Nintzel hangs up notebook at Tucson Weekly after 33 years
'The Tucson Weekly has finally lost its soul' — founder Doug Biggers
After three decades at the Tucson Weekly, Jim Nintzel is packing up his desk. The top editor of that publication for the past five years — along with the Explorer, Inside Tucson Business, Marana News and more — Nintzel joins other staffers in leaving the Tucson Local Media operation.
Nintzel started at the Weekly in July 1989, and he'll head out of the office — the last of several that the Weekly has called its newsroom over the past decades — at the beginning of July 2022.
"I'm the luckiest man on the face of the earth," Nintzel told the Sentinel. "It was a great run. I'm sad to see it end, but I've got a garage that's a terrible mess, and two little girls I'm looking forward to spending some time with this summer." Nintzel said he has "no plans" on what to do next.
Also published under the Tucson Local Media umbrella are the Foothills News and Desert Times — meaning the operation has about as many different newspapers as it has had newsroom staffers recently. Also leaving the local branch of the publishing chain are Jeff Gardner, the managing editor — he's moving to Spain — and graphic designer Ryan Dyson.
"For all intents and purposes, the Tucson Weekly has finally lost its soul," said Doug Biggers, who founded the alternative weekly in 1984, sold it just short of two decades later, and has been increasingly critical of the ensuing parade of owners since.
Beginning as an errand-runner fresh out of college, Nintzel "drove around town in an old VW Bug with no air-conditioning in the blazing-hot summer of 1989, then helped manage distribution, then paste-up, proof-reading, put together the calendar — and I pushed to create a news section in the Tucson Weekly."
"So I came up with a column called 'The Skinny," he said.
In that standing feature, Nintzel and a cavalcade of some of Tucson's most incisive journalists — Emil Franzi, Chris Limberis, Dan Huff, Tim Vanderpool, "I'm sure I'm leaving out people who were amazing" — skewered all comers in what for years was a must-read column.
"I'm proud of the work we did covering politics, and I've really enjoyed the last few years — working with a team of young journalists, many of whom have gone on to bigger things," Nintzel told the Sentinel in a phone interview after posting on the Weekly's site about his impending departure. "I'm proud of what they've done."
Nintzel, who became the Weekly's editor in 2017, was for years a fixture of local political television, as well. After frequent appearances on Arizona Public Media's discussion roundtables, he became the Friday host of Arizona Illustrated in 2014. After a shake-up at AZPM, he then hosted his own Zona Politics interview program, broadcast on various channels.
A University of Arizona graduate, Nintzel said his entrée into local journalism "was pure nepotism" — but that he missed a lucrative early opportunity.
The founder of the Weekly in 1984, "Doug Biggers' sister was married to my brother," Nintzel said. "When they first launched, I was graduating from high school. Doug offered me a job, but said, 'I can't pay you.' He was going to let me distribute the papers, pick up the old copies and take them to recycling — and keep the money."
"I wasn't smart enough to say yes," he said.
Instead, it was five years later that Nintzel joined the Weekly.
"The '90s were a glorious time for alt-weeklies," he said. "The paper grew and grew and grew. And now we're often back down to the 28-pager I started at."
Current and former Weekly staffers sang his praises Tuesday.
"He’s irreplaceable," said Linda Ray, a longtime music and entertainment writer. "Who can be found who has such a casserole of love and deep knowledge of this town? Personally, having worked with and for him for almost 25 years, I can’t wait to see where he’s going!"
Mari Herreras, Nintzel's predecessor as editor and a Weekly staffer for a decade until 2017, said "it’s the end of an era — the last of folks who cared for the Weekly. And the last of folks who cared for the Weekly as best they could in circumstances that meant the end of any alt-weekly presence in this city. However, I feel great for Jim. I understand where he’s coming from. Sometimes it's time to go."
"It's a terrible system they put in place," said Herreras of the ownership of the local newspaper group. "You can’t gut editorial and do that kind of crap. Often putting the same stories in multiple papers meant each publication lost its unique identity and in turn readership."
The Weekly, ITB, Explorer and the rest of the package were purchased last April by a Phoenix-area newspaper chain. Times Media Group has demonstrated a pattern of buying small publications and cutting staff even further.
The terms of that deal were not made public. The Tucson publications were sold by their Colorado-based private owner, Randy Miller of 10/13 Communications and Thirteenth Street Media — who had already slashed the reporting budget at each of the newspapers.
