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'Citizen' Publisher Says He Likes Paper's Standing

It's been a year since the Tucson Citizen unveiled major design changes to the publication. In the grand scheme of things, the actual look of the Gannett-owned daily isn't at the top of the focus list, but it might have played something of a symbolic role in the newspaper's aggressive efforts to present a product that remains relevant in an industry that hasn't been kind to afternoon offerings.

The Citizen might be on more solid footing now than at any point this decade. From 1999 to 2006, the Citizen endured a major decline in circulation, dropping from the mid-40,000s to the mid-20,000s. Although the slippage continues, the publication has solidified its core readership, according to Michael Chihak, the Citizen's editor and publisher.

"There are new dynamics," said Chihak. "We have stabilized our home delivery base. The single copy side, we're down, but so is the (Arizona Daily) Star and just about every other paper in America, as people's buying habits change. The price of gasoline makes a difference, because people pay at the pump, and they don't go in the store to buy anything else, because they're using all their money to buy gasoline."

Despite a lengthy period of arduous study, once the new look hit the stands, there remained moments of trepidation, but the actual number of subscriptions lost based simply on the new design approach was well within the Citizen's projected margin.

"In the final analysis, of about 18,000 home subscribers, we only lost about 70," Chihak said. "We had projected losing many, many more than that."

While it was a generally smooth transition, Chihak does admit to a miscalculation in the way the Citizen's business coverage was approached.

"I didn't gauge well people's perception of losing a business section," Chihak said. "Our local business-news coverage in amount and quality didn't change, but the fact it wasn't ensconced in its own section labeled 'business' was missed by readers. That's something I didn't account for and should have, and we're coming back to the stage where we need better visibility and better branding. We don't have the business coverage the Star has, but we have a full-time dedicated editor to business coverage, which we haven't had in a while. That's important. We also produce a monthly business magazine that we will tie to our daily product. We're not going to re-establish a stand-alone business section, but we are going to pay more attention to that coverage. The manifestation of it will be online."

In reality, the manifestation of the Citizen's future will occur online. As is the case with every newspaper printing today, making the Web site a viable entity for content is a consistent topic of conversation at the Citizen's Park Avenue and Irvington Road headquarters.

"That is where we're going," Chihak said. "We already are so far along in the development of our Web site as a breaking-news entity than what we were even three months ago. It changes almost by the day as we determine that there's not a weakness in having a solid Web site that gets the news out there in advance of our print product. It adds to our readership and reach in the community. We know that scientifically and anecdotally. It eliminates our print-cycle disadvantage."

In other words, much--if not all--of what runs in the print edition of many newspapers is available online long before the paper arrives on the doorstep. But getting the new information-savvy demographic to access the site--either as the major online provider of local news or part of a larger package--is paramount.

"Rodeo Parade day, the tragedy happened literally outside our building, right around the corner. That story developed throughout the day with three, four, five, six different developments," Chihak said. "The fact something had happened, we had on our Web site before anyone else. The fact the child died, we had on our Web site before anybody else. The fact the child was underage as per rodeo parade rules, we had on our Web site before anybody else. A full eyewitness description, we had on our Web site before anybody else. There were two or three other key developments that we had on our Web site before anybody else had them on their Web site.

"When we do a good job on the Web site ... (viewers) are more likely to bookmark it and come back. When we had a day like we had on Rodeo Parade day, we broke our one-day page-view total. The next day was heavy. The next day was heavy--not quite as heavy, but people who discovered us through that story saw that we were a good, quality site for breaking news and for that kind of information.

"I feel really good about where we're going, because we're being driven by information needs rather than the need to print a paper once a day. Will we still print a newspaper once a day into the future? You bet, but we're also going to provide information in every other way imaginable. The key is we have a solid structure to gather information.

"The only other single entity in town that has a bigger information-gathering structure is the Star. As long as we can maintain that information-gathering structure, figuring out how to distribute the information using old and new and yet-to-be-thought-of technologies, that is what's going to make the difference for us. We are taking advantage of those. That's why we're paying so much attention to our Web site, pushing it out there hard and fast every day."

STEWART TAKES OVER AS GM AT KWBA

Andrew Stewart, who during two stints spent nearly 20 years at KGUN Channel 9, left the Journal Broadcasting-operated ABC affiliate to handle day-to-day duties as general manager/vice president of KWBA Channel 58 (cable Channel 8), the Cascade-owned CW affiliate.

"With the transition from The WB to The CW now successful and complete, I look forward to bringing more exposure to this great television station," Stewart said in a press release. "The Tucson business community has been very kind to me over the years, and I'm honored to continue my work with them as I begin this exciting new chapter in my career."

Stewart replaced Ray Depa as KGUN GM last year.

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