A shake-up of Arkansas management at Gatehouse Media has led to the dismissal of longtime Pine Bluff Commercial Publisher and Editor Byron Tate, as well as senior group publisher Shane Allen, who was based in Heber Springs.
Gatehouse, which counts more than two dozen state daily and weekly newspapers among its 620 publications nationwide, named Ed Graves as the replacement for the two men as senior group publisher, effective immediately. Graves, a former executive at USA Weekend, will be headquartered in Pine Bluff and will be the Commercial’s first African-American publisher, according to Tate, who worked for the Commercial or its sister papers for more than 30 years.
“The hiring of an African-American is historic and overdue,” Tate said. “It’s noteworthy for a town that has a high percentage of African-Americans.”
A graduate of Eastern Kentucky University, Graves is also the first black publisher of a daily newspaper in Arkansas press history, according to the Arkansas Press Association. Several weekly papers have had black publishers.
Graves was senior vice president for affiliate sales relations at USA Weekend, a Gannett magazine, and previously was president and publisher of the Jackson Sun Media Works in Jackson, Tennessee, as well as vice president of circulation for the Greenville News Media Group in South Carolina.
Publicly traded Gatehouse, headquartered in suburban Rochester, New York, owns the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith, the Daily Siftings Herald in Arkadelphia, the Hope Star and the Stuttgart Daily Leader, along with its weekly papers. The Southwest Times Record will retain its new publisher, Crystal Costa, who was hired earlier this month. Her predecessor, Tom Stallbaumer, who had led the paper since 2013, left on June 6 to join the public relations firm inVeritas in Rogers.
Tate started as a reporter at the Commercial in 1986.
“The Freeman family owned the Commercial when I started,” Tate said. “Then Donrey, then Stephens, then Gatehouse. So it’s been 30 years and two months from the day I started.”
He was city editor of Donrey’s paper in Vallejo, California, from 1990 to 1994. Then he returned to Pine Bluff as editor, and became editor of the Southwest Times Record in 2000. In 2010, he became editor and publisher of the Commercial.
“I have been fortunate to do what I loved for as long as I did in the newspaper business,” he said. “Lots of newspaper people far more talented than I have lost their jobs across the years and have had to regroup and reorganize in the face of a rapidly changing industry. Those changing times finally caught up with me, but my fallback position will actually be to continue working in newspapers.”
Tate noted that he had bought a weekly, the Sheridan Headlight in Grant County, at the end of last year.
“I am looking forward to throwing myself into that operation in a much bigger way than I have been able to before,” he said. “I wish the management and staff of Gatehouse the very best. Newspapers are a vital part of the fabric of our country and their success is a key contributor to our democratic society.”
Allen, who became senior group publisher for Gatehouse in February 2015, said the moves were part of a Gatehouse restructuring of the Southwest subdivision of its Western Division. He noted that Patrick Peregrin, Gatehouse’s regional vice president in charge of the Western Division, departed from the company in June.
“It’s business,” Allen said. “It’s no secret that, in newspaper publishing today, it’s a constant struggle to manage print declines while growing digital revenue as fast as possible. I hope that Gatehouse and the papers can move on and be successful.”
Allen ran Gatehouse’s properties in Heber Springs, Hope, Prescott, Gurdon, Arkadelphia, White Hall, Stuttgart, Helena, Newport and Bastrop, Louisiana. He is the author of “Under the Wing of a Patriot,” a biography of the highly decorated Air Force fighter pilot Jim Ryan. For a decade, he owned and edited the News Connection, a weekly paper in Flower Mound, Texas, after getting his start in the business at the Dallas Morning News.