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New dawn for daily? Star looks outside for (another) publisher

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New dawn for daily? Star looks outside for (another) publisher

Tucson's remaining daily print newspaper has (another) new publisher. The Lee/Gannett-owned outlet has picked an advertising VP from the Tronc-run Orlando Sentinel — John D'Orlando  — filling an office chair that's been rotating for the past several years.

The company announced D'Orlando's hiring as "president and publisher" Tuesday morning, and he spoke to employees at a meeting.

D'Orlando will run the business side of the Daily Star, but split responsibility for the newsroom with John Humenik, a vice president for the Iowa-based Lee Enterprises who is a former Star publisher.

D'Orlando has spent his career in Florida newspapers, first at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and then the Orlando Sentinel, where he has been a vice president and the advertising director since 2008. Both are owned by the Tronc newspaper chain, formerly known as (Chicago) Tribune Publishing.

"Being given the chance to join a media company with the reputation for innovation and creativity that the Daily Star has earned is a once in a lifetime opportunity," D'Orlando said in a news release.

D'Orlando's "success in new business development, innovative product launches, market solutions for small and medium size businesses, and creative thinking will provide next level solutions for our advertisers," said Humenik in the company statement (which could've used a copy editor to sprinkle some necessary hyphens about).

The South Park operation has previously turned to employees of the two media chains to head up the Star, but turnover at the publisher's desk has been frequent in recent years.

After Humenik was bumped up the Lee ladder in 2014 (he'd taken over the Star's business side after the resignation of Mike Jameson in late 2010), local ad VP Chase Rankin was promoted to publisher. He left after just more than a year to work for the Gannett-run Arizona Republic. The Star's VP of circulation — Mark Henschen — was made interim publisher, and then handed the title on a permanent basis six months later. Henschen was fired in May, according to company sources, with Humenik returning to take the reins. The Star's advertising VP also resigned that month, taking a job at a newspaper in New Orleans.

The announcement of D'Orlando's hiring said he "will be responsible for the Star's advertising, digital sales and digital product development, marketing, circulation, printing and distribution, financial services and human resources," while sharing oversight of news and editorial operations with Humenik. The former Star publisher now oversees both the Tucson operation and Lee's partnership in Capital Newspapers in Wisconsin.

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.

Gannett, headquartered in Virginia, owns some 100 daily newspapers and 1,000 weekly publications across the United States and Britain. Lee operates 54 dailies and about 300 weeklies and shoppers.

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.

Gannett reportedly laid off scores of staffers at some 37 of its newspapers in May, and told employees Tuesday that it will shutter its design studio in Nashville in October, cutting about 88 jobs. The company, which closed a New Jersey design center in April, will have just three such centers to edit and lay out nearly all of its newspapers across the country after Nashville's is closed: Louisville, Des Moines and Phoenix.

While the chain has consolidated copyediting and design at centers that are often hundreds of miles away from the communities its newspapers cover, the partnership status of the Tucson paper has somewhat insulated it from the ongoing centralization of both Lee and Gannett.

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