For years, whenever columnist Dan Ruth heard rumors about layoffs at the Tampa Tribune he wondered: Is today the day?
Still, Ruth felt a bit shell-shocked Monday when he was among 18 newsroom employees laid off by the company. The cuts were among 80 positions eliminated by owner Media General across its Florida news outlets.
"I'm 59 years old and I've had a triple bypass — I don't know what my marketability is now," said Ruth. "I've given 36 years of my life to this business ...(But) I feel like I can walk out of here with my head held high."
Others departing include editorial page editor Rosemary Goudreau, senior editor Larry Fletcher, senior editor/presentation Pat Mitchell and longtime reporter Philip Morgan.
One-third of the 80 eliminated positions were open jobs. Aside from the 18 newsroom jobs at the Tampa Tribune, the remaining layoffs came from non-journalism jobs in Media General's Florida outlets.
The reductions Monday were the latest steps in a long series of cost-cutting initiatives implemented this year by Florida Communications Group, the company that oversees Media General's area outlets, including the Tribune, WFLA-Ch. 8, TBO.com, Hernando Today, the Spanish-language newspaper CENTRO and some smaller publications.
The cause: a continuing decline in advertising revenues thanks to ongoing economic woes and the newspaper industry's financial problems.
In October, for example, despite increased third-quarter revenue from political advertising and commercials during the Summer Olympics on its TV stations, Media General saw its publishing revenue fall 28 percent in Florida and 18 percent overall from 2007 levels.
"Circuit City just declared bankruptcy and Macy's has signaled in the first quarter they're going to cut all of their magazine ads," said John Schueler, president of FCG. "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."
The company also reorganized its newsroom to further combine the newspaper, TV and online.
But one streamlining effort in early October — putting sports, business and metro news in a single section on weekdays — produced too much reader backlash. The company now produces a separate weekday sports section.
Still, Tampa Tribune executive editor Janet Coats said many newspapers are finding their print product becoming a secondary outlet to their Web site.
Coats also acknowledged the frustration of seeing employees with decades of tenure shown the door so suddenly.
"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."