The Tampa Bay Times is in a glass house and it’s not throwing stones

tampa bay times David Straz
The Times removed nearly a third of the AP content from its own post.

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?

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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.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was 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.


3 comments

  • VintageVNvet

    February 17, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    Good summary Peter, and I appreciate your including this in what has become one of my ”go to” web sites for local and state information, along with a couple dozen around the world as is convenient these days, and IMHO the only way to even approach the truth.
    My newspaper career started with selling the Sarasota Evening News when ‘Uncle Dave’ decided to combat the new afternoon paper, approx. 1951 or two. After that, as soon as I was 11, the minimum age required, I had a delivery route for the Sarasota Herald Tribune, always a morning paper, of approx. 125 papers and, after a couple weeks, found if I was waiting at the corner where my papers were unloaded from the truck, approx 0330, I could roll them, load them on my bike, and throw them by early enough to go fishing down on the bay and still get to school on time. Mom and I had a deal that IF I caught a good one, she would clean it and cook it and I would get my share, etc., it was a frequent joy in those days when Sarasota Bay was still clean…
    After that, I was a reader of every word of the old gray lady, etc., for many years, mostly on the Sunday edition.
    So, you can see that I have LOVED all the great newspapers of USA, or at least many, including the Saint Petersburg Times, R.I.P. Unfortunately, after the Sarasota Herald Tribune was sold to the NY Times, it too went down the same rabbit hole as the TBT, from which there will be no recovery, especially because both of them have just forsaken their readers in a PC voyage to the bottom of the heap.
    So, in spite of my trying to subscribe and support our local journalism, it is very clear it is doomed to follow the same path as similar out dated services and technology.
    Thanks again for your very good digital presence and reporting.

  • gary

    February 18, 2020 at 12:18 pm

    The day the St.Pete rimes turns into a dumpster fire and shutters it’s doors forever, I will spit on it’s grave! #FakeNews must die!

    My advise if St.Pete times wants to survive: Stop bias #FakeNews! Report fact based news without a hint of bias! Simple!

  • Jeff Parker

    February 18, 2020 at 5:17 pm

    The Bass Group offered to buy the paper from the Poynter Institute for $270 million about 30 years ago. Too bad they didn’t accept the offer. The Poynter Institute could still be thriving had they done so. Management has done a horrible job changing during this period of technology transformation.

    Having said this, gloating about a local papers demise is ignorance at it’s best. Local papers help root out corruption, among other positive contributions to the community. As a society and country, we continue to need solid investigative journalism. We should all hope the Tampa Bay Times continues to provide this service.

Comments are closed.


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