Another depressing day for newspapers

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Being in the newspaper business in the United States is like being in the eye of a hurricane. What was once stable is enduring  a cataclysm as recently robust newspapers fall by the wayside, leaving their employers and readers abandoned.

The latest casualty is The Tampa Tribune. The Tampa Bay Times announced yesterday that it was buying and shutting down the Tribune, its daily rival. The Tribune employed 265 full-time staff. At least 100 of those are expected to be let go.

The move was so quick The Times didn’t even let The Tampa Tribune put out a last paper for the staff to say goodbye to all it’s readers. Visitors to the website of the 123-year-old Tribune are already being redirected to the website of the Times.

The Tribune went from heady times to death in a relatively short period of time.

“We were the scrappy, energetic staff that did not want to get beat by the St. Pete Times,” wrote Barbara Boyer, now a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“We worked hard and played hard at a paper that rapidly expanded in the 1990s with reporters in the far reaches of inner Florida. We were one big, happy — but somewhat dysfunctional — family,” wrote Barbara Boyer said on the paper’s Facebook alumni page.

Revolution Capital, a private equity firm that owned the Tribune, treated it like any other investment, according to NiemanLab. Their formula — buy undervalued company, milk cash flow, sell off valuable assets, shut down the rest — can work just as well in any industry. And once you strip out any sense of civic responsibility, the formula works.

In this case, according to NiemanLab, Revolution Capital bought the Tribune in 2012 for a mere $9.5 million. It gutted the cost structure — going from 618 employees in 2012 to 265 this week. Revolution then identified a core Tribune asset — the land underneath its offices — and sold it off to condo developers for $17.75 million — a nifty profit. Then, seeing what an unending series of revenue declines ahead, it got whatever it could for the core product and signed the paper’s death warrant.

Meanwhile, The Oregonian’s future continues to be hazy as well.

Certainly the barely there periodic print edition, which gives  almost as much space to comics as to the news, is slipping gradually into oblivion.  With the shift to digital news undermining the earnings of The Oregonian and other traditional newspapers across the country, you have to wonder how long the paper, now a mere shadow of its former self, will be able to hold on, and whether at some point anybody but the alumni and employees will care if it doesn’t.

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