FROM FIFE TO FLAGCRACK TRIB REPORTER GOES NORTH TO START NEWSPAPER

Maybe, just maybe, Governor Fife Symington won't have to worry anymore about the reporter whose scoops consistently embarrassed him. Then again, says John Dougherty, late of the Mesa Tribune, from his new home in Flagstaff, "You never know when I'll run into something up here about Fife that needs to be told."

The 36-year-old Dougherty, his wife Barbara and their two children--ages 6 and 3--recently left the Valley, he says, "to go on a great adventure." It will come in the form of a weekly newspaper, the Southwest Sage, which the Doughertys plan to debut in a few weeks.

The transition to small-city newspaper owner would seem dramatic for a journalist whose investigative reporting on business topics has received national attention in recent years. But, Dougherty says, "reporting is reporting. Change the names, it's the same thing on a different scale. I've gotten far greater responses from hard-hitting local stories I've done than national ones."

But Dougherty's "big" stories are what have earned him a reputation. In 1989, for example, a federal official singled out Dougherty in testimony before the U.S. Senate as the groundbreaking reporter in the Keating Five part of the savings-and-loan scandal.

After writing those S&L stories for the Dayton Daily News in Ohio and after a yearlong stint as editor of the weekly Half Moon Bay Review in northern California, Dougherty returned to Arizona in 1990 and went to work for the Mesa Tribune. He previously had worked for the Phoenix Gazette.

At the Trib, Dougherty's stories about Symington's personal financial woes also earned the reporter plaudits. Earlier this year, for example, the Washington Post credited him with Arizona's most aggressive reporting on the financially troubled governor.

However, last February the Trib yanked Dougherty off the Symington beat after the reporter engaged in a shouting match with the governor's Washington, D.C., team of lawyer John Dowd and public relations man Jay Smith. The clash at the Trib received national attention because of the newspaper's refusal to back its ace reporter. (The newspaper later relented a bit and allowed Dougherty to resume some of his Symington-connected duties.)

Dougherty says he told his bosses months ago that he was considering starting his own newspaper. "I asked them what their long-range plans were for me, and they never replied," he says. "I just took it as a reading that there was nothing more to say. They have a real bare-bones staff down there right now."

"Bare bones" also describes Dougherty's new venture. To get things rolling, he's purchased a couple of computers, a laser printer, a fax machine and an 800-number service. A basement darkroom is in the future at the family's combination office and living quarters, a turn-of-the-century structure located about a block from Flagstaff City Hall.

Dougherty says he has been gratified by the prepublication response to the Southwest Sage. "We've had a steady stream of talent walking in here offering to help. There is a definite desire in this community to have a voice other than the [Flagstaff] Daily Sun, which most people view as irrelevant. Weeklies are the strong point of the newspaper industry right now."

The Sage, which will be free, aims at a market of about 50,000 people, centered on Flagstaff but also including Sedona. Dougherty says the weekly will emphasize outdoors coverage--environmental issues, as well as information about where to go and what to do--but will also dive into local politics.

"It's practically virgin territory for coverage, from what I've seen," he says. "We're selling ourselves as, 'Here's what the other media won't tell you."
This week Dougherty hopes to print 2,000 copies of a four-page introductory promo, which he plans to deliver to potential advertisers in the Flagstaff area. "There seems to be a good retail core in downtown Flag," he says, "and the economy's going pretty good. We think we're coming in at a good time." Dougherty says he hasn't yet chosen a motto for his new newspaper. "There's a paper in Louisiana called the Hammond Vindicator whose motto is 'Let the Fur Fly!' I'd like something like that. We'll get some people in our face real quick. I think the community wants people to get into their face. If it works out, it will be a hell of a lot of fun. Even more fun than covering Fife or Charlie Keating."

@pq:"We've had a steady stream of talent walking in here offering to help. There is a definite desire in this community."

@body:

@hed:From Fife to Flag
@deck:Crack Trib reporter goes north to start newspaper
@by:By Paul Rubin
@body:

@jump:Newspaper
@body:

No Art. Thanks, Clay.

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