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Star struck

Copyright 2015

The Arizona Daily Star has become the thinnest of newspaper gruel.

It seems readers have noticed. In 2006, the Star’s weekday circulation was 103,708. It’s Sunday circulation was 161,975. In 2014, the Star’s daily circulation was 77,528, 25 percent drop. It’s Sunday distribution decreased to 124,007, 23.4 percent less. These numbers are from documents filed by Lee Enterprises with the Securities Exchange Commission. Lee owns the Star and many other newspaper properties.

The circulation decreases are happening as the area grows. Pima County’s population in 2006 was 981,110. In 2014 it was estimated at a shade over a million. The message is pretty much the same all over the country: As the population increases, newspaper circulation falls. In Tucson, the trend is a bit more pronounced.

Since 2005, when Lee purchased Pulitzer Newspapers, Lee has struggled to manage its enormous debt. The company purchased Pulitzer at the zenith of the market, just before it suffered losses from Internet inroads and a severe economic downturn. The decline started in 2006. Lee and all other newspapers have not fully recovered. The days of cheerful 33-percent profit margins seem long gone.

Here’s what the company said in last year’s 10K SEC filing: “At September 28, 2014, the principal amount of our outstanding debt totals $804,750,000. At September 28, 2014, our debt, net of cash, is 4.7 times our 2014 adjusted EBITDA, compared to a ratio of 4.8 at September 29, 2013.” (EBITDA stands for Earnings Before Interest, Tax, Depreciation and Amortisation . It is a measure of operating income. It does not include debt service, of which Lee has in abundance. Last year’s 10K said the company spent more than $30 million to service its debt.

A recent company news release said Lee had paid off a portion of debt from the Pulitzer purchase two years early. The balance of the payment was made to BH Finance LLC, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which is controlled in large part by Warren Buffett, the investment genius and of late a fan of Lee Enterprises. There was a balance of $9 million left on the loan. Mary Junck, chairman and chief executive officer, according to the release, said the reason for the early pay-off was “the company’s strong performance and substantial cash flows.”

The value of Berkshire Hathaway’s 88,863 shares of Lee stock is about $270,000, a modest investment for a company whose shares sell for more than $214,000 each. Thus Berkshire Hathaway’s investment in Lee is equal to fewer than two of its own shares.

Lee’s 10k makes no other mention of debt held by Buffett & Co. It reported that three banks hold the paper: Deutsche Bank ($400 million), JP Morgan ($250 million) and Wilmington Trust ($150 million).

On Februrary 1, 2005, The Associated Press reported this badly written story:

“Lee Enterprises Inc. is buying Pulitzer Inc. — publisher of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch founded by famed newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer — in a $1.46-billion deal that Lee says would give it the nation’s fourth-biggest roster of daily newspapers.

“Davenport, Iowa-based Lee said the acquisition would make the company fourth in numbers of U.S. daily newspapers with 58 dailies in 23 states. Lee has 44 daily newspapers in 19 states.

“Lee will pay $64 a share in cash for Pulitzer, which owns more than 100 weekly newspapers, shoppers and niche publications.

“Pulitzer shares rose 56 cents to $63.46 on the NYSE. Lee shares rose 64 cents to $44.55 on the NYSE.”

Today, Lee’s share price is a bit over $3.

In 10 years, Lee has managed to retire around $600 million in debt. I can only guess how much it has cost to service and renegotiate the debt. It appears in bits and pieces amid the rubble of its 10K filings.

Obviously, the company is struggling. It’s market cap is but $186 million. This means that the company owes about four times more money than it’s worth. According to Yahoo Finance the stock’s short ratio is about 9 percent. This means about 9 percent of its shareholders are betting the stock will drop.

After years — make that decades — of speculation, Gannett — Lee’s partner in Tucson — shuttered the Tucson Citizen in May 2009. The two companies benefitted by eliminating Citizen newsroom and newsprint expenses.

Speculation on the Star’s fate today is sparse if not absent. So allow me to fill the void. There is an economic argument for Gannett to buy out its Tucson partner. Gannett’s Phoenix operation includes the huge Arizona Republic and a TV station. If it were to acquire the Star, it could reduce Tucson production costs by printing the Star in Phoenix. It could consolidate newsroom and advertising expenses.

The Republic’s other — and perhaps more appealing — choice would be to buy the Star and kill it. That would permit it to publish a Tucson edition of the Arizona Republic. Its statewide dominance would be nearly complete.

