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Star (finally) picks a new publisher

The Arizona Daily Star has removed the "interim" from in front of Mark Henschen's title, promoting him to publisher of the morning daily. The previous head of the operation, Chase Rankin, jumped ship to the Arizona Republic last June.

Henschen, the newspaper's vice president of operations and circulation, had also handled the top post on an interim basis. His promotion to president and publisher was announced Wednesday by Lee Enterprises and Gannett, which jointly own the business operations at the South Park morning daily.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to lead the Daily Star,” Henschen said in a corporate news release. “This organization has proven its commitment to serving readers and connecting advertisers with strong local audiences, and we’ll continue that commitment through outstanding journalism and innovative engagement with the Tucson community.”

Newsroom reaction to the 61-year-old's elevation was positive. In recent months, the delay in hiring a permanent publisher had affected morale among some Star employees. Rankin had left last year, after about 14 months in the position, to become an advertising VP at the Phoenix paper.

Lee's corporate boss heaped praise on Henschen in the press release published by the Star.

"Mark has been a champion of outstanding customer service and reader relations his entire career, and that focus has been a hallmark of his highly effective and engaged leadership style," said John Humenik, the vice president of news for Lee Enterprises.

"He has the ability to drive strong operational performance and build strategies that grow revenue and audience while inspiring and mentoring those around him,” said Humenik, who was the publisher for the Star before taking a corporate post that has him overseeing both Tucson and Lee's paper in Madison, Wis.

"The leadership at Lee and our partners at Gannett are thrilled to see Mark take this important step in his long and successful career. It's well deserved and no doubt will significantly advance the Tucson operation, especially as we continue to expand our terrific audiences," Humenik said in the release.

According to the statement from Lee, prior to joining the Star in 2011, Henschen was the circulation director of the North County Times in Escondido, Calif. He also served as group circulation director for 16 properties in Howard Publications from 1996 to 2002.

Lee purchased the 16-paper Howard chain, which included the North County Times, for nearly $700 million in 2002. That paper, which laid off about a third of its reporting staff between 2008 and 2011, was sold to the developer owner of the U-T San Diego paper, Doug Manchester, for $12 million in 2012. The separate North County edition was halted, and Manchester sold the San Diego paper, again called by its traditional name the Union Tribune, to the company that owns the Los Angeles Times last year.

Henschen's career also includes circulation director with The Times of Northwest Indiana in Munster, Ind., and the Journal Gazette/Times Courier in Mattoon, Ill., Lee said.

Gannett and Lee remain partners in the Daily Star's operations, a legacy of their former joint operating agreement between the Star and the Tucson Citizen, which stopped printing in May 2009. Lee owns the newspaper itself, but each company has a half-share in the business operation, and non-newsroom activities have generally fallen under the purview of Gannett, a much larger company. Gannett pulled the plug on the Citizen's online blogging system in early 2014, when they laid off the final employee.

Both chains have been pressed hard to survive as advertisers have dropped print newspapers over the past decade, with layoffs occurring on a regular basis. Both have also been heavily criticized for continuing to award top execs large bonuses, even as newspaper values have plunged.

Humenik, the former Star publisher, now oversees both the Tucson operation and Lee's partnership in Capital Newspapers in Wisconsin. Although he was appointed to Lee's executive team as the vice president of news in early 2015, he was not among the nine top company execs recently listed as entitled to golden parachutes if the company is taken over.

CEO Mary Junck, due to be bumped up to the company's executive chairman next month, would receive $5.6 million if Lee were sold. COO Kevin Mowbray, slated to become CEO in February, would receive $1.5 million. Other finance, HR and advertising execs would receive between $400,000 and $765,000 each.

Other than Humenik's news position, the only execs among Lee's vice presidents to not appear on the golden parachute list are those overseeing print and online audience growth, and information technology.

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