Media Watch

The Star's parent company thinks they're doing a super job


Lee Enterprises, the company that publishes the Arizona Daily Star, last week named the Tucson daily as its 2013 Enterprise of the Year.

Lee, an organization still working to extricate itself from a significant debt load, seemed especially pleased with the Star's ability to bring in revenue.

"Publisher John Humenik and his team delivered amazing results across the board," Mary Junck, Lee chairman and chief executive officer, said in a press release. "They drove double-digit digital growth, double-digit growth in cash flow, double-digit growth in Sunday circulation units and mobile audience numbers that fly off the charts."

Then there was some cursory mention of other things related to newspapering.

"As always, they also produced an endless stream of outstanding journalism, from human interest stories that touch the heart to investigative journalism that helps make the community stronger."

Oh yeah, that actual writing part. In announcing the Star's honor in the aforementioned press release, Kevin Mowbray, Lee's vice president and chief operating officer, followed up with what's apparently really important in garnering the reward.

"The Tucson team delivered on every top Lee initiative—and they shared their own impressive successes across the company. As an example, they're leading the way in gaining more grocery advertising and they've set a high bar for growing preprints. Their Thanksgiving Day paper this year will include 70 local preprints."

The Star was a finalist for Lee's Enterprise of the Year honor last year.

The company itself seems something of a mixed bag financially. Lee is ahead of schedule as it continues to pay down debt. That's good. But said debt still hovers close to $850 million. That's not so good.

While the digital numbers increase, it's still at a rate that isn't compensating for loss of revenue via newsprint. Print, digital advertising and marketing services revenue decreased to $110 million. That's down 11.6 percent from the previous year. Numbers of note: retail advertising dropped 9.5 percent, classified advertising 15.8 percent and national advertising 12.5 percent.

To help balance the numbers, the company's expenditure for employees was cut 8.4 percent from the previous year and newsprint volume was reduced 19.4 percent.

Investors remain pleased with the results, if the stock market is an appropriate measuring stick. Lee stock closed at $3.72 over the weekend. Considering that during the market crash the stock price was well below a dollar and Lee needed exceptions to maintain its status on the New York Stock Exchange, that's a good turn of fortune.

Locally, the Star appears primed to launch the long-anticipated online subscription paywall in 2014. Lee, naturally, hopes Tucsonans show a willingness to dole out coin for the online product. If that happens, the Star may very well be on the fast track to a stellar defense of its Enterprise of the Year honor.