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Readers adjust to new delivery methods and so does the newsroom

Changes bring flexibility in the way the Tampa Bay Times produces the news.

Michael Harris initially felt guilty reading the Tampa Bay Times e-Newspaper instead of the printed pages.

“It made me feel like I was cheating on my wife,” the 74-year-old Safety Harbor resident wrote in an email. “I really truly felt like I was doing something wrong. LOL. But when I got on there I saw that it was a regular edition of the paper, just in digital. So I have to admit Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday I will be reading the paper on the digital app.”

We weren’t sure how readers would respond once we shifted to two days of home delivery. But Harris’ reaction was not uncommon. Close to 50,000 readers are launching the e-Newspaper most mornings. Subscribers are telling us they are satisfied — even pleasantly surprised. Many find the transition easier than anticipated. Others have noted the side benefits: No ink on the fingers, less paper to toss into the recycling bin.

This new mode also has altered the way our news organization thinks and works. When producing a printed paper, everything hinges on deadlines. If stories don’t get filed, pages can’t get built. If pages arrive late to the printing plant, platemaking falls behind. If platemaking lags, the press crew sits idle. If the press crew misses its start time, newspapers won’t reach the carriers. If carriers leave our distribution centers late, frustrated readers stare out at empty driveways.

Deadlines still matter when building an e-Newspaper. But the production process is simplified. We’ve taken advantage of this flexibility to bring you more news.

Consider these recent examples:

  • An outbreak of COVID-19 cases occurred inside a Pinellas County nursing home. The initial news broke late, and the story was written several hours after our normal print deadlines. But because we were putting out the next day’s e-Newspaper, we remade the front page around 11:30 p.m. so that every Tampa Bay Times reader saw the story.
  • When we spotted an error in the main news section one very early Saturday morning, an editor removed the mistake and swapped out the entire page. He hit send. About 30 minutes later, the replacement e-Newspaper page was uploaded for readers before anyone — besides a couple of groggy editors — had even noticed.
  • Round one of the National Football League draft ended after midnight. We got every pick in the e-Newspaper. We followed that up with complete coverage of rounds two and three the next day — which also ended late. It would have been next to impossible to be as comprehensive in print.
  • We’ve created more pages for the e-Newspaper — including full-pages on the environment, health and medicine, personal finance and noteworthy obituaries. We’re featuring more editorial-opinion content, a dedicated photo page and more color photography and graphics throughout. When you take newsprint costs and press constraints into account, it would be harder to do any of these things.

Meanwhile, on our print days, we’ve beefed up the paper by bringing back Perspective, a Sunday section featuring editorials, opinion and analysis. We’ve introduced a popular weekly puzzle book, and we’ve added more good news stories under the label “Bright Spots.”

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Many of our readers also have given generously.

The Tampa Bay Times launched two funds to help cover the costs of our investigative reporting and our journalism in general. We’ve raised more than $115,000 in contributions. About 1,600 people have donated — with a third contributing $100 or more.

The vast majority of the funds will help pay the salaries of journalists. Some of it will allow us to obtain public records, documents and data for stories. A portion will pay for legal defense and specific journalistic initiatives.

One might wonder if we’re out of the woods — given the reduced home delivery expenses, the generosity of our readers and the recent arrival of an $8.6 million federal paycheck protection plan loan.

We wish that were the case.

Significant challenges lie ahead, but the outpouring of support, appreciation and understanding from our readers has buoyed and inspired us. And from all of us at the Times, we thank you.

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