There’s so much news to discuss, but today, there is really only one story the Times cares about.
I cannot tell you how upset — internally and externally — the St. Petersburg Times‘ corporate officers are about the City of St. Petersburg’s solicitation ban.
I spoke with Times’ lawyer the compassionate and uber-smart George Rahdert last year during the city elections and he was aghast at some of the city leaders’ decision to ‘go after the least among us’ meaning the poor and disadvantaged the Times’ hires to hawk its Sunday edition.
Unfortunately, that argument was blown to pieces last night by City Council Chair Leslie Curran, who questioned representatives of the Times as to how they could get away with paying far less than minimum wage to the poor and disadvantaged about whom Rahdert was so worried. See, the circulation managers who ‘hire’ the workers to hawk the newspapers basically split the proceeds of their sales. Well, as was testified to several times last night at the public hearing, the math doesn’t add up, especially for the workers who labor for 18 hours but make less than $60. This was obviously a big issue to Curran, who closed the meeting with an admonishment to the Times that they figure out a way to pay their workers better.
But how to pay their workers better is the least of the paper’s worries. Understand, one of the Times‘ claims to fame is that it has the largest Sunday circulation from here to Washington D.C. The newspaper essentially dumps tens of thousands of its Sunday edition onto the street via hawkers and solicitors in a here-to-now successful effort to increase its circulation numbers. But with a solicitation ban keeping the Times’ from selling its Sunday edition, it’s distribution numbers are likely to drop, which in turn lowers ad revenue, which in turn forces the newspaper to scale back coverage or cut employee benefits and so on…
Trust me, the St. Petersburg Times will go to war over this issue. Look for Rahdert and Co. to file for a temporary injunction preventing the ban from being enforced while this issue winds its way through the courts.
Of course, by fighting the solicitation ban, the Times jeopardizes its standing in the community. Soon enough, every time a driver passes by a panhandler, that driver will begin to blame the Times for fighting the ordinance.
Of course, the City Council won’t get off Scot free from this issue. Look for the Times to shift its coverage to a more adversarial position versus Mayor Bill Foster and the City Council, especially those members up for election next year, like Bill Dudley, who originally was opposed to the solicitation ban out of support for the firefighters who, when not putting Dudley into office, collect money for the MDA via their roadside boot drives.
Just look at today’s edition: right next to the story about street soliciting banned, there is a piece about budget decision made, mostly out of public view. That appears to be an editorial coincidence, but, trust me, you’re gonna see a lot more articles like that in the newspaper now that the City Council has gone after the Times’ bottom line.
By the way, in a fight between Bill Foster and the City Council versus The St. Petersburg Times, you wanna know who the winner is? Me. It’s like a Rays fan watching a Red Sox-Yankees game. You just pray that whatever stadium the Sox and Yanks are playing in gets swept up by a tornado. Just like I’ll be hoping that a sinkhole swallows up whatever courtroom the City faces off with Times.