The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock is hiring, advertising for reporters, front-line editors, copy editors and page designers “for news, business and sports.”
The business side has a help-wanted sign out too, with most of the display ads in the May 14 classifieds section offering jobs at the newspaper, one of its sister papers or with parent company Wehco Media, the chain chaired by Publisher Walter Hussman.
The advertisements — including come-ons for posts like human resources director for Wehco’s newspaper group and direct-sales supervisor at the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette — do not reflect a staff expansion, the paper’s leaders tell Arkansas Business.
They’re simply trying to keep up in a hot job market.
Over the past months on the news side several prominent reporters have left journalism or left the state, including Ginny Monk, Kat Stromquist and Eric Besson. The beloved and eccentric veteran reporter Stephen Steed died in March at 62.
“Yes, we’ve had some folks move on,” Managing Editor Alyson Hoge said. “In addition, as you know, Stephen Steed passed away.” Steed had been writing and editing for the business desk.
“The good news,” Hoge said in an understatement, “is that we’re hiring.”
Replacing lost hands has become a rarity at newspapers drained by the internet’s takeover of advertising dollars. But the Democrat-Gazette is putting out fatter Sunday papers these days, and it’s serving as a trendsetter as other papers follow Hussman’s modified business plan, cutting costly print distribution in favor of a digital replica edition.
Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, eliminated a day of print at 136 of its papers in March, and is making the same change at 50 more by June. The Democrat-Gazette has been essentially digital six days a week since 2019, and in January 2020, it ended weekday home paper delivery altogether.
At that time, Steed wrote that 27,000 iPads had been distributed to subscribers at a cost of $11 million. The Sunday press run was 51,000, with about 33,000 copies earmarked for digital subscribers and the others for single-copy sale.
Democrat-Gazette President Lynn Hamilton updated the numbers for Arkansas Business last week: Sunday’s press run is now 46,900; 28,000 of those go to digital subscribers and another 7,500 subscribers choose to get no printed paper at all.
“This number is slowly growing as the print number slowly declines,” Hamilton said. “Total subscribers stands at about 35,500, about the same as early 2020.”
The paper has been charging $3 for single-copy weekday papers since January, the same price as Sunday copies. The paper has been printing 3,800 retail copies daily, and even our bad arithmetic can compute that if they sell out, they produce $11,400 a day, six days a week, or $3.56 million a year.
“It appears the move has improved the bottom line a little and not cost us too much circulation,” Hamilton said. “The jury is still out.”
On hiring, he said the paper was filling positions, not creating new ones. “Like other employers, we’re having trouble finding new employees. The job market is tight.”
David Meadows, general manager for three of Wehco’s Missouri newspapers, died May 11 in Jefferson City. He was 58, and since 2020 had led the News Tribune of Jefferson City, the Fulton Sun and the California Democrat.
A veteran Arkansas publisher who oversaw the Russellville Courier for a dozen years, Meadows briefly ran other Paxton Media dailies in Conway, Searcy and Batesville before joining Wehco’s Central Missouri Newspapers Inc. just before the COVID pandemic.
Nat Lea IV, Wehco’s president and CEO, said in a statement from Little Rock that he was shocked to hear the news, calling Meadows “a fine person and a great leader.”
Log Cabin Democrat Editor Jeanette Stewart remembered Meadows as a tough but fair publisher who took a chance on her out of college. “He loved the community and the newspaper business,” she said, adding he was free with his 30 years of industry wisdom. “His death is a blow to the business at large, but especially to people who were lucky enough to work closely with him.”
Meadows is survived by his wife, Dianna, and their sons Connor and Garrett.