It was announced last Monday that Tim Nickens, long time Editor of Editorials at the Tampa Bay Times, is retiring this spring. That claim of “retirement” might have been believable if the Times had not announced a 10% “temporary” pay cut for all full-time staff just two days later.
Nickens, 60, has long been the wingman for Times CEO and chairman Paul Tash. Along with other senior executives, Tash will take a 15% temporary pay cut starting tomorrow. That pay cut is likely a financial pin prick for Tash, who has been harvesting a half million dollar a year salary for several years as he steered the S/S Times towards iceberg after iceberg.
The “substantially improved financial results and consistent operating profits” Tash wrote about three years ago have evaporated (if they were even real). Yet neither the Times board nor the Poynter Institute have apparently questioned Tash’s pay during the decline of the Times. Only now must pay be cut, and it must be 10% across the board, thus hurting the lowest paid staff the most.
Cutting Tash’s pay to under $100,000 a year, temporarily of course, just until the ship is righted, was not part of the plan to rescue the Times. Was such a morale boosting move even considered?
One of Tash’s business decisions was a short-sighted and ethically conflicted one three years ago: to have the Times borrow money from a company called FBN Partners, which then got to hold Times’ buildings and land as security. The conflict lies in that Tash and his wife are also investors in FBN Partners.
However, the most damaging aspect of that move was that Tash effectively turned the Times in to a profitable circular. “Profitable” for whom remains to be seen.
In the publishing business, a “circular” is an advertisement which is distributed to a large number of people. What the Times has been advertising is “transit taxes” to benefit Jeff Vinik and other moneyed people, and whatever else benefits the Times’ lenders.
The public, both on the right and on the left, noticed the Times’ sleight of hand. In part, this caused the declining circulation and plunging ad sales, which in turn led to the present 10% pay cut. The newspaper business is tough, but papers around the nation manage to survive by keeping the trust with their readers.
We are not alone locally in our long-running skepticism about what is really going on at the Times. However, establishment local media all used the Times’ claim of “temporary” pay cuts in their headlines (e.g. here and here). What is more likely to be “temporary” is the Times’ staff’s continued employment.
If the gig is well and truly up, expect Tash to also “retire” at the most opportune moment for Paul Tash. After all, “common decency” dictates a few weeks pass between his departure, the Times’ demise, and Tash’s next role: cashing in as a part-owner of FBN Partners.
There could be a future battle between FBN and the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation, which holds liens for $103 million against all of the Times’ property. Also here, common decency dictates what the outcome of any such battle should be.
Until then, as it has been for the last few years, the coin flip betting line remains the same: “heads” means Paul Tash wins, “tails” means Times’ staff lose.
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