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Inside the newsroom Tampa Bay Times introduces pay meter to support local journalism

Readers are being asked to pay for content on tampabay.com.
Published Feb. 13

A team of reporters at the Tampa Bay Times found that children were dying at an alarming rate inside a venerable local hospital, in spite of internal warnings that heart-surgery procedures were putting kids at risk.

Another team spent nearly three years chronicling the courageous journey of a Tampa boy coping with a rare disease, and his parents' relentless efforts to seek a cure. Our eight-part series moved readers — and legislators — to help them.

Other reporters are following residents in the Panhandle reeling from a hurricane that left communities in tatters. As we introduce you to these residents, we can't help but wonder, could we be next?

Our mission is to keep you informed with stories that matter and that only we will tell.

But let me be blunt. The quality journalism we practice at the Times takes money. We have to find more ways to pay for it. We see a path, one that relies on raising more revenue from our abundant digital journalism. We have taken a big step toward this goal today as we put a pay meter on tampabay.com. That means there is a limit to how many stories someone can read without paying.

If you're already a subscriber to the Times, thank you. And worry not. You will enjoy unlimited access to tampabay.com. We couldn't exist without you.

We can no longer, however, give away our digital content.

[Click here to subscribe]

To underscore the economics of this, consider our coverage of tragic deaths at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital.

Problems had been hidden from parents and the public. It took investigative reporting to expose the truth. The impact has been immediate and profound. The leadership team at the hospital, including the chief executive officer, resigned days after we published our initial story. Regulators and investigators have swooped in. Johns Hopkins has vowed to do better.

Here's what it took to bring this story to light: Two reporters spent a year uncovering the problems at the Heart Institute. We amassed thousands of pages of documents and crisscrossed the state finding families of young patients. We had to pay for 10 years of admissions data from hospitals across Florida so we could analyze the trendlines. Editors, designers, photographers and web producers all devoted valuable time to the project. The newsroom's estimated cost: $225,000. And that's probably conservative.

Now consider that every story we published about the hospital appeared online first, generating nearly a half-million page views from digital readers. We think it's only fair to ask that audience to chip in.

Many of you may remember that we launched a digital pay meter for a time starting in 2013. Our website has vastly improved since. Today, tampabay.com serves as a wonderful showcase for the news and information you need in the Tampa Bay area. We publish about 100 stories a day online — far more than we can fit in the newspaper. We feature a growing catalog of podcasts, short-documentary videos and robust photo galleries, making for a more enhanced reader experience. It is now easier to engage with other readers and with our journalists.

Over the past two decades, digital and technological innovations and economic trends have hit the newspaper business like a series of powerful waves, toppling our traditional business model. We've taken our share of hits, and we've withstood them, better than most. We're still committed to fulfilling our vital mission and serving our audience — with your continued support.

Mark Katches is the Times' executive editor. He can be reached at mkatches@tampabay.com or 727-893-8441.

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