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Layoffs at 'Citizen' Lighter Than at Other Gannett Operations

Apprehension and concern have been significantly amped up as of late for employees of the Old Pueblo's afternoon daily, the Tucson Citizen. That's because parent company Gannett in October ordered an across-the-board 10 percent cut as it tries not to run aground thanks to a dwindling revenue stream.

The Citizen's final tally: a work reduction of three at the Gannett-owned paper, a pay freeze for 2009 and some cuts to employee hours. Tucson Newspapers--the merged business operation of the Citizen and the Lee Enterprises-owned Arizona Daily Star--was slated to lay off no more than 10 employees as well.

"I just wanted to let you all know that we have completed the cuts in the newsroom," said Citizen senior editor Jennifer Boice in a Thursday, Dec. 4, newsroom memo obtained by the Weekly. "They are in line with Gannett's goal of a 10 percent cut in personnel costs for 2009. We had some open positions, people who cut hours voluntarily, one who accepted the severance, and a few people who had their hours trimmed involuntarily. Two people were laid off."

Sources tell the Weekly that food-and-drink editor Dina Doolen took the severance buyout, and that the laid-off employees were Body Plus writer Sandra Valdez Gerdes and city-desk reporter Blake Morlock, although, as of Monday, Dec. 8, those names remained on the "contact" portion of the Citizen Web site.

"TNI also utilized restructuring, open positions and voluntary cutbacks effectively, which means the number laid off (there) was also less than expected: fewer than 10," continued Boice in the memo.

Boice did not respond to a Weekly request to elaborate.

"As part of the cost reduction, I have frozen everyone's salaries for a year," said Boice in the memo. "That decision, which minimized the number of people to be laid off, affects every employee here. TNI decided not to go that route, so Citizen employees are the only ones affected.

"Gannett's goal was to position itself to meet the weak economy straight on. Its projections for newspapers' performance next year is pessimistically realistic, to my mind. Unless things go seriously south, we likely aren't looking at more cuts any time soon. I hope."

This--the second Citizen cutback in less than three months--was not nearly as dramatic as what occurred at some of Gannett's other newspapers. The Arizona Republic lost more than 50 positions. The total number division-wide appears to be around 2,000, in what some are calling the largest round of layoffs in the history of the newspaper industry.

The news isn't bad just at Gannett. If stock price is any indication, things might be getting dicey for the owner of the Star, Lee Enterprises. The company, based in Davenport, Iowa, was named in a recent Wall Street Journal article as being among the nation's most distressed newspaper operators--and we're talking about a seriously distressed industry. A year ago, Lee stock sold for more than $16. A month ago, it was in freefall when it closed below $1.50.

Now those look like the prosperous days: The stock tumbled below a dollar last week, and was below 60 cents on Monday, Dec. 8--meaning that a market-delisting restructuring might be in the offing. At the current rate, Lee might have to recalculate its stated plans to trim operating expenses by "only" 6 to 7 percent in 2009.

Add to that Monday's bankruptcy filing by the Tribune Company, which owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, and other newspaper-company struggles (including the fact that alternative-weekly chain Creative Loafing--which owns the namesake paper in Atlanta, the Chicago Reader and the Washington City Paper, among other weeklies--is already in bankruptcy), and it looks like there are a lot of dark days to come all around the newspaper business. --J.S.


KUAT: WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' DISLOSURE

On a Dec. 2 segment of KUAT Channel 6's Arizona Illustrated, host Bill Buckmaster conducted a warm and chatty interview with Dr. Taylor Lawrence, the new president of Raytheon Missile Systems. Softball questions focused upon the financial future of the weapons-maker (with nary a mention of the two wars where those revenues are partially raised). Indeed, there was never any hint of controversy or aggressive probing on Buckmaster's part, as the happy segment purred to an end.

As it turns out, tough questions weren't the only thing Buckmaster side-stepped: The host also failed to mention that his spouse holds a senior position with Raytheon. Thus, Buckmaster was actually interviewing his wife's boss--a curious detail with which he apparently didn't want to burden viewers.

When later asked whether this might constitute a slight conflict of interest, Buckmaster replied, "No, why would it be a problem? It's not going to affect my reporting one way or another."

Even Peter Michaels, KUAT's news director, doesn't see much of a problem, since Raytheon employs so many folks. Buckmaster's wife "is a senior subcontract manager along with 12,000 other people," Michaels says. "I've worked in New York and Washington, and people in the news business are married to other people in other companies. It's not always disclosed, because it's not relevant to the story."

In other words, KUAT was just being helpful by pre-deciding for its erstwhile viewers which conflict-of-interest disclosures are "relevant to the story" and which are not. --T.V.

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