The Tampa Tribune has confirmed several significant changes coming this week and next, from the layoff of a well-known columnist to a redesign coming Monday that will significantly reduce the size of the weekday newspaper.
Executive editor Janet Coats said editorial writer and columnist Joe Brown was laid off Monday, among four editorial staffers let go. Tribune owner Media General said earlier this year it planned to eliminate 250 jobs in 2008 at its Florida outlets, including Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA-Ch. 8 and TBO.com.
Coats would not detail the changes coming in the newspaper's Monday edition; rumors persist that the Tribune will present a two-section edition weekdays. These changes come as the company completes a sweeping reorganization and merging of the newsrooms at the Tribune, WFLA and TBO.com, focused on gathering information first for the Web site and later for the newspaper and TV station.
The changes at Media General come as falling advertising revenue and rising expenses force news outlets across the state and the nation to consider serious changes to their business and editorial structures.
On Monday, the Tampa alternative newspaper chain Creative Loafing filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection while struggling to pay a $40-million debt. The 6-year-old New York Sun newspaper published its last edition Tuesday after substantial losses.
And three South Florida newspapers that usually compete against one another — the Miami Herald, Palm Beach Post Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale — announced this year they would share some news material to shave costs.
At the St. Petersburg Times, 201 people accepted an enhanced retirement package offered by the company earlier this year, including 26 newsroom staffers. The paper had already instituted a yearlong pay freeze and reduced the size of its weekday editions to curb costs.
Brown, 58, is likely the best-known name among Tribune staffers laid off this year, a 14-year employee who is also the paper's highest-profile columnist of color. He said he had no idea what he might do next.
"The old (economic model) for newspapers is fading away … (but) I don't think the Internet will save newspapers, either," he said. "You need 22 Internet readers to produce the same revenue as one newspaper reader."
But Coats said the coming changes balance reduced resources with the new ways readers use the newspaper.
"People tend to be skimmers during the week, reading more in depth in the weekend," she said. "People use the paper differently now, and we have to reflect that."