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Aggressive digital presence at forefront of looming Scripps takeover

On Wednesday, March 11, employees of the Journal media groups voted on the sale of its company to Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps, which then plans to split the print and electronic media entities into separate ventures. These things are generally formalities, and as such representatives from Scripps have already made presentations to Journal-owned outlets, including its television and radio properties in Tucson.

The gist of those conversations included the company's efforts to continue transitioning into a greater presence on the digital plain as they recognize more users are consuming information through smart phone and tablet-related devices.

"We spend about $20 million a year on top of conventional spending on our balance sheet just on the digital product and sales force," said Carolyn Micheli, Scripps vice-president of corporate communications and investor relations.

That digital investment involves a two-prong approach. Naturally, from a technological standpoint, Scripps hopes its development of apps, and the information provided through those apps, reaches more consumers than Journal's present model. Among the apps Micheli says have been most successful is a Scripps-operated major weather alert warning system it calls Storm Shield, which acts like an updated version of the old weather alert radios, and will almost certainly get next to no use in Tucson beyond the monsoon window.

However, the other aspect is sales-related, and from that perspective it's a pretty significant, more focused change.

"Unlike many of our peers, we have people who are only selling digital products for our properties," Micheli said. "What that means is that someone who is an advertiser in a local market who may not buy advertising for television because they can't afford it would get a call from a digital-focused ad salesperson. We're finding if you ask someone who is a television person to sell digital they'd be driving to the big audience dealers and typical television advertisers, and bypass dozens of businesses that could be great digital advertisers. We've separated those sales forces."

On the television side, it's too early to tell what, if any, major changes are in the works, and whether viewers of ABC affiliate KGUN TV 9 or CW affiliate KWBA TV 58 will notice anything significant.

"We have not said publicly our strategies about the Journal stations," Micheli said. "I can say in Detroit we've had an ABC affiliate there for a long time that Scripps bought along with a MyNetworkTV affiliate, and we almost immediately rolled out about 17 hours more a week of local news and local programming, and that was different than ran on the ABC affiliate. It had some of the same talent, but different producers. We're committed to providing robust local news programs. Without saying this will happen, we might employ the same strategy in Tucson."

Admittedly, that's a big if based on resources allocated for market size. Detroit is a top-15 market. Tucson hovers near 70.

On the radio side, Micheli didn't detail if anything major is in the works at this stage for the four stations Scripps will acquire, although she feels the worst of radio's woes are behind it.

"Radio is a wonderful business," Micheli said. "Years ago people were predicting the death of terrestrial radio as we know it, and someone said recently that pretty much everything bad that could happen to the radio industry has already happened at this point, and it's still there. I know I drop my daughter off at school at we're listening to Q 102 in Cincinnati because we like the fact those people are local. They're talking about Cincinnati places and experiences and there are local people calling in, and there's a resonance to that you don't get by listening to Pandora ..."

Furthermore, unlike the cluster model exhibited by iheart Media and Cumulus, where the radio formats are pretty much the same in every city, Scripps at least talks as if it isn't married to dictating the format as opposed to letting the market determine what works best.

The changeover from Scripps to Journal is expected to take hold around April.

Hay named publisher of The Explorer, Tucson Local Media

Paul C. Hay was named publisher of The Explorer and Tucson Local Media (TLM) on Monday, March 9. Hay has 25 years of sales development and internet marketing experience. 

"I'm very excited to be taking on the reins of the Tucson Local Media and look forward to helping our newspapers continue to move into the 21st century by utilizing my extensive experience in Internet," Hay said. "I feel very fortunate at having the opportunity to work in such a great market and a great group of people.

"Our newspapers are some of the best in Southern Arizona at reporting local news and keeping up with the key issues our readers look for. I hope to just continue the great work already being done by this hard-working staff."

Hay succeeds former TLM publisher Ryan Kedzierski.

Hay comes to TLM with newspaper experience with several larger organizations, including Dow Jones (Ottaway Newspapers division), Lee Enterprises, Morris Communications and, more recently, Ballantine Communications Inc., a family-owned newspaper and media company in Durango, Colo.   

Hay, along with his wife of 20 years, Cynthia Hay, is originally from Sierra Vista, and between the two of them have eight children and six grandchildren.

Tucson Local Media, part of 10/13 Communications, operates The Explorer, Inside Tucson Business, Tucson Weekly, Foothills News, Marana News and Desert Times.

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