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Garrick Feldman Knows Story of Survival, Not Just in Publishing

4 min read

Garrick Feldman was discussing plans to expand his Jacksonville newspaper, The Leader, to fill the void left by the closing of The Times of North Little Rock. In the conversation he told me a bit of his powerful family saga, too, but asked if I could keep the personal part to just a couple of sentences.

Here goes. His mother, Ilona, survived Auschwitz as a teenage slave laborer for the Nazis after they murdered her mother; his father, Ferenc, survived the Mauthausen camp, freed by black U.S. soldiers who wept at what they saw.

Three of Garrick Feldman’s grandparents died in Holocaust camps, and he watched his baby brother being carried by his father as little Garrick held his mom’s hand on a nightlong walk across the Hungarian-Austrian border ahead of the advancing Soviet army in 1956.

Having barely survived Nazi and communist annihilation, the little family made its way to America, where Ferenc and Ilona lived long lives and Feldman’s brother, Steve, became a scholar at the Holocaust Museum in Washington.

OK, that was three sentences. But perhaps Feldman will forgive me, and forgive all the semicolons.

Here’s the business story: As an immigrant and longtime newspaperman, Feldman is deeply troubled by the anti-immigrant, anti-press tone of the Trump administration, not to mention the president’s good-people-on-both-sides response to last year’s deadly neo-Nazi and white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Nazi and Confederate flags flew amid chants of “Blood and Soil,” a slogan of Hitlerism, and “Jews will not replace us.”

Imagine what all that felt like to Feldman.

He rejoiced in last month’s decision by the U.S. International Trade Commission to overturn the Trump administration’s substantial tariffs on Canadian newsprint, the paper used to make newspapers, periodicals and paperback books. To the struggling publishing industry, the tariffs were the business equivalent of kicking a man when he’s down, and Feldman believes they were devised to benefit just one American paper mill owned by a private equity firm friendly with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

The newsprint levies significantly drove up operating expenses for U.S. newspaper companies, including Feldman’s, which derives about half of its revenue from outside printing jobs. The paper they print on is typically publishers’ second-leading cost, behind payroll.

“Stopping the newsprint tariffs will help those [newspapers] left standing,” Feldman said, saying the tariffs were designed to take pressure off North Pacific Paper Co., also known as NORPAC, which has a mill in Washington State. Feldman said One Rock Capital Partners LLC of New York, a connected private equity firm, and its leaders pushed for the tariffs in a meeting attended by Commerce Department officials.

“They paid hundreds of millions too much for that mill, and the tariffs to bail them out were just unbelievable,” Feldman said. “I hope they go bankrupt.”

Feldman dreamed of covering North Little Rock for decades, and he will finally have his chance. He detailed his plans for expanding reporting, ad sales and distribution after news of GateHouse Media Group Inc.’s decision to shut down The Times and the Lonoke County Democrat late last month. He has designated former Times writer Deborah Horn and John Hofheimer, a veteran central Arkansas journalist, as The Leader’s North Little Rock reporters, and Feldman is looking to hire ad salespeople and freelance journalists, partly to cover local sports.

“We don’t have deep pockets like Stephens,” he said, referring to Stephens Media, which owned the now-closed papers before selling them to GateHouse three years ago, “but they threw in the towel, and we’re still here.”

He hopes to grow The Leader’s circulation from 11,000 to more than 20,000. Over Labor Day weekend, he put more coin paper racks around North Little Rock, and he was looking to buy more boxes from GateHouse, as well as gathering names of subscribers to The Times.

The Leader, which publishes twice a week, routinely wins top prizes in the Arkansas Press Association’s annual contest. Feldman, its publisher and executive editor for 31 years, is now poised to serve the 85,000 people in the area that GateHouse left behind.

“Those folks deserve a good newspaper, and I think there’s a market for it,” he said. “We’ve already picked up some advertising. I didn’t think we could compete before, but with The Times closing, I think there’s an opening.”

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