The East Valley Tribune, which has seen a roller coaster year that included laying off nearly half its staff and winning a Pulitzer Prize, will be shutting down on Dec. 31, staffers were told today.
Publisher Julie Moreno broke the bad news at about 10:30 a.m., telling employees that the Mesa newspaper’s parent company, Freedom Communications, has been unable to find a buyer for it, the company confirmed at about noon.
Freedom, which declared bankruptcy Sept. 1 awash in more than $1 billion in debt, had put the newspaper up for sale hoping to make some hard cash from the deal. But no serious buyer stepped forward before today’s announcement.
“There were people who expressed interest,” said Freedom spokeswoman Maya Pogoda. “However, none of the bids were suitable.”
The closing makes the Tribune the second Arizona newspaper to shutter this year. In May, the state’s oldest newspaper, the Tucson Citizen, was shut down by its owner, Gannett. The Citizen has since become a local blogging website for the media chain.
“This is probably the most difficult decision a company can make,” Freedom CEO Burl Osborne said in a news release. “But ultimately, after considering all available options, this is the best alternative for our company.”
It’s not yet clear how many employees are still at the Tribune, but its closure will not be a cheap proposition. A source who attended the meeting said staffers were told they will be given severance packages equal to one week for every year of service they had with the company.
Freedom’s other newspapers in the Phoenix area, including the Ahwatukee Foothills News and the Daily News-Sun in Sun City, will remain intact, said Pogoda.
The Tribune has had a year of ups and downs. Early in the year, the newspaper laid off about 40 percent of its staff and reduced its number of days in print from seven to just three. The remaining staffers were also forced to take pay cuts and time off without pay.
But the newspaper also rode a wave of praise this year as it racked up numerous statewide and national awards for a series it ran last year focusing on crime and immigration enforcement by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Among the awards was the highest given out to newspapers: the Pulitzer Prize. The Tribune was given the Pulitzer for local reporting in April.
In mid-September, the Tribune was put up for sale by its parent company, which bought the newspaper about a decade ago. Rumors of potential bidders spread in recent weeks, but no formal announcement was ever made.
Pogoda would not discuss specifics about the newspaper’s finances, however she said “economic and industry” forces had played a role in its demise.
“They’ve tried for about a year to make certain changes to improve it,” Pagoda said. “But they just weren’t able to.”
[Full disclosure: I was among the 140 staffers laid off from the Tribune in January.]