Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tucson's best newspaper still in print, for now.

A pleasant surprise on my return from Palo Alto: I went looking for the commemorative final edition of the Tucson Citizen and found instead the Monday paper. The Citizen was scheduled to close on Saturday if parent company Gannett did not find a buyer; Gannett is reportedly in negotiations with buyers and will keep the Citizen open at least through the 27th.

The Citizen is easily Tucson's best newspaper. Its editorial page is more interesting, its reporters ask more pointed and well-researched questions, and its features writing isn't the breezy fluff that ordinarily passes for "features" these days. Furthermore, when I call the Citizen, whether with a news tip or to discuss a guest opinion, they remember my name and who I am and treat me like a neighbor; they're a real touch of class. And speaking of class, Mark Kimble must be one of the most fair-minded newsmen in the business.

Newspapers in general have been struggling as the nowadays near-universal use of the Web has made their old business models obsolete; Seattle recently lost the Post-Intelligencer, which has continued as a Web publication; the San Francisco Chronicle, which I considered a major regional daily nearly in the same league as the Chicago Tribune and New York Times, is facing difficulties similar to those of the Citizen and Post-Intelligencer. There's something else working against the Citizen, whose circulation is in the neighborhood of 18,000, closer to that of the Sierra Vista Herald than to rival Tucson paper the Arizona Daily Star. My conjecture is that being an afternoon paper is hurting the Citizen. When I was a subscriber to the paper edition, I liked finding it on my doorstep on coming home from work, but in general our generation expects papers to be on the doorstep or newsstand in the morning.

My words to this effect aren't worth a dime to the business, but I'm hoping the Citizen stays open. It provides a much needed alternative to the often shallow reporting and trite editorial page of the Daily Star, and were it made slightly more competitive, it could even keep the Star honest. At the same time I'm hoping that Freedom Communications is not the buyer. While I'm a fan of the East Valley Tribune, sending Randist maybe-philosopher Tibor Machan, whose glibertarian columns are usually an insult to intelligence, to re-educate editorial boards whenever they depart from an ideological plumb-line not too much different from silly 1970s folk-libertarianism is a sure way to both break staff morale and to destroy the fair-mindedness that has made the Citizen the great paper, however undersubscribed, that it is. (The comparison between Arizona columnist Robert Robb and Machan is instructive. You can see that the wheels in Robb's head are turning; Machan is all spinal reflexes.) But I'd rather see it stay open, even if hobbled by glibertarian claptrap, than fold, leaving Tucson with but one daily newspaper.

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