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'STAR' DEPARTURES LEAD TO REASSIGNMENT OF VILLARREAL

The latest casualty of the daily-newspaper death spiral: local movie reviews in the Arizona Daily Star. On the same day that Phil Villarreal's summer-movie preview graced the cover of Caliente (the Star's weekly entertainment tabloid), word broke that Villarreal had been moved from the cinema beat to general-assignment duties. The Hot Blog, a movie-related Web site, first reported the news on Thursday, May 7; Villarreal later confirmed the move to the Weekly via e-mail.

On Monday, May 11, Bobbie Jo Buel-Carter, executive editor of the Star, told the Weekly that Villarreal's reassignment to the metro desk comes as the result of three people leaving the Star: a page designer and two reporters. Buel-Carter said she didn't feel comfortable identifying the employees leaving. However, those employees are rumored to be Caliente writer Kevin W. Smith, designer Anne Kenady and county reporter Erica Meltzer. When reached by phone, Meltzer declined to comment.

Buel-Carter confirmed that the economy is forcing the daily newspaper to move staff members around rather than fill vacancies.

"We're not filling openings if we're losing somebody, but we can't lose focus on local. (Villarreal) worked in metro before, as well as in sports. And we're still trying to figure out what other rearrangements will happen. We might divvy things up, like have reporters split a beat. We're talking about it. ... But the goal is and has been the last two years that above all, we need to maintain local feet on the street."

Buel-Carter said Villarreal would continue to cover the local film community. However, film reviews in the Star will now come from wire services, such as those run by The New York Times and the McClatchy Company.

Given the uncertainty over the future of the Tucson Citizen—more on that below—it's possible that the Tucson Weekly could soon be the only local publication running non-syndicated movie reviews. —J.B. and M.H.


'CITIZEN' LIMBO CONTINUES; SPECULATION RUNS RAMPANT

Meanwhile, in another part of the Tucson Newspapers compound: Since the folks at the Tucson Citizen were told several weeks ago that the paper would exist until at least May 9, no further word has emerged from Gannett-land. And, well, May 9 has come and gone.

In other words, the Citizen is back in day-to-day limbo, a fact reported in the May 9 issue of the Citizen (and on the Citizen Web site on May 8)."Now we're back to not knowing when we will hear anything from (Gannett)," interim editor Jennifer Boice told the Weekly.

Here's a recap of the Citizen Saga: The Gannett-owned afternoon daily is losing tons of dough due, in part, to the fact that circulation has fallen below 20,000. Thus, Gannett announced that it was going to either sell the paper or close it down.

The problem: Gannett only wanted to sell certain editorial parts of the Citizen (the name, the Web site, etc.), and not the 50 percent stake in Tucson Newspapers, the U.S. Justice Department-approved merged business entity for the Citizen and the Lee Enterprises-owned Arizona Daily Star. A deadline Gannett set for offers for the Citizen came and went; the paper was slated to close in March; the Justice Department thought the whole deal looked screwy (since the whole point of joint operating agreements is to keep competing newspapers around) and launched an investigation. Just days before the Citizen was set to close—after desks had been cleaned out and a final issue had been prepared for publication—Gannett announced that, lo and behold, some serious buyers had miraculously emerged after all, and that the paper would continue on, day to day, while negotiations were completed. The Citizen has pressed on in this weird, horrific state of limbo ever since.

Speculation about the Citizen's future has been running rampant. The speculated-about possibilities include the paper closing once and for all; the paper being sold and (presumably) radically transformed by a new owner; or the paper getting a semi-permanent reprieve.Of those possibilities, a sale seems less likely than it did several weeks ago. The Associated Press has reported that one prime buyer candidate, the Santa Monica (Calif.) Media Co., was no longer in negotiations with the Citizen's owner after Gannett turned down an offer.

