Today we mourn the loss of another daily newspaper. After Sunday, April 5, the Tampa Bay Times will cease printing the newspaper every day. Starting Monday, the paper will not print on Monday. Or Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The Tampa Bay Times will become a two-day newspaper, printing on Wednesday and Sunday.
It is ironic that the Tampa Bay Times is using the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic as the excuse for ceasing to be a daily newspaper. The Covid-19 pandemic is a historic event of Biblical proportions. Covid-19 is the biggest daily news story since World War II.
Previously, big-city newspapers prided themselves on continuing the public service of covering and printing the news every single day through even the most disastrous and dangerous times. Newspapers considered it an almost sacred duty.
As far as I know, London newspapers continued to print every day during the Battle of Britain, when the city was bombed every night. Newspapers did not stop printing every day during the flu pandemic of 1918, which happened to coincide with the final, decisive year of World War I.
(Yes, social media consumers, cities had two or more daily newspapers — sometimes many daily newspapers — in days of yore. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s true.)
For the record, the Tampa Bay Times is really the St. Petersburg Times. It began calling itself the Tampa Bay Times after the city of Tampa’s last daily died. The newspaper’s office is still in St. Petersburg. I suppose the name change protected Tampa from the humiliation of being the largest U.S. city without a daily newspaper. Well, no longer.
It used to be normal for big cities — even small cities — to have two or more competing daily newspapers. Cities had afternoon newspapers and morning newspapers, and sometimes newspapers that printed all day, edition after edition. You knew things were changing when big cities that previously had two newspapers became one-newspaper cities. In the case of St. Petersburg and Tampa, two of the biggest cities in Florida became two cities with one newspaper for an entire region. The newspaper was renamed for the bay which separates Tampa from St. Petersburg. The one remaining newspaper in recent years was little more than a shadow on many days.
It was unable to print such things as the daily box score of the region’s Major League baseball team. In the past year, the paper often reported discovery of forgotten grave sites as the most important news of the day. It was digging up information that was decades old, and neglecting to print much actual news.
The Tampa Bay Times has devoted full pages to predicting its own demise many times since the Covid-19 pandemic became serious. At a time when the public is in need of the latest news of a major continuing dangerous event affecting every citizen, the Tampa Bay Times is eager to excuse itself from the chore of printing the news. Its executives seem almost proud of their intention to downsize the newspaper, holding the paper up as a sad victim of the news, rather than a reporter of the news.
The former daily newspaper is now begging readers to subscribe to an “online” version. I wonder how long it will continue to print on Wednesdays? How many more employees will be laid off? And how long before it prints a final headline, “FAREWELL.”
Goodbye, Tampa Bay Times. Rest in peace.
— John Hayden