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Judge allows Tucson newspaper to close

A federal judge on Tuesday declined to force Gannett Co. to keep open the Tucson Citizen, meaning the edition of the afternoon newspaper published Saturday was its last.

U.S. District Judge Raner Collins denied a request for a temporary restraining order filed by Arizona Atty. Gen. Terry Goddard, who contended that closing the 138-year-old paper violated antitrust laws.

“While regrettable that the Citizen’s illustrious legacy must come to end, it cannot be said at this time, the decision to close the Citizen involves an antitrust violation,” Collins wrote.

Gannett and Lee Enterprises jointly own Tucson Newspapers Inc. and have agreed to split revenue from the surviving Tucson paper, the Arizona Daily Star.

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Goddard alleged that the two companies had conspired to eliminate the Citizen to boost their own bottom lines.

The joint operation of Tucson Newspapers was approved by congressional legislation permitting anti-competitive practices. Gannett announced Friday that it would cease publication of the print edition of the Citizen but maintain its website; the announcement came one day after the U.S. Department of Justice ruled that such a move would not violate antitrust laws.

Gannett attorneys said in a court hearing Monday that the Citizen was losing $10,000 a day and had to be closed.

The Citizen is the third big-city daily to close this year. Denver’s Rocky Mountain News published its last edition in February, and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in March became an online-only publication. The Citizen’s website will survive with a skeleton crew and mainly operate as a forum for local issues.

All three of the papers were part of joint operating agreements in two-newspaper towns, but Goddard contended that the Citizen’s closing was different because its owner was financially benefiting from decreased local news competition.

Goddard spokeswoman Anne Hilby said after the ruling: “Along with thousands of Citizen readers and subscribers throughout Tucson, we are disappointed with the judge’s ruling. At this time, we are reviewing the decision and determining how best to proceed with the antitrust litigation.”

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nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com


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