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Lee Enterprises is still cutting its workforce

Quarterly reports are a morass of numbers, dollar signs, percentages and trends designed to provide investors with some general perspective on the progress of the company.

Newspaper publisher Lee Enterprises, the Davenport, Iowa outlet that operates the Arizona Daily Star, has been very good with its PR in these reports, making sure the numerical gobbledeegunk near the top showcases continued improvement with its digital impressions and online subscription numbers.

So as a parallel to the nature of the business as a whole, Lee is highlighting its online achievements while burying its print deficiencies deeper into the report text. And while print continues a steady decline, so too does Lee's commitment to its employee base.

Given last decade's pink slip bloodletting across the industry, it's almost an achievement that Lee and other so-called newspapers (an increasingly archaic term akin to "playing a record" in the music biz) can still find ways to trim the fat from skeleton staffs.

But Lee still managed that feat, according to its first quarter fiscal 2015 report, released earlier this month. One simple sentence, lost largely in the pool of figures in the "cash costs" analysis category, outlined the company's commitment to the human equation.

"Compensation decreased 0.3%, with the average number of full-time equivalent employees down 3.5%," the report stated before detailing that newsprint and ink expenses have decreased 16.2 percent and the reduction of newsprint volume is down 13.3 percent.

For the increasingly aging Luddite generation—you know, people who still get a "newspaper" in paper form—down 13.3 percent is no surprise whatsoever. At some point, at least for the Star, the Monday and Tuesday editions of the physical print edition look to be well on their way to accommodating text on the front and back of an 8 ½ x 11 piece of paper. Maybe they'll laminate it, like a menu at a greasy spoon. Nah. That would probably not be acceptable in its cost benefits analysis.

Overall, Lee expects cash costs to slip by about 1 percent in fiscal 2015.

Some other numbers for the conglomerate, still trying to dig itself from under the Pulitzer purchase fiasco of nearly a decade ago: Lee had a dip in operating cash flow margin, from 27.8 percent to 26.1 percent this quarter.

Bottom line: Despite efforts to trumpet continued improvement in digital and online subscription tallies, "Income attributable to Lee Enterprises, Incorporated for the quarter totaled $9.8 million, compared with income of $11.9 million a year ago," the fiscal report said.

The Investigators have lost their smile

During the traditional sweeps windows of November, February and May, local TV stations pull out all the stops to attract a dwindling local news audience to their product. This is why we get lots of traditional fallback faves like how germy is your workspace.

Or you could try the KMSB TV 11 approach. Their 9 p.m. news product, put together by the Tucson News Now gang at KOLD TV 13, has been offering viewers the opportunity to win $500. That's the type of promotion suited for morning zoo radio. It even trumps the station's morning news product, which is promoting a weekly tablet giveaway every Wednesday in February. You know, every Wednesday during a sweeps month, which is totally coincidental.

Investigation type segments have become a staple of the local news model. KGUN TV 9 has been a part of this bandwagon with its 9 On Your Side campaign, which it has implemented with occasional exceptions on a regular basis. Even Telemundo has expanded its regional news product to focus more on the investigative angle, which often features customers being screwed by a crappy company or victimized by taxpayer bureaucracy.

But of late, my personal fave is KVOA's The Investigators segment, if for no other reason than the billboards displayed throughout town. In said billboards, three very serious news people stare menacingly at the viewer, because damn it, you have to be serious and stare menacingly if you're investigating.

The fashion decision of reporter Bret Buganski, featured along with Matthew Schwartz and Lupita Murillo in some billboards and Sean Mooney in others, is especially intense. He's no suit and tie guy. That's not Investigation attire. No, Bret's all about the leather jacket, certainly a suitable fashion choice on a regular basis in Tucson. But clearly menacing. To the point where it almost looks as though Bret's investigative tools of choice might include a crowbar and Louisville Slugger.

Hmm. I'd consider watching more local news if he had that kind of wildcard reputation.

James T. Harris gets extra hour

News/talk format KQTH FM 104.1 has increased its local sphere by an hour a day. Afternoon host James T. Harris now broadcasts from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Harris' program aired from 3 to 6 p.m. upon its inception.

The move enhances the station's ever-increasing local presence. KQTH has local talent from 6 a.m. to noon (Mike Rapp from 6 to 8 p.m., Jon Justice 8 a.m. to noon) and 6 weekdays, far outdistancing chief news/talk rival KNST AM 790, which airs local host Garrett Lewis in morning drive and then transitions to syndicated stalwarts Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck for the remainder of the day.

Dave Ramsey's syndicated financial advice talk show airs from noon to 2 p.m. on KQTH.

AM newstalk stations KVOI 1030 and KEVT 1210 have numerous local hosts during the weekdays, but they generally broker the time.

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