What's Next After Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Morning News Merger in Northwest Arkansas

by Rob Keys  on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2009 11:27 am  

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's printing operation in Lowell.

Under the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, letters were delivered on Monday to all employees of both companies. The letters indicated their jobs will be terminated by Oct. 31, with an undetermined number of those employees to be immediately hired by the new Northwest Arkansas Newspapers LLC.

According to the report in the Democrat-Gazette, those who aren't hired will receive at least a two-month severance package. Some will receive more based on their tenures, and some will continue to work during the 60-day period.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Inc. reported 369 employees in Northwest Arkansas, including 101 part-time workers. Stephens Media has 188 total employees in the area.

In the End

Besides the expected packaging and delivery changes, and disappearance of some familiar names, readers might not notice a lot of initial differences in their news products. But ultimately, Mark Fitzgerald, editor-at-large at trade journal Editor & Publisher, said readers could pay a higher price.

"I think you've got to conclude that it's not good for the reader in the long run," Fitzgerald said of the proposed merger.

Fitzgerald was quick to add each case is unique, but certain principles seem to be constant in such situations. For starters, fewer reporters in an area means more news is apt to "fall through the cracks," Fitzgerald said.

There's also the notion reporters might not be as inclined to work hard for exclusives and/or scoops when the competitive element between publications is removed from the equation.

"I've found that if you don't have competition, it's hard to keep yourself on edge," Fitzgerald said.
Trolinger said such a scenario would be regrettable, and that it's his hope "that good journalism and local news will not suffer from the lack of the competition that we have had for many years."

Finally, which reporters are retained isn't always based on merit. In addition to the likelihood of editors in charge of hiring choosing their own employees, more experienced reporters also can become casualties.

Fitzgerald said that's especially a danger when companies are looking to cut costs. Getting rid of older, higher-paid reporters in favor of lower-paid ones is not uncommon.

"I'd be a little more wary if I was an older staffer, just as a general rule," Fitzgerald said.
A Wehco employee described the mood among its workers as "dismal" due to the belief Morning News staffers will dominate the new enterprise.

"There's a huge leaning towards Morning News people," the source said. "It's like picking friends in a sandlot football game."



Please read our comments policy before commenting.