Around the State
Media General plans to move the operations of its Tampa Bay area newspaper, TV station and online service under one news-gathering umbrella.
Grandly referred to as "The News Center," a new four-story building under construction in Tampa will soon house three local sources of news and information: The Tampa Tribune, WFLA-TV Channel 8 and Tampa Bay Online (TBO), which are all owned by Richmond, Va.-based Media General. Early next year, the formerly distinct news operations will move to the new facility, where they will share resources and personnel.
For Media General, the stakes are considerable. Tampa Bay represents the company's largest market, and WFLA alone delivers one-third of Media General's broadcast division revenues. With four network-affiliated television stations and a Time Warner 24-hour cable news service in the area, competition for news viewers and advertising dollars is fierce. WFLA-TV, an NBC affiliate, has lost its grip on the No. 1 spot in the local ratings war and has seen its advertising revenues shrink. Similarly, the Tribune battles the St. Petersburg Times, a sister publication of Florida Trend, for local advertising dollars and readership. Like all news operations, both WFLA and the Tribune face changing consumer expectations. "We don't expect our readers to wait 24 hours to get their newspaper," says Donna Reed, the Tribune's managing editor.
Under the new structure, WFLA and Tribune news staffs will collaborate on news-gathering efforts and funnel reporting into the print, broadcast and online formats. Both the newspaper and WFLA already contribute to TBO, an Internet site (www.tampabayonline.com) for community news and information. Next year, area residents can expect around-the-clock news offerings on TBO to increase, particularly with WFLA switching to a digital format -- in compliance with an FCC mandate for digital TV -- by year's end. With the new technology, a digitized TV broadcast could be sent to people's home computers over the Internet. Viewers will see newspaper staff on television; readers will see WFLA bylines on articles in the Tribune; TV cameramen will provide stills for the newspaper as well as video for broadcast news.
Media General is not the first in the state to try to merge different media under one news-gathering umbrella -- or to hazard the challenge of doing it well. Both the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and Orlando Sentinel now operate in conjunction with television and online services. "The biggest challenge early on was in bridging the cultural divide," says Orlando Sentinel Managing Editor Jane Healey, who helped shepherd the print/broadcast partnership with Time Warner's News 13 two years ago. She says both organizations are doing "better than expected," and have achieved their objective "to be the primary information source for their area."
Don Bradley, WFLA's news director, admits the merging of the print and broadcast news-gathering cultures may be difficult. Different pay scales, learning to use reporting resources differently, and cross-training reporters and photographers are all issues that the Tribune and WFLA will have to overcome. (The news staff numbers 300 at the Tribune and 87 at WFLA.) After a period when "there was clearly a lack of buy-in beyond the top level of this organization," the need for the move is now more widely understood, Bradley says.
Media General officials say the move shouldn't lead to layoffs. It didn't in Orlando or Sarasota. Reed says she sees more job opportunities, with a new set of skills needed to present news in multiple formats. The Orlando Sentinel's Healey says media companies have to cater to the demand for information in all forms to retain the value of their brand in the market. "If you're not going to read it in our paper, then we want to make sure you get our information from our television partner," she says.
In the News
Clearwater -- Tech Data Corp. (Nasdaq-TECD) added another feather to its IBM cap recently when Big Blue named the Clearwater company to its exclusive International Business Partner program. This means Tech Data will provide global logistics and delivery for IBM's desktops, notebooks and servers to help IBM grow its global business through resellers. Earlier this year, IBM named Tech Data its first Factory Direct partner.
St. Petersburg -- After exiting the Internet nearly four years ago, Home Shopping Network now wants to re-enter the online shopping market. HSN will limit its online merchandise to items that already have a following from its TV shoppers, such as limited edition sports paraphernalia and other collectibles.
Jabil Circuit Inc. (NYSE-JBL), will pay $250 million to acquire GET Manufacturing, an electronics manufacturing services provider with headquarters in Hong Kong. The purchase doubles the local circuit board maker's customer base and adds 5,000 overseas employees to Jabil's 7,500 stateside. The deal gives Jabil a strong presence in one of the fastest-growing global markets for electronics and telecommunications.
Two years ago, not-for-profit Bayfront Medical Center joined Clearwater-based BayCare HealthSystem's network of now eight Pinellas County hospitals, hoping to strengthen its competitive position in the face of large for-profit institutions. Now the main indigent care facility in the area will cut 500 jobs by the end of the year and must stop a financial hemorrhage costing roughly $1 million a month. The hospital also faces scrutiny from the city regarding its medical decision-making process, since it was learned Catholic hospitals in the network helped determine medical policy.
Tampa -- Ford Motor Co. earmarked the Tampa Bay area for a 600-person call center to handle its auto loan and leasing. The automaker is still shopping for a location.
Manatee County -- The county's largest private employer, Tropicana Products, chose Lakewood Ranch as the site for its new office building. The decision ended months of uncertainty as neighboring Sarasota County competed to accommodate the juice-maker. A hefty incentive package, including tax breaks and discounts on public water, clinched the deal. The company employs about 3,250 in Bradenton and hasn't determined how many the new facility will house.
A major dredging project for Port Manatee received the approval of Gov. Jeb Bush, despite protests from the local environmental group Manasota-88 that it would harm the bay's natural habitats. The biggest dredging undertaking in Tampa Bay in three decades will increase ship berths at the port; local businesspeople are eyeing increased trade with Latin America. Port Manatee officials have not yet settled on a start date for the $35-million project.
In the past, Clearwater officials ignored the Church of Scientology's significant downtown presence. But in a recent request for proposals (RFP) that went out to prospective developers, the church is listed as one of the city's positive assets. Clearwater is looking to develop 30 acres of prime waterfront. "The bluff," as it's referred to locally, includes Harborview Center, the main library, City Hall and Coachmen Park. It's also adjacent to the church's landmark Fort Harrison Hotel -- a major church facility that attracts thousands of Scientologists each year. Bob Keller, assistant city manager for economic development, says the RFP lists among Clearwater's virtues its "waterfront view, generally prosperous community, the Philadelphia Phillies' spring training camp and -- the Church of Scientology." Is the rift between church and city healed? The church is a major landowner, Keller says, and a factor the city needs to deal with in any redevelopment plans. Besides, he adds, "I do economic development; I don't do religion."