Arizona Republic a Weak Alternative to Doomed Scottsdale Tribune, Says Poynter Journalism Site

By Ray Stern

As reported last week, the East Valley Tribune (it's called the Scottsdale Tribune in Scottsdale) plans to lay off nearly half of its work force in January, publish just four days a week and stop delivering entirely in Tempe and Scottsdale.

But don't expect the Arizona Republic to cover Scottsdale any better once the Trib is gone for good, according to a Florida-based media expert for the all-things-journalism Poynter Institute.

Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for the institute, writes on Poynter's Web site that the Republic's Scottsdale coverage is "thin, not to say anorexic." He perused the paper's Web site yesterday and found:

Two news stories -- one about the Mayor's race and one about a road closing -- were three days old. The rest was soft feature stuff, including a long takeout and longer comment chain on a 40-something woman and her 24 year-old "business partner" who have shot a documentary about Scottsdale cougars (not the furry animal kind, the older-women-chasing-younger-men kind).

True, any newspaper's Monday offerings are usually rather sparse. But today's articles are only slightly better: A smattering of city budget data. Some stores in a high-end strip mall will open late. A high-end food festival and a high-end seafood restaurant are coming to town. A sweet picture of a bobcat that made a calendar cover.

Edmonds gets John Zidich, president and publisher of the Republic, to admit the paper won't bother to beef up its news coverage in Scottsdale next year.

What's still not clear is whether the Trib's departure in Tempe and Scottsdale will have an impact on the community.

The city government will definitely miss the Trib, even though the two entities were sometimes at odds over various issues, says Pat Dodds, one of Scottsdale's public information officers.

"For me in this position, it may sound a little bit weird to say, but it's good to have two papers competing in the city. It's good for the readers," Dodds says. "It's kind of like in-laws -- you may fight with them, but in the end they’re like family."

Dodds says the Trib and the Republic are the two biggest outlets for Scottsdale news, and that "local newspapers are far and away the main vehicle that people rely on for coverage of city government."

Nikki Ripley, a spokeswoman for the city of Tempe, says the loss of the Trib in Tempe is "unfortunate," but that the city has many other options to get information out to citizens.

After January 4, when the Trib's changes are to take effect, Scottsdale and Tempe may still be mentioned in articles on the Tribune's Web site, but only if the cities are involved in an issue of regional interest, says the Tribune's publisher, Julie Moreno.

"The day-to-day, the topics we currently cover -- that likely will not continue," Moreno says. "I think we were in a position that we had to look at what made sense for us long-term. Our ability to effectively cover Scottsdale long-term -- we were having a hard time seeing how we would make that work."

Local observers of the news industry wonder whether the unprecedented cutbacks mean the Trib will soon dry up altogether, even in its core areas of Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert. Moreno maintains that isn't the case. The layoffs and reduced publishing schedule are just part of the plan to "reposition" the newspaper for today's marketplace.

"Obviously if we thought we were doing this to shut it down, we wouldn't be doing it," she says.

To news junkies in Tempe and Scottsdale, of course, that's no consolation.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern