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Tucson Citizen archive available - not quite public yet

A visit to the home page of the Tucson Citizen still displays a notice that parent company Gannett Inc. pulled the plug on the website of the shuttered newspaper, but a skeleton of the text archives is available for those who can find it.

While corporate officials haven't deigned to speak with local reporters since laying off the Citizen's sole remaining employee and announcing last week the end of what had become a community blogging site, some poking about the website reveals that the nationwide chain apparently does not intend to keep available the posts from community members made after the newspaper's press last ran in 2009.

Two slightly different versions of the archive appear, one with stories that appeared in print between December 1993 and the end of the print paper (tucsoncitizen.com/morgue2), and one with stories that were posted online between March 2006 and shortly after the newspaper was closed in May 2009 (tucsoncitizen.com/morgue).

A notice on the larger archive said it includes more than 230,000 stories. That archive has 1795 pages in its listings of published reports, with about 150 stories on each page. None of the associated photos are included in that archive.

The 2006-2009 archive includes photos, and has 755 pages of listed stories.

None of the stories posted by community bloggers who contributed to the site over the four-year stretch are included. Nor are pieces from that period by paid employees, such as news columns from site administrator Mark B. Evans and reporting from sportswriter Anthony Gimino.

The site includes ad positions, but no search function appears on the pages. Comments made on the Citizen website are not included in the archive.

Because of the differences between the Citizen library's digital archiving system, and the content management system used for online posting, there are differences between copies of the same story as presented in each archive — see the the two different versions of the last piece I wrote for the paper: What newspaper history says about news future and For one family, a century of newspapering is at an end.

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As Gannett officials, including Kate Marymont, Gannett's senior vice president for news, have not returned phone calls, there's no word on when access to the archives may be available via the Citizen's homepage, or if the design of the site is complete.

Last Friday, four and a half years after the press of the Tucson Citizen rolled for the final time, the final employee of what became a blogging site was laid off. Gannett announced that the website would become an archive, letting go Gimino (for the second time) and shutting down the site.

Gannett closed the Citizen newspaper in May 2009, but kept on a shoestring staff who administered an open-to-all blogging site to keep the U.S. Justice Department off the company's back.

Evans, a former assistant city editor for the newspaper, ran the site until leaving to head up Inside Tucson Business last September.

With a phone call, Gimino was laid off by Gannett for a second time. He was a sportswriter for the print newspaper from 2004-2009, and then began writing for the online version of the Citizen when Gannett received a grant to pay for a part-time reporter. He later moved to a full-time position, helping Evans corral the site's stable of bloggers while continuing to report.

When Evans departed, Gimino was left to handle the reins alone.

Neither Gimino nor Evans were surprised by the move to shut down the site — nor were other former employees of the newspaper.

"I'm disappointed but not surprised," Evans said last Friday. "The site's only purpose was to exist."

The South Park operation under which the Citizen fell, along with the Arizona Daily Star, is a partnership between national newspaper chains Gannett Inc. and Lee Enterprises, with each holding a 50 percent share.

When the Citizen newspaper was publishing, the partnership was supervised by the Justice Department under a Joint Operating Agreement — an exemption from anti-trust laws allowed by the Newspaper Preservation Act.

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The last editor of the newspaper, Jennifer Boice, said last Friday that the decision to keep a website operating was a move to "placate the Justice Department" by providing "an editorial voice." Months of negotiations with federal authorities preceded the January 2009 announcement that the newspaper would be sold or be closed down by Gannett.

In a terse statement posted on the Citizen website Friday, Gannett's Marymont said, ""We are pleased to continue tucsoncitizen.com as an important community resource for Tucsonans who want to research the history and traditions of their city."

The post, which replaced every page on the Citizen site, said a free archive of stories dating back to 1993 "will be available in several days."

The Citizen's press made its final run for the Saturday, May 16, 2009, edition. The paper printed its first page for Saturday, Oct. 15, 1870.

'Tolerated existence'

Evans and Gimino both said the Citizen received little support in its existence as a website.

