“It’s really interesting, going through the process of buying a newspaper,” says Jennifer Allen, the former GateHouse Media publisher who came up with a new plan after GateHouse merged with Gannett and eliminated her position late last summer.
She wasn’t talking about picking up a single copy, but rather purchasing the entire Hot Springs Village Voice, a 4,500-circulation weekly in the gated community north of Hot Springs.
In December 2019, GateHouse acquired Gannett, the nationwide chain anchored by USA Today, retaining the Gannett name and, Allen said, the Virginia company’s attitudes toward small community papers. “I would say that their business model is more geared towards the big metro markets instead of the small community markets,” said Allen, who started in newspapering as a high school student in Malvern.
“At one time [GateHouse] had like 20 papers in our group here in Arkansas,” she said. “So out of those 20 papers, the Hot Springs Village Voice is the only one left.”
Not long after losing her job running the Voice for Gannett, she got a call from an executive at the company asking if she’d ever considered buying the paper she had worked for since 2007.
“I didn’t even know buying the paper was an option, but this person said that if I was interested, they would help me.”
Allen, a Henderson State University graduate and veteran of the Arkadelphia Daily Siftings Herald and the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record, closed on the deal in February, becoming the Voice’s owner and publisher. She wouldn’t reveal what she paid, or even what bank helped swing the deal. “I got a business plan together with a lot of help from Henderson State’s Arkansas Small Business & Technology Development Center, and it all just went from there.”
The paper comes out every Tuesday.
‘Locally Owned Again’
“It has worked out great, and the community has been so supportive of having the paper locally owned again,” Allen said. The paper now has a staff of 11, but no editor.
“There’s been an increase in our advertising, and businesses are going in full force pending any more COVID complications. I mean, it is going really well.”
Allen has plans for a paywall to promote paid readership of its website. “We’ll probably be doing that in the last quarter of this year. But we’re mainly focusing on local news, capturing that.”
Allen, who lives nearby and owns property in Hot Springs Village, said she’ll find an editor eventually. Allen and the staff have divided up news beats and other duties. She rehired former managing editor Jeff Meek, who retired in 2019, as a reporter and coordinator of coverage.
When Allen started at the Voice in 2007, it was owned by the Richardson family, which sold out to Stephens Media, who then sold to GateHouse in 2015.
Buying the Voice was a welcome stretch, Allen told Whispers. “It has been a good experience and I learned a lot of things. You know, I’d never owned my own business before. It’s a revelation.”