Five things I think I think about today’s St. Pete Times: the ‘5% less edition’

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Today’s post is dedicated to a discussion about yesterday’s announcement from Times CEO Paul Tash that pay for full-time employees at the St. Petersburg Times will be cut by five percent until January 2012 under a new cost-savings plan implemented by the newspaper starting Monday.

First of all, that sucks.

Times employees are human beings, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives and so on, and so it’s simply declasse to wallow in other people’s misfortune.

Who you really don’t want to be is Jon Yapo, a legislative assistant for state House Rep. Jason Brodeur. As colleague Scott Maxwell noted in a post last month, Yapo was reveling in the news that the Orlando Sentinel may lay off some its copy editors and designers.

Dick move, buddy.

The St. Petersburg Times is, without question, one of, if not THE, most important ‘community partners’ to this region.  So seeing an institution so important to Tampa Bay continue to financially suffer is of no benefit to any of us.

That said, a five percent cut isn’t out of line with what a lot of folks are having to endure right now.  And it’s certainly not as bad as firings or forced furloughs, which is what most other media companies, the Tampa Tribune specifically, are implementing as part of their cost-savings plans.

The reality is H.L. Mencken was wrong, the newspaper business is not the life of kings.  Kings don’t have their pay cut twice in as many years.

Creative Loafing‘s Mitch Perry offers his own analysis of the situation at the Times.  His story is worth a read, although it’s filled with the kind of anonymous quotes that too often are associated with reporting about the internal workings of the St. Petersburg Times.  Is the Times employee who said to Perry, “It’s like Hurricane Katrina hit the newspaper” really afraid of a reprisal from the newspaper’s management?  What more can they do to you?

I do have to take issue with one of Perry’s criticisms, that the Times/Herald bureau in Tallahassee is “bloated”:

“A merger in 2008 of the Times and Miami Herald Tallahassee bureaus seemed like a cost saver, making the enlarged bureau the strongest single media outlet in the capital, with the most resources. But in some cases, you could argue that the bureau is a bit bloated. During the recent Legislative session, at times it appeared there were more reporters than stories to cover when we visited and reported from the press gallery. And it costs to pay for accommodations for some of those reporters.”

Perry better not run into Steve Bosquet anytime soon; them’s fightin’ words.

As for there ‘being more reporters than stories to cover,’ Perry must be living in a different state than I am.  Writing this political blog and being a member of the Capitol Press Corp, I know first-hand that there are a thousand stories in the naked capital.

There doesn’t need to be fewer reporters in the Times/Herald bureau, there needs to be more.

In fact, that is my main takeaway from yesterday’s pay-cut announcement: the Times‘ needs to double-down on its political coverage by better monetizing its online properties.  The reality is the Times‘ has the best political coverage in the state and is, pound-for-pound, one of the best political news teams in the country.  The newspaper could spin-off its political section, and with the right business plan, be a mini-Politico.

The trouble is the Times doesn’t know what the right business plan is anymore.  The newspaper simply does not fully understand how to financialize its online properties.  Think about it: Adam Smith could launch AdamSmith.com tomorrow and triple his salary.  Every political campaign, consultant and vendor would advertise on that site.  Yet, none of them are currently advertising on the Times‘ Buzz blog.  Why not?

I’d explain why not but, honestly, it’s not my job to make money for the Times.  But I know that money is out there, maybe even enough to stave off the next pay cut.

Maybe they should lift that hiring freeze and talk to somebody who has figured out how to monetize political coverage.  Know anybody who has?

Oh yeah, this guy!

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.