The St. Petersburg Times on Wednesday offered enhanced early retirement packages and imposed a wage freeze as part of a multipronged effort to cut costs.
In announcing the decision, Paul Tash, chairman, CEO and editor of the Times, cited "the most difficult economic times" he's seen in 30 years at the paper. "That's true not just for the St. Petersburg Times and not just for newspapers in Florida, but for a lot of businesses," he added.
Declining advertising, especially classified ads, has forced many newspapers to cut back on staffing. In April, Tampa Tribune owner Media General offered voluntary buyouts to half the employees at the Tribune, WFLA-Ch. 8, TBO.com and its other Tampa Bay news outlets.
The Times has dropped from more than 1,500 full-time staffers two years ago to fewer than 1,300, mostly by attrition. Its new program is geared toward workers at least 50 years old with at least five years of service. About 500 staffers would be eligible.
After gauging the response to the offer this summer, the paper may consider layoffs, Tash said. A target number of job cuts has not been set. Separately, the paper is waiving pay increases for one year beginning June 1.
"In times of rising prices for medical care, fuel and food, I understand that this pay freeze will cause hardship for some staffers," Tash said in a letter to employees. "I deeply regret that reality, but as staffers, our economic security depends ultimately on the health of our company."