10 Years After the War: Is the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Really ‘The Best of Both'?

by Lance Turner  on Monday, Mar. 31, 2014 12:00 am  

Walter E. Hussman Jr. is publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and president of Wehco Media. (Photo courtesy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

A version of this article originally appeared in Arkansas Business on Oct. 22, 2001. It is being republished as part of Arkansas Business' 30th anniversary issue. You can access the digital edition for free here.

On Oct. 19, 1991, the newly christened Arkansas Democrat-Gazette landed on doorsteps and in the newspaper boxes of the state’s new media landscape.

The day before, Arkansas Democrat publisher Walter E. Hussman Jr. announced he had purchased the assets of the 171-year-old Arkansas Gazette, the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi River and Hussman’s foe in a brutal and costly newspaper war.

Hussman paid $68 million for the Gazette, which in its final years had been owned by Gannett Co. Inc. of Arlington, Va., the media giant that now owns 22 television stations and 99 newspapers.

Having whipped its nemesis, the Democrat-Gazette pushed ahead, working to take in advertising dollars left homeless when the Gazette collapsed and selling the mantra, “The Best of Both.”

Ten years later, it’s difficult to recall “The Best of Both” in terms any more meaningful than marketing. John Robert Starr, the fiery managing editor who personified the Democrat, is dead. John Brummett and Orville Henry, two writers whose defections from the Gazette to the Democrat made waves during the war, now work for Donrey Media Group, a scrappy competitor that was a nonissue in 1991.

Fewer viewpoints have been expressed as the newspaper has cut its opinions section; the “newspaper of record” philosophy that was the hallmark of the old Gazette is long gone; and the number of pages the newspaper produces on weekdays has decreased.

On the other hand, the Sunday edition has grown, and space devoted to news (as opposed to advertising) has remained formidable. The quality of reporting, many say, is good and generally focuses on local news.

While the newspaper might not live up to its “Best of Both” post-battle cry, it’s still better than most of its size in the region, said Pat Walsh, a Little Rock media consultant.

“I think they’re doing as good as anybody could logically expect,” he said, “and they’re turning out a helluva lot better paper than if Gannett had won.”

Best of Both?

Despite the Democrat-Gazette bashing in which many Arkansans — especially in the journalism community, especially Gazette alumni — regularly engage, at the end of the day the state’s largest daily paper still has knowledgeable champions who maintain that it is one of the best newspapers in the region.

 

 

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