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Reporter McCombs leaving Az Daily Star

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Reporter McCombs leaving Az Daily Star

Border and politics reporter Brady McCombs is leaving the Arizona Daily Star, where he's held down a newsroom post since 2006.

While mainly covering the border and immigration issues earlier in his tenure for the morning daily, McCombs has spent the past year tasked with the politics beat.

McCombs will take a reporting position with the Associated Press in Utah, multiple sources said earlier this week. McCombs declined to comment Tuesday; he confirmed his new position Friday after the AP announced his hiring.

"I will be the AP's Supervisory Correspondent in Salt Lake City, leading the bureau's breaking news and enterprise coverage of the state," McCombs said in an email.

"I am sad to leave the Arizona Daily Star, but this is a great opportunity for me and my family. I am grateful to the Star for the opportunity they gave me and to my editors and colleagues for the support and guidance they have provided me since I arrived in February 2006. I have enjoyed my time in the desert immensely, learned a ton, and I will always have very fond memories of my time in Tucson," he said.

In leaving the Star, McCombs joins several other high-profile newsroom personnel who've recently moved to other news organizations.

Teri Hayt, the paper's managing editor, stepped down last month to become the executive editor for the Ohio papers of the GateHouse Media chain.

Others leaving the paper this year have included columnist Josh Brodesky and reporter Rob O'Dell, who both moved north to the Arizona Republic; and long-time photographer David Sanders, who last month took a position with UNS Energy, the parent company of Tucson Electric Power.

Online content producer Jaynelle Ramon, an eight-year veteran at the Star, left last month to work for the University of Arizona Alumni Association.

Reporter Rhonda Bodfield left the Star in March, first taking a job with Tucson Medical Center and then moving to the communications staff of Pima County.

The Star's design director, Mike Rice, was hired away from the newspaper over the summer. He's now the features design director for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

On the business side, the Star has also seen turnover in the advertising department, where there is currently an opening for a sales manager.

McCombs was named the 2007 Virg Hill Arizona Journalist of the Year by the Arizona Press Club, and the 2007 and 2008 Arizona Journalist of the Year by the Arizona Newspapers Association.

McCombs, a 2001 graduate of the University of Colorado-Boulder, spent a year at the Greeley (Colo.) Tribune before working for the Star.

In July 2011, the Star axed 52 staffers, including about 15 from the newsroom.

The Star's parent company, national newspaper chain Lee Enterprises, was able to refinance its crushing $1.1 billion debt through a packaged bankruptcy filing in January.

Last week, Lee announced that it had reduced its debt to $930.6 million, below the level originally anticipated to be reached a year from now," according to a company press release.

Lee owns some 50 papers across the country, including a 50 percent interest in the Tucson newspaper operation, along with partner Gannett Inc., the owner of the Tucson Citizen, which emptied its newsroom and ceased daily publishing in 2009.

In July, the company reported a a $1.5 million third-quarter loss, lower than last year's 3Q loss of $155 million. But the company's revenues fell 4.3 percent.

The newspaper chain reported a loss of 3 cents per diluted common share in the quarter ending June 24. The 2011 third quarter loss was $3.46 per share.

But behind those numbers lies Lee's strategy of cutting costs faster than revenue declines, or, as CEO Mary Junck said in a press release, "Lee continues on course with waves of initiatives to speed the evolution of our business."

The number of full-time-equivalent employees was down 7.5 percent, while total compensation dropped 3.5 percent. Overall operating expenses were down 4.1 percent.

Lee stock dropped by 70 percent over a few months at the end of last year, and at one point was trading in the 60-cent range. It was trading Wednesday afternoon at $1.50. In 2004, the company traded at $49.

The paywall cometh

Lee plans to charge readers to access the chain's websites, the company announced in April.

Tuesday, Junck touted the success of the company's paywall plan, saying, "We introduced digital subscriptions in 11 more markets during the quarter, for a total of 17 so far, and expect nearly all of Lee's 52 markets to follow by the end of the calendar year."

It's not known if the Star will institute a paywall, or what it might cost. Company spokesman Dan Hayes said in April that timing and pricing "will be determined market by market."

Lee rolled out paywalls at its six papers in Wyoming and Montana last year. Readers with a paid subscription to the print newspaper were charged about $20 per year to read stories online, while nonprint readers were charged $50-$75 per year.

The papers let readers access 15-20 stories monthly before the paywall kicked in.

The Arizona Republic launched a paywall last month.


A pre-packaged bankruptcy filing by Lee was approved by a federal judge in January.

Lee has been laboring under a $1 billion debt, much of which was to become due in April. The bankruptcy prepared by the chain pushed the due dates back to December 2015 and April 2017, while hiking interest rates from 5.1 to 9.2 percent and diluting the company's shares by 13 percent.

The company contended the Chapter 11 reorganization would give it time to right its finances.

The company reached terms with the majority of its debt holders last year, but had to go to court to force the terms on a minority of its lenders.

While the majority of Lee's debt holders agreed to push back the due date on the loans two years, about 3 percent of the company's lenders were non-consenting, Schmidt said in a release at the time.

Lee owns 48 newspapers around the country, with joint interest in four others, including the Star.

Lee took on the huge debt load to finance the 2005 acquisition of the Pulitzer newspaper chain for $1.46 billion, which brought it the Star and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, among others. Lee publishes nearly 50 daily newspapers across the country.

Part of Lee's debt, $138 million known as the Pulitzer Notes, was inherited with that purchase, and is secured by the assets of the former Pulitzer chain, including the Star.

Last year, Lee was faced with having its stock delisted from the New York Stock Exchange after trading below $1 for months. That threat has abated somewhat since the bankruptcy filing, as Lee has traded above the dollar threshold.

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