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Money Woes for Lee May Mean More Cutbacks for 'Star'

Fresh off its value downgrade for the Arizona Daily Star (see "Daily Newspapers Just Aren't Worth What They Used to

Be ... " Media Watch, May 22), the Star's parent company, Lee Enterprises, announced a continued decline in revenue in its third fiscal quarter.

Here's the short and not-so-sweet, from the company's report on the third-quarter, which ended June 29: Total operating revenue decreased 6.4 percent, to $784 million. Print advertising decreased 8.2 percent, although online advertising (which brings in a mere fraction of print) increased 5.3 percent. Retail advertising was down 2.1 percent, and classifieds were down 13.1 percent, led by a 22 percent decrease in real estate.

Earnings per share dropped to 28 cents. It was 49 cents a year ago.

"Because we cannot foresee the length of the economic downturn, we are focusing on rigorous cost reductions through staff reorganizations, narrower page widths, newsprint-conservation programs and other efficiencies, as well as reduced capital spending," press-released Lee Chairman/CEO Mary Junck. "In our fiscal year that begins this fall, assuming no new surprises in newsprint prices, we are aiming for a further reduction in cash costs of 5 to 7 percent."


BEWARE THE BLOGGERS

You know the saying: Opinions are like ...

But thanks to the Internet, anybody can express said opinion--and more--for all the world to see. There are numerous instances in which stories have been broken not by members of the Fourth Estate, but by folks who in the past might have been the sources for such information who are now instead taking the scoop for themselves.

For those interested in political happenings around the state, blogs like Ted Prezelski's left-leaning Rumromanismrebellion.net and Shane Wikfors' conservative Sonoranalliance.com have provided good political insight for some time.

Prezelski is no stranger to the medium. He was a diarist for AOL as far back as 1996, before the word "blog" was even part of the vernacular.

"I didn't think anyone would read (the blog) except for guys who put together the other blogs, but what happened is those people were folks who worked with the Legislature. It got viral," Prezelski said. "Word of it started spreading, and all of a sudden, I discovered I had readers. I would have people come up to me and say they really liked what I was doing, and people who worked for elected officials say, 'So and so really likes your blog.'"

Traditional news-media outlets may be strapped by specific requirements--such as not being able to go with a story unless a reporter has a verifiable on-the-record source. However, these standards also hinder them in their efforts to break stories. It's a hindrance blogs don't necessarily have.

There are also the mainstream-media issues of objectivity and editorializing.

"There's a guy who's a former reporter who I talk to quite a bit who says, 'I consider you a journalist,'" Prezelski said. "Don't say that. That's giving me a responsibility I'd rather not have. A journalist doesn't put pictures of Cotton Hill (of King of the Hill TV fame) in place of Republican candidates. I'm finding how frustrated a lot of political reporters are. It's not like political reporters say, 'I can't do this story; can you run with it?' But I will put something up, and I'll get a call saying, 'I've been waiting for something like that. The fact you did it will allow me to go to my editor and say: Look, now this is out there.' That's happened a few times."

Furthermore, Prezelski feels outlets like his allow for a sort of detail not available via local TV-news outlets.

"I stopped watching local TV news a long time ago," said Prezelski, who will represent Arizona as a blogger at the Democratic National Convention. "But I still see the commercials and teasers, and the tone I see is more and more shrill, and it doesn't sound like there's going to be a lot of actual telling what's going on."

Wikfors has a completely different political view than Prezelski, but shares many of the same reasons for getting into the blogging realm.

"There was a lot of frustration with the mainstream media, although it has improved a lot, because the (traditional media) Web sites allow comments on their stories," Wikfors said. "We were specifically a conservative blog, and so that drew in a lot of people. I'm frankly surprised the blog has done as well as it has. We continue to try to improve the quality of postings, but in any type of online forum, you're always going to have people throwing things out that are volatile and accusatory. If you go to the Sonoran Alliance, you'll see it can be direct and to the point. If you look at azcentral.com comments, a lot of those are just as pointed as well."

Unlike Prezelski, who blogs solo, Wikfors oversees a half-dozen or so regular contributors--with pseudonyms.

"They are involved in government or consultants or in a sensitive area where if their name were to come out, that could be a problem," Wikfors said. "I've always been the one known for the blog. My policy has been to each one of those writers (that) I do not tell the other who they are. The only person who knows who everybody is, is myself."

Other than the hidden-identity issue, Wikfors views his approach to content as similar to that of traditional media.

"One of the things I tell my writers before I give them access to post is that if you are going to write anything, you'd better be able to back it up," Wikfors said. "You get it from a credible source, pull it from a public document--something that can be backed up. If you're going to put something up, and it's not true, you've just shot the credibility of the blog."

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