Monday, April 6, 2009

Tucson Citizen - Possible Reprieve

By ARTHUR H. ROTSTEIN – Mar 17, 2009

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — The Tucson Citizen will not close as planned on Saturday because there are continuing negotiations with two interested buyers, the newspaper's publisher, Gannett Co. Inc., announced Tuesday.

Robert J. Dickey, president of Gannett U.S. Community Publishing, said in a teleconference that the negotiations would not be completed by Saturday, according to Editor Jennifer Boice. Two months ago, Dickey had said March 21 would be the deadline for sale or closure of the Citizen, which began publishing in 1870 and is Arizona's oldest newspaper.

"We are going to continue publishing beyond the 21st," Boice told the newspaper's staff in a meeting in the paper's lobby. A final commemorative issue that the Citizen was to have published on Saturday will be delayed, she said.

On Jan. 16, Dickey announced the planned sale or closure from the same lobby location. At that time, he said certain assets of the paper were for sale.

Those assets apparently did not include Gannett's 50 percent share in the joint operating agreement it has with the publisher of the morning newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star, owned by Lee Enterprises Inc.

The two companies jointly own Tucson Newspapers Inc., the subsidiary that handles all non-editorial operations for both papers. Gannett and Lee share operating costs and profits of both papers under the JOA, which runs until 2015.

The Citizen has struggled for years against the Star, a 117,000-circulation morning newspaper. During the Citizen's heyday in the 1960s, circulation was about 60,000; today, it's 17,000.

In a statement Tuesday concerning the Citizen, Gannett said it "has been engaged in discussions with parties who are interested in continuing to publish a printed daily paper in Tucson.

"In light of these ongoing discussions, Gannett will delay a decision regarding the potential sale or closure of the Tucson Citizen, but expects to make a decision in the very short term."

Boice said Dickey gave no details concerning potential buyers, what was being negotiated or how soon a decision would come.

The announcement threw the staff into turmoil, with a series of questions concerning how much longer the paper would be staying in business, what would become of promised severance packages and what would happen if the paper were sold and not all present employees were retained.

"There is some hope that could come out of this ... that we could have a new owner with a functioning newspaper, with the staff employed," science writer Alan Fischer said. "On the other hand, it's very disconcerting to be told that you're going to be closing down."

"We have people here who made plans, who have new jobs that start on Monday and who could potentially lose their severance packages because of that, so it's kind of thrown everything into kind of an uproar here," he added.

If it closes, the Citizen would be another casualty of a newspaper industry struggling to survive despite the tough economy, dwindling advertising revenues and Internet competition.

The battle has been especially tough in two-newspaper towns, including Seattle, Tucson and Denver.

Hearst Corp. printed the last edition of Seattle's oldest newspaper, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Monday night, turning it into an Internet-only news outlet. Hearst also has said it will close or sell The San Francisco Chronicle if it can't slash expenses.

E. W. Scripps Co. closed the 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News, one of two daily newspapers in Denver, in February.

Four newspaper companies, including the owners of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune and The Philadelphia Inquirer, have sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in recent months.

On Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked the Justice Department to broaden its view of media competition when reviewing merger proposals. She said antitrust concerns that arise from proposed newspaper mergers should take into account online news sources and nearby daily and weekly papers "so that the conclusions reached reflect current market realities."

Her effort to help struggling newspapers stay in business did not mention her hometown paper, The San Francisco Chronicle.

Pelosi said a House Judiciary subcommittee would hold a hearing soon to discuss the trend's implication for antitrust policy.

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