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Seven weeks have passed since a broadcasters group bought the Stuttgart Daily Leader, but the town has yet to see a printed edition of a newspaper that had been published since 1885.

It may not be until the first of the year before a decision on how to put out the newspaper -- in print, digital only, or a combination -- is reached, Scott Siler, chief operating officer of East Arkansas Broadcasters, said Friday. But a timeline on what's coming could be put out by the end of November, Siler said.

"We didn't want to get people's hopes up" and then have a plan for a quick restart that fell through, Siler said. "Maybe it's more methodical, but we want to get this right," he said.

Arkansas County Broadcasters Inc., a subsidiary of Jonesboro-based East Arkansas Broadcasters, announced its purchase of the Daily Leader from GateHouse Media on Sept. 16. GateHouse closed the newspaper on Sept. 6.

Neither side disclosed a purchase price, but Siler said "the price was negotiated to where we thought it could be profitable. We already own an office building in a community where we already have some staff."

That workforce will be expanded somewhat by whatever form the Daily Leader takes, Siler said.

East Arkansas Broadcasters bought the paper's name, its digital archives, bound editions of the newspaper and lists of its subscribers and advertisers, Siler said.

Siler said East Arkansas Broadcasters didn't buy the newspaper, with no intention to publish it, just to protect the revenue streams of its six radio stations in the area. "I understand the question, but we see it as information-competitive and also a step forward with news coverage of south Arkansas," he said.

Siler said the radio group still has a news director and "a news team" in the area.

"That's what Bobby Caldwell's all about," Siler said of the company's owner and chief executive officer, who lives in Wynne. "We believe in that [local news coverage]. We really see this as a great opportunity for us in south Arkansas, because we have been there for so long. This expands that effort."

East Arkansas Broadcasters also has radio stations in markets that serve Jonesboro, Wynne, Dumas, Walnut Ridge, Pocahontas, Morrilton, Russellville and Clarksville. It also operates the EAB Ag Network and EAB Sports Network, the official radio partner of Arkansas State University and Arkansas Tech University. The company also has stations in Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi.

Siler said he lived in Stuttgart from 1986 to 2016 as part of his work with East Arkansas Broadcasters in the area. "What we've done is talk to community leaders and also some advertisers," he said. "They understand what we're trying to do, which is to get this done right as much as we possibly can."

Almost any acquisition "usually takes a year or more" but the purchase of the Daily Leader was done in about three weeks because of the timeline announced by GateHouse to close the newspaper, Siler said.

New Media Investment Group, owner of GateHouse, on Thursday reported a net loss of $18.5 million for the third quarter of 2019, with $12 million of that stemming from costs associated with its $1.4 billion purchase of the Gannett Co., publisher of USA Today and other newspapers.

The Gannett purchase is subject to a Nov. 14 vote of each company's shareholders. If shareholders approve, GateHouse will be renamed Gannett and will operate from Gannett's headquarters in McLean, Va. The deal would create the largest American media company by circulation. GateHouse operations include several weekly newspapers in Arkansas and daily papers in Pine Bluff and Fort Smith. Gannett has a newspaper in Mountain Home.

In announcing the imminent closing of the Stuttgart newspaper, GateHouse announced the same for the Helena World in Helena-West Helena. It also put out a final edition Sept. 6 but was purchased the same day by Andrew Bagley and Chuck Davis, both of Helena-West Helena. Weekly publication of the newspaper began Sept. 18.

The World in last week's edition announced the hiring of Rick Wright as editor and managing editor. Wright worked at the newspaper for 18 months during 2017-2019. "We are thrilled to death to have Rick back," Bagley said.

Wright has spent some four decades at newspapers in Mena, Waldron, Dardanelle, Globe, Ariz., and Mesquite, Texas. He also is a former sports reporter at The Dallas Morning News.

The newspaper last week put out its first special section -- a tribute to Phillips County's Farm Family of the Year -- under its new ownership. "We had enough advertising to [financially] support a six-page section," Bagley said. A special section on Nov. 13 will preview the basketball teams of the six high schools in the area, Bagley said.

About 80% of the World's 700 or so subscribers under GateHouse have renewed, and the paper had a press run of 800 copies last week, Bagley said.

The newspaper is being printed by The Advance-Monticellonian in Monticello. "I can't say enough good things about Tom White," Bagley said, referring to the publisher of the Monticello newspaper. "He has been a tremendous help."

Business on 11/02/2019

Print Headline: Paper's revival remains on hold

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