Evan Mecham, Arizona's only impeached governor, can't make headlines these days, no matter how hard he tries.
Four years ago, the ousted Republican governor announced plans to launch his own Phoenix newspaper, an "unbiased" publication to compete with the impertinent scribes who insisted on chronicling the financial and political quirks of his brief administration.
The proposed newspaper still has no presses, building, staff or major financial backers, although Mecham has accepted and spent about $40,000 in advance subscription fees mailed in by his loyalists.
Lest skeptics think Mecham has given up on his plans, rest assured, he is still out there beating the bushes, looking for cash and fine-tuning his journalistic vision.
"I do have some promising things working, and if they do, then probably in about two months, I may be ready to sit down and tell everybody what we're doing," Mecham says.
Times change and newspapers must adapt, of course, so the newspaper Mecham is not publishing now is a far cry from the one he began not publishing several years ago.
Originally, Arizona News Day was to be a paid-circulation, broadsheet daily offering international, national and local news in short, crisp stories devoid of any reporting or editing slant.
These days, the proposed newspaper is a twice-weekly tabloid that would be delivered free to every household in the Phoenix area. It would arrive on 650,000 doorsteps neatly wrapped in plastic, offering international, national and local news that, naturally, is devoid of any reporting or editing slant. Even the newspaper's name has shrunk--to Arizona News.
That, at least, is the vision offered in a plan that has circulated through parts of England and France, as Mecham continues scouting out cash for his nascent publication.
At least until last October, Mecham acknowledges, a company called Kingshead Capital Limited out of Dorking, England, circulated a project summary and financial plan for the newspaper, a copy of which made its way to New Times.
The plan envisioned the raising of $9 million, $3.8 million of that to buy a used press in France and ship it to Arizona. Mecham himself, according to a letter written over the signature of Kingshead managing director Donald M. Kornrumpf, planned to sink $950,000 into the project.
For the benefit of potential foreign investors, the project summary explained the sorry state of Phoenix journalism thusly:
"Present dailies have become lazy. They do little with local news, relying too much on wire services for their copy. All dailies in this market are owned by out-of-state media companies, operated by hirelings who have little concern for the quasi-public institutional responsibility of a newspaper. They seem to be devoted to using news to keep the ads apart instead of being concerned about the quality and truth of what they publish. Their news articles are too long and contain too much editorial slanting instead of the real facts of the subject."
Mecham proposes to solve those problems by saturating Phoenix with his free, biweekly newspaper, in which the stories will be better and the advertising rates cheaper than anything else in town.
Just how Mecham will be able to deliver the free newspaper to 650,000 households and still have lower ad rates is not extensively explored.
But as an added plus, according to the proposal, the newspaper "will be assembled on a conveyor line and wrapped with thin plastic for a neat, waterproof, easy-to-open package for the resident."
Ultimately, the proposal continues, the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette will be forced to give away their newspapers to compete with his publication.
The potential risks of the project? "The only risk seems to be whether or not we will do a quality job in producing and delivering a good-quality publication that people will read," the proposal notes. "We will concentrate on that."
Mecham is the "key man" in the project and his business history is recounted in a ten-line profile, including his stint as publisher of the Evening American, an afternoon daily newspaper that circulated in the Valley in the mid-Sixties. The last line reads, "He is author of three books, and has served as a State Senator and Governor of Arizona."
Asked if the proposal accurately reflects his current thinking, Mecham demurs.
"How did you get ahold of that?" is his first response.
His second: "I've got to get things set down, and we've looked at different plans and whatnot, and different financing and one thing or another, and we have not got it set on exactly what we're going to do."
Mecham says he did provide Kingshead with the description of his current plans for the newspaper, but says bringing the Dorking firm into the deal wasn't his idea.
The owners of an unused printing press in France wanted to sell it to him, Mecham says, and recruited Kingshead to try to raise some money. "I just gave them statements and projections, and nothing came out of it," Mecham says. (The telephone number for Kingshead Capital is now out of service.) Buying a press and shipping it from France may have been a tad expensive, Mecham agrees, but then, the newspaper's search for a printing press has been star-crossed all along.
Initially, Mecham says, he bought a press from a Las Vegas newspaper. He was trying to have it installed in a building he was buying for the newspaper, he says, but ran out of money and lost both the building and the press.
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"I was ill-advised from people trying to help me get in business without spending very much money on [the press]," Mecham says. "The result was we wasted some money. It was a good press, but it was not what we should have had. It was very cheap, but sometimes cheap isn't good."
So does Mecham, whose automobile dealership failed amid his political meltdown, have the $950,000 he supposedly plans on sinking into the newly envisioned Arizona News?
All he will say is: "Oh, myself and two or three others have about $600,000 to $700,000 in it."
But Mecham is clearly still in the hunt, ever vigilant for any snippet of insight into the newspaper business that might help him along.
"You say you're with New Times?" he asks at the end of the interview. "Would you do me a big favor? Would you get an advertising rate card and just send it to me?