If you're reading a news publication in Arizona, odds just increased that it's owned — or about to be owned — by Steve Strickbine.
Whether that's a good thing or not, readers can be the judge.
Strickbine, publisher and president of the Tempe-based Times Media Group, on Tuesday announced his company's purchase of Tucson Local Media, which publishes the 37-year-old Tucson Weekly and five other news outfits including Tucson Inside Business and Explorer. The deal will be finalized on April 30; neither Strickbine nor Thirteenth Street Media, which sold the publications, disclosed the terms.
Strickbine is a former CPA who started his publishing career with the purchase of the eight-page Valley Times in north Scottsdale. He now owns about two dozen mostly web-based newspapers in Arizona and, as of 2019, eight news weeklies and monthlies in California. The Valley publications include the East Valley Tribune, Scottsdale Progress, College Times, Ahwatukee Foothills News, West Valley View, and many more. The papers focus on community news — and retaining advertisers.
The publications are successful from a business perspective, but have not stood out for their journalistic prowess. The Pulitzer-prize winning Tribune, for example, hasn't had many awards or buzz-worthy articles since Strickbine took it over in 2016. Former journalists and editors with Times Media Group have complained about low pay and how they have to work on too many of the company's publications at once.
Tucson residents have long counted on the scrappy Tucson Weekly to provide its readers with hard news, commentary, and entertainment news. It withstood downsizing after Thirteenth Street Communications bought it in 2014, but continues each year to win numerous community and statewide awards. Media observers hope it has many good years left.
Doug Biggers, who founded the paper in 1984 and sold it in 2000 to Wick Communications, noted that the paper's sale in 2014 to Randy Miller of Thirteenth Street Communications was "disastrous" and that "the paper needs investment, not further decimation, to realize its potential as the economy rebounds post-COVID."
"If Times Media Group is smart, they will move immediately to capitalize on the immense goodwill and brand awareness of the Tucson Weekly, given its nearly 40 years in the market and its history of excellent journalism," Biggers said. "I’m hopeful they will retain Jim Nintzel as editor. His role in Tucson journalism is legendary, and I’d love to see him get the financial resources and the expertise to enable the Weekly to re-emerge stronger and better... I wish them luck. Local news outlets are critical to a community’s ability to comprehend itself."
Nintzel, who already splits his work time to oversee publication of a half-dozen Thirteenth Street publications including the Tucson Weekly, declined to comment.
Strickbine didn't immediately return a message about the sale, but said in a prepared statement that few changes for the Tucson publications were planned.
"I'd like to see the papers continue to do what they are doing and doing well," the statement said. "I'm very excited about the future and the future of us together."
Strickbine told Dylan Smith of the Tucson Sentinel, which broke the story of the deal before Strickbine announced it, that he plans to retain "all of the current staff members."
Not everyone is excited about the acquisition, clearly.
Christopher Boan, who worked for Times Media Group as a reporter for fourth months before being laid off because of the pandemic in March 2020, tweeted after the announcement that he suspects the Tucson Weekly "will go the way of the San Diego City Beat," which hasn't published since Times Media Group put the paper on "pause" due to COVID-19-related troubles in May.
"The Tucson Weekly will always be near and dear to my heart, but man oh man is it tough to see this move ending well," wrote Boan, who declined further comment.
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