If that seems a bit cynical, consider what Hearst did when it owned the San Antonio Light and bought the San Antonio News-Express. Hearst killed the Light. No sense publishing two papers when one will make more money.

While we’re on the topic, there once was a time when idealism had a role in newspapers. There was much to be said about the nobility of the free press, the First Amendment and (quoting Joseph Pulitzer) “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” But the good intentions and idealism have gone the way of the buggy whip, yielding without much of a peep to the ways of the balance sheet and the vagaries of profit and loss.

Nowhere is this picture more vivid that in Lee’s depressing predicament. It is the squeeze mode, coaxing every penny from the expense column. It has put the historic Post-Dispatch property in downtown St. Louis up for sale. Lee announced a round of cutbacks in St. Louis as well. Seems the new squeeze is on in anticipation of huge debt payments due in 2017.

It may come to pass that the company can pay its debt only by selling some newspapers — even at bargain prices. The Star might be one of the more valuable properties, and go a long way toward retiring its great debt. It would be preferable. The Star has been squeezed so much that it is barely alive.


Regarding this $800 million capital bond issue being proposed by Pima
County guvment and reported in today’s Star: $160 of this capital is supposedly to repair roads. I have but a fleeting notion of finance, but “repair” is normally classified as a maintenance item, which is an expense as opposed to a capital investment. Accountants scream like maniacal banshees when you mix maintenance expense with capital investment. You’re not allowed to used debt to finance expenses. Believe me when they scream, they’re loud. This is basic Accounting 101. Why then are the banshees imitating church mice when it comes to this bond issue?


Any one noticed that the Star’ editorial page has shrunk by a half page? There’s no pretense to editorials — as those reprinted from Bloomberg and the Washington Post. The Star runs columnists in that space and has relegated the half page space for advertising.


Department of cutsey-stupid newspaper leads:

By Zack Rosenblatt, Arizona Daily Star

April 19, 2015

 “We’re not so different, you and I.”

It’s a line uttered by Dr. Evil in the first “Austin Powers” movie.

It’s probably how Bobby Hurley’s first conversation with Sean Miller will go, too.

Kidding, of course, but it’s true — Hurley and Miller are not so different ….

Such a kidder. Who’s the evil one?


Dear guv doogie:

Why do you want 200,000 Arizonans to lose their health insurance. Have you no soul?


Dr. Kildare


Greetings guv doogie:

Congratulations on your RV tour. Apparently you call it the “Opportunity Express.”

“I’m proud of the work we’ve done and the path forward we’re paving to a better Arizona,” you say. We don’t see a whole lot of forward motion in your reign so far. You’re about as backward and regressive as a corn cob in the outhouse.

What on earth can you possibly be proud of? Often opportunity depends on how much you can afford to pay for a university education. In that sense, seems like your RV would be more accurately named the Screwmobile.


Slats Grobnik


King’s letter

As the Star’s editorial page today made no mention of Martin Luther King, we thought it might be nice to show that this wasn’t always the case. This editorial, which carried the headline above, appeared January 15, 2001.

In the spring of 1963 Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement were at a low ebb. King had attracted much opposition from mainstream America. Most of the nation’s newspapers, civil authorities and even clergy urged the determined civil rights leader not to violate a court-ordered injunction against a march in Birmingham, Ala. King’s critics called for calm and restraint. King’s decision to defy the injunction demonstrated his great courage and resulted in the classic defense of civil disobedience: Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.

King faced opposition to the court order not only from the world at large, but also from his closest allies and his father. On the eve of the march, he asked the Rev. Ralph D. Abernathy to join in the protest, which assuredly would result in their arrest and yet more scorn from the world at large. Abernathy asked King to obey the injunction, according to the account in Taylor Branch’s seminal work, “Parting the Waters.” Branch’s book also relates the conversation between father and son:

“King replied firmly that he had to march. ‘If we obey this injunction, we are out of business,’ he said.

“Daddy King sagged visibly and shifted in his seat, as though pawing the floor. ‘Well, you didn’t get this nonviolence from me,’ he said. ‘You must have got it from your mama.’

” ‘I have to go,’ King repeated softly. ‘I am going to march if I have to march by myself.’ ”

Abernathy finally consented, saying he had to find a replacement minister for his congregation’s Easter services. As expected, the marchers were arrested.

Once in jail, King was struck by a newspaper story that reported local clergymen were critical of the civil rights leader’s defiance of the law. King began to scribble a reply, first starting in the margins of the story, then jumping to other spots in the paper where there was room to write.

