Friday, August 14, 2009

"So Long and 30 from Times"

This was the headline from the August 14, 1982 edition of the Tampa Times ('30' is newspaper jargon for the end of a story). The afternoon paper, founded in 1893 and purchased in 1958 by the larger and more successful Tampa Tribune, had printed its last issue. Simple economics drove the decision to cease publication of the Times, but there were larger social changes -- similar to what is going on today -- that doomed the once venerable afternoon paper.

The older Times was not always the weaker of Tampa's two daily newspapers. When radio stations began springing up in the 1920s, it was the Times that secured, in 1922, the ownership rights to WDAE, Florida's first radio station. The Times and WDAE shared resources, even stories, eighty years before "media convergence" would become a standard phrase.

Unfortunately for the Times, their luck did not extend to the 1950s when a new, more powerful medium -- television -- appeared on the scene. The Tribune won the license to operate WFLA-TV in 1955, leaving the Times at a great disadvantage. The very medium that the Times pursued contributed to its ultimate demise. The ever-increasing popularity of television came at the expense of the afternoon newspapers. The cash-strapped Times was purchased by the Tampa Tribune Company in 1958. The two papers continued as competitors, but it became apparent which paper was destined to outlast the other.

The same forces that drove the Times out of business -- new and faster forms of media, shorter attention spans, greater economic competition -- are at work today. Much like Tampa in the early and mid 20th century, the Tampa Bay area today has two daily newspapers battling each other for limited consumers. TV, the Tribune's early salvation, has now become a major competitor. More importantly, the internet is further eroding readership from all newspapers. The rise of the St. Petersburg Times as a regional newspaper makes one wonder if the area is big enough for two daily papers. The public's increased reliance on the internet further pushes the possibility that, some day in the near future, there may be no more dailies in print at all.


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