Arkansas Newspapers Feel Pinch But Wehco, Stephens on Lookout for Buying Opportunities

by Mark Hengel  on Monday, Jul. 14, 2008 12:00 am  

Smith said Wehco's investments in its newsroom and circulation area are justified because the paper has a higher circulation than many papers in larger markets. Picard said Wehco is also helped by the company's diversification. The company owns 13 cable television companies along with its newspapers. The cable companies provide steady income because they charge monthly subscription fees, Picard said, and that regular income helps offset the ups and downs of newspaper ad revenue.

Wehco has also launched a couple of "niche" publications - Sync, aimed at the young adult audience that general circulation newspapers covet, and the forthcoming Arkansas Life, a competitor to Arkansas Business Publishing Group's Soirée and Arkamedia LLC's Inviting Arkansas.

Sherman Frederick, president of Stephens Media Group of Las Vegas, would not disclose whether the company has any debt, but said the company is in good standing. The company owns 23 papers in the state, including The Morning News in Springdale, the Pine Bluff Commercial, the Southwest Times-Record at Fort Smith and seven weeklies in central Arkansas.

"We feel that we are positioned as well as any newspaper company in Arkansas," Frederick said, before expanding the statement to include the nation. "We feel that no matter what happens with the industry, we are in a good place."

The company's advertising revenue has slowed, he said, especially in the classified sections, but the Arkansas properties are not feeling the pains experienced by papers in Florida, California and other larger markets.

Frederick said he expects newspapers to languish through 2009, and possibly into 2010, but the company's papers will not cut staffing.

The trouble other media companies are facing, and the declining price of newspapers, might also cause the company to explore expanding.

"We are interested in any newspaper in Arkansas," he said. "That's what everybody is wondering: Whether there are going to be any bargains out there."    

The Small Papers

The industry wide downturn in revenue is hurting smaller newspapers as well as large ones.

Weston Lewey's company, Times-Herald Publishing Co., publishes two papers in St. Francis County, the daily Forrest City Times-Herald and the weekly Marianna Courier-Index. As a publisher of smaller papers, Lewey said, she is insulated from the ills facing many larger newspapers.

Lewey's family has owned the papers since the 1940s, she said, and has long since paid off any debt. Advertising revenue has dropped during recent months, though, while expenses have risen - particularly newsprint, the grade of paper on which newspapers are printed, and gasoline.



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