ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Florida’s largest newspaper, The Tampa Bay Times, said Tuesday it has purchased its main competitor, the Tampa Tribune, ending a decades-long newspaper rivalry.
The acquisition means that the Tribune printed its final newspaper Tuesday, ending its 123-year-old run as a stand-alone paper. The Times will become the fifth-largest Sunday circulation newspaper in the nation.
Times chairman and CEO Paul Tash said he intends to create one financially secure, locally owned daily newspaper in the Tampa Bay region. Tash did not disclose the purchase price.
“The continued competition between the newspapers was threatening to both,” Tash said in a statement. “There are very few cities that are able to sustain more than one daily newspaper, and the Tampa Bay region is not among them.”
The Times bought the paper from Revolution Capital Group, which purchased the Tribune in 2012 for $9.5 million.
People around the Tampa Bay area were stunned when they heard the news. Until 2012, the Times was called the St. Petersburg Times and headquartered in St. Petersburg — although it also has a bureau in downtown Tampa.
St. Petersburg and Tampa — 30 miles apart and separated by Tampa Bay — have always been vastly different places, and that was reflected in the two newspapers. Tampa is more urban, grittier, diverse, while its neighbor across the bay has morphed from a place affectionately known as “God’s Waiting Room” because of all of its retirees into a hipster playland with murals, microbreweries and the state’s largest farmer’s market.
For years, the Tribune was considered the more conservative paper, while the Times was thought of as more liberal.
“There’s going to be jubilation certainly within the Times and I’m sure they’re going to pick up tens of thousands of new subscribers,” said Gary Mormino, a Florida historian and professor emeritus at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. “If you’re a newspaper reader, this is sad news. The competition has been overall good for the community.”
For decades, the two papers have had a rivalry in the cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg and the far-flung suburbs of Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. Scores of cub reporters cut their teeth in the papers’ bureaus, wrangling details out of sources in a scrappy attempt at scooping the other paper.
That competition had waned a bit in recent years, as both papers tried to hang on amidst layoffs, furloughs and the depressing reality of the newspaper business. The rise of the Internet and the Great Recession decimated newsrooms across the country and more advertising has shifted to digital networks powered by Google and Facebook.
“It’s fair to say we’ve seen this day coming for a very long time,” Tash said. “We are committed to being Florida’s best newspaper to all of our readers and advertisers.”
Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst at the Poynter Institute of Media Studies in St. Petersburg — the not-for-profit that owns the Tampa Bay Times — said he thought the acquisition “was in the cards for some time.”
“The Tribune’s fate was kind of sealed when the company that bought them sold their property and main building,” he said. “It’s been the Times’ hope for a long time that they could acquire the Tribune, its subscriber list and advertisers and complete the domination of this newspaper market.”
Poynter reported that at least 100 layoffs are expected.
The Tribune won a Pulitzer Prize in 1966 for local investigative specialized reporting. In 1999, the paper became one of the first in the nation to “converge” with a TV station when it shared a newsroom with WFLA.
The Times began its history 131 years ago as the West Hillsborough Times. It was known for most of its existence as the St. Petersburg Times, but changed its name to the Tampa Bay Times in 2012 to reflect the territory it serves. In April, the Times won its 11th and 12th Pulitzer Prizes, for local and investigative reporting.
In April, the Times Publishing Co., parent of the Tampa Bay Times, announced that it sold its downtown St. Petersburg headquarters for $19 million to a joint venture of Convergent Capital Partners and Denholtz Associates. The Times will stay under a 15-year lease as a major tenant, occupying nearly half the building.
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