43-Year Veteran Alyson Hoge Named Democrat-Gazette Managing Editor

43-Year Veteran Alyson Hoge Named Democrat-Gazette Managing Editor
A Google Street View image of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette building in downtown Little Rock. (©2021 Google)

Alyson Hoge, who started as an obituaries clerk in 1979 and rose through almost all significant positions in the newsroom, has been named managing editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock.

Through nearly 43 years as a reporter, state Capitol correspondent, city editor, state editor and deputy managing editor, she has shaped almost every aspect of the daily paper’s news coverage. Since 2015, when she was named deputy managing editor for news, Hoge has overseen reporting from the paper’s state capitol and Washington bureaus. In the 1990s, she led the paper’s copy and design desks.

Reached by Arkansas Business on Monday night, Hoge asked for a few days to settle in before answering questions about her priorities. She will officially begin as managing editor on Feb. 28.

Hired when the paper was still the Arkansas Democrat, Hoge rose rapidly during its fierce but eventually successful newspaper war with the Arkansas Gazette. One mentor was the prolific and bombastic wartime managing editor, John Robert Starr, whose ego was matched only by his competitive bravado. The Gazette was shut down by its final owner, the newspaper chain Gannett, in October 1991.

Hoge is filling a position vacated by the promotion of previous Managing Editor Eliza Hussman Gaines, who will revive the position of executive editor when she returns from maternity leave in September. During her leave, Gaines, a daughter of Democrat-Gazette Publisher Walter Hussman, will be involved in newsroom decisions. Hussman is also Chairman of WEHCO Media Inc. of Little Rock, which owns the Democrat-Gazette and a dozen other newspapers, as well as cable TV, broadband internet and digital services.

In the newspaper’s report on Hoge’s promotion, Gaines said Hoge’s biggest strengths are newsroom experience, news judgement and zeal in chasing stories. “She’s also embraced our newspaper’s digital capabilities, and I think she’ll find great ways to move our product forward digitally,” Gaines said.

The executive editor position has lain dormant since Griffin Smith Jr. resigned the post in May 2012. Managing Editor David Bailey assumed the executive editor’s duties, and Gaines did the same before the announcement of her promotion last month. One major focus has been leading the paper’s pivot away from print and home delivery to producing a digital replica of the newspaper to be read on screens. In particular, Hussman devised a plan to offer subscribers use of a free iPad for reading the new product.

Hoge, 63, has overseen the paper’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic since its outbreak in 2020. She told her colleagues she appreciates the confidence Gaines and top management showed, and declared herself “a big believer in news and a believer that the Democrat-Gazette needs to be one of the prime sources of news for people.” Lynn Hamilton, the newspaper company's president, noted that Hoge was just 20 when she joined the paper, and “has excelled in everything” she has done.

“At that time, we were hiring a lot of young people — dozens, actually — with little experience,” Hamilton said, describing how Hoge was molded by newspaper competition. Both newspapers were losing millions of dollars each year in the late 1980s. In the five years it owned the Gazette after buying it from Little Rock’s Patterson family for $51 million and $9 million in debt in 1985, the Gazette lost a startling $108 million. The Democrat’s losses were estimated at up to $4 million a year. In the end, the Democrat eclipsed the Gazette in readership. Gannett eventually shut down the paper and sold its assets to Hussman for $68.5 million in 1991.

But as Hoge was ascending, the newspaper competition’s outcome was still very much in doubt, Hamilton said. From Starr, he said, Hoge “learned an attitude and an aggressiveness to news coverage that we really needed at the time."

A Hope native who moved with her family to North Little Rock as an infant, Hoge attended the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and still lives in Pulaski County.

In an unrelated move at a sister paper, another 40-year WEHCO veteran announced his pending retirement at the Texarkana Gazette.

Les Minor, who led the border city newsroom for 35 years, will step down Feb. 28. Minor began as a features writer at the Gazette in August 1982 and is looking forward to spending more time with his family. Hussman said James Bright, the Texarkana Gazette’s general manager, will take on the job of editor in addition to his current duties. That, in itself, is a signal of how difficult profitability has become in the newspaper business, decimated for two decades by the shift to online news.

In a statement, Hussman called Minor “a good example of why our newspapers have been more successful than most … dedicated, loyal, long-term people who really care about our readers first and our company second and have worked hard to produce as good a product as we possibly could."

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