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Lee Enterprises better at real estate than newspaper biz

Perhaps attempting to fill the space once occupied by the dwindling number of property sale ads in the classifieds, Lee Enterprises, publisher of the Arizona Daily Star, continues its new pursuit: real estate.

The Davenport, Iowa based company announced last month it sold the property it owned in Napa, California, the location of the publisher's Napa Valley Register. Price of the land and building deal is estimated in the $5 million range.

"As we continue to transform our business through consolidation, outsourcing and other means, we have excess real estate assets in certain markets," said Lee Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer Ron Mayo in a press release. "Monetizing those assets provides us with the capital to reduce debt and invest in our digital transformation as we move forward." 

Translation. Lee has some big debt payments on the horizon, the result of its bankruptcy refinancing, and while its been somewhat successful in trying to stay ahead of its current payment situation, once the larger outstanding debt comes due, it needs to hope that digital transformation is somehow a money cow that can help to erase the metaphorical red ink it accrued due to terrible expansion decisions the company made last decade.

The hub of that decision, Lee's overextension in its purchase of Pulitzer, is part of the real estate dump. The old Pulitzer building, home of Lee's St. Louis Post Dispatch, has been on the market for a few months. Lee is also trying to sell property in Provo, Utah, Bloomington, Illinois and Portage, Wisconsin. All told, including the Napa land, Lee estimates a value of $10 million.

At this rate, perhaps it might consider reaching out to Parker Brothers/Hasbro to share rights for the Lee Enterprises version of the Monopoly board game.

The real estate announcement came on the heels of a less-than encouraging quarterly earnings report. Lee's stock price has suffered as a result. It plummeted from the $3 range to a low of $1.36. It since rebounded a bit, and closed at $1.83 last Friday.

Berk bolts UA football beat for gig with UA

Daniel Berk is no longer the UA football beat writer for the Arizona Daily Star. He accepted a position with the university's Sports Information Department.

Given the state of the Star, the newspaper industry as a whole and parent company Lee Enterprises when balanced against the stability of a university gig, that doesn't seem like such a bad career decision.

Unfortunately for the Star, it happened at the onset of the football season, and at the point where the 3-0 Wildcats embark on the conference portion of their campaign. During the search process, sports editor Ryan Finley and reporters Jon Gold and Zack Rosenblatt with share beat responsibilities.

In that regard, the Star is fortunate. The sports section is one of the few areas of the newspaper where it has enough staff to cover a shortfall. Further, while Finley says a football beat writer replacement search is underway, spreading the work load among three contributors gives the paper a chance to take its time if it wishes, thus keeping yet another salary (albeit, not a particularly large one) off the books for a bit.

And since the football campaign is relatively short—the regular season concludes in late November with a likely bowl game appearance in December or perhaps early January—the Star may not feel pressure to name a replacement until spring football practice.

Hooked documentary lands Governor's Award honor

The Arizona Broadcasters Association and ASU's Cronkite School of Journalism received the Governor's Award from the Rocky Mountain Southwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences for Hooked, a documentary investigating the dangers of heroin addiction.

The 30-minute piece aired at the same time in January on 33 Arizona television stations and another 93 radio stations in the state.

Hooked has been good for the Cronkite School from an awards standpoint. In addition to being the first journalism school honored with a Governor's Award, students and faculty involved in the project also landed a first-place accolade for video storytelling at the Arizona Press Club Awards in May.

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