You could say Andrew Bagley is saving The World.
That's the Helena-West Helena World, a 148-year old newspaper that had been scheduled to close today by owner GateHouse Media Inc., one of the nation's largest press chains.
Bagley, a Phillips County native and teacher at the local community college who has written for papers for decades as a sideline, joined retired Helena businessman Chuck Davis to rescue the paper by buying it with plans to operate it as a weekly. He spoke about those plans with Arkansas Business on Friday.
"We'll be a weekly, and we'll definitely not publish next week, because we're trying to get a staff on board," Bagley said. "We made an offer for an editor, and we have tons of technical things to do, but ideally we'll publish a paper week after next." He said the paper would have two full-time employees and two part-timers, with Bagley himself writing almost all the sports. "I think my weekends are going to be full from here on," said Bagley, who has degrees from Ouachita Baptist University and Baylor, and will keep his position teaching social science at Phillips County Community College.
The financial terms of the purchase, which is set to close on Monday, were not revealed, but Bagley said Davis will be majority owner and he'll have a minority stake. GateHouse Group Publisher Jennifer Allen, who previously oversaw The World, confirmed the sale, which was first reported by Max Brantley on the Arkansas Times blog.
She also noted that The World's website had published a GateHouse statement.
The World's planned closing had been coordinated with the closing of The Stuttgart Daily Leader, another property of GateHouse, which is based in suburban Rochester, New York. Regional Vice President Matt Guthrie had previously revealed that the company was "enthusiastically working with an interested party" for a possible sale of the Stuttgart paper, and was willing to work with those interested in the Helena property.
GateHouse is in the midst of a $1.4 billion merger deal with Gannett, the USA Today publisher and other largest news chain in the United States. GateHouse, known for cutting staff and maximizing profits at its papers, has laid off dozens of journalists since announcing the Gannett deal on Aug. 5.
"I've been a stringer, a contributing writer to the paper, for years," Bagley said. "GateHouse called the editor in to a meeting in Pine Bluff on Wednesday and said they were closing the Helena and Stuttgart papers effective today. It's hugely important to have a local paper, so Chuck Davis, who has become a good friend, started negotiating with GateHouse."
He said no real estate was involved with the deal, and that he and Davis will be setting up shop in a new office, putting together new software and equipment and collating the 600-member subscription list that was part of the sales deal. Bagley said the paper's bound volumes and website were also part of the deal, though a change in domain name might be required.
"We had thought GateHouse would be around for a little longer, but we're moving ahead," Bagley said. "We've got to close with GateHouse on Monday, get the editor on board, and start printing a paper." He's negotiating with Tom White, publisher of the Advance Monticellonian, to have The World printed in Monticello.
"We know that in order to have a community that is vibrant, a community newspaper is integral," Bagley said. "This is our home. We're determined to help Helena thrive. Chuck and I live here, and we're not going anywhere."