2 newspapers in Arkansas set to close; GateHouse says talks continuing with prospective buyers

FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, photo, The Vindicator newspaper rolls off the presses in Youngstown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, photo, The Vindicator newspaper rolls off the presses in Youngstown, Ohio. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

GateHouse Media, which earlier this month announced its $1.4 billion purchase of the Gannett Co. to become the nation's largest newspaper chain, plans to close the Stuttgart Daily Leader and the Helena World in Helena-West Helena on Sept. 6.

Also, GateHouse plans to shut down its printing press in Pine Bluff at the end of September.

GateHouse said it was continuing talks with prospective buyers for the newspapers.

About seven people will lose their jobs when the two newspapers close, with a similar number affected by the shuttering of the Pine Bluff press, said Jennifer Allen, group publisher for GateHouse.

Printing of the Pine Bluff Commercial will be contracted out, Allen said, declining to say where. The Commercial's press also printed the Helena-West Helena and Stuttgart papers, and did other commercial print jobs.

She referred to statements on the Facebook pages or websites of the Helena World and the Stuttgart Daily Leader for additional information.

According to the most recent figures filed with the Arkansas Press Association, the World had a paid circulation of 625 for its twice-weekly editions and a 12-month average of 776. It has been published since 1871. The Daily Leader, which has been published since 1885, has a paid circulation of 671. Its average circulation over 12 months was 742.

Ashley Wimberley, the press group's executive director, said Thursday that she spent most of the day answering questions from parties interested in buying the papers. She said she couldn't identify them.

"We're hopeful for both papers," she said.

Wimberley said the closings announced by GateHouse were those "of one particular corporate group" with a history of closing newspapers in Arkansas and elsewhere. "We feel confident somebody will step up and fill this gap," she said. "We have successful newspapers in communities across the state, including some very small communities. We've seen startups in communities that lost a newspaper, and we've seen newspapers expanding into communities that lost one."

Wimberley said her group's role was to "help make sure our communities continue to receive good reporting and credible journalism. We feel that is extremely important to democracy."

Michael Dougan, a history professor at Arkansas State University and author of a book on the history of newspapers in Arkansas, once noted the World's flair for the invective.

The World, he wrote in Community Diaries: Arkansas Newspapering, 1819-2002, referred to Jeff Davis, a one-time attorney general of Arkansas, as a "Carrot-headed, red-faced, loud-mouthed, strong-limbed, ox-driving mountaineer lawyer and a friend to the fellow who brews 40-rod bug-juice back in the mountains." And, Dougan said, Davis liked quoting the newspaper.

The Daily Leader, in its Facebook post, said: "Like many newspapers in small cities and towns across the country, [t]he Stuttgart Daily Leader has been adversely affected by shrinking print advertising budgets. And, like many other newspapers, [it] has done more with less, and increasingly sought out the community's support in storytelling."

In a statement on the Stuttgart page, Allen wrote, "From the election in 1889 of our town's first mayor, Col. Robert Crockett, grandson of the famous Davy Crockett, to the annual World's Championship Duck Calling Contest -- which we've celebrated alongside you for more than 80 years -- we've documented the highs and lows of life in Arkansas County."

For Helena-West Helena, Allen noted the World had covered "the historic floods in 1927 and 1937" and, more recently, wrote about "the ... heroism of a young Marvell resident who warned his neighbors when a house fire broke out."

"We've chronicled the sorrows and celebrated your successes," Allen wrote.

Without a buyer, the Daily Leader would join at least 11 other Stuttgart newspapers that have died over the past 140 years or so, such as the Stuttgart Booster and the Stuttgart Germania, according to a Wikipedia list of past Arkansas papers.

The demise of the Helena World places it among the ranks of at least six predecessors, including the Helena Spy.

With the purchase of Gannett, GateHouse will gain a daily newspaper in Mountain Home. GateHouse also owns the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith.

Based in suburban Rochester, N.Y., GateHouse also owns weekly Arkansas newspapers in Booneville, Charleston, Greenwood, Gurdon, Hot Springs Village, Paris, Van Buren and White Hall, according to its corporate website.

GateHouse once had a stronger presence in Arkansas, built primarily in early 2015 when it bought most of the assets of Stephens Media LLC for $102.5 million.

The Stephens Media properties included 19 Arkansas holdings. There were seven weeklies in Pulaski and Lonoke counties. About two years later, GateHouse merged those papers into two -- the Times in North Little Rock and the Lonoke County Democrat. (The towns that lost weeklies in those mergers were Jacksonville, Maumelle, Sherwood and Carlisle. The independently owned Arkansas Leader continues to operate in Jacksonville.)

GateHouse closed its state Capitol bureau in 2017.

In September 2018, GateHouse closed the North Little Rock paper and the Lonoke County Democrat, along with newspapers in Arkadelphia, Hope and Prescott. It also had earlier closed one of the two papers it operated in White Hall, near Pine Bluff.

In June, GateHouse sold the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, which it had purchased in 2017, to Paxton Media Group of Paducah, Ky. Paxton also bought GateHouse weeklies in Clinton, Heber Springs and Newport.

Business on 08/30/2019

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