Historic Paper Scottsdale Progress Relaunches With Smaller Staff And Big Aspirations
The first issue of Scottsdale’s hometown newspaper published in 1948 — before the city was even officially a city.
The last iteration of the Scottsdale Progress ended in 2009.
The paper relaunched Sunday, Sept. 16 — an anomaly in an era of shrinking local news coverage.
“We’re news about Scottsdale for people in Scottsdale,” said managing editor Wayne Schutsky.
Every Sunday, 40,000 copies hit the streets.
Schutsky says to expect stories from local businesses, the school district and City Council.
“I will know I’m successful because I will be talking to people in the community on a daily basis and getting their feedback,” Schutsky said.
The newest owners think they can make money from advertisers.
“It all sounds all new and novel and strange, but it isn’t,” said publisher Steve Strickbine. “If you tell good stories and you really touch the issues and you follow up on them you’re going to have an audience and then people will advertise.”
Strickbine had a non-traditional entrance to the news business in 1997 when he worked as an accountant.
“I hated the job. I hated sitting in my office,” Strickbine said.
He quit and started a small North Scottsdale publication which evolved into Times Media Group, which publishes more than a dozen publications.
The new Progress will publish stories from Schutsky, a full-time reporter, freelancers and other Times Media staffers.
Strickbine calls the combined publishing effort “platooning,” because reporters write stories that are published in multiple publications.
Times Media Group isn’t the only local paper expanding its footprint in the Valley.
“We have the largest journalist staff we’ve had in years,” said Independent Newsmedia Publisher Charlene Bisson. She said "the competition is healthy."
The company owns 10 community papers and a magazine in the Valley, including one in Scottsdale.
Independent also owns the facility where the papers are printed. There are rolls of paper almost as tall as Bisson herself on the ground beneath the towering presses.
The group of newspapers has a unique model because they’re governed like a nonprofit company.
“What we did is essentially we created a public trust,” board chair Joe Smyth explained to the Columbia Journalism Review.
“Our motto is connecting and celebrating the community,” Bisson said.
Times Media Group Executive Editor Paul Maryniak remembers when there were multiple newspapers published in one day.
“I do a little bit of everything,” Maryniak said. “I report. I write. I edit. I decide what’s going on the front page.”
While Maryniak has watched the news industry shrink, there’s concern that some American towns and cities have no local media at all.
Researchers have started to identify “news deserts.”
Those are places where there either aren’t local newspapers, television or radio stations or where the media that does exist doesn’t do stories about local issues.
A recent analysis of a hundred communities found 17 percent of stories distributed to a place were about or produced in that place. Now every journalist has multiple jobs.
“For instance we found that communities that were closer to large media markets, their local media outlets actually produced lower levels of local journalism similarly,” said author Philip Napoli, who studies local journalism and media regulation at Duke University.
“We found that communities with large hispanic populations tended to get lower levels of both original and local journalism,” Napoli said.
A previous study Napoli worked on found that Arizona has fewer news outlets per 100,000 residents than many other states.
Even fewer stories were written about critical issues like education, the environment and politics.
“The underlying theory is that this is the type of information that facilitates well-informed participation in the democratic process,” Napoli said.
Put simply: Without local news, you might be less likely to vote.
Napoli says there are several factors possibly contributing to this decline, including money.
“The economics are in favor of content that appeals to a large audience,” Napoli said. “Local journalism inherently appeals to a very small audience.”
A 'Gutsy Newspaper' With A Long History
On a recent Friday, journalist Wayne Schutsky made a special trip with KJZZ beneath the Scottsdale’s Civic Center library.
Decades of the Scottsdale Progress newspaper, all the way back to the first issue from May 6, 1948, are bound in books. The pages are yellowed, but the headlines are clear.
“Too much spending, not enough saving and no budgeting,” Schutsky reads aloud one article rebuking the government.
“I don’t think stuff has changed all that much,” said librarian Richard Howley, who pulled the collection of papers from storage for the reporters in the room.
Sure enough there are familiar headlines about water, teacher pay and local government that wouldn’t look out of place today.
“The Progress was like a sibling to me.”
— Jon Marshall, son of former Progress owner Jonathon Marshall
The paper was the training ground for many journalists, including some still in Arizona, like KJZZ editor Kerry Fehr-Snyder, who once interned there.
“They were patient and willing to work with a young journalist and train them,” said Peter Corbett, another former Progress journalist who worked at the paper from 1984 to 1991.
“You’re in a grad program of learning what the world’s like.”
He remembered city meetings crowded with reporters, racing to beat his colleagues at other papers and the camaraderie between young journalists.
“Best of all, I met my wife there.”
Taffy Corbett was a paste-up artist, laying out the pages of the paper, when Peter worked there.
The paper’s most well-known leader was Jonathan Marshall, who bought the Progress in 1963 and ran it until 1987.
Marshall died in 2008 and his wife Maxine, who also worked at the paper, died in 2015.
Their son, Jon Marshall is an assistant professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
“The Progress was like a sibling to me,” Marshall said in a recent phone call. Talk of the day’s news was always served along with family dinners growing up.
Marshall’s& liberal viewpoints colored the paper’s editorial pages.
His son says they lost advertisers over their stance on the Vietnam war and when the paper endorsed Lyndon B. Johnson over Arizona’s beloved Barry Goldwater.
Marshall even stepped away from the paper in 1974 to run for Senate against Barry Goldwater. Marshall lost, but in later years the two would have lunch.
In 1976 when Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles was murdered in a car bombing, the Scottsdale Progress put a reporter on the investigation.
Jon Marshall remembers police coming to the house to explain to the family how to check for bombs.
Through the 2000s, the former publisher continued to pen op-eds for The Arizona Republic. For example, decrying high-rise development Scottsdale, advocating for safe-guarding elections from computer fraud and urging the President to reconsider war in Iraq.
Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts called Marshall “a a small-town publisher who loved this place and showed it by crusading with a pen, and later on with his wallet.”
The latter, a nod to the millions of dollars the Marshalls gave to local institutions like ASU, the Phoenix Art Museum and the Arizona Nature Conservancy.
I asked their son, Jon, what he thinks his parents might want to see from the new Scottsdale Progress.
“I think they would want to see a gutsy newspaper that was willing to put resources into reporting on the community and challenging the community and taking stands on issues and being fearless in what they publish.”