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St. Petersburg Times to become 'Tampa Bay Times'

Tampa Bay Times
Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash announces the newspaper's name change, which takes effect Jan. 1. [Photo: Scott Keeler/ St. Petersburg Times]

For 25 years, beginning under Editor and CEO Gene Patterson, the St. Petersburg Times has operated under the strategy that an emerging regional marketplace would eventually support one newspaper.

In November, the paper announced that it was formally embracing a regional identity and will rename itself the Tampa Bay Times as of Jan. 1. Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash points out that 75% of the newspaper's circulation is outside St. Petersburg and says the name change was meant to "send a welcoming signal to readers and advertisers throughout the region." The Times, a for-profit paper owned by a non-profit journalism school, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, is the largest newspaper in Florida and among the 20 largest in the country.

The Times began its regional push in earnest in the late 1980s, expanding a Tampa office as it grew northward through Pinellas and into Pasco and Hernando counties. As smaller competitors like the Clearwater Sun fell, its major rival became the Tampa Tribune, owned by Richmond, Va.-based Media General.

While the Tribune has made periodic marketing forays into the Times' base in Pinellas, the major battleground has been the Tribune's home in Hillsborough County. In 2004, the Times began publishing a tabloid called tbt*/Tampa Bay Times, prompting a lawsuit from the Tribune.

A 2006 settlement allowed the Times to use tbt*/Tampa Bay Times as the name of the tabloid but precluded broader use of "Tampa Bay Times" for five years. The Times announced the name change the day after the restriction expired. The change will also see the St. Pete Times Forum in downtown Tampa become the Tampa Bay Times Forum — the Times bought naming rights to the arena in 2002.

Competition between the Times and the Tribune has taken on additional urgency during the recession, which has imposed a heavy toll on ad revenue in a newspaper industry already in flux. Both newspapers have laid off staff. The Times retains a larger overall circulation than the Tribune (292,441 daily and 403,229 Sunday vs. the Tribune's 164,568 daily and 254,782 Sunday). But the Times still narrowly trails the Tribune in circulation in Hillsborough County. Times executives declined to speculate about how long the market can support two newspapers.

Meanwhile, Media General replaced three top executives at the Tribune, WFLA-Channel 8 and TBO.com as part of a restructuring aimed at cutting costs and improving the financial performance of the newspaper. A company memo said there would be more layoffs, but a spokesman for Media General said the company doesn't plan to close the Tribune.

Editor's note: Florida Trend is owned by the Times Publishing Co., which also owns the St. Petersburg Times, but operates independently.