UPDATED WITH NEW INFORMATION REGARDING REP. DANIEL PATTERSON’S LETTER TO GANNETT
In a situation mirroring David vs. Goliath, members of the Arizona Historical Society and two former longtime Tucson Citizen employees are urging Tucsonans – including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and state Rep. Daniel Patterson – to contact representatives of Gannett about what AHS says is a breach of good faith with the media giant.
According to an e-mail sent out this week, when Gannett first announced plans to sell or close the Tucson Citizen newspaper, concerned staffers contacted the Arizona Historical Society about accepting the paper’s archive, making them available to all Tucsonans once the paper closed. This was kind of a big deal, since the Citizen was Arizona’s oldest publishing daily and it began reporting Arizona’s news and events in territorial times.
Gannett owns the TucsonCitizen.com citizen journalism site and was the owner of the Tucson Citizen newspaper, which printed its last edition May 16 after an anticipated March shutdown was delayed due to an investigation into the proposed sale/closure by the U.S. Justice Department.
The Historical Society claims in the email that “Positive indications from Gannett officials were received … right up to the last day of operation, suggesting that the Tucson Citizen archive would be donated to AHS to be incorporated into its permanent collections.” However, things changed when the presses actually stopped printing the Citizen, according to the e-mail, which is signed by former Tucson Citizen interim editor Jennifer Boice as well as Anne Woosley, AHS executive director, and William Ponder, AHS chief administrative officer, Arizona Historical Society.
“Gannett has refused all contact with AHS, including acknowledgement that the Society’s proposal for transfer of the archives, sent in mid-June, had been received,” the e-mail reads. “Gannett has ignored follow-up calls and emails. This raises fears on our part that Gannett, which still owns half of the operation that prints the Arizona Daily Star and continues to pull profits from this community, is not making a good faith effort to live up to promises made when the Tucson Citizen closed.”
Patterson, who represents the district in Tucson that includes Tucson Newspapers on South Park Ave., sent a letter Wednesday to Gannett honchos and Mike Jameson, head of Tucson Newspapers, asking for answers by the end of this week. He siad he was “disturbed” to learn that Gannett was no longer communicating with AHS.
“I am aware the AZ Historical Society has made a wise and reasonable request to hold all the archives of the now shutdown Tucson Citizen. I support preservation of Tucson and Arizona history and I support this request from AHS,” Patterson’s letter reads. “I request you please honor the AHS request and donate all Citizen archives to AHS in 30 days or sooner. Please advise by the end of this week.” (Patterson sent me a copy of the letter this afternoon.)
Woosley and Ponder have been in meetings all day, so it is impossible to determine at this time how frequently AHS has tried to contact Gannett. However, Boice said in a phone interview that she has tried “four or five times” since early July to get a phone call or e-mail returned from Gannett execs regarding the future of the archives, to no avail.
“And I know that last week, Anne did send an e-mail to Kate (Marymont) saying, begging, ‘Please respond, here’s my cell phone, here’s my private line,’ and didn’t hear anything,” Boice said. “I wrote to both (Gannett news executive) Ann Clark and Kate Marymont recently saying people are concerned and mentioning that there might be a letter writing campaign, so they knew this was coming.”
Boice said the e-mail went out to all members of the Arizona Historical Society, some neighborhood associations as well as local politicians and community leaders “who might be interested in intervening.”
“The e-mail says to pass the letter on to anyone you think might be interested, so it is hard to say where it is all going to end up, given the speed and velocity of e-mail nowadays,” she said.
Mark B. Evans, editor of TucsonCitizen.com, said he is only using the digital archives and photos of the old publication, dating back to the early ’90s. Those archives are stored on a server in Phoenix at the Arizona Republic, which is also a Gannett-owned property. Older archives are stored in the now-empty Tucson Citizen newsroom, the future of which Evans said is undecided.
“I have rarely found the need to go into there and pull out the old clips and the photo archive is primarily negatives and it is in an almost unusable filing system,” he said. “I’ve haven’t had any inclination, with my staff of two, to make any attempt to use the photo archive that predates the ’90s.”
Evans said he thinks representatives of Gannett are busy and that because neither they nor Tucson Newspapers have “come up with a plan for use of the abandoned office space,” they probably don’t feel an urgent need to resolve the issue and move the archives.
“But that’s just pure speculation on my part because I haven’t had any conversations with Tucson Newspapers or Gannett about the archives,” Evans said. “Nonetheless, common courtesy would suggest they should return a phone call or an e-mail, and personally, I would love to see the archives preserved and made available for research.”
I covered the on-again-off-again, sale-close-no sale-no close rigmarole from Day One and, although I was kind of distracted with little things like getting documents from the Justice Department, I overheard a number of convos in the newsroom about “saving the archives” and it was certainly the general understanding that Gannett thought it would be a good idea to give the archives to AHS. I placed calls to both Gannett and Tucson Newspapers this morning and then again this afternoon to get their side of the story, but have not received calls back. If you are interested in finding out more about the letter-writing campaign, contact the Arizona Historical Society at 628-5774.