Media Watch


As you may have guessed if you've seen the half-page display ads in the two most recent issues of the Tucson Weekly, I'm giving up the media beat, and our esteemed editor is fretting over finding a replacement. I'm returning to a job I had more than 20 years ago--pulling the morning announcing shift on KUAT-FM, 90.5. I don't plan to give up any of my other writing and editing and proofreading and loafing activities, but there's an obvious conflict of interest if I'm a full-time employee of a station I might have to write about.

The sooner a qualified columnist comes forward--preferably one who is not a disgruntled ex-employee of some local media outlet--the sooner I can high-tail it out of this space.

Meanwhile, the Weekly's corporate cousin, Inside Tucson Business, has lost its editor. Sheila Storm is taking a job as communications director of the Pima Association of Governments, charged with spreading the word on the regional transportation plan. Her last day at ITB is Nov. 12; she'll start her new job Nov. 22.

Not that she's fleeing ITB in the face of competition from the Tucson Citizen's new special-interest supplement, Business Edge. The 32-page tabloid, which made its debut Nov. 2 and was mailed to 9,000 local businesses, seems to pose no immediate threat to ITB. It comes out only once every two months, which isn't enough to steal advertisers or readers.

It's also not often enough to build a real base of advertisers or readers. So why is the Citizen bothering with such a thing? Clearly, the paper is testing the market to see if it's worth bringing out Business Edge on a more frequent basis, and that would mean a threat to ITB. It also implies something interesting about the Citizen: Despite persistent rumors of impending demise, the paper's management seems determined to keep the Citizen around for some time. The Citizen continues to bleed readers--daily circulation has slipped to around 30,000-31,000 this year--and conventional wisdom would have the corporate owner, Gannett, pulling the plug as soon as possible.

But what if Gannett actually intends to fight for the Citizen's survival? The paper is putting out this new tab, and former Arizona Daily Star "interactive editor" Diane Luber is optimistic enough about the Citizen's future that she gave up spamming Star subscribers with pothole questionnaires and, just before Halloween, marched down the hall to get back to real journalism as the Citizen's new city editor (replacing Irwin Goldberg, who was bumped down to assistant city editor).

Not the usual signs of a sinking ship, unless everyone involved is heavily into denial. Perhaps there's truth to the rumor that Gannett plans to break its joint operating agreement with Pulitzer, which owns the Star, and have the Citizen printed in Chandler as a morning daily in direct competition with its former bedfellow.


Speaking of the Gannett empire--which includes among its roughly 100 papers the Arizona Republic in Phoenix--one of our spies in the j-biz sends this report:

"Arizona Daily Wildcat turned Tucson Citizen turned Arizona Republic star reporter Susan Carroll was re-stationed back in Tucson for the Republic. An ex-drinking buddy of hers and good friend of mine said Phoenix's Gannett monster placed her here to cover the border.

"What's odd is that while Susan was a proven leader covering the border beat for the Citizen and speaks Spanish fluently, Gannett chose to not use an established outlet nestled 120 miles closer to the action. I know readers can't rely on the Citizen for decent coverage on an issue, but now not even their parent company? Could this be a sign that Gannett will finally start dissolving the Citizen? If not, this seems like a waste of talent."

Yes, it does seem strange that after Gannett's border papers have been touting their collaborative coverage of this region, the Republic would station its own specialist here. Carroll's assignment could bolster the theory that Gannett plans to turn the Citizen into a Southern Arizona bureau of the Republic, in effect using the Citizen as a sort of suburban supplement in the big-city paper. Tucson being a suburb of Phoenix, of course.

My, these are interesting times in local print journalism. Unless you're a freelance travel writer. Writes a disgruntled former contributor to the Arizona Daily Star, "Why don't you take a shot at the Star's Sunday travel section, a tired mishmash of AP handouts or pickup columns from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, pieces like "Riding the New York Subways" or some dreary article about bird-watching in the Ozarks?

"When the Star does buy an occasional freelance piece, its writers are restricted to writing third-person stories, conjuring up images of an editor with green eye shades and sleeve garters, at feeble pay--$150 for story and photo package. The New York Times, the L.A. Times, the Chicago Tribune and other major papers all run only first-person stories, better to give the reader a sense and feel of a destination. Why is the Star, with its one lead travel article per week, so backwards? More confusing for outside contributors is the paper's policy of changing travel editors about every three weeks, so no one can ever find them ..."

I think the basic problem is that Star management believes almost all editors and all beat reporters are interchangeable. One no longer needs any subject expertise to fill a slot; if a qualified reporter or editor ends up supervising a beat, that's more a matter of luck than intention. Thus, too many people at the Star are out of touch with the conventions and innovations in their fields. That doesn't mean they're necessarily stupid, just too frantic to fill space they don't quite know what to do with.

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