By Jim Bleyer
Former staffers of the late Tampa Tribune threw themselves a helluva blast Friday, only 10 days after their jobs were abruptly erased in a series of double deals that makes a Three-card Monte con seem like Old Maid.
The event was anything but a pity party. More than 300 attendees at Ulele, Richard Gonzmart’s tony Riverwalk bistro, laughed, reminisced, and spoke optimistically about their future. For those yearning for something more tangible than warm memories, boxes of memorabilia–tee shirts, coffee mugs, key chains, landmark editions–lined the perimeter of Ulele’s outdoor beer garden under a blazing late afternoon sun.
Also on full display was the journalism profession’s storied resilience. The sacked contingent was supported by other former Trib employees, some of whom were with the paper in the sixties. The only interloper seemed to be a working New York Times reporter conducting interviews for an upcoming piece on the demise of a longtime community newspaper, as if that still constituted “news” in contemporary America.
The May 3 massacre saw 265 Trib employees axed by its crossbay rival, the Tampa Bay Times, who acquired the 121-year-old daily from private equity group Revolution Capital. Initially, Times Publisher Paul Tash, in an effort to shuck and jive his way out of complying with government regulations, said “as many as 100” Times employees could be laid off. Later on, the Times indicated it would hire as few as 25 of the cashiered former Tribbers. Confirmed hirings so far: two.
When Revolution sold the Tribune’s land and buildings in July of last year, the Tribune’s fate was sealed. The equity firm received twice as much for the real estate as they paid for the entire enterprise in 2012. The deal was the culmination of spurious transactions involving the State of Florida pension fund and Jeb Bush’s Right to Rise political action committee.
Floridiocy predicted the Trib’s quick demise last August, declaring it would cease publication before the end of 2016.
The U.S. Department of Labor has stated unequivocally that because the Times did not give any Tribune employee the required 60 days notice under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, it could be liable for damages into the millions in any class action lawsuit. Additionally, civil fines could total $500 a day for the 60 days.
The Revolution-Times Publishing deal was made months ago. Apparently, the Times sacrificed its WARN act compliance and common decency on the altar of secrecy.
(The writer is a former Tampa Tribune Bureau Chief)