By: ARTHUR H. ROTSTEIN
The Arizona attorney general’s office voluntarily withdrew an antitrust lawsuit challenging Gannett Co.’s closure of the Tucson Citizen newspaper.
The federal court filing late Tuesday said the complaint was being dismissed without prejudice, essentially preserving the right to refile the case later.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Raner Collins refused to issue an order forcing Gannett to resume publishing the Citizen.
The May 15 lawsuit alleged Gannett conspired with Lee Enterprises Inc., owner of the city’s larger newspaper, the morning Arizona Daily Star, to close the Citizen, eliminating an editorial voice.
The 138-year-old Citizen published its last print edition on May 16 but maintains a presence on the Internet. A Tucson Citizen editorial also appears weekly inside the Star.
“At this point, it was highly unlikely that any outcome of the litigation could lead to the reopening of the Tucson Citizen, elimination of anticompetitive activity or a re-establishment of competitive voices in the Tucson newspaper market,” Anne Hilby, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Terry Goddard, said Wednesday.
Calls seeking comment from Gannett corporate officials in McLean, Va., were not immediately returned by Wednesday afternoon.
Gannett and Lee were partners in a joint operating agreement, created as an exemption to federal antitrust law allowed under the Newspaper Preservation Act.
Under the agreement, Tucson Newspapers Inc., a company co-owned by Gannett and Lee, handled printing and other non-editorial functions, and shared costs, profits, and losses.
Goddard’s lawsuit contended that closing the Citizen and ending the joint operating agreement created a monopoly situation with only one daily newspaper remaining in Tucson and would increase profits for both partners.
In denying a temporary restraining order on May 18, Collins said the Citizen’s closing was regrettable but that the decision did not involve an antitrust violation.
The Citizen became the latest in a string of newspapers to perish in recent months amid an industry trying to survive, and Tucson the latest in a series of remaining two-newspaper cities to lose one.
Other recent casualties included the Hearst Corp.’s Seattle Post-Intelligencer, which became an online-only news outlet in mid-March, and Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, which shuttered in February.