Pay cuts at St. Pete Times hit employees hard

"It's like Hurricane Katrina hit the newspaper," said one inside source.

Needless to say, morale is suffering.

One staffer told CL, "To work as hard as we do, and to seemingly get penalized for it, it's testing our resolve."

Another Times reporter tells CL that the news came as a surprise, with not even managers being aware of what was happening before Thursday.

Another editor reportedly complained upon receiving the Tash letter that money has been spent improperly by the paper in recent years.

One possible example: 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.

And then there are the bureaus in Pasco, Hernando and Brandon. How long can they be maintained?

Although the quality of the Times remains consistently good, the fact is that the Metro section of at least the Tampa edition of the paper has thinned in recent years.

The Times problems are modest, however compared with the situation at the Tampa Tribune, where rumors run rampant that the paper may not survive past 2013. Of course, similar rumors spread in 2008 about the paper's demise, which was greatly exaggerated.

Earlier this summer the owner of the Trib, WFLA-News Channel 8 and, Media General, imposed 15 unpaid furlough days that had to be taken by December 31, as well as laying off 29 employees. (Curiously, Times staffers will be given five days off with pay over the next five months to go with their cut in salary).

Creative Loafing's financial woes made news two years ago, when the paper went into bankruptcy before ultimately being purchased by New York-based hedge fund Atalaya Capital Management.

There is a serious economic crisis going on in this country, and the newspaper industry has certainly been affected by it. Nearly two years ago, full-time employees at the St. Petersburg Times were given a 5 percent pay cut, a cut that was expected to be restored at the end of 2010.

Not only did that not happen, but those staffers faced more bad news yesterday when they were informed that they will now have their salaries cut another 5 percent until (at least) January 2012. (Times media critic Eric Deggans has the complete details, including the letter sent by Times CEO and Chairman Paul Tash to employees about the news).

"It's like Hurricane Katrina hit the newspaper," said one inside source, with others feeling equally disheartened.

But even though the blow is rough for staffers at the Times, the paper has for the most part avoided the devastating cuts that have affected its brethren in the print media world, none more so than the cross-bay Tampa Tribune, now a shell of its former self.

In addition to the pay cuts at the Times, the severance payments that departing employees will receive has been reduced as well, from 40 weeks salary to 26 weeks.

Newspaper ad sales have been plummeting since at least 2006, and some of the biggest newspapers have made major reductions since then. Reportedly it was a bad spring and a worse summer for the Times in that regard.

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