Gwen Moritz

The Perfect Arkansas Business Story

Gwen Moritz Editor's Note


The Perfect Arkansas Business Story

I told him it was not the perfect country and western song
Because he hadn’t said anything at all about momma,
Or trains,
Or trucks,
Or prison,
Or gettin’ drunk.

I was reminded of David Allan Coe’s recording of Steve Goodman’s perfect country and western song when I saw the truly astonishing traffic to the ArkansasBusiness.com website generated by last week’s story on the Dunklin family land feud.

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It’s the perfect Arkansas Business story, I announced on Twitter. “Instead of trains, prison, pickups and momma, it has a prominent family, lots of money, bitter conflict and (wait for it) duck hunting.”

Of course, Senior Editor George Waldon knows what grabs Arkansas Business readers; he’s been catering to this audience for almost 30 years. We expected high reader interest. Money and conflict are standard news elements, and duck hunting is such big business in Arkansas that our company produces an award-winning annual magazine called Greenhead.

But I don’t think any of us anticipated just how many readers outside the state would be interested in a story about a sibling dispute forcing the auction of nearly 16,000 acres in the Arkansas Delta — presumably because George Dunklin Jr. is the national president of Ducks Unlimited.

The subject, then, was perfect, but the story as written by Waldon left a lot to be desired — mainly, interviews with Dunklin and his sister, Deborah Tipton of Memphis. Or their lawyers. Or anyone who could explain a bunch of the questions left unanswered, like why anyone sincerely trying to get the best price at auction would divide the property into such odd parcels and then demand deposits ranging from $15,200 to $3 million just to look at the land.

One might start to suspect that the object was to discourage bidders, especially because Dunkin has indicated that he plans to bid, but we may never know for sure because none of the parties would talk.

We may also never know why Tipton kept moving forward with a complaint that sought liquidation of the assets when she also expressed a desire to have the court divide the property equally.

Instead, Waldon had to rely on court filings and the baffling and sometimes confusing terms announced for the auction. I have a funny feeling that next week’s auction is not going to be the end of this dispute.

***

If I’m right about that, more documents will be filed in court, which is where we find a lot of our most interesting stories. Last month I wrote a story based almost entirely on court filings, and it was one of the most fascinating that I’ve worked on in a news career that’s almost as long as George Waldon’s.

We called that story “International Hustle,” and it used depositions filed in a civil case in North Carolina to explain how the president of a small Little Rock credit union got sucked into a trans-Atlantic investment scam.

That story also had a strong online audience — stronger than I expected — but nothing like the Dunklin story, because it was not the perfect Arkansas Business story. The main character, Joyce Judy, was not prominent, and the $1 million she lost was huge to her but wasn’t even enough to get a look-see at the main Dunklin property. The other players were unknowns from North Carolina and Great Britain. My story did have a Nascar angle, but Nascar can’t hold a candle to duck hunting in Arkansas.

Still, I felt that someone — namely me — should exploit Joyce Judy’s own decision to file a civil complaint in order to understand how people who have moved competently through life could be reeled in by patently impossible investment promises. We hear that these things happen, but we almost never learn the names of the participants, much less hear their stories in their own words.

Lawyers generally warn clients not to talk to the press. Sometimes I wonder if they also warn them that, by taking their disputes to court, the press may tell their stories anyway.

***

The perfect country and western song has a title: “You Never Even Called Me by My Name.” A bunch of references on the Internet say John Prine helped Steve Goodman write it, but he didn’t take a songwriting credit. It’s been 40 years since David Allan Coe released his version, but its message about formulaic country music has never been more relevant.

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business. Email her at GMoritz@ABPG.com.