The latest rumors swirling about the future of the Tampa Tribune are not good. According to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, the newspaper’s parent, Media General, has filed for a zoning variance with the City of Tampa which would allow the company to subdivide the building housing the Tribune and its media brethren, WFLA-TV and TBO.com. The “News Center” is about to have a wedge driven into it, with the inside scoop saying the goal being a possible sale of the Tribune.
What makes this stunning is that the Tribune is considered to be the more conservative of the area’s daily print media duopoly. The other half of that equation, the Tampa Bay Times, has been considered a liberal publication by politicians and pundits for some time. Many in the political arena believe the Tribune to be a political counterbalance to the Times. Those same folks also dread the loss of a newspaper such as the Tribune in a region which is decidedly moderate in most elections.
Months ago, Media General was purchased by Berkshire Hathaway, but one newspaper group was conspicuously left out of that deal: The Tampa Tribune and its associated free community papers. Some insiders believed that Media General saw potential to salvage the Tribune and the community papers it printed, the reason being that it was Media General’s largest print operation and thought to be a revenue generator, like WFLA-TV.
That was then. Now, some wonder that if a buyer can’t be located, will Media General simply shut the Tribune down? The simple fact is that any buyer will have an uphill climb to get the Tribune back on track, especially with the recent rebranding of its crosstown rival, the Tampa Bay Times. Yet, there are a few ways for a potential owner to bring the Tribune back; it would require a bit of daring, a huge tolerance for risk.
GO TABLOID: The Tampa Tribune prints several tabloid community publications, the largest being The Suncoast News. A conversion to a traditional tabloid format (a la The New York Post), would give the newspaper a new flexibility with both advertising rates and newsprint and production costs. Also, it would be more convenient to carry for readers, and it would allow Editors to be more flexible in design, as well as more selective on what to run, as a traditional sized newspaper often requires “fluff” pieces to fill space.
INTEGRATE COMMUNITY PAPERS: With over a dozen community publications under its umbrella, the Tribune would be wise to integrate those papers as subsections of the new operation. West Pasco residents will choose a free Suncoast News to a fifty cent Tampa Tribune, given a choice. Eliminating the free weeklies and combining them with a revamped Tribune could solve this problem.
BECOME AN AFTERNOON NEWSPAPER: Not since St. Petersburg’s Evening Independent folded in the mid 1980s, has the Tampa Bay area had an afternoon daily. Indeed, afternoon newspapers have, in many ways, become nearly extinct; the most notable recent casualty of this trend was Cox Newspapers decision to fold the afternoon Atlanta Journal into its morning big brother, the Atlanta Constitution. However, an afternoon-printed Tribune could give the newspaper a massive breaking news advantage on the local level, one which the Tampa Bay Times does not currently enjoy. Major events happening during the day could be covered and put into print that same day, especially stories such as major political and sports news. It would also give the Tribune a distinction among Florida’s daily newspapers – the only major afternoon daily in the Sunshine State.
FOCUS ON LOCAL NEWS & POLITICS: For the Tribune to be successful, it needs to set itself apart from the Times. That said, the easiest way to do this is make its focus local in nature, with a minimum of state and regional news. Local news, sports and features would be a bread-and-butter component of a new Tribune, with local politics and business being a prime focus. Newspapers such as the Philadelphia Daily News, the New York Post, and even, to a lesser extent, the Washington Times, rely on a more local focus. The Tribune could capitalize and use it with a slogan such as “Your TRUE Hometown Newspaper.”
SHUT IT DOWN FOR THE OVERHAUL: For a short period of time, possibly up to two weeks, a new owner should shut down the Tribune and get the area wondering “what happened?” During that time, keep employees from saying a single thing except that the Tribune “is undergoing a transformation.” When it’s time to start up again, bring it back with fanfare, and a huge advertising blitz to let people know that not only is the Tribune back, it is better and ready for a fight.