Axe to fall on Scottsdale Tribune? It doesn't look good...

Gee, Captain Horne, you think we'll last till September?

Though the last thing the PHX metro area needs is less competition among its news entities, that might be what's coming this summer with the rumored demise of the small-but-scrappy Scottsdale Tribune, the Scottsdale edition of Mesa's East Valley Tribune. According to the proverbial grapevine, the Trib's new publisher Terry Horne has been making the rounds, telling employees that the fate of the paper hangs by a thread. Horne apparently quoted an ABC audit stating that household penetration for the Scottsdale Tribune is only 6% in Scottsdale, while it's 41% for the Trib's main competitor in the area, the Arizona Republic.

Rumors are the Scottsdale Tribune's editorial staff of 12 persons or so could face the firing squad or reassignment as early as this summer if the trend continues, as it's suspected it will. One scenario posited by media gossips is that for the few subscribers left in Scottsdale, the masthead might stay the same, with the content remaining identical to the East Valley Trib. Formerly the Scottsdale Progress, the paper's gone through several hands. Since 2000, it's been owned by Freedom Communications, Inc., which owns the Orange County Register, nine TV stations, and numerous smaller “community” newspapers. The East Valley Tribune and its Scottsdale sister have a combined circ of 92,100, according to Freedom's Web site.

Reached for comment, publisher Horne, once VP of community newspapers for the Republic, confirmed that he had been "meeting with employees and sharing with them where we stand on a number of areas." He also admitted that the ABC audit numbers were accurate, and that he had mentioned them to staffers, but he denied there were any plans to shutter the Tribune's Scottsdale office.

"I never told anybody it was gonna close," insisted Horne. "I never said that. That’s somebody coming to their own conclusions. There’s no decision to close the Scottsdale Tribune."

Yet, Horne, who chose his words carefully, stated that Scottsdale's "our weakest market," and in turn it's "where the Republic is strongest." He was quick to add that, "It doesn’t mean there aren’t things we can do." But what, exactly, will Horne do to keep the Scottsdale Tribune from flatlining?

"Certainly we want to serve the whole East Valley and serve the market as well as we can," stated Horne, who comes off as quite the smoothie via phone. "I’ve just been here such a short time, I don’t have a strategic plan as yet as to how we’re going to do that."

Why should we care if a small tidbit of a newspaper kisses the mat? Obviously, most Scottsdalians subscribe to the Republic, so there's no great loss, eh?

Wrong again, Caliban. Do you think the Republic's reporters will stay on their toes in that community if no one is out there scrambling for stories alongside them? The Scottsdale Trib is mean and lean, and they do break stories ahead of the Rep. If their numbers are way down, then the job of a good publisher is to undersell the enemy, and increase the, um, "penetration," a term bean-counter types use to refer to the number of subscribers and single-issue buyers in certain zip codes. A smaller, feistier pub can outplay an opposing paper. And that competition is a positive thing both for those purchasing ads, and for those perusing the product.

Maybe Horne gets that, or maybe he's blowing smoke up my ass. We'll have to wait and see. I'm just afraid that in situations like this, corporate entities don't care to invest the minimum time or effort needed. It'd be a helluva lot easier for the Trib to just close its Scottsdale paper and lay-off or reassign everyone. The Rep can't afford not to cover Scottsdale. But they won't do it as well with the Trib off their turf. Especially in the era of the Rep's shift from being a newspaper to a characterless "Information Center,” devoid of personality.

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