William R. Barker, president and publisher of The Tampa Tribune and The St. Petersburg Tribune, is leaving the company to take a similar publishing role at the Naples Daily News.
Barker announced the news during an emotional meeting with Tribune owners and employees, and said he was recruited by owners of the Naples paper to become regional publisher and chief revenue officer. After the meeting, Barker said he was proud of the Tribune’s accomplishments over the last few years but said he could not pass up the Naples offer.
“I have sacrificed a lot for the good of the community and the (Tampa) paper, and I have robbed from my family in that, and I regret that,” he said. “But the good news is that it’s never too late.”
Barker, 50, has been married to his wife, Rita, for 29 years. They have two children, Cameron, 17, and Caylie, 15.
The move is the latest in a three-decade newspaper career, which began when he was 19 and his future wife worked at a local paper in Tennessee.
“I was in college and she (Rita) decided I needed to get a job,” he said, and she “got me a job in the mailroom,” which in newspapers means stuffing advertising inserts in the papers.
From there, Barker rose through the ranks to become a printer before jumping to the management track at Gannet Co. Inc., where he worked at Cocoa Beach and Florida Today. He then worked in various upper management jobs at Media General Inc., and nine years ago came to the Tribune, becoming publisher in March 2012.
After the private equity company Revolution Capital Group acquired The Tampa Tribune in October 2012, Barker helped launch The St. Petersburg Tribune and acquire the Clearwater Gazette.
Unlike his job in Tampa, where the Tribune is locked in head-to-head competition with the Tampa Bay Times, the Naples Daily News is the dominant newspaper in a highly affluent region. The News is owned by the E.W. Scripps Co.
In Tampa, Barker is known as a zealous promoter of the Tribune and the community.
“He was more active in the community than any publisher I’ve seen in recent years,” said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. “I’ve seen him out there from Plant City to East Tampa ... He got the man-on-the-street impression of how the Tribune was doing, where it needed to improve and how it relates to the community. You don’t get that by sitting in your office.”
Buckhorn expressed a deep respect for the Tribune’s leader.
“He’s a good guy and has been a good friend, and I personally will miss him,” Buckhorn said.
Jeff Gray, a managing partner at Revolution Capital, said Barker was instrumental in “moving the Tribune from a defensive posture to an offensive one.”
The company relaunched a newspaper in Pinellas County that competes more directly with the Tampa Bay Times, brought the Tribune customer service operations in-house, redesigned TBO.com and acquired the Clearwater paper. It’s now a matter of public record that Revolution was among the finalists to purchase the Boston Globe newspaper earlier this year. Gray said Revolution Capital is still actively looking for new media outlets to acquire.
“This was the opportunity of a lifetime for Bill,” Gray said of the Naples job. “You work a whole career to be able to take an opportunity like this. I’m thrilled for him.’’
The Tribune will now conduct a search for a new publisher.
Besides the executive and business skills the new publisher will need, Gray said, “I’m looking for a fighter. This is hand-to-hand, guerrilla warfare.’’