That sale meant even further cuts in the capacity of the already stretched-thin staff that puts out the six papers. Times Media purchased a small chain of publications in Southern California in summer 2019, and laid off the editor of San Diego CityBeat within about a month. CityBeat has not published since March 2020, when it "paused" due to the lack of advertising during the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is a day I thought would never come. I can't imagine a Tucson Weekly without Nintz. He's put his heart and soul into that paper for more than three decades," said Jimmy Boegle, a former Weekly editor who founded the Coachella Valley Independent in California and recently also became the owner of the Reno (Nev.) News and Review.
"I haven't talked to Jim, but his departure really makes me concerned about the Weekly's future," Boegle said. "Times Media Group has not been a good steward of many of the newspapers it owns. What that company did to San Diego CityBeat was appalling. They don't seem to understand how important these newspapers are to their communities."
Biggers, who founded the Weekly in 1984 and sold it to Southern Arizona chain Wick Communications in 2000, sounded a note of caution about the 2021 takeover by Times Media Group as it happened.
"In an era of rapidly changing and treacherous terrain for local media, I'm hopeful that the mission and voice of the Tucson Weekly will continue to make a difference in the community, as it has since its founding," he told the Sentinel last year. "I also hope the solid leadership of Jim Nintzel will continue under the new ownership. He is a treasure of Tucson journalism."
Instead, Nintzel's leaving just more than a year later.
Describing Nintzel's tenure as "the stuff of local journalistic legend," Biggers said his leaving "can’t bode well for the citizens of this dusty burg... The affable trickster with an intolerance for the imbecilic, the craven, and the criminal in Arizona politics is putting down the yoke of eternal deadlines and quitting the old rag."
Wick, which owns small local newspapers across the West, sold the Weekly and Inside Tucson Business to 10/13 Communications in 2014. Miller's company had already bought the Explorer.
That sale prompted ITB editor Mark Evans (now the chief spokesman for Pima County) to immediately resign from his post, citing Miller's hollowing out of his other papers.
10/13 sold the East Valley Tribune to Times Media in 2016. Owner Steve Strickbine's company also operates other Phoenix-area newspapers, along with its California holdings, which it purchased in 2019.
They include the Peoria Times, College Times, Scottsdale Airpark News, Glendale Star, Lovin' Life After 50, Pasadena Weekly, Scottsdale Progress, and others.
Sources at the Weekly didn't know how the owners plan to handle Nintzel's departure. He declined to speculate.
"Nintzel is a good dad," Herreras said Tuesday. "I know I left because as a single mom working with a revolving door of publishers that didn’t know what they were doing didn’t feel very secure. Now Nintzel can spend time with his kiddos. Fantastic plan!"
James Reel, who edited the Weekly from 2000 to 2002, said "for a guy who started out as a paperboy, Jim has had a respectable career in journalism, if you can call the Tucson Weekly respectable. Twenty years ago he claimed he wasn’t really comfortable in the editor’s chair and was supposedly pleased that I relieved him of that noisome task, and he did always seem happiest as a reporter raking muck in city and county government, mentored as he was by Emil Franzi. But he turned out to be a pretty darn capable editor in the past few years, when the job was again thrust upon him. I hope he’ll have time now to watch his daughters grow up, and to watch baseball on TV without having to file a story (just after deadline) at the same time."
Mike Truelsen, who was a founding news editor for the Tucson Sentinel in 2009-10, more recently spent some time in the Weekly newsroom, and now works for the Pima County Recorder's Office.
"Jim Nintzel’s contributions to Tucson journalism cannot be overstated," Truelsen said. "His wealth of knowledge about the city’s politics, music scene and business dealings will be sorely missed. I can only hope he’ll find another outlet to tell us all what’s going on."
"And you’ll never find a nicer guy," he said. "In my nearly 30 years in Tucson, I have never heard a bad word said about him. When I would tell people I was working at the Weekly, invariably the first thing people would say was, 'Oh, I love Nintzel!'"
Biggers laid out his assessment in a Facebook post: "Jim has been honored as Journalist of the Year by the Arizona Newspaper Association for his reporting and writing; was the ringleader of all kinds of hijinks and marvelous tomfoolery in service to truth, justice and black humor; served as a mentor to scores of young journalists as an editor and adjunct journalism professor at the UA; survived three sales of the newspaper; performed yeoman service to the newspaper and the community in a myriad of ways, including his foray into broadcast journalism; and was finally head honcho of the editorial operation as his budget was continually slashed to within a whisker of nothing."
"Throughout it all, Jim has persevered with dogged good humor, endless hard work, and a savvy that enabled him to be, in many ways, the last person standing in the newspaper’s storied history. Goodbye to all that, indeed."