Arkadelphia had a respected daily newspaper for nearly a century until last year, when the Daily Siftings Herald defied its name and started printing just twice a week.
Then two months ago, the town of 11,000 suddenly had no paper at all.
GateHouse Media Inc., the national chain with more American newspapers than any other, shut down the Siftings Herald, putting an exclamation mark on a litany of closings including papers in North Little Rock, Hope, Prescott and Lonoke County.
But, news flash: The Arkadelphia Dispatch, a weekly startup, is coming soon to the Clark County seat, which has two universities — Henderson State with about 3,000 students and Ouachita Baptist with 1,500 more.
The publisher will be Nashville News-Leader Publisher John Robert Schirmer, a longtime high school teacher and newsman in Nashville, the Howard County seat 55 miles southwest of Arkadelphia.
His editor will be veteran journalist and educator Bill Sutley, an Arkadelphian and Ouachita graduate who once wrote for the Siftings Herald.
The Dispatch planned to put out a trial-run issue last week with pictures of the Arkadelphia Badgers in the high school state football playoffs and coverage of the Battle of the Ravine, the college rivalry game between Henderson and Ouachita. The idea, Schirmer said, was to “give people a small glimpse of the paper.”
Newspaper industry insiders thought Arkadelphia might be ripe for a startup in GateHouse’s wake, and Schirmer, a Ouachita graduate, thinks the Dispatch “will do well because people in Arkadelphia want a newspaper with a focus on local people and events.” The paper has rented an office at 812 Clinton St., and phone lines and internet connections are being installed, Schirmer said.
“Several people in Arkadelphia approached the News-Leader about putting in a paper after the Siftings Herald folded,” Schirmer told Arkansas Business. “After going to college there and returning on numerous occasions, I also have a strong commitment to the city and decided to give the paper a try.”
Along with Sutley, who taught journalism at both Ouachita and Henderson, the staff will include Rachel Dawson in ad sales and Grace Talley in ad design.
“Arkadelphia needs a quality newspaper, and I’m confident we can fill that need,” Sutley said. “My 20-year daily newspaper career began here in my hometown, at the old Siftings Herald, and I remember discovering the thrill of being first with a news story or feature that people really needed to know about — stories that were relevant, interesting or useful to the lives of readers. I look forward to doing the same with the Arkadelphia Dispatch.”
Schirmer’s and Sutley’s priorities are traditional: serving as a watchdog over local governments and their use of taxpayer money, but also covering the people who make Arkadelphia the kind of town it is.
Sutley quoted the city motto: A Great Place to Call Home. “After 30-plus years away, I returned here in 2014 and found the slogan’s true — most of the time,” the editor said. “I’d like to see the Dispatch play a role, through its reporting, in making Arkadelphia a better place to call home.”
Along with the weekly print edition, the Dispatch will offer a website updated throughout the week, Sutley said, and will promote its work via social media. “We want the Dispatch to foster communication with the community whenever possible, and a strong online presence helps us keep the conversation going between print editions.”
Schirmer offered no estimate of potential subscribers. The Siftings Herald, which boasted 3,000 subscribers as recently as 20 years ago, had a paid circulation of 1,214 in its last accounting provided to the Arkansas Press Association. The APA trumpeted the founding of the Dispatch in a Twitter post last week.
And what’s in the name? Dispatch pairs well phonetically with Arkadelphia, known as “the Delph” to young residents, Sutley said. And “not many, if any, newspapers use this name in Arkansas.”
A student of journalism history at OBU and the University of Missouri School of Journalism, where he got his master’s, Sutley says “Dispatch” is both historic and urgent.
“I enjoyed learning about the origins of the nearby St. Louis Post-Dispatch,” where publisher Joseph Pulitzer redeemed himself from his “yellow journalism” reputation in New York by creating a great newspaper and endowing the Pulitzer Prizes, Sutley said.
And there’s one last definition that appeals to him. “When it comes to competition, a strong boxer will make quick work of, or ‘dispatch,’ his opponents.”