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New 'Citizen' on the Horizon

The days of the Tucson Citizen in its current broadsheet format are rapidly coming to an end. Expect the Old Pueblo's afternoon daily to opt for a long-discussed tabloid format as soon as next month.

"We are getting a lot closer. It is getting very intense," said Citizen Editor and Publisher Michael Chihak. "We have it pretty much narrowed down to the very end of March to the very beginning of April. We have a one-week window we're fooling with, trying to figure out which is the absolute best day for this based on a whole bunch of factors."

The Citizen has been suffering significant subscription declines for the past decade--a dip of 17,000 since 1996, and more than a third of its readership since the mid-'90s--during a population boom in Tucson. Citizen owner Gannett and Chihak hope the new look will provide a much-needed shot in the arm.

Ten years ago, the Citizen's subscription numbers were nearly half that of the Arizona Daily Star. Now, it's barely a quarter. This isn't just a Tucson phenomenon. Changes in the rapid availability of media and news have made the afternoon newspaper all but obsolete in most markets. The Citizen hopes its dramatic unveiling will buck that trend, pulling it out of a downward spiral that has led to its subscription numbers slipping below 30,000.

"The plan is, this will attract new readership to the Citizen," Chihak said. "The whole strategy is aimed to build Citizen readership, and in some nontraditional ways. As an afternoon newspaper in a town where there's already a strong morning newspaper, you can't be the same thing and hope to make headway. The strategy is to build new readership by doing things differently, nontraditionally, if you will, when it comes to what newspapers normally do."

A version currently under consideration features a small, easy-to-scan story on the tab's front page, with a more in-depth approach to that story inside. While the actual column-inch count won't necessarily increase, reporters would, in essence, write two stories instead of one.

"I don't think there will be more writing for reporters, but different writing," Chihak said. "The scenario you described probably will be the case in some instances, but it's not going to be the case in all Page One stories. We strive for one big, in-depth piece every day on the front page, and we're going to continue to do that."

Even with the new look, the Citizen is restrained to some degree by its joint operating agreement with the Star. As per that agreement, ad sizes are required to stay the same for both newspapers.

"That won't have an impact," Chihak said. "We will have some formatting issues, but it won't have an impact."

At the very least, the new look should garner plenty of attention.

"We've built this from scratch," Chihak said. "There are component parts from things that other folks have done, but in large measure, based on our research and lots and lots of discussions, all of it is pretty innovative, at least in terms of what traditional newspapering is. Innovative might be too strong a word, but it's totally different. While we have borrowed ideas from other entities, especially within our company, Gannett, a lot of this is stuff I think we're going to be the first to do."


NEWS MEDIA CORPORATION SLINKS INTO TUCSON

In what may be one of the more clandestine media sales in some time, News Media Corporation, a company out of East Rochelle, Ill., has purchased Tucson West Publishing, producers of monthly outskirt tabloids Saguaro News, Desert Times, Monument News and North Valley Chronicle.

The Weekly has learned the change of ownership took place in the end of October and that outgoing owner Andrew Eichner concluded his involvement with the organization Feb. 1.

The News Media Web site suggests an air of openness.

"Here at NEWS MEDIA CORPORATION, we thrive on change. On a daily basis we meet the challenge to remain one step ahead of current events and trends in the communities we serve. We are also pleased to report breaking corporate and publication news on this Web page. Here you can get the inside scoop on the latest internal events, new appointments and corporate goals achieved, as well as what's new at our various publications!" (See www.newsmediacorporation.com/news.htm.)

But the openness seems to end there; the site makes no mention of the new deal, and repeated calls to chief financial officer Mike Rand were not returned.

The Web site is inconsistent. In one paragraph, it states: "NEWS MEDIA CORPORATION has established its presence with an impressive host of publications, with 53 publications to date, reaching a sizeable readership in seven states."

Yet in another area on the same page, it makes reference to 48 publications, although it has specific links to nine states. Lower on the same page, it has links to 58 publications.

News Media Corporation admits to owning the Lake Powell Chronicle and Gateway to Canyon Country, both operated out of Page.

Closer to home, sources say the newly acquired papers will retain the Tucson West Publishing masthead.

Of the Tucson West publications, Desert Times has the longest track record. It is in its 20th year. The monthly covers the west side, from Gates Pass to Valencia Road, and all of southwestern Tucson to Robles Junction.

Monument News, in its eighth volume cycle, publishes stories for Picture Rocks, Marana, Continental Ranch and surrounding areas. The North Valley Chronicle and Saguaro News are in their fourth year. North Valley Chronicle covers stories pertaining to Casas Adobes, Oro Valley, Tortolita, Catalina, SaddleBrooke and Oracle, while Saguaro News is geared toward the eastside.

More by John Schuster

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