King’s letter explained that he could only obey just laws, and he explained that unjust laws must be disobeyed. He also argued forcefully that the civil rights movement was troubled less by the Ku Klux Klan than from white moderates, who urged patience and caution.

King explained that he hadn’t the patience and could not wait. “Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, ‘Wait,’ ” he wrote. Then follows a 310-word sentence that stands as a monument to the need for social justice and equality, eloquently describing why King was moved to action:

“But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: ‘Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?’; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading ‘white’ and ‘colored’; when your first name becomes ‘nigger,’ your middle name becomes ‘boy’ (however old you are) and your last name becomes ‘John,’ and your wife and mother are never given the respected title ‘Mrs.’; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of ‘nobodiness’ then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.”

The nation has made great progress since this letter was written. But the hearings in Florida on the rejection of African-Americans at the polls are a stark reminder – on this day that we honor Martin Luther King – that his struggle is far from finished, that a thinly veiled residue of racism still clings to the nation’s social fabric, and the struggle for equality and social justice continues.

Block that metaphor (stolen fair and square from The New Yorker)

From the Department of Regrettable Metaphors, FUBAR Sentences and Abused Prepositions:

“Football is sometimes an itch that cannot be scratched, a forever thing.”

            Arizona Daily Star, November 6, 2014, page 1, Section B


Such itches give you a rash. Until you die. Then you Rash in Peace. A thing of forever.

Not scratching an itch leads to other itches, more itches and so many more that they become sons of itches. It’s a generational forever thing.

This football thing stops here, but you know we just scratched the surface.

Editing is a scratch just itching for a number one lead pencil to cut the crap, a now-and-again thing.




Looking for attribution

“Nightcrawler” is a newly released movie written and directed by Dan Gilroy. At the moment, it is receiving mostly positive reviews from film critics such as Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, Anthony Lane of The New Yorker, Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal and A. O. Scott of The New York Times. The first three reviews quote a line the movie, which evolves around the tabloid TV. The line is spoken by a TV news producer played by Renee Russo. This is from Turan’s review:

“I want something people can’t turn away from,” she says. The key word is not bloody but “graphic,” the victims should be well-off and white. “Think of our newscast,” she concludes, “as a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.”

Here is a passage from Ben Hecht’s autobiography, “A Child of the Century” published published 60 years ago (page 144, Simon & Schuster, 1954, first edition): Hecht writes of Sherman Duffy, a Chicago newspaperman whom he idolized. Hecht is writing about the time between 1910 and 1917.

“Great wits crossed swords with my champion (Duffy). There was Arthur James Pegler, the salty and verbally crackling father of Westbrook, the mighty columnist-to-be. Pegler, père, was the inventor of the blood-and-thunder rhetoric which became known as the Hearst newswriting style. He wrote once, in a magazine tale, a description of the thing he had helped create:

” ‘A Hearst newspaper is like a screaming woman running down the street with her throat cut.’ ”

Hecht was a Chicago reporter during the golden days newspapering. He famously co-wrote the play “The Front Page,” which was made into three movies,* all of which are well worth watching.*

He later became novelist, playwright and most of all a Hollywood script writer and dubbed the Shakespeare of Hollywood.

Gilroy, the writer of “Nightcrawler,” would have done well to attribute the slit throat quote to Pegler, if not by name then to at least indicate it did not originate with him via the Russo character.

* Adolphe Menjou and Pat O’Brien played in the first version(1931), Matheau and Lemmon in the remake (1974) and Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell gave it a twist (1940) and was titled, “His Girl Friday.”


Murder with impunity

At first I started to write a letter to the editor of the Star. I wanted to ask whether the paper would follow up on an article in today’s edition on page A2 written by Kimberly Matas about the murder last May of  31 year-old Jose Luis Arambula. Arambula was killed by Border Patrol agent Daniel Marquez. The agent was cleared of  wrong doing in a letter written by the chief criminal attorney for Pima County Kelli Johnson and released this week.

I realized a letter would be a waste of time. Nobody cares if Border Patrol agents murder Mexicans or other Hispanics. It’s done with impunity.

According to Matas’ report, Arambula was fleeing from his Jeep, which contained marijuana. He was in a pecan grove down in Green Valley.  Arambula had no weapon, but twice turned toward the BP agent, formed a shape of a gun with his hand. You know, they way kids do.

