Magazine folds after 6 months
A Tampa Tribune sister publication of closes after a controversy.
By ERIC DEGGANS
Published January 31, 2007
Heading toward a quickly called meeting at publishing giant Media General's Tampa headquarters last week, Mitzi Gordon was relieved.
Finally, she thought, executives at the company were ready to talk about the problems facing the free, youth-oriented tabloid newspaper, Orange, she was struggling to edit.
Gordon hoped they would discuss her complaints about low staffing, a lack of clear management direction and struggles over edgy content.
Instead, Gordon was fired after approving a story that was to appear two weeks ago featuring a vulgarity that refers to the female anatomy. Executives at Media General discovered the story after all 15,000 copies of the magazine were printed. They ordered a new version with a replacement piece printed.
Media General, which also owns the Tampa Tribune and WFLA-Ch. 8, shuttered the tabloid last week after six months of publication, citing a "failure to resonate with advertisers and readers."
But Gordon says the incident with the vulgarity was what prompted the company to abandon a project it never seemed to fully support.
"I felt that I was poorly managed and overworked, and made the best decision I could at the time," said Gordon, 30, who noted the tabloid had published a four-letter vulgarity referring to sex several times without incident.
Though Orange fell short of its goal to have half its pages filled by advertising each week, with a budget planned for 18 months, Gordon said she hoped to have more time to develop the tabloid.
"We're in a saturated market ... aimed at a youthful audience that's desensitized to a lot," she added, saying that Orange publisher Carla Floyd suggested she could use the same language featured in the free, Tampa-based weekly tabloid Creative Loafing. "They told me to be different, stop trying to fit in. I did it, and they didn't like it."
Floyd declined to comment extensively, saying, "We closed the magazine because it didn't meet business expectations." Rusty Coats, a vice president at Media General who oversaw the tabloid, said the close timing between Gordon's firing and the magazine's shutdown was coincidental.
Orange faced serious competition locally: Besides Creative Loafing, there is a music-focused monthly tabloid, Reax; a biweekly alternative tabloid, Tampa Bay Scene; and daily and weekly versions of the St. Petersburg Times' free tabloid, tbt*/Tampa Bay Times.
Since 1999, at least a dozen traditional newspaper companies nationwide have created free, youth-oriented tabloid newspapers to find new audiences.
"You have to make sure you're aiming toward a group that is not well-served," said Mary Nesbitt, managing director of Northwestern University's Readership Institute. "Reaching that target is more difficult when you have a lot of competition, because they have already carved it all up."
Gordon, former editor of the South Tampa News, persuaded Media General to create Orange instead of a tabloid based on a WFLA show called The Spot. When a freelancer suggested writing about a feminist fashion designer "reclaiming" the vulgarity by making it the name of her business, Gordon approved.
Nesbitt acknowledged that some newspapers publishing youth-oriented tabloids may struggle with the new language and content required to reach young readers. But she also noted that newspaper companies have developed a new spirit of experimentation to meet shrinking circulation figures and stagnant advertising markets.
"They might have said, 'We're going to try a youth-oriented, edgy product produced on a shoestring budget,' " she said. "Media General just may be trying to break out of the mold of the established ways of doing things."
Eric Deggans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8521. See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.