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)

Brantley said Hussman’s “irrational competition” was hard to beat. That he was willing to spend what some estimate at more than $250 million of his own money to win is difficult to overcome, he said.

“Having a guy willing to spend that much money for however long — that’s pretty stout,” Brantley said.

Arkansas Newspaper History

1819 The Arkansas Gazette is founded.
1871 The Arkansas Democrat is founded.
1974 Walter Hussman Sr. buys the Democrat for $3.5 million.
1979 The afternoon Democrat becomes a morning publication, going head-to-head with the Gazette.
1984 The Gazette accuses the Democrat of unfair trade practices in a federal antitrust lawsuit. Later that month, Carrick Patterson becomes editor of the Gazette, which was owned by his family.
March The Gazette loses a jury trial of its antitrust lawsuit against the Democrat.
Oct. Gannett buys the Gazette from Patterson family for $51 million, launches full-scale newspaper war.
1989 Orville Henry, then 64, shocks readers by moving from the Gazette, where he had been sports editor for 47 years, to the Democrat. It is a major blow to Gannett Co. in the Little Rock war.
Oct. 18 The final edition of the 171-year-old Gazette is published. Hussman buys Gazette assets from Gannett for $69 million.
Oct. 19 Democrat-Gazette debuts, billed as “The Best of Both.”
1992 Hussman appoints Griffin Smith Jr. as executive editor of the Democrat-Gazette.
1998 Hussman’s Wehco Media purchases the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Free Press in April and the Chattanooga Times in November. Both papers are merged in January 1999
2000 Newspaper war in northwest Arkansas hits high gear as D-G and Walton-owned Community Publishers of Bentonville form unprecedented “alliance” to fight Donrey Media Group.

Since Then ...

2014: Frank Cox, now a spokesman for Hendrix College, was right back in 2001: the Democrat’s acquisition of the Gazette was “a small pimple in the cosmos” of the changing media landscape.

The question in 2014 is no longer whether a market can support two daily newspapers. With online news attracting more and more readers and siphoning off more and more advertisers at much cheaper rates than the cost of print advertising, the question now is: How many days a week can even one newspaper afford to report, print and deliver?

Since this article appeared more than a dozen years ago, Walter Hussman Jr. reached a truce with Stephens Media in northwest Arkansas, but virtually all general audience papers — including the Democrat-Gazette and those owned by the Stephens family — have made sizable staff reductions.

In 2008, Hussman was recognized as Publisher of the Year by the Editor & Publisher trade journal, in large part for his prescient (and contrarian) decision to charge readers for online news. In 2012, he was inducted into the University of Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.

In 2008, the old Arkansas Gazette building was converted for use by eStem Charter Public Schools.



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