According to Johnson the county attorney’s mouthpiece, Arambula’s mime act, shooting his hand, would persuade a jury that the BP agent was justified in killing Arambula. The jury would, as Johnson was quoted in the Star, “conclude that Agent Marquez reasonably believed that deadly force was immediately necessary to protect himself from Mr. Arambula’s apparent attempt to use deadly physical force.” (Love that phrase “deadly physical force.” It’s so bureaucratically redundant, as though there might be such a thing as “deadly nonphysical force,” maybe “maybe “deadly mental force”?)

BP agent Marquez fired his weapon nine times at the hand jive deadly force exhibited by the fleeing Arambula. For heaven sake, nine times? At somebody’s back? One of the nine shots landed behind Arambula’s ear. Nine shots? For a guy who has no weapon? And a jury will conclude, according to the county attorney, that it’s just fine and dandy — shoot him dead, blow him away, he aimed his hand at you.

None of this makes sense. Wave your gun hand, and you die. The Star story didn’t say whether Arambula was a U.S. citizen or where he was from.

Doesn’t matter. He had dark skin. Nobody gives a shit.

It’s what this country has come to. Just forget about it, and keep your hands to yourself.

Or they will kill you.


So to speak

An editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal under the headline, “The Ferguson Exception” says that instead “of applying predetermined racial template to every episode” each case should be judged on its merits. Then the editorial argues rather dramatically and forcefully:

“Reality is contingent and fact-specific.”

We have given this thought. What, might one suppose, is reality contingent upon? Such contingencies have plagued mankind since the dawn of time and the emergence from the ether of ignorance of a fact-specific world. Perhaps it is facts, specific facts as opposed to general facts, which presumably have little or no bearing on reality, possibly contingently and specifically factual, as opposed to being unspecific fact-wise, which in reality might not be reality, but fantasy-specific. We cannot thrive in a fact-generalized world, that is to say (just to clarify matters) an unfactual-specific world. If facts were aspecific in the sense of amoral, we might not be troubled by the specificity of factualness. This might mean that factual specificity in reality lacks specific achieveability-ness, at least insofar as contingencies may be involved. But these things should have no bearing on predetermined application in which templates do not merit consideration in a reality-contingent predetermined world where racial templates are not fact-specific and lacking the contingent of reality.

We owe the Journal a specific debt of reality-based gratitude for such clarity concerning the contingent nature of reality and its specific facts. And that we indeed should look at such matters on a case-by-case basis, judging each upon its merits and contingent realities.


Tom Turner remembered

DSCF1093DSCF1095Today (March 15) I joined many others to celebrate the life of Thomas Norman Turner, a newspaper man who spent his career at The Arizona Daily Star. He was a good friend and a talented colleague.

His sons Mike and Kevin offered loving tributes as did the Star’s cartoonist David Fitzsimmons. They caught Tom’s spirit, his hearty laugh, exceptional talents for theater, writing and editing.

He was and will continue to be well-remembered.

Nothing much

I suppose in principle I shall miss the online presence of the Tucson Citizen. Can’t say I was a constant reader; can’t even say I was an occasional reader.

It appears that Gannett made a five-year commitment to maintain the site, throwing the Justice Department  a bone to keep its Pekingese-ish yap shut. The department reviews anti-monopoly events when exemptions to the Sherman Anti-Trust act are involved. Makes it seem like it’s all according to Hoyle, which I am certain it was. The newspaper industry got its Newspaper Preservation Act and anti-trust exemption fair and square: It stomped its sizable foot, splashed ink by the barrel and Congress said aye. Nothing much to be done about it now except to witness the Citizen go the way of the Edsel, Geritol and peace on earth.

It’s sad to think about it. But the act give years ago of  closing the Citizen was more like a mercy killing. In those days it was much like Gertrude Stein’s view of Oakland. The story goes that when she was touring San Francisco, her guide pointed across the bay and said, “Oakland is over there.”

Stein shaded her eyes and looked for a minute or two. She said, “There? There is no there, there.” The Citizen then was much like the Star of today, a starving emaciated prisoner of war suffering from scurvy, all skin and bones, most of the life sucked out of it. So Gannet played Kevorkian, thereby saving a heap of money in personnel and newsprint expense. All the more to the bottom line.

Which is what counts. Nothing like freedom of the press without a press. Nothing much at all.


I don’t remember Jack Sheaffer without a cigar in his mouth, lit or unlit. He was also memorable for his speech. To Jack, “chingadero” was a pronoun, adjective and conjunction. Odd that a photographer should be so well known for his use of language.DSCF1090

Once a year he put on pink tights and a tutu and did a dance for patrons of the annual press club gridiron show. Jack was in line with several men in pink tights and tutus. I remember instructions from the show’s director Marge Hilts was “grab your balls.” And then I think it was pirouette.  It brought the house down.

