Arkansas' Newest News Chain Owner


Arkansas’ newest newspaper chain owner thinks technology has been the enemy of print news for too long.

Jeremy Gulban, who purchased four north Arkansas newspapers in June, heads CherryRoad Technologies Inc., a New Jersey software and cloud services provider with 450 employees. Now he’s betting on the power of community papers, with digital technology helping rather than undercutting them.

His CherryRoad Media Inc. bought The Mountaineer Echo of Flippin and The Marshall Mountain Wave, as well as The Clay County Courier in Corning and the nearby Pocahontas Star Herald.

“CherryRoad was started in the early ’80s by my father,” Gulban said by telephone. “We’ve always had a nationwide footprint, and what we found doing work for local governments is that we could bring technology to bear to help solve community problems.”

And not just with software and cloud services. “One of the areas that piqued our interest was local newspapers, and obviously, the last few years have been rough for the industry.”

A Pew Research Center analysis shows that U.S. newspaper circulation and advertising revenue plunged from nearly $50 billion in 2000 to about $8.8 billion last year. Hundreds of papers have closed, including dozens in Arkansas.

“We felt there was an opportunity to bring technology — our skill set — into local newspapers to reverse the trend of technology being a challenge.”

First, Gulban identified a newspaper for sale in Grand Marais, a remote town in northern Minnesota. “We acquired that paper in December, and then this spring I came across two newspapers for sale by Estes Publishing, Jane and Dale Estes, and their broker, Lewis Floyd.”

Floyd first advertised the Flippin and Marshall papers on bizbuysell.com in May 2018, asking $285,000 for both. The owners wanted to retire, the ad said, describing The Mountaineer Echo, founded in 1886, as the oldest business in Marion County.

Gulban said he was bound not to disclose what he paid in the purchases.

During negotiations, Gulban learned that Corning Publishing, owned by Thelma Rockwell and son Steve Rockwell, was looking to sell the Courier and Star Herald. “It made sense to bring the four together because of efficiencies.”

Gulban closed on the purchases June 1, then learned that the sole newspaper was closing in International Falls, Minnesota, often called the icebox of the nation. “We looked into the possibility of acquiring it, but there didn’t really seem to be a path. So we gathered with community leaders and agreed it would be good to start a newspaper. We got going just weeks ago.” On Aug. 1, Gulban bought The Clayton Record in Alabama. Floyd, who consults for Business Valuation Consulting LLC of Chesterfield, Missouri, also brokered that deal.

Ashley Wimberley, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association, said it’s always bittersweet when an association newspaper changes hands. The Rockwell and Estes families “have been so supportive of the Arkansas newspaper industry over the years,” she said. “That said, we’re heartened by CherryRoad’s recognition of the importance of printed newspapers within these communities.”

Gulban has already taken an active role in the APA, Wimberley said. “He knows that newspapers are essential vehicles for public notices and are valuable in their communities, and he’s pledged his help to keep Arkansas newspapers viable in the years to come.”

Gulban said current employees will keep operating the Arkansas newspapers, with Pam Lowe continuing as editor of the Corning paper and John Allen French succeeding longtime editor Anita Murphy at the Star Herald. Charity Rolen has been promoted to edit the Mountain Wave, and Robert Lyons will lead coverage at the Flippin paper.

The Flippin and Marshall papers, with weekly press runs of about 1,500, are printed by the Harrison Daily Times. Nowata Printing Co. of Springfield, Missouri, handles the 3,000-copy run for the Pocahontas paper and the 1,600-copy load for the Clay County Courier.

“Our overall goal is to keep the papers printed,” Gulban said. “We believe in the weekly printed paper, because there are a lot of people that either don’t have good internet access, don’t have technological skills or may not have a computer. A print edition is crucial to community news.”

The papers hope to improve their websites with CherryRoad’s help, offering more real-time news updates and possibly livestreamed events, Gulban said. “We’re exploring things like an online marketplace, where customers will see an ad and go make a purchase right away, locking in sales for the advertiser immediately.”