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Michaels, Lee, Sitton Among Clear Channel Layoffs

Tucson was not spared the ax by media giant Clear Channel Communications, which chopped about 20 people from its radio and billboard advertising operation. While most of the cutbacks came on the sales side, some names familiar to locals were released on the talent end. Longtime DJ Alan Michaels, the name most aligned in this market with '50s style rock and roll, was let go along with Joan Lee, who has worked in a number of radio and television capacities in the market.

Dave Sitton, who operated the outdoor billboard portion of the Clear Channel business, was laid off as well. Sitton, who has more than 30 years of on-air experience in this market, handles television play-by-play of UA basketball alongside Bob Elliott on Fox Sports Arizona.

Clear Channel management declined to comment about the layoffs, but sources close to the dismissals say they were handled in an impersonal corporate manner where human resource personnel read a termination letter to the imminently departed and escorted them out of the building with security on hand, informing employees that any personal belongings would be mailed to them.


KMSB EXPANDS NIGHTLY NEWSCAST

Fox affiliate KMSB has committed to an hour-long newscast nightly. It's a bold undertaking for a station that localized its news programming just six months ago.

"We were always headed toward a one-hour newscast at 9 o'clock," said the station's creative services director, Brian Baltosiewich. "We wanted to get our feet on the ground first with the wholesale changes we made in August, moving everything down here, new anchors, new reporters, everything, before we moved to one hour. We feel like we've progressed to a point where it's a good time to move up to an hour. No one else is doing it, and that extra half hour is there for us. The program change we're doing to make it work is very minimal. It's just the right time."

KMSB has also put the finishing touches on completely disconnecting itself from sister station KTVK in Phoenix. At first, KMSB ran a 9 p.m. newscast anchored by someone at KTVK with a reporter in Tucson who filed the top story and sports handled locally. Then it hired Lou Raguse to anchor the weeknight newscast and bumped reporter Deanna Morgan to weekend anchor responsibilities, but maintained a Phoenix presence with weather. Now weather is local as well, with Gina Trunzo during weeknights (Trunzo hosts the Belo-produced Tucson Treasures program in addition to other on-air endeavors). Meteorologist Diana Jesberg is the newcomer who takes the reins on weekends. KMSB has also inked a deal with information provider Accuweather.

Additionally, Brian Roberts will file more stories as an entertainment reporter.

"No one else in town is dedicating time to local entertainment," Baltosiewich said. "There will be more stuff like that, local events and some national coverage from time to time."

KMSB has extended its Sunday 9 p.m. newscast for some time, dedicating up to 40 minutes to sports. The new nightly undertaking could feature a similar approach for other topics.

"There will be little repetition," said Baltosiewich. "The first half hour, we'll obviously revisit weather and sports and the lead story, but the second half hour can be used for roundtable discussions or deeper coverage of our lead story. There's no real set formula. What happens Monday night may be different from Tuesday. It's an open sort of free-flowing content format."


KVOA SWITCHES NEWSCASTERS

NBC affiliate KVOA has swapped Rebecca Taylor and Lorraine Rivera. Taylor, who used to anchor the morning show alongside Josh Benson, is now the weekend anchor and on-site reporter. Meanwhile, Rivera gets the early wake-up call five days a week.

"Both are extremely capable journalists and we are pleased to be able to make these changes as we evolve these newscasts for our Southern Arizona viewers," said news director Kathleen Choal.

Reporter Quinn Schuler has also been given added responsibilities on KVOA's morning news program.

KVOA has also tapped a couple of reporters who can photograph and edit their own material. It's an often budget-driven trend among stations to streamline the process with what the trade refers to as MMJs, or multi-media journalists. The model is certainly not exclusive to KVOA. In the more traditional format, a reporter would be joined by a photographer, who would then edit the story for broadcast. Now, in many instances the reporter is the photographer, setting up the shot before moving in front of the camera for the standup segment. That person is also responsible for editing the package.

"We still have all of our photojournalists, but this allows us more versatility on a day-to-day basis," Choal said. "Many stations around the country are turning all of their staff into MMJs. Those two reporters can and will also be assigned photographers; it all depends on what story they are assigned to that day."


LEE MONEY WOES CONTINUE

Although it's still making money, Lee Enterprises, publisher of the Arizona Daily Star, released a bleak fiscal-year first-quarter profit outlook. The Davenport, Iowa publishing company, strapped with massive debt due to its 2005 purchase of Pulitzer, reported first-quarter profits at $6.9 million, down 69 percent from the same time a year before, when it turned a quarterly profit of $22.1 million.

Total operating revenue fell 13 percent for the quarter, which ended Dec. 28. Lee is attempting to cut its cash costs by 10 to 11 percent in 2009. It is plagued by the same issues facing the industry as a whole. Lee reported an ad revenue decline of more than 15 percent. Retail advertising tumbled nearly 10 percent while classified ads plummeted more than 27 percent.

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