Northwest Arkansas Newspapers LLC said Monday that it is consolidating its northwest Arkansas daily newspapers, cutting 15 positions and closing offices in two cities.
The announcement comes more than five years after Wehco Media Inc. and Stephens Media created Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. The partnership followed "significant financial losses" during the recession as competing papers in the region.
The equally owned venture united the Benton County Daily Record, Rogers Morning News, Springdale Morning News, Northwest Arkansas Times and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's northwest edition together under the same company. The Democrat-Gazette kept editorial control over its northwest edition, while Stephens Media had editorial control over the other properties.
Under the merger, announced Monday on NWAOnline.com, the newspaper will be called the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The individual newspaper nameplates and content will appear in print in the 'B' section of the newspaper.
Rusty Turner, editor of the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, said in stories published on NWAOnline.com and ArkansasOnline.com that the newspaper will continue providing news about northwest Arkansas and focus on the area.
"Readers will receive more news about and from northwest Arkansas," Turner was quoted as saying. "News decisions will be made by editors who live and work here, and who understand our values."
The company said the merger will result in cost savings by removing redundancies. Nine of the positions that were cut were newsroom jobs and six came from other departments.
The stories published on NWAOnline.com and ArkansasOnline.com did not mention the names or positions of the employees that were laid off.
The staff cuts represent less than 4 percent of the operation’s 373-person workforce. In a Q&A on NWAonline.com, the company said it still had the largest news team in the region with 33 "field reporters" after the merger.
The companies said it will also close its offices in Rogers and Bentonville, with newsroom employees working out of the Springdale and Fayetteville offices.
Stephens Media has laid off dozens of reporters, editors and printing staff at its other papers around the state over the last year.
In August 2012, five Northwest Arkansas Newspapers employees were cut when the two media companies merged their photography departments. Later that month, the Democrat-Gazette laid off all but one of its employees in the northwest office’s sports department.
Turner said in an interview that employees were informed of the cuts and changes to the company during a staff meeting at 2 p.m. He declined to list the employees who were eliminated or say what jobs they held, referring back to the company’s press release.
"That’s as specific as I want to be," Turner said.
Turner said he thought the combined newspaper will be good for the newsroom, advertisers and readers.
"First and foremost, I think there was a lot of brand confusion with so many different nameplates in the market, and it was hard for folks to understand who was who and who the players were. And I think by consolidating under a single brand, we’re going to make our product a much more navigable newspaper and a much easier to use and easier to read newspaper," Turner said.
Todd Nelson, president of Northwest Arkansas Newspapers, said in an interview that he felt redundancies like two sports and editorial sections and obituaries in multiple sections of the paper would be cured by the combined paper. He said the newspaper will still focus on regional issues, but also broader stories, including national and international news.
"It will be a more complete report of what’s important to people in northwest Arkansas," Nelson said.