TAMPA, Fla. — A pair of 18-wheel rigs waited outside the former printing plant of The Tampa Tribune on a recent afternoon. Workers were busy dismantling machinery and hauling it away, preparing for the building’s demolition. Nearby, in what had been the newsroom, file folders, reporters’ notebooks and other detritus lay scattered on the floor, evidence of a hasty retreat.
The Tribune, whose motto was “Life. Printed Daily,” was abruptly shut down on May 3 after having covered this city and its environs for 123 years. The reasons for its demise were familiar: precipitous drops in advertising, the rush of readers to the web, the fallout of the economic recession. But this particular case felt a little more personal — and left the journalists who found themselves suddenly out of work with the sense that they had been betrayed.
It was The Tribune’s main competitor, The Tampa Bay Times, based 25 miles away in St. Petersburg and owned by the nonprofit Poynter Institute, that dealt the knockout punch by purchasing The Tribune and then immediately shutting it down.
The deal for the purchase of The Tribune from the Revolution Capital Group was struck almost five months ago, but was not revealed until this month. Tribune employees said they knew nothing about the paper’s planned sale to its rival, and believed that, their building having been sold to a Miami developer, they would move into new offices in Tampa as soon as suitable space could be found.
“People feel like fools, they feel like dupes and they feel deceived,” said Michelle Bearden, a 20-year veteran of The Tribune who was laid off in 2014 and keeps in close touch with former colleagues. “Revolution had already inked the deal with The Tampa Bay Times to sell the paper. There was never any intention to find a new home and continue The Tribune as a competitive entity. There was no commitment to this community, no intention to try to make this newspaper profitable again, no interest in preserving a historical tradition.”
(New York Times, May 20, 2016)
The Detroit Times, with a circulation of around 300,000, went under late in 1960. The blow fell, as usual, without warning — the theory being that employees, if they know a paper is to be scuttled, will slack off in their work. Members of the Times staff, coming to work in the morning, found locks on the office doors.
(A.J. Liebling, “The Press,” 1961)