Monday, October 8, 2012

Tampa Tribune sold, new owners say they're in it for the long haul

Posted By on Mon, Oct 8, 2012 at 2:48 PM

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Nothing about this morning's announcement that the Tampa Tribune has been sold to a private-equity firm is that surprising. When parent owner Media General sold off most of its other newspaper properties except the Tribune to investor Warren Buffett earlier this year, officials said the Trib was definitely on the block.

The question was never whether the Trib would be sold off. The question has been its ability to survive as the smaller paper in a two-paper community. In other words, could it stay afloat and continue to publish daily?

That's been answered in the affirmative, for now.

The paper was purchased by the Tampa Media Company, a recently formed company created by the Los Angeles-based Revolution Capital Group for $9.5 million. In a press release, Robert Loring, the founder and managing partner of the company, said, “We are delighted to be the new owner of The Tampa Tribune, a newspaper with strong brand equity and a long history of serving its readers, advertisers and community exceedingly well. We believe strongly in the value of local content.”

CL has not been successful yet today in speaking with Loring, but he did tell the Tribune that "We are definitely in this for the long haul," adding that "We don't flip businesses."

That's the crucial statement, because private-equity firms like RCG have been known to purchase such properties, hold them for awhile to build up assets, and then sell them again for profit.

That's exactly what happened with Creative Loafing, which was purchased in August of 2009 by New York-based Atalaya Capital Management. The firm then sold the paper to SouthComm, a journalism company based out of Nashville, in July of 2012 (though not for a profit).

Although the merger of the Tribune, WFLA News Channel 8 and TBO.com was regarded as the essence of local-journalism "convergence" when the three entities began operations in the $40 million, 120,000-square-foot "News Center" off of Parker Street in the late 1990s, that relationship has grown less close, with News Channel now contributing Internet stories on its own website and no longer on TBO.com.

Which is why it's interesting to note in the Tribune's story that:

Media General will retain its NBC television affiliate, WFLA, News Channel 8. However, the newspaper and station will continue a news partnership that began in the late 1990s when they moved into a new building on the west side of the Hillsborough River.

The newsrooms of WFLA, TBO.com and the Tribune will continue to work together, officials said, likely with staffers from each attending daily news meetings and working on joint news projects.

After the Tribune fired 165 staff members last December, it has hunkered down to concentrate mostly on stories inside of Tampa, shifting reporters from other beats to work on issues affecting residents of the city.

Rumors of the Trib's potential demise have surfaced for years. The paper addressed those stories in an editorial, denying that it would fold after the 2009 Super Bowl.

The Tribune has a daily circulation of 144,510 and a Sunday circulation of 262,369.

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