Florida Newspaper Sales Could Be Bad News For Readers

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune (above), Lakeland Ledger, Gainesville Sun, Star-Banner in Ocala and News Chief in Winter Haven are being sold.
TAMPA (2011-12-28) -

Several papers in our region are expected to be under new ownership soon, including the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Lakeland Ledger, Gainesville Sun; Star-Banner in Ocala and News Chief in Winter Haven.

The New York Times Company is expected to earn $143 million from the sale to Halifax Media Holdings, a private company that already controls the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

What does this mean for readers? Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute told WUSF’s Scott Finn to expect layoffs and a reduction in news.

“I’d have a concern that it will most likely mean the papers are run with less spending in the newsroom and elsewhere. That’s something for readers to watch for,” Edmonds said.
“I hope it doesn’t happen, but I think the odds are it probably will.”

Edmonds said the New York Times got into the Florida regional newspaper business several decades ago. The regional papers were highly profitable and could help subsidize the larger organization.

But today, that situation has reversed. He says in the digital world, the very large audience of the New York Times online is better at attracting advertisers than the smaller papers.

He says smaller companies are swooping in, thinking they have a way to operate them successfully. These papers still are profitable. He says the Halifax Group bought the papers for a bargain price as well.

When buyouts like these occur in the newspaper industry, they’re more often than not accompanied by layoffs and reductions in reporting and service.

Edmonds expects the same here. He expects an announcement in the next several days of layoffs and changes in newspaper management.

He says that with declining print revenues, newspapers have no choice but to cut staff and service. But it is beginning to show, he says.

“I think most executives would say they’ve gotten past the easy ones, and now they’ve had to cut the real muscle of their reporting staff,” he said.

“They’re getting close to having so little, especially in the small papers and at the beginning at the week, that they may not be really satisfying readers.”

He says there’s a possibility that digital and other revenue streams will get stronger and replace declining print revenues. But he doesn’t expect to see it next year.

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