Fresh on the heels of closing newspapers in North Little Rock and Lonoke County, GateHouse Media Group has confirmed the shutdown of its papers in Arkadelphia, Hope and Prescott.
Teresa “Tee” Hicks, GateHouse’s senior group publisher and publisher of the Pine Bluff Commercial, said the national chain will be closing down the Hope Star, The Daily Siftings-Herald of Arkadelphia and the Nevada County Picayune-Times of Prescott by the end of next week.
The closings will end regular newspaper coverage in Arkadelphia, a significant banking town with two colleges — 3,000-enrollment Henderson State University and 1,500-student Ouachita Baptist University — as well as Hope, population 10,000, and Prescott, a town of about 3,000.
Hicks told Arkansas Business that the same financial considerations that claimed the central Arkansas papers also doomed their sister papers to the south.
“Unfortunately, yes I can confirm that these papers will cease publication as of next Friday,” Hicks wrote in an email to Arkansas Business. “Same scenario as in North Little Rock. Purely a financial decision.”
She added that no further closings are planned. The company publishes more than 145 daily and 330 weekly newspapers. In Arkansas, it owns and operates the Commercial, the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith and the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, as well as the twice-a-week Stuttgart Daily Leader and several weeklies.
The North Little Rock and Lonoke County papers were shuttered because they “were not doing what we needed them to do as profit centers,” Hicks said last month. “The workers were doing their jobs well, but we just have to use our resources where they best benefit the company.”
Hicks did not give details on the number of jobs lost, but GateHouse papers of similar size typically have five to 10 employees.
Both the Hope and Arkadelphia papers have storied histories, and the Siftings Herald was the first newspaper home of both Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Rex Nelson and Arkansas Business Publisher Mitch Bettis. As late as 1999, the Arkadelphia paper had a daily circulation of 3,000. It was reduced to twice-weekly publication last year.
The Times Record is the only GateHouse property still printing seven days a week. No online presence survived for the North Little Rock and Lonoke County papers, which had absorbed several smaller GateHouse papers just last year, and websites on the south Arkansas papers were expected to face the same fate.
But there are two local online news options for the Hope market, the Wendell Hoover-owned HopePrescott.com and Hempstead-Herald.com, owned by Jesse Evans. As pointed out on Magnoliareporter.com, "There is no online media serving Arkadelphia."
A former GateHouse executive and longtime Arkansas journalist said that, for some reason, the Arkadelphia paper had been struggling financially for "quite a while," but that "Hope is the one that is a surprise. This brings the grand total to 11 that [GateHouse] has closed," he said, citing papers in North Little Rock, Sherwood, Maumelle, Jacksonville, Cabot, Carlisle and Lonoke. Many of those had been rolled into the North Little Rock and Lonoke County papers last year. "So now Arkadelphia, Prescott and Hope are gone," and "Gurdon had been rolled up into Arkadelphia, I think. And I've heard this is going on or will go on in other states."
Ashley Wimberley, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association in Little Rock, said a community loses part of its spirit when it loses its paper. "We're saddened for the hardworking employees of these three papers and for the residents of three Southwest Arkansas cities who will be without their best source for local news."
She noted that all the recent closings were decisions by one company, GateHouse, though Wimberley didn't cite it by name. "We don't have any reason to believe this is part of a trend, and, in fact, almost all of our member newspapers are thriving, successful businesses dedicated to the areas they serve."