Pointing to Gannett's deal with the Justice Department, Evans said the site's "only reason was to exist."

"With a little more support — with tech issues and with staffing — I could have made it profitable," Evans said. "I almost got to break-even in 2012, but we had all kinds of technical problems (that year)."

"The beginning of the end was when (then-Tucson Newspapers Inc. head) Mike Jameson was laid off or whatever they did with him (in November 2010)," Evans said. "TNI was rolled into the Star, with John Humenik in charge."

"After that, there was just the barest toleration of the Citizen's existence," Evans said.

"Plan after plan to make the site better was ignored," he said. "That's when I started looking for work elsewhere."

In a story on the shutdown reported by John Schuster and posted on Inside Tucson Business on Friday afternoon, Evans detailed his frustrations with Gannett.

After proposing a 2012 plan to revamp the website's operations, Evans said, "I was told Gannett legal had to make sure the site redo was acceptable under the settlement agreement between Gannett, Lee and the Justice Department."

"I got no response from Gannett corporate. Not even a 'no.' I was just ignored," he said.

Evans said he was told that any programming work on the site was dependent on a decision by Lee to implement a long-delayed paywall for the Star's website.

Gimino, who has the weekend to box up his belongings and turn in his company laptop, echoed Evans in saying that Gannett corporate ignored plans to improve the site.

"There was resistance to a sports site," he said of a plan he formulated after Evans left, to shift the site's focus to just sports coverage by Gimino, Andy Morales and other sports writers who have been blogging without pay for the Citizen.

Gimino said he was told that restrictions imposed by the Justice Department might block a move to a sports-only format.

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Both Evans and Gimino said they were proud of the work they were able to do, despite the lack of corporate support. Evans was able to hire Gimino back to report on sports because the site received a $50,000 grant to support building a network of bloggers in 2009.

"There were a few bloggers who rose above and beyond," Gimino said, citing postings by Morales, Carolyn Classen, Karyn Zoldan, Scott Terrell and others.

"Other media, especially TV, piggybacked on their work a lot," he said.

"I feel really bad for Anthony," Evans said. "He's one of the best sportswriters in the state. I was able to get out (with another job). He ended up getting laid off again, by the same newspaper."

In a Facebook post later that day, Evans said he was "heart-broken" for Gimino. "He put in 60-70 hour weeks as a one-man Arizona Wildcats newsroom. That Gannett didn't recognize his talent and either let him make the site successful, or find him a job is sorely disappointing."

"Moreover, I'm becoming more pissed off by the minute by the fact that Gannett didn't even bother to thank the bloggers who have provided that site with content for years only for the glory of the work (that means no pay)," Evans wrote. "I'm just disgusted that it would end this way."

Contributors to the Citizen's blogs were notified via mass email Friday afternoon about the shutdown of the site, after it had been turned off. The email included a Word attachment containing the statement posted on the website, and an equally terse message:

Dear community blogger:

We are sharing with you the attached announcement this afternoon from Gannett Co. Inc. regarding the Tucson Citizen.

Thank you for your participation with the Citizen.

Bloggers were later notified that Gannett would provide them with a digital file containing a copy of their work, to which they retained copyright.

Morales said Friday that he "joined the 'unpaid' staff at the TC.com because the major print outlet in Tucson was more focused on being a national publication rather than something for our community to rely on."

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"It was worth it to me to sacrifice hours of my time to bring stories of our youth to the people of Southern Arizona," Morales said via a chat message. "I think my work speaks for itself and the fact that my stuff 'just happens' to magically appear in print A LOT means that I must have been doing something right.  I'm not going anywhere."

Boice, the Citizen's final editor, credited Evans, Gimino, Morales and others for doing quality work ("amazing with the resources Mark was given"), but said the "old and storied newspaper" — one that reported the shootout at the OK Corral —"was reduced to a shadow of what it once was, thanks to Gannett."

