FESTIVAL OF BOOKS STANDS AS HUMENIK'S TOP CONTRIBUTION
With last week's announcement that John Humenik, president and publisher of the Arizona Daily Star, is leaving to become publisher of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, his eight-year run in two management roles with the paper will likely pale in comparison to a singular contribution to the community.
Humenik is the chairman and co-founder of the Tucson Festival of Books. In its short history, that event has become a must-go Tucson activity. It's become the fourth-largest literary festival in the country and has managed to tap into a community mindset, often an elusive commodity.
The event has attracted A-list authors and foot traffic in the hundreds of thousands for one weekend a year on the UA Mall. Along with the All Souls Procession and the Fourth Avenue Street Fair, it draws Tucsonans and out-of-towners alike.
Humenik also maintained community connections through his roles on the boards of the Southern Arizona chapter of the American Red Cross, the Downtown Tucson Partnership, the Pima Library Foundation and the Arizona Newspapers Association. He is a member of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and the Graduate Club of Tucson and was a community squadron commander at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
As for his day job, Humenik largely oversaw the type of success that brought joy to parent company Lee Enterprises. Hence the reason for the transfer. Lee hopes Humenik's influence can keep the Star profitable—it's in the black to the tune of about $12 million annually, although half of that goes to Gannett via a joint operating agreement—while he delivers similar results in another city with a major college influence.
But despite his successful track record here, the Star hasn't been immune to the struggles that continue in the newspaper industry, most notably a dwindling print circulation base. Two Star stories on Humenik's move quoted different circulation numbers, one at about 82,000 daily and the other closer to 77,000. Split the difference and Star daily circulation is in the 80,000 range, down from 90,000-plus when the afternoon Tucson Citizen closed in 2009.
The Star's efforts at establishing a paywall for the online paper continues to languish, although it's been the focal point of the paper's tech crew for most of the last year. Even if it finally launches in 2014, that's still at least two years past the initial target date. And it remains to be seen just how excited readers will be about paying for content from a daily paper that publishes noticeably less material than when Humenik started at the Star.
We figure that Humenik has landed a pretty nice bonus for his efforts at the Star and for what Lee expects from him in Madison. But it's likely nowhere near the bonanza Lee awarded Mary Junck, its chief executive officer.
For helping Lee to stanch its losses, the company rewarded her with 200,000 shares of Lee stock. With Lee trading above $3 a share now, that's a windfall in the $700,000 range.
Although Lee lost more in fiscal 2013 than in 2012, much of that had to do with payments in its structured bankruptcy filing. So even though it lost a total of nearly $78 million in 2013, Lee apparently figures it is ahead of the game on its bankruptcy payback, which stands at $847 million.
However, Lee stock continues its autumnal decline. Since peaking at $3.92 a share in October, it has dropped by about 70 cents a share, losing nearly 20 percent of its value.
National advertising revenues are off 19 percent, and classified advertising, a former cash chow, was down 10 percent.
Meanwhile, online advertising increased by less than 2 percent, although page views jumped by about 10 percent.
A CLEAR CHANNEL HOLIDAY WISH
Is it a bad thing to wish ill on a company during the holiday season? Not when it comes to Clear Channel. Since the broadcast behemoth has managed to gut just about every radio operation it owns in the country, wishing it ill will might be akin to holding out hope that the stations it eventually will be forced to sell could improve under different management.
Clear Channel has asked to push back the payment on about $1.8 billion worth of debt due in 2016, which would raise interest expenses by about $55 million. As the debt keeps mounting, there isn't much more Clear Channel can cut. Locally, for example, its regionalized approach has led to a massive dearth of broadcast voices that call Tucson home. Most of the product across its platform of stations is funneled out to voice talent or syndicated programming—this includes news and traffic reports. They pretend they're local while hoping the dwindling audiences will somehow buy the lie.
I'm not expecting a return to the golden age of radio. But to have a renaissance, you first have to go through some dark ages, something Clear Channel is stuck in.
Here's wishing, in the spirit of the holidays, that Clear Channel steers itself over its own fiscal cliff sooner rather than later.