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Democrat-Gazette, Stephens Newspaper Venture Cuts 5 Employees

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Northwest Arkansas Newspapers LLC said Friday that it will combine the photography departments of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Northwest Arkansas edition and newspapers in the region operated by Stephens Media, resulting in the loss of five employees.

The media partners announced the layoffs in a story on NWAOnline.com, a website for the Democrat-Gazette’s northwest editions.

According to the website, Jeff Jeffus, president of the LLC, told newspaper employees in a Friday memo that it didn’t "make sense for us to continue duplication in some areas," and that the combined photo departments would have eight employees.

Jeffus also cited the "severity" and "duration of the economic recession."

A Northwest Arkansas Newspapers employee said they were told not to comment on the personnel moves until after 5 p.m. Friday.

The layoff comes after a May report by The City Wire, an online news website based in Forth Smith, that said the companies had hired CRG Partners Group of New York, an "advisory and interim management firm" to assess the efficiency of the Democrat-Gazette and Stephens Media newspapers’ operations in northwest Arkansas.

Jeffus has said that Northwest Arkansas Newspapers still isn’t profitable, almost three years after the two media companies entered the alliance.

The two companies announced the alliance in September 2009, citing "significant financial losses during the current economic recession." The deal ended a decade-long newspaper war, the state’s final.

Under the agreement, the Democrat-Gazette and Stephens Media hold equal ownership of Northwest Arkansas Newspapers LLC. Stephens Media is responsible for editorial control of the local newspapers in northwest Arkansas. But the Democrat-Gazette controls advertising, business, production and circulation functions of the LLC, and is in charge of the editorial functions of the Northwest Arkansas Edition of the Democrat-Gazette.

The deal brought an immediate round of layoffs and shuffling of positions at both companies.

Friday’s job cuts come the same week Stephens Media laid off four employees of its central Arkansas newspapers, which are not part of the alliance with the Democrat-Gazette.

Stephens said it is restructuring its editorial staffs in central Arkansas to improve the newspapers’ financial positions and to allow "people in the communities to have more input" into the content of the newspapers.

(The Northwest Arkansas Business Journal contributed to this report.)

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