CORRECTED: Democrat-Gazette, Stephens Media Employees Face Uncertain Future

by Rob Keys  on Friday, Sep. 4, 2009 11:46 am  

Warren Stephens, co-owner of Stephens Media, and Walter Hussman, owner of Wehco Media, may combine forces and seek an end to the newspaper war in northwest Arkansas.

A report posted on TheCityWire.com, a Fort Smith Web-only publication, cited an unnamed source predicting "radical downsizing" beginning in January 2010. Those types of fears were common among members of both organizations.

"If we won, don't we get first priority?" a Democrat-Gazette employee said. "I don't know right now, so I am concerned. It only makes sense somebody's got to go."

"I tried to wrap my head around it [Thursday], and I basically decided, ‘What can you do, but go back to work?'" a Stephens employee said. "I guess it's good they're at least trying this new business model."

The same employee indicated Morning News employees likely will be forced to re-apply for jobs if the merger is approved. In an interview with KUAR-FM reporter Kelly MacNeill, Hussman said the Democrat-Gazette would have primary responsibility for covering University of Arkansas athletics.

In a joint statement, however, Stephens Media and the Democrat-Gazette said, "All comments regarding production and distribution of the newspapers are premature," and "The Morning News and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will both provide coverage of Razorback sports."

The proposed merger comes after both companies suffered significant financial losses during the recession. Both also laid off workers and instituted furloughs in an effort to control costs within the last year, and the Democrat-Gazette debuted a smaller-sized format this week.

In addition to The Morning News, Stephens owns several weekly publications in Benton and Washington counties and in Missouri. The Democrat-Gazette owns the Daily Record, the Times and other weeklies in the area.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's northwest edition had an average daily paid circulation of 37,052 and a Sunday circulation of 44,200 for the 12 months ended March 31. The Morning News had an average daily paid circulation of 31,479 for the same period for its five-county designated market area, and a Sunday circulation of 38,947. Both are down from previous years.

 

 

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