring the station's 4 p.m. newscast. Officials at WTSP said they had no choice after repeated attempts to meet with Matthews in person failed.

But the anchor called the statement a lie, saying she was blindsided by the news.

"They sure could find somebody to drive over to my house and leave a manila envelope here," said Matthews, struggling to contain her anger. "Why didn't they find time to ask me (for a meeting) while I was in the office?"

Both sides agree, however, that the area's deteriorating media economy led them to this moment — one of many tough choices made by journalism outlets throughout the Tampa Bay area this week to cope with sharply dropping advertising revenue or to extend existing resources.

Other measures announced this week:

• Fox station WTVT-Ch. 13 may ground its helicopter, amid news that the station's owner has developed a resource-sharing venture with the corporate parent of rival WFTS-Ch. 28, teaming up to gather video of routine news events and share aircraft expenses in Tampa, Detroit and Phoenix.

• ?Citing declining advertising revenue, NBC affiliate WFLA-Ch. 8 will eliminate its 11 a.m. newscast as one of a host of cost-cutting initiatives implemented by corporate parent Media General. The company also eliminated 65 positions in Florida, including the job of WFLA sports anchor Dave Reynolds.

"It's obviously tremendously disappointing," Reynolds said Monday. "After a certain while (surviving past rounds of layoffs), you think you might be safe. But I guess it isn't safe anywhere."

Indeed, there may be no surer sign of changing times than the new Local News Service announced by WFTS owner E.W. Scripps Co. and WTVT's parent Fox Television Stations. Like the recent agreement by the St. Petersburg Times and Miami Herald to operate a joint bureau in Tallahassee, the service unites typically rival newsrooms to avoid duplicating effort.

"If you look at a TV newscast, you might see 10 different (station logos) on the microphones at a press conference," said Sharri Berg, senior vice president of news operations for Fox TV Stations, WTVT's owner. "The LNS crews can cover those events, allowing stations to focus on more distinctive content, like investigative pieces and enterprise stories."

In one scenario, the two Tampa stations could contribute employees to a 10-person staff — a managing editor, three assigning editors and six photographers but no on-air reporters or anchors — Berg said.

That group, which would work independently from offices inside their old stations, would go to standard news events each station once covered individually — say, the regular postgame press conference by a sports coach or a mayoral ribbon cutting.

And while officials involved expect the service to expand coverage at each station, the first casualty locally may be WTVT's helicopter, which Berg said would be eliminated as both stations move to share the aircraft currently operated by WFTS. Berg also hoped other local stations would eventually join in the partnership to further share costs.

At WTSP, general manager Ken Tonning said area TV stations have discussed possible news partnerships for the past six months, though he would not say whether the station was still considering joining the Local News Service. Tonning also declined to comment specifically on criticism that the station was cutting costs by slowly eliminating veterans such as Matthews and weekend anchor Jennifer Howe, a 12-year veteran let go last year.

"This decision (on Matthews) was driven by the very, very tough economy we're in," he said, noting that her co-anchor, Dave Wirth, will anchor the station's 4 p.m. news alone. The station also expects to assign a new staffer to report the weekly profiles Matthews assembled on children seeking adoption, Wednesday's Child.

Ch. 10 anchor Matthews let go amid local media's cost-cutting moves 04/01/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 2, 2009 10:34am]
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