Iconic Sportswriter Harry King Loses Column With GateHouse

Iconic Sportswriter Harry King Loses Column With GateHouse
Harry King in 2010. (DeWaine Duncan)

Harry King, the veteran journalist who has covered Arkansas sports for more than 50 years, revealed Friday that his three-times-a-week column for GateHouse Media has been discontinued.

"They're trying to improve the bottom line," said King, 74, who broke into writing with the Arkansas Gazette during its sports heyday of the early 1960s, working with legendary figures like Orville Henry, Jim Bailey and Jerry McConnell. Then came 35 years with the Associated Press in Little Rock before joining Stephens Media and eventually GateHouse. "It's the nature of the business today."

Publicly traded GateHouse Media LLC, headquartered in suburban Rochester, New York, owns the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith, the Pine Bluff Commercial, the Daily Siftings Herald in Arkadelphia, the Hope Star and the Stuttgart Daily Leader, along with several Arkansas weeklies. The company consolidated some of its weekly operations last month, and the Pine Bluff Commercial eliminated its Saturday edition on May 27.

"Every once in awhile, you have to take a step back at your business model and make tough decisions," Publisher Ed Graves said.

By comparison, King said the loss of his column was "not a big deal," although he described the writing job as a "great gig" that allowed him to "sit at home and write three times a week, without anybody ever telling me I shouldn't have written that or that I should write about this. For somebody my age, it was too good to be true."

King wrote for GateHouse for three years after GateHouse acquired most of Stephens Media, for which King was an independent contractor. GateHouse now owns more newspapers than any other American chain. 

"The Stephens opportunity was a really good deal for me, writing sports columns for all of their newspapers. During my years at the AP I was writing sports only about 35 percent of the time," he said. "The rest of the job was news."

Friday's news about the column offered King a chance to reflect on well over a half-century of sportswriting, and a more recent time of upheaval in the news business.

"Back at the Arkansas Gazette, I did really bad writing on high school football," King said. "Jim Bailey told me that when I was writing about golf, he knew just how long the story would be: 18 paragraphs, one for every hole." But in the presence of writers like Bailey and Henry, "you're definitely going to learn."

King said he wouldn't mind keeping up his writing somewhere else. 

"But first, somebody would have to remember, oh, that guy's still alive. You know we've all got such egos, the thinking is I know I can still put a couple of good sentences together."

But he acknowledge the constant financial pressures newspapers face in a media world utterly disrupted by the internet. 

"I'm glad I'm not 44 anymore," he said dryly.