Thursday, May 7, 2009

Changes at the 'Star'; Word on the Citizen?

Posted By on Thu, May 7, 2009 at 10:20 PM

It's turning out to be an interesting week for those who toil at Tucson's dailies.

At the Star: The Hot Blog, a movie-related Web site, reported today that Arizona Daily Star film critic Phil Villarreal has been stripped of his reviewing duties, and has been given general-assignment duties instead. Villarreal confirmed the report via e-mail.

So, that leads one to wonder: What in the heck is this about? Who will replace Villarreal? Why is the Star doing this, given that Phil and his work were generally respected around town?

Word is that this may be the first in a series of moves taking place at the Star. We'll keep you posted.

Meanwhile, in another section of the Tucson Newspapers compound: Ever since the folks at the Tucson Citizen were told several weeks ago that the paper would exist until at least May 9, there's been no further word to emerge from Gannett-land. And, well, May 9 is pretty much here.

To refresh: The Citizen is losing tons of dough due to the fact that the Citizen's circulation has fallen below 20k. Thus, Gannett decided to either sell the paper or close it down. 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 newspapers around) and launched an investigation. Lo and behold, 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 said some serious buyers had miraculously emerged, and that the paper would continue on day-to-day while negotiations were completed. Aaaand the Citizen has pressed on in this weird, horrific state of limbo ever since.

Whew!

Anyway, don't be surprised if some sort of announcement comes out of Gannett-land today (or tomorrow, depending on when you read this. We mean Friday, May 8). Rumors are running rampant about what that announcement may be. Possibilities: A new closure date? A sale announcement? More limbo?

Or the most intriguing possibility of all: The Citizen may get a semi-permanent reprieve. Follow me here: The DOJ may be indicating that it would be wrong for Gannett to close their part of Tucson Newspapers and still get 50 percent of what's left (i.e., the Star, which belongs to someone else). Therefore, to still get their half of Tucson Newspapers (which still by all accounts is profitable, and most definitely was raking in decent dough before the economy suckified, despite the Citizen itself being firmly in the red), Gannett may need to keep the Citizen alive.

We've sent a couple of e-mails to Jennifer Boice, the acting head honcho at the Citizen, to see if there was any info she could share; so far, those e-mails (one of which was sent earlier this week) have gone unanswered.

So, keep your eyes and ears open.

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