Tuesday saw the Tampa Bay Times newsroom gutted of essential staff in a set of layoffs that rocked the local media landscape.
Wednesday followed with another gut punch. Environmental reporter Craig Pittman announced he was the latest casualty.
After 21 years covering environmental issues for #Florida's largest and best paper, the @TB_Times, I was laid off today. It's been a great run. Watch this space for my next adventure. pic.twitter.com/7HOktgooaG
— Craig Pittman (@craigtimes) March 18, 2020
Pittman is beloved (by some) in the Tampa Bay region for his intrepid environmental reporting and penchant for “Oh, Florida” tidbits.
Condolences and messages of encouragement flowed in from journalists, politicians, and readers across the state and nation.
In addition to his work with the Times, Pittman has written several books, most famously “Oh, Florida! How America’s Weirdest State Influences the Rest of the Country.“ His fifth book, “Cat Tale: The Wild, Weird Battle to Save the Florida Panther,” was published earlier this year.
A source with direct knowledge of the layoffs told Florida Politics a total of 11 employees had been laid off. A report in the Times later confirmed this number.
Executive Editor Mark Katches said the layoffs were “not related to advertising losses caused by shutdowns from the coronavirus.”
Among the departed is Deputy Editor for Sports Mike Sherman.
Sherman announced his layoff on Twitter.
“Some personal news: After three-plus years as @TBTimes_Sports editor (aka deputy editor | sports) I soon will be leaving. I have been laid off. I am grateful to all my @TB_Times colleagues and our community for their friendship and support,” he wrote.
Photographer Octavio Jones and senior researcher Caryn Baird are also exiting the paper.
Daniel Figueroa IV, a digital producer for the paper who most recently was covering the coronavirus outbreak, also announced on Twitter Tuesday morning that he had been laid off.
“Up until about 5 mins ago, I had my dream job as a reporter with @TB_Times. We have all done our best to keep Florida informed, particularly in light of the current pandemic. Do not take these ppl for granted. The work they do is stellar and essential. I wish them all the best,” Figueroa wrote.
Bob Putnam, who covered Pinellas County high schools, also announced he was laid off on Twitter.
“I was laid off today after 24 years. So if there are any job opportunities out there let me know,” Putnam wrote.
High school sports writer Rodney Page also announced Tuesday he had been laid off.
“Today was my last day at the Times after nearly 24 years. Enjoyed being part of the team. On to the next chapter, whatever that may be,” Page wrote on Twitter.
A spokesperson for the Tampa Bay Times declined to comment citing confidentiality regarding personnel issues.
The layoffs come as little shock. Late last month the Times sent a memo to employees notifying them that beginning in March, employees would see an across the board 10% reduction in pay, a cut planned to last 13 weeks.
The memo also noted that job cuts were likely.
“This step is regrettable but necessary because revenues are falling short, a little in circulation and more seriously in advertising. While we anticipated declines in print advertising, they are deeper than we expected, particularly in display advertising for some large accounts. Our sales teams are working diligently to preserve that business while finding new customers. But the growth of new accounts has not made up for the losses,” the memo read.
The Times is facing steady financial decline. Liens against the paper’s parent company now total more than $103 million, according to documents obtained by Florida Politics last June.
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.