Rather than write a formal criticism of the Arizona Republic under the regime of its new publisher John P. "Skippy" Zanotti, Tom Fitzpatrick has decided to allow Republic reporters to interview him as they would any other critic.
Interviewers: Do you like the way the Republic looks these days?
Fitz: No. You are giving us a second-rate imitation of USA Today. The splashes of color are identical and placed in the same places. The layouts are a copy. The cover teasers are almost identical.
I find it ironic that you would slavishly imitate a second-rate paper produced by a publishing company that has made a fetish of cutting corners in the editorial budget.
Interviewers: How can you possibly say that?
Fitz: It's obvious. The average editorial content of the Republic these days is lighter than a cork. Sadly, there is no edition you produce less readable than your Sunday paper.
This is where you are killing yourselves with the average reader. People have grown up expecting to sit around on Sunday morning going through the paper, section by section.
What is there to read in the average edition of the Sunday Republic? It now takes less than five minutes to go through the whole thing.
And I love newspapers. If I can't find enough to hold my interest, what do you think will be the reaction of people who grew up getting their news from television?
Interviewers: That's not fair. Aren't you saying these things because you worked here yourself and merely don't like to see the paper changed?
Fitz: I always thought the paper needed improvement. But you must face the fact that editorial excellence has never been a top priority with the Pulliam family. The Republic has always been one of the most profitable papers in the country. Profits, not public service, has always been the watchword.
Interviewers: Haven't you noticed that the company is putting millions into redoing the outside of the building so that it will blend in with the new downtown area now emerging?
Fitz: That can't be a serious question.
Only an organization directed totally by outside appearances would think that pouring money into the exterior walls could possibly have anything to do wth the perception of the product as a whole.
Interviewers: Obviously, you don't understand. The new building is going to be a fitting companion to the Arizona Center--the project which will save the downtown area.
Fitz: The Arizona Center will do nothing of the kind.
Five years from now not a single tenant holder will still be in residence. In my view, the sports bar alone will eventually require a separate police force to control it. The project may look good now, but come back and look at the empty stores a year from now and tell me how the downtown area has come back.
Interviewers: All right, let's not get off the track. Tell us what you think is wrong with the Republic?
Fitz: The paper has no substance. It has no heart. In many instances, it is dishonest. Worse yet, the readers understand that fact.
Obviously, the front page has deteriorated into being nothing more than a bulletin board. There was a time when you could expect that the Republic would attempt to place the most important news stories on the front page. No more. Under the present regime, readers can only be certain of catching the latest escapades of Roseanne Barr and Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Interviewers: But those are things the average readers are dying to read about. Don't you admit the Republic is more entertaining and frothier than ever before?
Fitz: You owe the readers more than what you call "froth" and others call trash. Right now, you are merely servicing television addicts. You are putting out a paper that is actually nothing more than an expanded TV Guide.
Interviewers: We're glad that you at least admit that we do a good job covering television.
Fitz: No, that's what's infuriating. You do a terrible job of covering television. This is terrible because it's so easy to fix. Through your wire services, the paper has access to some of the best things now being written about television in the Washington Post, New York Times, and Chicago Tribune.
It is your fault that you don't check the wires and see that those stories get into the paper. But even if you did check, I'm sure you wouldn't put them in because there is no longer that much space devoted to news.
Interviewers: What you say has all the earmarks of sour grapes. You don't write for the paper anymore and so you knock it. We see through that.
Fitz: That's actually the farthest thing from the truth. I value the friends I made working there. They don't like what's happening anymore than the general readers do. But they are not in a position to go public.
My objection is that your present team of editors seems hell-bent on trivializing the paper.
In the long run, this will prove self-defeating. You will only succeed in making the paper unnecessary to the average subscriber.
Interviewers: Since you're such an expert, how would you improve the paper?
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Fitz: Downgrade the bean counters. Hire good reporters and pay them good wages. Hire first-class editors with imagination. Loosen the budget. Spend some money covering the news. Open up space in the paper for local news coverage.
Interviewers: You don't understand. These are difficult economic times. We must economize.
Fitz: Proceed at your own risk. I merely repeat, the paper you are publishing these days is irrelevant. There is no surprise, no amusement, nothing to which the reader can look forward. And by the way, Merry Christmas!
You are putting out a paper that is actually nothing more than an expanded TV Guide.