Monticello publisher Tom White swooped in to rescue his hometown newspaper last week, making a verbal deal to buy the weekly Warren Eagle Democrat.
White, a Warren native, is owner of Advance Publishing and the 4,000-circulation Advance Monticellonian, a weekly with a Saturday shopper edition in the Drew County seat. Warren and Monticello are about 16 miles apart.
"I have a verbal agreement to purchase," White told Arkansas Business on Monday, adding that papers would be signed to make it official in a few weeks. "In the meantime, we’re going to keep publishing. We’ll have a paper out this week."
Current owners Danny and Pam Cook, who bought part of the paper in 1998 and ran it in conjunction with Danny Cook’s heating and air business, had said they would stop publishing the Eagle Democrat unless they could find a buyer. The weekly comes out on Wednesdays, and the deal guaranteed there will be no interruption. The Eagle Democrat, dating back to 1885, is one of the oldest active businesses in Bradley County."
"The Cooks will be staying on in the interim to help," White said in a telephone interview. "I’m involved and my staff [from Monticello, including Managing Editor Ashley Hogg] is involved, and we’re not changing anything for now."
The Arkansas Press Association helped broker the deal, Executive Director Ashley Wimberley said. "One thing we worked hard on was to make sure there was no cease in publication, that the paper would still come out this week," she said. "It’s the only legal newspaper in the county, and that’s important for us."
White, she pointed out, is on the APA board of directors. "He is from Warren, and some people from his staff are from there, too," she said. He is going to keep the office location in Warren and keep the staff local, too."
The Cooks ran the Eagle Democrat frugally with just two or three employees, Wimberley said. "It’s a profitable newspaper with no issues in terms of operation. It was a matter of succession when the owners wanted to cut back."
Danny Cook told Arkansas Business last week that age and ailments were forcing him and Pam to slow down to semi-retirement. He will still run Cook Heating & Air in Warren but has a trustworthy employee there to take over if Cook needs time off.
"My wife is not in good enough health to keep working, and my doctor has told me I can’t go on running two businesses."
He told Arkansas Business he and Pam were seeking $170,000 for the paper, including the office at 200 W. Cypress St., its print shop, computers and software, subscription list and other assets, Danny Cook said. "At about 3,900 a week, circulation is still good, and the advertising is still there, but I was the person responsible for selling ads, and there would be a lot more with some aggressive selling."
While no details of the pending deal were revealed, Cook had said he’d leave $30,000 in the Eagle Democrat’s bank account "to provide a cushion," and that the new owners would benefit from accounts receivable of about $50,000. "That means somebody could get into this by investing only about $90,000," Cook said.
The Eagle Democrat, which covered Warren’s history from the days of the Spanish-American War to the deadly tornadoes of 1949 and 1975 to the triumph of Warren High School’s 2001 state championship team, has been averaging 10 pages a week, and special editions like the fall football special remain popular. In recent years, the paper has faced stiff competition from the Saline River Chronicle, an online outlet founded in 2010 and owned by local artist and shop owner Rob Reep.
The Cooks bought the paper in 1998 from longtime publisher and owner Bob Newton, who arrived in Warren as the Eagle Democrat’s editor in 1957 and gradually bought it outright.
Wimberley called White’s deal to buy the Eagle Democrat a natural fit. "He’s from Warren, and so are some of his team, so that is exciting. And the town gets to keep its newspaper going."