The Citizen was the "subject of benign neglect by Gannett" after the presses stopped running, said Mark Kimble, who oversaw the paper's editorial pages.

"I'm surprised that it lasted this long" said Kimble, who worked at the Citizen for 35 years before being laid off in the 2009 closure of the print paper.

"I can't say that I was a frequent reader of the website," he said. "I mostly read their sports section — Anthony (Gimino)'s work especially. But I'm not sure that a collection of blogs amounted to much of a separate editorial voice," as Gannett said they would provide.

"I'm also not sure what the effect will be on the editorial published in the Star will be," Kimble said. After Evans' departure, Gannett has provided a weekly editorial for the print pages of the Star penned by Linda Valdez of the Arizona Republic, one of the newspapers in the chain.

Valdez said Friday evening that, "My understanding is that it is over, too. … I won't be writing any more (opinion pieces for the Star)."

The Star's report on the final demise of the site run by its corporate partner was even shorter than Gannett's announcement of the closure. The morning daily posted a three-sentence brief on its website — a story on which it did not allow the public to comment.

Archives a worry

After the newspaper closed, few resources were put toward maintaining the Citizen's digital and physical archives.

In 2010, a power surge destroyed a computer server that held the many video projects linked to from Citizen stories posted online. A database of stories was also destroyed, with links between stories published online being lost.

Boice, who spent 25 years in the Citizen newsroom, expressed concern about the newspaper's physical archives — something she's done since the paper's closure was announced five years ago.

The newspaper library, which had been overseen by a team of librarians when the newspaper was publishing, held tens of thousands of photographs and undeveloped negatives, along with copies of the newspaper and other historical documents, such as local high school yearbooks. Those archives are sitting "in an abandoned room on the abandoned side of a building," Boice said.

"I think (Star editor and interim publisher) Bobbie Jo Buel has respect for the historical status of the archive, and in conservation," Boice said. "But given Lee (Enterprises') financial situation, it's very worrying. I'm not sure they have the wherewithal to preserve it."

Without anyone to keep watch on it, "the integrity has been compromised," she said. "The photos, at least, should definitely go to the (Arizona) Historical Society" where they can be held in a climate-controlled space.

"There are many photographs that were never even published," she said.

PK Weis, who served as the newspaper's photo editor for 30 years after six years as a photographer for the paper, said Friday, "I'm just kind of speechless ... I worked there all my life, pretty much."

"From a historical viewpoint, (the shutdown) is just a tragic day," said Weis, one of about 65 Citizen staffers who were laid off in 2009. "Journalists of today have missed the romance of that era of print newspapering."

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have your say   

Latest comments on this storyRead all 5 »

5
1767 comments
Feb 9, 2014, 12:47 pm
-0 +0

@Dylan Smith

I never suggested approving or denying content, I was advocating approving or denying people, based on their politics. Apparently cutting a volunteer is legal because Evans cut the Three Sonorans idiot (based on his content) and Evans didn’t get locked up or sued, or even fired for it. To the precedent was there.

One thing that can’t be denied, even by you Dylan, is that the “TC part 2” experiment was a dismal failure, and it is something of a minor miracle that the plug wasn’t pulled sooner. What they tried did not work.

Again, not blaming Evans here. He stated that he had ideas and that his bosses wouldn’t listen. I believe him. It is unfortunate. I believe the TC part 2 had the potential to be something successful, it just needed…well, not better leadership, but a leader who was allowed to be autonomous and given the authority and resources he needed to be successful.

4
541 comments
Feb 9, 2014, 9:50 am
-0 +0

Gannett was operating a blogging service - a local version of blogspot, pretty much. If they had told people what to write, how to write it, what to cover, etc., then they would have had to pay them (and be legally responsible for what they wrote). People can’t “volunteer” for a for-profit corporation, but they can use a service that corporation provides.

3
1767 comments
Feb 9, 2014, 8:49 am
-0 +0

How in the world would assuring an editorial balance violate the law?

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Click image to enlarge

A screenshot of the archive of the final edition of the Tucson Citizen.