Tribune Media General lay off 165 people

Despite many previous rounds of staff reductions and widespread internal anxiety at the newspaper, Tampa Tribune TV critic Walt Belcher was still surprised Monday by the early-morning telephone call.

Like many of the 165 staffers downsized at the Tribune and smaller publications owned by Media General in Tampa, Belcher was caught before coming in to work. He was told he’d be laid off and must schedule a time to come in, complete paperwork and pick up his office belongings.

For Belcher, who joined the Tribune in 1977 as a reporter in its Sebring bureau, it was a stunning end to a near 35-year career at the newspaper.

“I’ve probably had more bylines than anybody in the history of the paper,” said Belcher, who took over as the paper’s TV critic in 1981. “I had a good run.”

A statement from Media General, based in Richmond, Va., said the company will downsize 165 staffers — a 16 percent reduction — from the Tribune, website and its community and weekly print products. After the layoffs, print and online products will employ a total of 675 staffers.

TV station WFLA-Ch. 8 avoided layoffs, confirming early rumors that the company would separate the more profitable station from the print and online platforms.

The announcement comes after Media General replaced three top executives in charge of the Tampa Tribune, Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA-Ch. 8 and last month as part of a restructuring.

Many laid-off staffers were told Monday, but some layoffs will occur in the first quarter of 2012 for “various business reasons,” the statement said. Spokesman Ray Kozakewicz added the newspaper does not expect to change its publication schedule, though he would not detail whether some sections would stop publishing or how the composition of the newspaper might change due to the downsizing.

In the quarter that ended in September, Media General posted a net loss of $29.8 million, compared with a loss of $10.7 million a year ago. Revenue fell 11 percent to $144.7 million in the quarter. Print revenue fell 9 percent while broadcast revenue fell 13 percent.

Media General’s stock price has been in flux lately. Shares have traded above $7 in the past year but fell to $1.14 in October when the Moody’s rating service downgraded its stock outlook. The stock price has rebounded significantly. It closed at $4.30 a share Monday, up 18 cents on the day.

The Tampa Tribune‘s circulation stood at 254,782 on Sundays and 125,867 during the week, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations figures released six weeks ago. The St. Petersburg Times, which is changing its name to the Tampa Bay Times as of Jan. 1, has Sunday circulation of 403,229 and weekday circulation of 240,024.

St. Petersburg Times