Insult Added to Injury at the Atkins Chronicle

For folks at the Atkins Chronicle, a scrappy survivor in the modern dreary landscape for local news, it felt like being kicked while down:

Last month, the small newspaper’s retail boxes were robbed.

One coin-operated rack was seized from a gas station in Pottsville and ripped apart miles away near Lake Dardanelle, a job that probably took hours. After failing to drill out a keyhole, the thieves gutted the box from the bottom, scoring maybe $20, according to Beverly Davis, the monthly paper’s editor.

“It was a lot of trouble to go to for that little money,” she said. “I told the police if anybody gets caught paying for their drugs with quarters, that’s who it is.”

The second box was burgled outside an Atkins grocery store. “They cut off a padlock to get the coins inside,” Davis told Arkansas Business. “They might have gotten $30 or $40 from that one.”

The monetary loss “hurts a little” for a shoestring operation, Davis said. “But what really hurts is that if we can’t repair the broken box, it’ll cost $500 to replace.”

It was the latest blow in a couple of hard-knock years for the Chronicle, the oldest operating business in the Pope County town of about 3,000. The 125-year-old paper has dodged death twice since mid-2017, when longtime publishers Van and Ginnie Tyson turned the weekly over to Arkansas Tech University professor Billy Reeder and his wife, Paula. The Reeders lost about $5,000 in a single month and called it quits.

Four months later, Davis jolted the paper back to life as a monthly, sharing proceeds with the Tysons, who remain the owners. They’ve found modest success, selling about 1,000 copies a month, almost entirely from coin racks and retail stores in Atkins and nearby Pottsville and Russellville. A former circulation manager, Davis stretched into writing stories, selling ads and designing pages.

“Everybody kept telling me they wanted their newspaper back, so I told Ginnie and Van about my plan to make it a monthly, and they said yes,” Davis added. “So I do the paper, and they help me a little bit.”

She makes a little money and can work from home and set her own hours. “If I want to work at midnight, I can, and after the paper comes out, I have a week or more before I have to start getting after the next paper. It’s worked out well for me.”

The Chronicle, which sells for a dollar a copy, is printed by the Russellville Courier.

Monthly newspapers are still rare in Arkansas, according to Ashley Wimberley, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association. So rare, in fact, that the association’s bylaws, last revised in 2006, make no room for monthlies.

The trade group “did not contemplate a shift to a monthly format, so full membership does not currently extend to monthly publications,” Wimberley said.

That may soon change. “We plan to present the APA membership with updated bylaws for approval in May, and those changes will offer full membership to monthly publications,” Wimberley told Arkansas Business.

In the past seven years, four member publications have shifted to monthly publication, starting with the Marion Ledger in 2013, followed by the Chronicle. The Arkansas Times became a glossy monthly magazine in January, and the Greenwood Democrat restyled itself as Greenwood Life last month, publishing its last weekly edition March 13 and making its monthly debut on April 14.

“I wouldn’t call it a trend,” Wimberley said. “However, we do recognize the need for bylaws that will expand opportunities for membership with the increase of digital publishing, niche magazines and monthly newspapers. APA is working to continually be proactive with these changes so that our association represents and reflects the media climate in Arkansas.”

Back at the Atkins Chronicle, they’re soldiering on. “I wouldn’t say it’s a full-time job, but certain months I have to do more,” Davis said. “For May, it’ll be busy because of graduations and Picklefest.” The nearly 30-year-old festival, started as a tribute to the Atkins Pickle Co., which closed in 2002, features talent shows, parades and pickle-eating and pickle-juice-drinking contests. (Pucker up!)

Davis is also keeping a close eye on her boxes, but she’s in a bit of a pickle there, too. “The one they cut the padlock off of, we went and put a new lock on. But what’s going to stop them from taking their bolt cutters down there to do it again?”