The most intriguing possibility of all is a semi-permanent reprieve. Follow us here: The Department of Justice may feel that it would be wrong for Gannett to close its part of Tucson Newspapers and still get 50 percent of what's left (i.e., the Star, which belongs to another company). Therefore, for Gannett to keep getting its half of Tucson Newspapers (which by all accounts remains profitable, and most definitely was raking in decent dough before the economy tanked, despite the Citizen itself being firmly in the red), the Citizen may need to stay alive in some form.

However, all of this speculation remains just that—speculation. Meanwhile, those who toil in the Citizen newsroom remain in limbo. On one hand, they're happy to still be receiving a paycheck; on the other hand, the lack of information from Gannett regarding the fate of their jobs (and the severance packages promised if the Citizen ever does close) is leading to ever-increasing frustration. —J.B. and M.H.


KIIM DOMINATES WINTER RATINGS BOOK

Citadel-operated country-music giant KIIM FM 99.5 cruised to a winter 2008 ratings win, garnering a 9.8 share among listeners 12 and older, according to Arbitron information. That bested Journal-owned KMXZ FM 94.9, which placed second at 8.3, a number consistent with its market-winning tally from the fall 2008 book.

Clear Channel stations rounded out the top five. Top 40 format KRQQ FM 93.7 (8.1) was in third again, followed by news/talker KNST AM 790 (5.2 share) and rhythmic music station KOHT FM 98.3, which registered a 4.6.

Journal-owned talker KQTH FM 104.1 (4.1), Clear Channel-operated Triple-A format KWMT FM 92.9 (3.9) and three Lotus stations—alternative format KFMA FM 92.1 (3.7), classic rocker KLPX FM 96.1 (3.7) and regional Mexican KCMT FM 102.1 (3.4)—closed out the top 10.

Of note: In a Media Watch column several weeks ago ("The Truth Is Coming in Loud and Clear," April 23), we mentioned that FM talker KQTH had bested KNST in the second winter trend ratings segment. However, that didn't lead to an overall win for the three-month winter-ratings period. Both major talk players did show ratings gains: KNST jumped to 5.2 from a 3.9, while KQTH strung together its fifth consecutive jump, moving to 4.1 from 3.6.

KCEE AM 1030 finished just outside of the top 10 with a 2.7 rating. Its owner, Jim Slone, is selling the adult-standards station to Doug Martin of Good News Broadcasting. It will flip to talk once the deal is finalized.

The Wildcats were probably beneficial to KCUB AM 1290 (my employer for UA men's basketball and football pregame and postgame shows). The sports/talk station pulled in a 1.2, up a third from its fall numbers while doubling the ratings output of competitor KFFN AM 1490. —J.S.


CLEAR CHANNEL LAYS OFF MORE EMPLOYEES

The second round of recent Clear Channel employee cutbacks—roughly 1,000 employees were let go, three months removed from a downsizing swath of nearly 2,000—was limited to a handful of people in Tucson.

Those affected locally included a couple of employees from the business office, on-air talent Seth O'Brien (KRQQ FM 93.7 FM) and the KOHT FM 98.3 and KWMT FM 92.9 rosters.

Going private has not helped Clear Channel stay afloat. The radio juggernaut is in danger of financial default before the year is out. —J.S.

AWARDS FOR ATCHLEY, ALLEN

KGUN Channel 9 news anchor Guy Atchley was recently honored with the Rocky Mountain Southwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' Silver Circle Award, recognizing 25 years of broadcasting in Arizona, plus his work on behalf of community service, including his duties as local host of the Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon.

"It was my former general manager Jack Parris (the man who brought me to Tucson) who nominated me," Atchley said. "... The award is beautiful and wonderful, and I love it, but it's people like Jack Parris and my telethon cohort Larry Schnebly who make it so meaningful for me."

In other awards news, Lee Allen, who writes a monthly "Outdoor Observations" column for Inside Tucson Business (a sister publication of the Weekly) scored a sweep in this year's Rocky Mountain Outdoor Writers and Photographers writing competition.

Allen took first, second and third place in the Newspaper Outdoor Column category, the second time in five years he has scored a sweep. —J.S.

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