Publishing entrepreneur Steve Strickbine has purchased the East Valley Tribune and Ahwatukee Foothills News for an undisclosed price, vowing to improve the content of the semiweekly newspapers.
Strickbine is the CEO of Times Media Group, which puts out the College Times, Scottsdale Airpark News, and other local print publications. He also owns AZ Integrated Media and the website Phoenix.org.
Randy Miller of Colorado-based 10/13 Communications had owned the Tribune and Foothills News since 2010, when he rescued the venerable Trib from closure by its then-bankrupt parent company, Freedom Communications.
As a lifeboat, though, Miller offered few seats for employees and nothing much to look at from a reader perspective.
After taking full control following approval from a bankruptcy judge, Miller proceeded to fire about half of the staff — which already had been cut in half by layoffs the previous year. Just before Miller bought the place, though, the Trib had been a scrappy, daily alternate to the Arizona Republic in the Phoenix area. Two of its reporters, Ryan Gabrielson and Paul Giblin, won the Pulitzer prize in 2008 for its outstanding, damning coverage of Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Miller, known as a publishing guru who prefers softer news in his papers, soon turned the Trib — which had been a prominent newspaper in the Mesa area since the late 19th-century — into a semiweekly neighborhood crier, with many of its articles borrowed from other news media. The small reporting staff, including Eric Smith and Shelley Ridenour, have done a good job with their limited subject matter of high-school football games and local ground-breakings. Adding insult to injury, the landmark brick Mesa Tribune building at 120 West First Avenue was sold to the state in 2012 and now houses an Arizona Department of Economic Security satellite office where laid-off journalists (and other jobless citizens) pick up unemployment checks.
Strickbine pubished long-form articles in his Scottsdale Times; its editor, Shanna Hogan (a true-crime book author who freelances for New Times), was awarded Journalist of the Year in 2010 by the Arizona Press Club. But the Times, and the type of work it showcased, no longer are part of Strickbine's outfit.
What Strickbine, 44, does well is produce slick, well-designed, easy-to-read publications with decent info on activities and entertainment in the the Phoenix area. And he makes money.
At New Times' request, Strickbine released the following statement. He was asked about the possibility of better journalism in the papers he just bought:
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"I'm a newspaper guy at heart. To me, that means a commitment to telling great stories. I think the Trib and Foothills News have told many great stories over the years. My hope is that we can push the envelope even more and find local heroes, significant tales, and solid work holding our leaders accountable. We definitely didn't buy these publications to stand pat, but rather to make two solid publications, with real history, even better.
"As for the personnel, we have only been in the chair for 24 hours. Yesterday we had a great meeting with the staff. I'm looking forward to getting to know each and every one of the people here and determining how we can integrate the very talented journalists, designers, circulation staff and salespeople with our already successful team at Times Media.
"We have made several acquisitions in the past few years, and it has never been my style to make sweeping changes. In this case especially, I don't see why that should be any different."