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)

“I think it still is one of the best newspapers around,” said Dr. Joel Gambill, chairman of the department of journalism and printing at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.

“It has more news in it. The news hole is still large. I know it’s not as large as it used be, I know there’s economic reasons for that. But if you compare it to other newspapers that I see of its size, I think it probably has more news in it than almost any other that I see,” Gambill said.

Robert McCord, an Arkansas Times columnist, agrees. McCord is a former executive editor of the Democrat and was senior editor of the Gazette when the paper stopped publishing in 1991.

“I think their coverage is pretty good. And up until the economy got kind of bad, I thought the news hole was very good,” he said. “It had one of the largest news holes of any paper of its size that I ever see. And I was real proud of that.”

The most common gripe among readers in Little Rock is that the Democrat-Gazette has devoted too much space to northwest Arkansas news. In 2000, Hussman’s Wehco Media Inc. announced a unique alliance with one of its competitors in the region, Community Publishers Inc. of Bentonville.

The company, owned by the Walton family, agreed to insert editions of its Northwest Arkansas Times and Benton County Daily Record into the northwest edition of the Democrat-Gazette. While not an acquisition, Hussman said, the arrangement gave the organizations better footing in a battle with Donrey’s dominant Morning News, which has zoned editions throughout the area. The strategy might be working; the Democrat-Gazette recently took the lead over the Morning News in Sunday circulation.

Consequently, more Democrat-Gazette resources have focused on the “new newspaper war,” and stories from the front line have crept into the pages of the newspaper’s metro and state editions.

Still others credit the Democrat-Gazette in its early days but point to what they see as a decline in the last year.

Max Brantley, a former state editor and political columnist for the Gazette and now editor of the Arkansas Times, said cuts in staff and newspaper size have “put the lie to that statement” that the D-G offered the best of both.

The Democrat-Gazette has made the cuts perhaps because of the slow advertising market, perhaps because of the investment in the northwest war, Brantley said. In the last year, the Monday business section lost two pages, the comics section lost one page, the Sunday “Perspective” section lost pages, and the width of the newspaper has narrowed to save on newsprint.

“I think [Hussman’s] due credit for the resources he put in the paper but that in recent months it looks a whole lot more like papers you see in most of the rest of the United States,” he said.

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