Media Watch

'TUCSON CITIZEN': 1870-2009

It's over: The Saturday, May 16, 2009, edition of the Tucson Citizen is indeed the last issue of the 138-year-old newspaper.

Hopes for a revival ended on Tuesday, May 19, when U.S. District Court Judge Raner C. Collins denied a request by state Attorney General Terry Goddard for a temporary restraining order that would have forced Gannett Co. and Lee Enterprises to resume production of the Citizen print edition. However, Goddard's antitrust lawsuit against the two companies which own Tucson Newspapers Inc. will continue.

Gannett, which owns the Citizen, announced on Friday, May 15, that the afternoon daily was ceasing print operations. Over the weekend, company officials put together a small transitional staff headed by Citizen staffers Ryn Gargulinski and Mark B. Evans to operate the new, which is slated to be focused on opinion and discussion.

In his ruling, Collins wrote that the state had failed to prove that an agreement made by Gannett and Lee—the publisher of the Arizona Daily Star—to cease publication of the Citizen and end negotiations with a potential buyer was in violation of state and federal antitrust laws, as established by the Newspaper Preservation Act.

"While regrettable that the Citizen's illustrious legacy must come to end, it cannot be said at this time, the decision to close the Citizen involved an antitrust violation. ... While it is true the closing of the Citizen is an irreparable harm, the (state) has failed to show the balance of hardships weighs in their favor," Collins wrote.

According to Anne Hilby, Goddard's press secretary, the antitrust lawsuit filed along with the request for a temporary restraining order is ongoing.

"Along with thousands of Citizen readers and subscribers in Tucson, we are disappointed with the judge's ruling. At this time, we are reviewing the decision and determining how best to proceed with the antitrust litigation," Hilby said.

If the state needed proof of irreparable harm, perhaps it should have called on Citizen fan and reader Sheldon Gutman, who attended the Monday, May 18, hearing in federal court. Toward the end of the hearing, he stood up to ask Collins if he could offer testimony on behalf of the Citizen. Collins told Gutman there was no public testimony allowed, and with a click of the gavel, the hearing ended.

Gutman ambled back over to his motorcycle helmet and the green garbage bag he used to carry in a stack of Citizen newspapers.

"I just wanted it on record," Gutman said, "about what the paper has meant to me."

Gutman said that he didn't work for the newspaper and that he didn't know anyone who did; he's just a reader. He reached into his garbage bag to show his evidence—proof, he said, that the newspaper should have kept publishing.

"See: Tucson ... Tucson ... Tucson," he said, pointing to the name of the Citizen's home city in almost every front-page headline. "That must mean something."

The lawsuit filed by the AG's office alleges that Gannett's closure of the Citizen is the result of an agreement between Gannett and Lee to eliminate competition and therefore increase profits to both companies.

Attorneys flown in to represent Gannett and Lee told Collins the Citizen was losing $10,000 every day—money that can instead be spent to make the Star into a better paper.

The attorneys threw around the word "robust" in regards to the Citizen's continuing Web site. They also handed Collins the Star's editorial page from Monday, May 18, which included an editorial headlined as being from the Tucson Citizen. The editorial's subhead: "Once you've read the news, discuss it on new Citizen site." According to the editorial, the Citizen Web site will continue to provide content and "rousing debate."

During the hearing, the newspaper companies' attorneys argued that the Citizen Web site is evidence of competitive editorial voices continuing to come from the two publications—even though one publication happens to be out of print.

The Citizen's closure came after six months of chaos. First came layoffs; then came a company announcement in mid-January that the paper would eventually close if Gannett was unable to find a buyer for the Citizen. The deadline for a buyer came and went, and a March closure date was set. However, just days before the curtain was due to come down on the Citizen, Gannett announced the paper would instead continue on a day-to-day basis, presumably because the U.S. Department of Justice had launched an investigation into the sale. (The DOJ announced last week that the investigation had been closed.)

During Monday's hearing, Gannett attorneys told Collins a qualified buyer that was willing to pay the final $800,000 asking price never entered the picture.

However, Stephen Hadland, the CEO of the Santa Monica Media Company, asked Goddard to intervene on Friday, when the closure was announced. He contended that he was a qualified buyer, and that Gannett's asking price was too much, considering that it didn't include Gannett's profitable stake in the joint operating agreement which created Tucson Newspapers. (That agreement has been dissolved, with Gannett and Lee continuing to co-own Tucson Newspapers.)

During the Monday hearing, Nancy Bonnell, a lawyer for Goddard's office, told Collins that Hadland offered Gannett $250,000 in cash for the newspaper's masthead, archives and some editorial equipment. When that was rejected, Hadland offered Gannett $400,000, to be paid in monthly installments. After that offer, negotiations with Gannett abruptly ended, she said.

In a statement e-mailed to the Weekly after Collins issued his ruling, Hadland noted that Gannett attorneys had months to prepare a case, while the AG's office had only a weekend.

"Given a chance and the time to correctly prepare the case, I believe the attorney general would have prevailed. Instead of using one newspaper's profits to help the other newspaper as was intended by the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970, the Arizona (Daily) Star is now free to feast on the carcass of the Tucson Citizen. This is a sad day for newspapers," Hadland wrote.

On Sunday, May 17, Citizen staffers, friends and readers showed up to give the Citizen a final sendoff at The Shanty.

Bill Nugent stood in a corner canvassing the crowd that had gathered for the newspaper's wake at his Ninth Street watering hole. Nugent's father, Owen, opened The Shanty in the 1930s, and his mother, Donna, took it over in 1947. Citizen staffers have been coming to Nugent's bar every Friday evening for more than 25 years. Nugent said that his Citizen friends have been through a lot these past few months, and that it's finally time for them to move on.

As he looked across the bar, he shared a few stories. In the midst of the funerary hugs and beers stood Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, while at the bar sat former Tucson City Manager Mike Hein.

Nugent said Giffords often found herself at The Shanty on Friday nights to talk to Citizen staffers. Hein, Nugent said, would sometimes show up, perhaps to complain about a story, or just to have a beer.

Then Nugent looked at other faces in the crowd. He pointed out Mark Kimble, Jennifer Boice, Billie Stanton and P.K. Weis.

"All of those people have become personal friends of mine," Nugent said. "... They're good people and so committed to this community. Journalists are a different breed. These people have good hearts."

Joel Rochon, who was with the paper for more than 30 years—first as an illustrator and eventually as the newsroom systems manager—said he plans to return to fine art, but he worries about the younger staff members who are looking for jobs.

"I was lucky to work with them. There was a lot of good talent at the Citizen," he said.

While he's certain some staffers would have returned to the Citizen if it had been sold or forced to resume publication, others were ready for the on-again, off-again saga to finally end.

"It dragged out," he quipped.

Interim editor Jennifer Boice had been with the Citizen for more than 25 years. She said she doesn't have any plans.

"They took a chance on me," Boice said about being hired by the Citizen in the 1980s. "I still can't believe they trusted me with the keys."

Boice said the last few months have been a struggle.

"There's going to be a hole in the community and a hole in my heart for all the people who are so good at what they do at the Citizen," she said.

Boice added that she was proud that the Citizen maintained its local focus, and that having a second, competing daily newspaper in town helped improve the quality of the Star.

While the future for the newspaper industry looks bleak, Boice expressed a small amount of hope.

"At some point, I think there's going to be a backlash," she said. "Blogging is not the same thing as news-gathering."

Meanwhile, Boice said that former Citizen staffers would continue hanging out at The Shanty every Friday evening.

"And whoever wants to come down can," she said.

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