Buyout phase over, layoffs begin at Tampa Bay Times

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As the financially strapped Tampa Bay Times enters its post-voluntary buyout stage, in an effort to shed as much as 10 percent of its workforce, the initial round of layoffs has now begun.

The first casualty of the Times’ layoffs was features writer Patti Ewald, who also edits the monthly LifeTimes section. According to a former Times employee, Ewald was let go after a lunch meeting with one of newspaper’s VIPs.

Over the past month, more than two dozen staffers — columnists, reporters, editors and support staff — took buyout deals. Those who chose to leave included such leading names as Florida culture writer Jeff Klinkenberg, sports columnist Gary Shelton, city editor Heather Urquides, and reporter Joe Childs.

Editors Dona Hankins and Jody McMaster also accepted the newspaper’s buyout, two of the last to take offers before layoffs began.

I am hearing that other employees laid off include Graphics and Multimedia Director Chris Kozlowski and copy editors Wendy Annunziata, Gina Acosta, Joinville Michel.

Annunziata had been with the Times since 2000; McMaster was a 21-year Times veteran.

Staff writer Julie Kliegman, who covered North Pinellas County and formerly of PolitiFact, is also exiting.

Assistant Managing Editor Jack Sheppard confirmed to me that he is leaving the newspaper at the end of the year.

The degradation of the Times workforce lines up with what was recently laid out to me by an anonymous source. That email:

Hello. Just thought you’d like to know that the top editors at the Tampa Bay Times have 2 main missions in life: to put you and the Tampa Tribune out of business.

I sincerely doubt they will be competent enough to put a plan in place to actually accomplish either of those goals, but in the meantime I thought I would send you some info. for your blog you might find useful.

1. The Times is in deep deep financial shit; the editorial pages are being cut in half, starting on Monday. They have told staffers in meetings that their plans are to cut 8-10 pages from the daily newspaper starting next week (though in may come in phases). They are cutting staff (as you already know), sections and pages from the newspaper and making deadlines really early (so the paper will be even more stale). They will be cutting less from the Sunday paper because that is the main revenue generator (at least 60% of their revenue comes from the Sunday paper and the ads). They have eliminated the “Now” desk, which was in charge of the website. Which means the website is going to get even crappier than it already is. The website is an atrocity and it’s only going to get worse.

2. The building at 490 First Avenue South is for sale. Paul Tash himself says he would sell it yesterday “if anyone would actually buy it.”

3. The layoffs currently under way at the newspaper of course include zero members of management, even though these same managers have been in place for a long time, make a shitload of money and are in fact solely to blame for the newspaper’s miserable performance. The place is so full of nepotism/corruption that some managers manage their own spouses. These same managers are in charge of deciding who gets laid off. Guess how many spouses are getting laid off? Zero.

4. In the meantime, while the newspaper is going down faster than the Titanic, you still have managers taking three hours off during the day to go watch Rays games, you have a bloated design/copy desk that still employs 40 people (some of whom barely do any work), and Neil Brown, the executive editor, is never there. Maybe he is out job-searching?

It’s all a sad operation, whose main goal is to protect the salaries/jobs of obviously incompetent managers.

That’s all I have for now.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.