In a rather rich case of busting out the editorial scissors, the Tampa Bay Times posted content from the Associated Press last week highlighting ongoing newspaper financial distress as a major publisher files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The AP reported newspaper chain McClatchy, which publishes the Miami Herald and dozens of other local newspapers, was filing for bankruptcy protection.
But in sharing that content, the Times slashed references to media woes that could shine a light on the Times’ own troubled financial outlook.
Chief among those: The Times deleted mention of McClatchy seeking to “unload its pension obligations to a federal corporation that guarantees pensions, so that employees would get the benefits they were entitled to.”
That’s an important part of the story, is it not?
Employees at affected newspapers across the country are no doubt wondering whether the latest bankruptcy filing might affect their individual compensation — or job, for that matter.
But the Times not only omits information about protecting benefits, it also removes other references, including that the paper is not considering layoffs at this time.
In all, the Times removed nearly a third of the AP content from its own post, scaling back the AP’s 968-word article to just 336-words.
Why would they do that? It might have something to do with the old “people in glass houses” adage.
The Times is facing its own decline. Liens against the paper’s parent company now total more than $103 million, according to documents obtained by Florida Politics last June.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. filed its latest lien against the paper June 20 for $32.2 million, the same federal pension protection entity McClatchy is seeking to unload its obligations.
The Times’ lien is placed “on all property and rights to property” because the Times “failed to make contributions to the pension plan required.”
The liens are intended to protect current and former Times employees who are entitled to pension benefits from the company.
Six other liens have been filed by the PBGC on Times assets since 2015. None of those liens have expired, according to public filings in Pinellas County.
The Times has downplayed the liens and argues employee pensions remain protected.
“Like many employers, there is a gap between the assets and the calculation of what the payments might ultimately be. These liens are how the government protects its position. That said, we are making regular contributions to our pension plan, and it keeps paying every dollar due to our retirees,” Times spokeswoman Sherri Day wrote in a statement last June.
But still, their financial situation is dire, at best.
Two years ago, a group of investors including Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, philanthropists Frank Morsani and Kiran Patel and their wives, developer Ted Couch and Washington Redskins part-owner Robert Rothman, BluePearl CEO Darryl Shaw, Times CEO Paul Tash and one other who has not been identified put up $12 million under the name FBN Partners to help the paper stay afloat.
FBN stands for “Florida’s Best Newspaper,” one of the Times’ slogans.
In 2017, the widow of Nelson Poynter who controls a trust that loaned the Times more than $9 million, sued the paper for defaulting on that loan, which at the time still had a nearly $8 million balance.
The McClatchy story has nothing to do with the Times. But its troubles are not so different from what the Times is facing.
Our guess is, the Times would rather not voluntarily publish a reminder to its readers that its ship might be sinking.