Tampa Bay Times gets $8.5 million federal loan, adds metered paywall to coronavirus stories

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The economic fallout has been a full-on kick in the jeans for newspapers across the country. This alt-weekly—which laid off seven full-time staffers in addition to three part-time freelancers—is not exempt, and neither is the local paper of record.

Late last month (AKA 1,000 weeks ago), the Tampa Bay Times put staff from its production, distribution and sales staff on an eight-week furlough and cut its print edition to twice a week in response to dropping advertising revenue. After the announcement, Times chairman and CEO Paul Tash told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that, "I do not remember another time when we ever suspended publication in print even for a day."

But last week, Tash announced that the paper and its related companies received a loan of $8.5 million as part of the Paycheck Protection Program through the Small Business Administration. The federal government money came via the paper’s bank, Hancock Whitney Bank, and will “cover only half of the sharp decline in advertising revenue.”

A post from Tash explained why the paper took the loan, if the money means a restoration of printing, plus what it means for the Times’ coverage of the federal government. A few employees were also recalled from furlough thanks to the loan, and the Times made plans to restore its staff’s temporary 10% pay cut, which was supposed to expire in June.

“This loan gives us more time to ride out the crisis before we have to make even more changes,” Tash said, adding that the company will use the money to preserve operations at their current level and wait longer for the economy to improve. The amount of time the paper has, however, is unknown.

In the past, the Tampa Bay Times received loans of $12 million and $3 million from private investors in 2017 and 2019. 

On Friday morning, Tash told CL that the amount of time the loan gives the paper all depends on when and how the economy rebounds.

“My crystal ball isn’t so clear these days,” Tash added, echoing a sentiment he shared with CL after announcing the reduction in print.

Tash also spoke to a new metered paywall that changes the way non-subscribers can consume the Times’ coronavirus coverage. He said that new coronavirus-related stories on the website are available to read, for free, for the first 24 hours they’re online. After that, access will only be granted to subscribers.

“We had to make a decision that spoke to the safety and wellbeing of our readers, and one that also looks out for the business interests of the paper,” Tash told CL.

He also added that he’s been reading the e-edition of the paper but always looks forward to the Wednesday and Sunday deliveries of the paper.

“I don’t think I ever did, but I’ll never take that for granted again,” he said.

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About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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