Lea to be Fresh Blood at Democrat-Gazette

by Sam Eifling  on Monday, Jan. 18, 2010 12:00 am  

When the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette announced last week that Nat Lea, the publisher of the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record, would take over as general manager at the Little Rock daily, Paul Smith sounded almost relieved that he would pass those duties to Lea.

Smith, who will soon turn 65, named the other executives within the paper's parent company, Wehco Media Inc., who report to him: Buddy King, president of the Palmer Papers publishing group in Texarkana, who began his newspaper career in 1955; Jeff Jeffus, 62, president of the newly formed Northwest Arkansas Newspapers; and Jason Taylor, the president and general manager of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press. Aside from Taylor, who's in his mid-30s, the leadership at Walter E. Hussman's Wehco is aging.

"At some point I'm not going to be around," Smith said. "We need to develop a team that will manage these newspapers after we're gone. That's a big part of it. I'd like to continue to work for several more years provided my health stays good, and provided Walter Hussman wants me to, obviously."

Smith moved to Little Rock in 1974 to become managing editor of the ArkansasDemocrat when Hussman bought it. In 1981, Smith added the duties of vice president, and he held both titles until six years ago, when he became president of Wehco. Since then, Smith continued to run the Democrat-Gazette - all the paper's department heads, as well as the other Wehco publishers, reported to him. Lea's promotion will alleviate those responsibilities.

Reached in northwest Arkansas for questions about his age, Jeffus responded with laughter.

"Buddy and Paul and Walter and I are all about the same age," he said. "So it's a very good idea to be planning the next succession of leadership in the company."



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