His everyday costume was a suit. I have no idea where it came from, but it always looked like his tailor was a Russian with a Stoly problem. It likely was  because of his build. He was a big man, a bit overweight. He drove a big car.

Jack owned a bar out on Mission Road on the edge of the Tohono reservation. Ted De Grazia had painted the side with typical De Grazia stuff he did in those long ago days of more wine than roses.

The liquor store building is still there on Mission. The art was painted over, but I am told it’s beginning to show through, demonstrating in more than one way the power of spirits.

Jack had a way getting in the middle of things. He loved gossip. He had more tips than a crooked stock broker.DSCF1091

In 1982, a great electrical explosion rocked the newspaper building at 4850 South Park Avenue. Four people suffered burn injuries. Frank Delehanty, the Star’s business manager, died from his burns. Frank Johnson, the managing editor, and production exceutive Wayne Bean received less serious injuries. Jack suffered the worst burns, took years to recover.

Jack was born in 1929 in Southern Arizona. His family had a ranch at Amado. He died in Tucson in March 1999.

It was after the accident that he produced his book of photos with the late Steve Emerine, who worked for both daily Tucson newspapers, taught journalism at the University of Arizona and even served a term or two as county assessor.

Here is one Jack Sheaffer story as recalled by Bill Waters who was city editor and then ombudsman at the Star. He retired a couple years ago after a couple decades at the Santa Fe New Mexican:

 Chingadero stories, caray — so many.DSCF1092

 My first contact with Jack was when Hubert Humphrey came flying into Tucson, and I’m at Channel 4, John Paul at 9 in those days, and Hubie comes down a staircase onto the field; Jack does his Jackie Gleason/Reggie Van Gleason act with his 4×5 Press Graphic, and woops, his glass plate goes flying 15 feet away, and all’s on hold until he can replace it.

 Not long later, during the strike against the Star/Citizen, Jack shows up to shoot the strikers, who give him the blanket-toss into the air and his jaw strikes a parking meter; undeterred, he gets a shot, bless his big heart; better than what I got for Channel 4.

Jack was one of the biggest-hearted guys I ever knew. Couldn’t make a deadline to save his soul (“It’s just coming off the dryer, was his sister Lucille’s standing instruction to tell me when I’d call for the umpteenth time — a great and dear individual), and one evening Jack came in with a loada bull about his delay, and I sent him to a typewriter to write the cutline since the rest of the staff was gone, and Jack sat trying to make out what to do — borderline illiterate — until Rippey, that grand individual, says “I’ll do it” and I said BS, Tom, about time he learns to do something, anything, on time. Tom ended up writing the cutline.

Earlier, there was a time when I was on sports desk and we’re on our way to interview Bobby Hull down in Tubac; Jack hasta stop at his bar out on Mission Road, and we’re going 80-90 along a back road along the mines when a pickup truck comes rooster-tailing dust from the west; I alert Jack that he ain’t gonna stop at his stop sign, so Jack gases his Chrysler 300 and we get hit — on the very tail of his Chrysler. Both drivers finally get to a stop, back up, and all that’s dented is some chrome on Jack’s back bumper. Jack magnanimously forgives the lout, since we’ve got an intvu coming up …

Jack was given to calling this or that a chingadero, as you well remember, or a chingaderito, depending on circumstances. He and I went to an interview with Barry Goldwater, who quickly greeted Jack as “Chingadero,” to the chagrin of various GOP fatbacks …

But most memorable was when Ford and Echeverria met in Nogales, like in ’75: Jack and I were walking down the center of Obregon, which was blocked off — only way to get to the theater where the presidents were meeting. From a block and a half north came the shout of one of Jack’s billion friends, this one with a gringo accent: “Hey, Chingadero!” Deadly silence. Jack spins around with a wave to acknowledge the guero, to whom it might not have occurred that he was in Mexico … truly one of the greatest characters you or I ever knew …

At a Gridiron Show visit to Phoenix, he took off with our daughter to buy some candy bars, to Julie’s and my alarm, not knowing where she was, Jack coming back with a hangdog look and a bag of candy …

Jack, unwittingly, was a great reporter, having the ability to overhear and pass on all kinds of  stuff; , some worthwhile, some, well, nice try; probly a better reporter than photographer. A wonderful human being.

Jack was born down, or up, in Amado. I think he was a war photographer, which got him his start as “Jack Sheaffer, Star Photographer,” the sign on his office on Stone Avenue half a block north of the Star.