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Arkansas News Outlets Assert Physical Presence

4 min read

The Helena World is headed back to its old orbit, and a growing digital news outlet in Magnolia is putting down brick-and-mortar roots, company owners say.

At a time when local news outlets seem only to lose ground — small players in a crippled industry now facing deep pandemic-driven cuts in advertising — the two Arkansas outlets’ purchases offer something of a silver lining.

Mike McNeill, publisher of MagnoliaReporter.com, is moving into a landmark address on the Columbia County Courthouse Square, where he plans to live and work. McNeill bought the building with its brick-and-column facade for $152,000, county property records show.

The Helena newspaper, bought by local investors last year after it was abandoned by the news chain now known as Gannett, is heading back to its roots.

Co-owners Andrew Bagley and Chuck Davis have bought the newspaper’s old headquarters at 417 York St. from Gannett, the paper reported last week. Bagley told Arkansas Business he’s hoping the newspaper’s move “back home” will be done by Labor Day.

York Street had been the World’s doorstep for nearly 60 years before the paper’s closing was announced and the sale followed last year. Davis and Bagley’s Helena World Chronicles LLC paid $15,000 for the run-down 1961-vintage property from Gannett, which recently merged with former World owner GateHouse Media Inc. The 6,000-SF building’s press room will be used as storage, Bagley said, and repairs are underway. “GateHouse really let it deteriorate,” Bagley said. “Workers are on site now putting a new roof on it.”

Two hundred miles southwest, the industrious McNeill reports he purchased 120 N. Court Square in Magnolia from Shan and Steve Morgan, who had remodeled the 2,100-SF insurance agency office into a residence.

“I’ll be happy to talk about it, but let me get moved in first,” McNeill joked to Arkansas Business, adding that he expects to be on the premises sometime after today, Memorial Day.

“There is no better location in Magnolia for a business like MagnoliaReporter.com,” McNeill wrote on the website.

“This will be a great place for staff to work, to meet the public, and to generate the revenue that every business must have to survive.”

By staff, McNeill meant himself. He started the news and advertising site in 2010, and for now at least it remains a one-man show.

But he says the business is growing and ready to settle down. Its new home is between a women’s boutique, The Perfects, and Magnolia Blossom Florist, and it “makes a statement that our readers can trust we’ll be a pillar of Magnolia” for years to come, McNeill said. “MagnoliaReporter.com has always been a work-from-home venture. It has been run from a small desk in a spare bedroom. Now, it’s graduating to the front parlor.”

McNeill said he loved the idea of working and living on the square, “the heart of Magnolia,” praising its distinct and identifiable facade. From the new base, he hopes to offer new services and to upgrade his technology. He said current times are challenging for media companies, but “also exciting ones for news media that makes bold moves.” McNeill said.

“The Magnolia Square has become one of the hottest business and retail locations in South Arkansas during the last two-to-three years, and MagnoliaReporter.com is thrilled to be part of this resurgence.”

McNeill plans to hold an open house as soon as the public health emergency ends.

Back in Helena, Bagley said repairs have to be completed before the paper moves back in.

“Years of neglect by GateHouse Media had allowed the building to fall into such disrepair it was no longer suitable for occupancy,” Bagley reported, all the while looking forward to better times.

“This purchase will allow us to further contribute to the positive future of this community by saving an iconic property and helping to revitalize the downtown business district. Chuck and I love Helena and work hard every day to keep this community informed.”

Those remarks echoed what Bagley, a longtime teacher at Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas, told Arkansas Business after buying the newspaper with Davis last year. “We want Helena to thrive, and that requires a local newspaper; we’re committed to producing a quality product.”

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