Columnists, Papers Adjust After Stephens Media's Arkansas News Bureau Shrinks

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Mar. 17, 2014 12:00 am  

The recent changes at Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau are causing some ripple effects through the state’s news organizations.

On Feb. 28, the bureau laid off five employees in its North Little Rock office, leaving one full-time reporter, John Lyon, to provide state government news for Stephens Media’s 18 Arkansas newspapers, including the Pine Bluff Commercial and the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith.

Now, the bureau’s content is no longer available to other Arkansas papers, and the columnists whose work was distributed by the bureau were also casualties of the layoffs.

The full-time employees laid off on Feb. 28 were bureau chief Dennis Byrd, sports columnist Harry King, news editor James Jefferson, reporter Rob Moritz and administrative assistant Katherine Satterfield. (Moritz is married to Arkansas Business Editor Gwen Moritz.)

Sportswriter Robbie Neiswanger will continue covering sports in northwest Arkansas.

In the past, the bureau supplied state news to a handful of non-Stephens papers around Arkansas, including the Jonesboro Sun, the Log Cabin Democrat of Conway and The Daily Citizen at Searcy. It also paid several columnists whose content was sold to the papers: Steve Brawner, Roby Brock and Jason Tolbert.

Brock, a business writer and owner of Talk Business Arkansas, said he wasn’t pursuing any individual papers; political commentator Tolbert said he was currently publishing his content only in Brock’s publications.

Brawner, however, said he is self-syndicating and his column will appear in the Southwest Times Record, the Jonesboro Sun, the Log Cabin Democrat, The Daily Citizen, papers owned by Northwest Arkansas Media “and whoever else will publish me.”

“I appreciate the opportunity that Stephens Media gave me, and I never had any problem working with that company,” Brawner told Outtakes. “I was given complete freedom to write what I wanted to write.

“Now I consider this an opportunity to build on that. I have complete ownership of what I write. I have already reached agreements with most of the larger newspapers where I was published before, and I can syndicate to other news providers inside and outside of Arkansas, and can publish on my long-neglected blog,”

Loss of the Bureau

Additionally, many of Arkansas’ newspapers supplemented Associated Press content with Arkansas News Bureau content. Those not owned by Stephens Media will now have to go without that resource.

Rick Duke, editor of the Log Cabin Democrat, said he was “unhappy” about the loss of the bureau.

“We have really appreciated the news bureau and the supplement they had focused on state politics,” Duke said. “It really helped us out … we really relied on them.

“I’m unhappy. Those are great reporters and great resources. They had something different that all community papers enjoyed. It’s sad on that level, and on a personal level, a lot of us in the industry had gotten to know them. It’s not the greatest news.”

David Meadows, publisher of the Russellville Courier, said the effects of the bureau’s shrinkage wouldn’t be great on his paper.

“Some columnists have contracted with us privately, and we’ll continue running a couple of them, but not all of them,” he said. “That’s really the only disruption.”

He noted, however, that the bureau’s content represented a financially desirable deal for the paper.

“It was a good rate,” he said. “They had really good Razorbacks coverage. That might be our biggest loss. We used it; it wasn’t like we didn’t. I thought they had, just, some good supplemental stories to supplement the Associated Press. I hated to see it go — it was very reasonable.”

Stephens Media is headquartered in Las Vegas, where it owns the dominant daily newspaper, the Review-Journal, but the company is owned by Little Rock financier Warren Stephens and his cousins Witt Stephens Jr. and Elizabeth Stephens Campbell.

Stephens Media has newspapers in Hawaii, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Washington and maintains a small bureau in Washington, D.C.



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