Tom White said he had only a minute or two last Monday to talk about buying the weekly newspaper in Warren, and he meant business.
My tape of our conversation is one minute, 57 seconds.
White, publisher of the Advance Monticellonian and owner of Advance Publishing of Monticello, struck a deal to buy the weekly Eagle Democrat in his old hometown, Warren, 16 miles to the west.
Monticello is the seat of Drew County; Warren the seat of Bradley County.
“I have a verbal agreement to purchase,” White told Arkansas Business last week, adding that the deal would be completed within weeks. “In the meantime, we’re going to keep publishing. We’ll have a paper out this week.”
Then he quickly excused himself. “It’s just a crazy morning, and now I have two newspapers to run this week.”
Current owners Danny and Pam Cook said in March that they would be closing the paper if they couldn’t find a buyer. Up stepped the Advance Monticellonian, which has a weekly circulation of about 4,000 and a Saturday shopper edition.
The Eagle Democrat, circulation 3,900, comes out on Wednesdays, and the sale agreement kept it publishing on time. “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.”
Unlike the dozens of Arkansas newspapers and hundreds nationwide that have closed or merged as advertisers and readers fled from print to the internet in the past 25 years, the Eagle Democrat is on solid financial footing.
“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,” said Ashley Wimberley, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association, which helped broker the deal.
The Cooks bought the paper, which dates back to 1885 in its earliest form, in 1998 from longtime publisher and owner Bob Newton. Newton had arrived in Warren as the paper’s editor in 1957 and gradually bought the paper outright. For the past 10 years, the Eagle Democrat has faced competition from the Saline River Chronicle, an online outlet founded in 2010 by local artist and shop owner Rob Reep.
The Eagle Democrat distinguished itself over the years, telling Warren’s story from the Gilded Age through the Spanish-American War and deadly tornadoes in 1949 and 1975. It celebrated Warren High School’s 2001 state champion football team, and, according to Danny Cook, has been averaging 10 pages per week of news and ads, with special editions like the fall football special remaining popular.
“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,” Wimberley said. “It’s the only legal newspaper in the county, and that’s important for us at the Arkansas Press Association.”
She said White, who is on the APA board of directors, holds fond memories of the town. “He is from Warren originally, and some people from his staff are from there as well. 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.
Danny Cook, 71, told Arkansas Business in late March that age and ailments were forcing him and Pam to slow down. “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.”
No details of the purchase agreement were made public, but before the deal, Danny Cook said his asking price would be $170,000 for the paper, including its offices at 200 W. Cypress St. in Warren, its print shop, computers and software, subscription list and other assets.
“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,” Cook said.
He planned to leave $30,000 in the Eagle Democrat’s bank account to provide a cushion, he said, adding that the buyer would benefit from accounts receivable of about $50,000.
“That means somebody could get into this by investing only about $90,000,” Cook said.
There’s a two-way payoff, Wimberley said. Bradley County keeps an invaluable institution, its newspaper, and White scoops up a profitable business. “It feels pretty good,” she said.