In the 200th year since the founding of the Arkansas Gazette, talk has focused around the end of the daily print edition and the move to digital. Twenty-eight years ago, the news was: What will happen to the Gazette, the oldest paper west of the Mississippi?
On Saturday, Oct. 19, 1991, the question was answered when the first edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was published. Arkansas Democrat publisher Walter E. Hussman Jr. announced that he had paid $68 million to buy the assets of the competing Gazette, which had published its final edition the day before.
An Oct. 19 front-page editorial said readers would “get the best of both newspapers in one daily edition.”
The Democrat-Gazette emerged from a long and bitter war between the state’s two Little Rock-based dailies.
Survival by the family-owned Democrat had seemed unlikely after Virginia-based Gannett Co., the country’s largest newspaper chain and owner of USA Today, bought the Gazette in 1986 from the family-owned company headed by Hugh Patterson Jr.
The war proved too costly for Gannett’s shareholders, though, with Gannett saying it lost $25 million annually over the last two years of the Gazette’s existence.
The Gazette never got the chance for a proper goodbye. A last-ditch effort made by employees to buy the paper didn’t work out, and Gannett shut it down before workers were able to publish a farewell edition.
“I think we all wish we could have written our own obituary,” said Gazette columnist Max Brantley in a story on Page 13A.
News of the Gazette’s demise prompted comments from President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, conservative State Supreme Court Justice Jim Johnson and former Gov. Orval Faubus.
“I can’t shed any tears over it because I think the Gazette brought it on itself … since it was sold by hometown owners I think the quality deteriorated,” Faubus said in a report on Page 11A.
Talking to his employees, Democrat-Gazette publisher Hussman said: “I’ll tell you, this is a great moment. Basically, it’s over. The newspaper war is over and you won.”
About 200 of the Gazette’s 700 employees retained their jobs with the Democrat-Gazette, according to the main story from Oct. 19.
Others were opposed to crossing over. A story on Page 13A mentions a Gazette employee using his teeth to tear up an application for employment at the Democrat-Gazette. A story from Oct. 18 reported that a Democrat photographer, Mike Stewart, was assaulted while taking pictures of employees leaving the Gazette building.
See the final front page created by Gazette employees at arkansasonline.com/200/1991bonus.
— Sean Clancy
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