Sources: Publisher, advertising VP out at Daily Star
Mark Henschen, the publisher of the Arizona Daily Star, and the vice president of advertising for the newspaper, Alisha Owens, will be packing up their offices, sources said. The pair are leaving the joint Lee/Gannett-owned paper, with Henschen reportedly fired and Owens resigning.
Henschen was named publisher last June, after having served in that role as an interim for about a year. Owens has headed up the Star's revenue efforts since last fall.
John Humenik, a former Star publisher who has been overseeing the Tucson paper and Lee's partnership in Wisconsin State Journal in his role as a vice president of the Iowa-based Lee, will serve as the interim publisher of the Star.
Sources in the Tucson newsroom and outside of Arizona confirmed the firing Wednesday afternoon.
The paper later released a terse statement acknowledging Henschen's job status, saying he "has left the Arizona Daily Star" with a headline "Arizona Daily Star publisher departs." The paper did not mention Owens, nor — in contrast to the effusive quotes in the announcement of his hiring — include any statements from Henschen.
Owens sent a memo to Star staffers a few minutes after this story was first published, announcing that she was resigning effective next Friday, May 17. While corporate sources had indicated she was being fired along with the publisher, the departing ad VP told TucsonSentinel.com on Thursday morning that, last year, her "husband was not able to move to Tucson with me for work reasons, and I accepted a job that brings us back together in the Southeast."
Newsroom sources said Thursday that Owens is set to become a vice president with NOLA Media Group in New Orleans.
National newspaper chain Gannett reportedly laid off staffers at some 37 of its newspapers last week. The Star newsroom is run by Lee, also a national newspaper chain, but the South Park advertising/publishing operation is a 50-50 partnership between the two companies.
Although the Virginia-based company did not make any public announcement, and reportedly blocked many of its local newspapers from reporting the news, word spread last week of widespread layoffs at Gannett's newspapers across the nation. An industry reporter for the Columbia Journalism Review noted that the chain was "hiding an important local story" by not disclosing the firings of its journalists.
Gannett is the the former publisher of the Tucson Citizen, which was shut down in 2009.
The two companies have split roughly $10 million in net profits on about $55 million in revenues from the Tucson operation in each of the last three years. Recent corporate filings indicate that 2017 is on track to be another profitable year for the partnership. What are listed as "fees for editorial services" — expenses for newsroom salaries and reporting expenses — have ranged between $5.5 and $6 million over the past three years. The remaining $40-odd million each year goes to production and distribution of the print product, compensation for advertising sales, and other operating expenses.
Last year, the Star laid off about 15 percent of its newsroom, pushing the reporting crew there to less than half its former strength. That move paled in comparison to the July 2011 layoffs that saw more than 50 staffers shown the door from across the struggling newspaper, including about 15 from the newsroom.
That spring, the Star reported that it had 418 staffers throughout the operation, including the business and production areas. Last year, the Star reported that its workforce had shrunk to 275 overall, including ad sales, subscription and pressroom staff and management, along with the newsroom.
In addition to layoffs, the Star has quietly reduced its reporting staff by not filling positions as some journalists depart. They have made several hires over the past two years, adding to their newsroom some talented young reporters. The newspaper now has about 60 newsroom staffers. The day the press ran to print the final edition of the Tucson Citizen, that paper had about 65 journalists on staff.
Last year's layoffs came about two months after Bobbie Jo Buel, the paper's editor, left her post in what she called a "departure ... not retirement."
Henschen was promoted to publisher after the previous head of the operation, Chase Rankin, jumped ship to the Arizona Republic in June 2015. He was publisher of the Star for only about 14 months.
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.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized the nature of Owens’ departure from the Star. She is resigning to take a job in another state.