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Tampa Bay Times to begin employee buyouts

The Tampa Bay Times newspaper will begin offering buyouts to current workers in advance of a round of layoffs, according to company memos posted online.

This comes as the St. Petersburg-based newspaper faces increasing financial strain and works with business consultants to “improve the company’s financial results.”

Employees will have between March 10 and 24 to consider the packages, which could include up to 13 weeks of severance, plus two extra weeks, according to a memo sent to employees by Human Resources Director Sebastian Dortch that was posted on the website of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which owns the Times.

“Even if you are not interested, this is an opportunity to take stock of your place in the Times’ future,” Dortch wrote. “This is an important time to understand where you stand.” After the buyout phase, “it is clear that this work will result in some job reductions around the company.”

The Times has been working to sell news bureaus, extra parking lots, the employee cafeteria and other assets to raise cash in recent years, and last December, the company took out a $28 million loan from a non-traditional lender, Boston-based Crystal Financial LLC. Half that amount went to pay off current debts and the full loan comes due in December 2016.

Both the Times and Poynter have seen their financial position strained in recent years, as have many media companies. The Times saw its Sunday circulation fall about 6 percent to 355,853, and daily circulation fall 4 percent Monday through Friday to 299,985, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

The Times already conducted a round of layoffs in 2011 and temporarily cut pay in 2012. The company’s most recent loan is backed by a half dozen parcels of real estate, including the company’s headquarters in downtown St. Petersburg, part of which the Times recently made available for lease.

Times spokeswoman Jounice Nealy-Brown declined to answer questions about the moves, but sent a statement, reading, “We are finding some ways to improve our results without compromising our quality. We want to support the colleagues whose jobs will be affected.”

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