Media Watch

Pulitzer Family Values

As noted in previous columns, Pulitzer Inc. chairman Michael E. Pulitzer has been whittling away at his piece of the trust that controls the St. Louis-based owner of the Arizona Daily Star. Through last week, he'd put 136,000 shares into the float and grossed more than $7 million. That includes another pair of 1,500-share blocks (total value: $192,465) sold last week.

It's worth wondering what the rush is. There's no indication that he needs the money, so why not sit tight and wait for the sale, or recapitalization, or whatever may be in the cards for Pulitzer Inc.? Media estimates so far put the probable buyout price at $65 a share. If that price holds up, Mike cashes out at $95,076,540. His sister-in-law, 70-year-old art historian Emily Rauh Pulitzer, would collect $421 million at $65 a share. She's the widow of Mike's half-brother, Joseph Jr., who became publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch when Joseph Pulitzer II died in 1955.

Don't good things come to those who wait?

But maybe it's not about the money. What if something in his genes is calling out to him to somehow keep the family name and its heritage in American journalism alive?

Crazy as it may seem, it wouldn't take that much more erosion from the trust's 11 million shares to put the family inheritance in a minority position--a little more than 300,000 shares. And the trust holds about 1.4 million shares Mike can draw on. Could it be that he's trying to position himself as the swing vote when the Goldman Sachs investment firm makes its recommendations about the company's next move?

A little history suggests that the family name and reputation is important to Michael E. Pulitzer; he does come from the side of the family that gave a damn about running a good newspaper.

Joseph Pulitzer's will divided most of the income from his estate among his three sons. Joseph II got a mere 10 percent, and stayed in St. Louis running the Post-Dispatch, turning it into one of the nation's most respected newspapers until his death in 1955. Brothers Herbert (60 percent) and Peter (20 percent) wound up with the New York World, which foundered over the next 20 years and was sold to what is now E.W. Scripps in 1931, even though their father's will forbade selling the World.

It's worth knowing that at a meeting of Pulitzer property bosses a few years ago, a high mucky-muck suggested that because the broadcasting arm of Pulitzer accounted for 70 percent of the company's revenues, the company should change its name from Pulitzer Publishing to Pulitzer Broadcasting.

Not long after that, Mike decided that it was time to ease out of the business and make some long-term decisions to set the company's course without a Pulitzer descendant at the helm. A consultant pointed out that the family name was synonymous with newspapers, so his best choice would be to sell the radio and television stations and focus on newspapers.

Severing the arm that carries 70 percent of the company's income sounded kinda crazy, but Pulitzer sold the broadcast properties to Hearst-Argyle, a publicly traded subsidiary of the privately held Hearst Corp.

BIG 10

This year is the 10th anniversary of the Southern Arizona Community Diaper Bank's annual December campaign. The annual goal has grown from 20,000 to 2 million disposable diapers. A big chunk of the credit for the drive's continued success goes to the folks at KMXZ (Mix 94.9 FM) and program director/morning show co-host Bobby Rich. Co-founder Hildy Gottlieb, who spoke to a UA journalism class I taught in fall 2003, recalled the efforts she and business partner Dimitri Petropolis had made to get any radio station interested in helping get the word out. She said some stations responded to their fax by calling up and ridiculing them for the idea. Rich latched onto the idea, and the station's support has grown from live remotes and general promotion to a localized radio version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Tucson's Newspapers, the agency that oversees business, production and circulation for the Star and Citizen, became a sponsor of the event this year.


It's an interesting coincidence that Tucson Weekly contributor Vicki Hart delivered an interesting story on the perils of government document destruction last week while newspapers across Arizona, including the Star and Citizen, published "Open and Shut II," an audit of government agency compliance with the state's public records law. The audit, conducted under the auspices of the Associated Press Managing Editors of Arizona, was a three-day spot check of 119 agencies--schools, law enforcement agencies and chief city and county administrative offices. It's good reading, if you missed it, and it is to be hoped that the local dailies will append the 2004 package on the publicly accessible parts of their Web sites to the original "Open and Shut" audit, conducted in 2002.

Two worrisome issues arise from the findings. Schools and law enforcement agencies didn't do so well, and the auditors (newspaper reporters who were told to not identify themselves as such) were asked why they wanted the information too many times--an inappropriate question unless the agency is trying to figure out if the requester wants the document for commercial purposes.

It's too early to tell if the audit was a success. In fact, it's really up to you, gentle readers, to make the audit a success. And the only way to do that is to lean hard on our elected officials about the findings, and remind them that they--and the bureaucrats they direct--work for us, and what our employees do is everyone's business.

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