Arizona Historical Society vs. Gannett: Is money the holdup?

The Arizona Historical Society has made four attempts to contact Gannett Co., Inc. representatives since June 18, when it sent a proposal to Gannett requesting about $95,000 from the media giant to help with moving, cataloging and archiving nearly 140 years of archival material from the now-closed Tucson Citizen newspaper. Gannett has not responded to any of those phone calls or e-mails, and has not acknowledged to AHS the receipt of the proposal, according to Anne Woosley, AHS executive director.

A letter writing campaign started earlier this week in an attempt to get Gannett to connect with AHS, and details of that, as well as the history of discussions between Gannett execs and former Tucson Citizen employees regarding the archive transfer are in this post.

“There hasn’t been any word from anybody at Gannett since the day of closing,” Woosley said in a phone interview this morning. “I hope that what is holding things up isn’t that Gannett feels they can sell the material and make a profit.”

They say to never say never, but I find it hard to believe that Gannett would try to sell the archives to, say, Antiques Roadshow. It might be more likely that Gannett, which has closed one newspaper, laid off hundreds from others and required mandatory unpaid furloughs of the remaining employees, just doesn’t want to look like it is spending money haphazardly when people have lost their jobs. Of course, $95,000 is really a drop in the bucket when you consider that last year Gannett had a gross income of $6.8 billion with a net profit of $1.7 billion, according to this MediaPost post.

The AHS, which has an annual budget of $5 million with which it supports state museums in Tucson, Flagstaff, Yuma and Tempe and gives grants to 68 smaller independent museums in Arizona, had good reason to ask for $95,000 from Gannett, according to Woosley. Although the the Arizona History Museum in Tucson, which is where the collection would be housed, has a staff of 26, only a handful are archivists and they are already working on projects.

“It’s just that this is 139 years of materials, and in order to process it in a timely way we would like to have dedicated staff working only on that collection,” she said. The task could be done sans Gannett funding of a half-time archivist for six months (as suggested in the proposal), “but that would mean there would be a very long timeline with us trying to scramble around getting the resources to make the collection accessible to the public.”

It is a considerable task to archive, organize and make a display of 139 years of Arizona’s journalism history, but Woosley said AHS is committed even if Gannett balks at offering a donation to cover the necessary archival supplies to transport the collection and funds for short-term archivists and librarians.

“The Citizen archives need to be (at the Arizona History Museum),” Woosley said. “The people of the state – this is history the public could access, should have access to. What is so frustrating, is that Gannett hasn’t responded at all. They haven’t said, ‘We don’t have the money,’ they haven’t offered any kind of counter proposal. Even if Gannett could find its way to funding the two part-time archivists, that would be great. But there’s just been no response.”

AHS didn’t just have its hand out. Woosley said the Society committed in its proposal to Gannett that, with the processing of the Tucson Citizen collection, “We would do a complete Tucson Citizen exhibition that would very prominently cite Gannett’s donation of the material and their (financial) role in helping us bring the collection to the public.”

The AHS is both a state agency and a non-profit educational agency so Gannett’s financial donation would be tax-deductible, Woosley said. And, I’m guessing that all the Gannett honchos might get free memberships to the society for a year if they could find their way to helping move the archives – still in limbo in the now-empty Tucson Citizen newsroom and morgue – to the Arizona History Museum. But first, Kate Marymont or Bob Dickey needs to find the time to return a phone call or an e-mail.

(Note: Phone calls to Gannett from yours truly have not been returned. TNI Partners (aka Tucson Newspapers) chief Mike Jameson called this morning and said he hasn’t heard from anyone at the Arizona Historical Society, and has had no discussions with Gannett about the archives. He said he didn’t think there were “ownership issues” involved and that he was doing nothing to prevent transfer of the archives. He said that he’d received about 20 e-mails yesterday about the issue, including ones from State Rep. Daniel Patterson, and the offices of City Councilmember Steve Leal and Pima County Board of Supervisors member Sharon Bronson.)

DOLLARS AND CENTS: The breakdown of what the AHS asked for in its proposal to Gannett:

$16,500 for a part-time archivist for six months; $28,600 for a six-month contract position with librarian Jeannie Jett, the former Tucson Citizen librarian who worked at the paper for nearly 40 years and is considered by AHS “the corporate memory of the Citizen archive materials”; $12,000 for archival moving supplies such as acid-free boxes and photo sleeves; $37,752 for a six-month contract with a photo/video archivist.

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