If a metro area with 2.7 million people can’t sustain two newspapers – especially with an aging population with the time and inclination to read a printed paper – can anywhere?
Some say maybe not.
The purchase of the 123-year-old Tampa Tribune in Florida this week by the paper’s rival, The Tampa Bay Times, stunned employees and area residents. But media watchers largely shrugged, calling it the latest in a long slide of obsolescence for America’s print media.
“Well within our lifetime, there will be places where there are no newspapers,” said Alan D. Mutter, a former Chicago Sun-Times editor and currently a Silicon Valley new media consultant who writes the blog, “Reflections of a Newsosaur.” ”There’s not enough business for two newspapers in a market like Tampa-St. Petersburg.”
Denver and Seattle once had two thriving newspapers, and now don’t. Detroit and Philadelphia both have two papers, but Detroit’s are run under a Joint Operating Agreement and earlier this year, the owner of Philadelphia’s two largest newspapers and their joint website, philly.com, handed them off to a nonprofit created to help them survive the digital age with help from foundation grants, university partnerships and other boosters.
Tampa Bay Times chairman and CEO Paul Tash said he intends to create one financially secure, area media outlet with the fifth-largest Sunday circulation newspaper in the nation. The Tribune has ceased to publish and at least 100 employees lost their jobs.
The Times is owned by the Poynter Institute, a not-for-profit journalism training center in St. Petersburg, Florida.
The Times-Tribune saga is the latest in a turbulent media market.
In 2011, McClatchy sold its iconic Miami Herald building on Biscayne Bay for $236 million to a condo developer, and the paper moved to the suburbs.
Gannett purchased the Naples Daily News in late 2015. It also owns the nearby Fort Myers News-Press. Last month, Michael Kane, East Group President of Gannett, told the Daily News details were still being worked out about how the papers would be integrated.
Tash won’t disclose how much the Times paid for the Tribune. But the Times reported Wednesday it took on about $13.3 million in new debt just before the purchase, according to a mortgage filed Wednesday in Pinellas County.
The Times recently sold its building in downtown St. Petersburg and will lease back half the space. The new mortgage is the latest installment of financing the Times has taken out over the past three years with Crystal Financial of Boston.
The Times now owes Crystal $18 million, the Times reported. The paper bought the Tribune from Revolution Capital Group, which purchased it in 2012 for $9.5 million. Revolution Capital sold the Tribune building in downtown Tampa for $17.75 million to a condo developer.
Both the Tribune and the Times had fought an all-out newspaper war for years. But around 2008, papers across the country experienced “a perfect storm” of problems, ones they’ve never recovered from, said Paul Gillin, a tech journalist and speaker who specializes in social media. Home developers that once bought multi-page sections in newspapers to showcase gleaming new subdivisions stopped advertising because no one was buying property – or the developers went bankrupt altogether.
“Internet competition, changing reader preferences, ads going away. The advertising market imploded thanks to Craigslist and Google,” he said.
And the Tribune’s weekday circulation plummeted to 94,098 in 2014 from 238,887 in 2004, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.
The Times, the state’s largest paper, saw its weekday circulation fall from 348,502 in 2004 to 181,048 in 2014.
Mutter cited statistics from the Newspaper Association of American that contend print advertising and circulation revenues have fallen from $58.2 billion in 2005 to his estimate of $25.9 billion in 2015.
Gillin said the Times “has a reputation of being an outstanding newspaper and is a bit of an island in that roiling sea” because of its unique setup with Poynter.
Other newspaper chains have taken “draconian” measures to cut cost by scaling back on printing papers on certain days, furloughs and going all-digital, Gillin said.