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Negotiations continue for possible sale of Citizen

Citizen Staff Writer



A spokeswoman for Gannett, owner of the Tucson Citizen, won’t say when negotiations with potential buyers might end.

Tara Connell said Wednesday that negotiations with “interested parties” prevent her from commenting on how close Gannett Co. Inc. and bidders might be to making a deal.

Citizen staffers entered employment limbo Tuesday afternoon when Gannett announced the paper would move to day-to-day publication status because two “very serious” prospects had come forward.

Robert J. Dickey, president of Gannett’s U.S. Community Publishing, informed Citizen interim Editor Jennifer Boice in a phone call that negotiations with the potential buyers would not completed by Saturday, the date Gannett had set to shutter the Citizen if it hadn’t been sold.

The one-paragraph news release given to employees after the announcement said Gannett hoped to resolve the issue in “the very short term.”

“Obviously, we wanted to say ‘very short term,’ but I can’t define what that is because (negotiations) are in progress,” Connell said. “You have to understand that would change the negotiations.”

Connell wasn’t sure where Dickey got the idea there were two contenders.

“I have no knowledge of that fact and that’s not what I wrote in the press release,” Connell said. “There are parties involved, no mention of a number.”

Gannett announced Jan. 16 that it was selling the Citizen and would shutter the paper Saturday if no buyer came forth. Though the announced final date for bids was Feb. 19, the deadline was extended at least once, to March 7.

As those dates came and went with no news of a buyer, Citizen employees prepared for the inevitable. The Human Resources department of Tucson Newspapers – the company that provides joint noneditorial services to the afternoon Citizen and the morning Arizona Daily Star – offered crisis counseling and set up sessions for job training and placement services.

Connell would neither confirm nor deny whether U.S. Justice Department’s investigation of the sale of the Citizen is what prompted the delay. Nor would she say what price Gannett is asking for the Citizen’s assets offered for sale, which do not include its 50 percent interest in the joint operating agreement between Gannett and Star owner Lee Enterprises Inc.

A Justice Department spokeswoman would say only that an investigation is “ongoing.”

Two people who contacted the Citizen in February about bidding on the paper are Mike Hamila, owner of UNIsystems Mainframe Systems LLC in Phoenix and David Ganezer, publisher of the Santa Monica Observer. Both said Thursday they could not comment about anything regarding the Citizen, citing confidentiality agreements they entered.

Grupo Reforma, a Mexican media chain, was rumored to be interested in purchasing the Citizen, but a representative from the company denied that late Wednesday.

Eugenio Herrera Terrazasof Grupo Reforma’s Mexico Citylegal affairs office said that Grupo Reforma had not made any bids and has no plans to do so.

Connell said Gannett’s “overriding interest” was informing Citizen employees when news became available.

“We would hope that employees would be told first when a sale is complete, since it affects their lives the most,” Connell said. “Sometimes that is difficult in today’s world, but that would be the goal.”

Citizen Staff Writer Fernanda Echávarri contributed to this report

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