Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Will Judge OK Corralling Tucson Citizen Print Edition?

Judge Paner C. Collins of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona is expected to rule today on Attorney General Terry Goddard's request for a temporary restraining order against Gannett Co., Inc., that would force the media giant to continue publishing a print edition of the Tucson Citizen or to unload the nearly 140-year-old newspaper to an entity that would.
Judge Collins heard arguments on the motion yesterday. Goddard filed the action on May 15 at the behest of California publisher Stephen L. Hadland, Chief Executive Officer of Santa Monica Media Co., LLC, which publishes the Culver City Observer, after Gannett rebuffed Hadland's offer to buy the Citizen, Arizona's oldest newspaper.
Goddard contends that Gannett and Lee Enterprises, publisher of the Arizona Daily Star and Gannett's partner in a Joint Operating Agreement (JOA), violated the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 (NPA) when it discontinued the paper edition of the Citizen on May 16. The paper continues to publish online (www.tucsoncitizen.com),
With a goal of increased editorial diversity, the NPA exempts newspapers operating under a JOA from federal antitrust laws. Goddard alleges that the virtual version of the paper, alone, does not satisfy that requirement, and further contends that the Gannett/Lee Enterprises venture seeks only to dominate its journalism competitors and to increase their profits in violation of antitrust laws. The JOA also ended on May 16, but Gannett and Lee remain business partners, sharing in the operating costs and profits of the Tucson Citizen. Gannett plans for the Citizen entail a modified Web presence for commentary and opinions daily and a weekly insert in the Arizona Star of editorial content.

Gannett announced on January 29, 2009, that it would close the Tucson Citizen if it could not find a buyer by mid-March. The media conglomerate put a $1 million price tag on the Citizen, which debuted as a weekly newspaper in 1870 and has covered major stories, such as the pursuit of Mexican bandit Pancho Villa. The sales price was further reduced to $800,000, twice the offer made by Hadland that Gannett rejected.

The Citizen has 60 full-time employees. It published a 48-page commemorative print edition on May 16, which, depending on Judge Collins, may or may not have been its last.

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