Palmer-Hussman family history

History of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Palmer-Hussman family history | Democrat-Gazette history

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/STEPHEN B. THORNTON
Walter E. Hussman Jr. pauses in the Democrat-Gazette newsroom in 2004.

The Palmer-Hussman families

In 1909 my grandfather, Clyde Eber Palmer, was taking a train from Fort Worth to Florida with his new bride, Betty. They got off the train in Texarkana, Ark., to spend the night and while they were there, they decided they liked the town and decided to stay. My grandfather paid $900 for one of several newspapers in Texarkana at the time, the Texarkana Courier, which he renamed the Four States Press. He eventually prevailed against other competitors in the Texarkana market, and he ended up as publisher of the Texarkana Gazette.

Publisher Clyde Eber Palmer in the Texarkana
office of the Four States Press, Oct. 24, 1912.
In the 1920s, Palmer decided to expand, buying other newspapers in Arkansas, including the Hot Springs Sentinel Record, the El Dorado News Times, the Camden News, the Magnolia Banner News and the Hope Star. One of my grandfather's most noted accomplishments was establishing the first automatic teletypesetter (TTS) circuits connecting a group of newspapers in 1942, the first use of technology to link newspapers instantly. This "Palmer Circuit" was the first of its kind in the United States and led to the establishment of such systems at other newspaper groups and press associations.
    My mother, Betty Palmer, was the only child from his second marriage, and she was born two years after they moved to Texarkana, in 1911. She attended college at the University of Missouri, where she met my father in the School of Journalism. She also became friends with my father's fraternity brother and roommate Donald W. Reynolds. My father and Reynolds had a close and lifelong friendship. My mother and father were married in 1931, and after selling insurance, my father went to work for Palmer in the newspaper business. By then the Depression was two years old and many of our newspapers were in deep trouble, including the Hot Springs Sentinel Record. After working for a few years in Texarkana, my father moved to Hot Springs to try to revive the newspaper that had been foreclosed by creditors. Since Hot Springs was a national park and a tourist destination, he came up with the idea of an annual "mail it away" edition. Under this promotion, subscribers and citizens of Hot Springs would pay to have a copy of one issue of the mailed edition sent to friends and acquaintances around the country, promoting Hot Springs as a tourist destination. The section was a big success, helping the newspaper repay its debts and get out of foreclosure. My dad said the newspaper was thereafter consistently profitable.

Donald W. Reynolds, left,
with Walter E. Hussman Sr.
In 1941, my father headed off to Europe for World War II, where he and Don Reynolds were co-publishers of Yank Magazine, published for the U.S. troops in Europe. Among many other duties, he was head of procurement for newsprint, operating out of Paris after it was liberated by Gen. George Patton.
    After returning from the war in 1945 to his wife Betty and his two daughters, they soon had a third child, Walter Jr., born in 1947. My father was determined to own his own newspaper and acquired an option to buy the newspaper in Midland, Texas, in 1949. However, Palmer offered to sell him one of his newspapers. In 1949, my mother and father bought the Camden (Ark.) News and the family moved there when I was 2 years old and my sisters were 14 and 10.
    In 1957, C.E. Palmer died and my father became president and publisher of each of the Palmer newspapers in Texarkana, Hot Springs, El Dorado and Magnolia. That year he established a profit sharing/retirement plan for all employees.
    In 1963, my father launched the first terrestrial microwave high-speed, high-definition facsimile network interconnecting a group of newspapers. This allowed the company to purchase what was then expensive cold type composition equipment, handling all ad production in one city and sharing those ads with the entire group of newspapers. Typesetting of news copy also was available from this shared facility.

Photo courtesy of Walter E. Hussman Jr.
K. August Engel, left, publisher of the Arkansas Democrat; Donald W. Reynolds, second from left, publisher of the Southwest Times Record; and Walter Hussman Sr., right, general manager of the Texarkana Gazette, gather at the 1940 Southern Newspaper Publishers Association convention in Edgewater Park, Miss.
In 1970, I followed my father and grandfather into the family business, after earning a bachelor's in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an MBA from Columbia University in New York. I served first as administrative assistant to my father, then as general manager of the Camden (Ark.) News. I then moved to Hot Springs in 1973 to become vice president and general manager of the Palmer Newspapers. In 1974, our company bought the Arkansas Democrat, an afternoon daily newspaper with 62,405 circulation, compared to the Arkansas Gazette, a morning newspaper, with 118,702 circulation daily. I moved to Little Rock, and at age 27, became publisher of the Arkansas Democrat.
    In 1979, the Arkansas Democrat began publishing a morning edition in an effort to reverse many years of declining market share. The newspaper began offering free want ads to non-commercial advertisers, doubled the size of the news staff and increased the size of the newshole 58 percent, so that each day the newspaper ran a larger quantity of both news and advertising than its competitor, the Arkansas Gazette. We also began the use of front page color every day, and began publishing Sunday advance sections by offset lithography on the company's press in nearby Hot Springs.
    By 1984, the company had increased its revenues from $6.7 million in 1979 to $18.4 million. The Arkansas Democrat also had increased its daily circulation from 53,671 to 76,119, and its Sunday circulation from 98,237 to 140,642 over the same period.
    There was intense competition for 13 years between the Gazette and the Democrat. Two significant developments occurred in the '80s that affected this rivalry. First, the Gazette filed a federal antitrust suit against the Democrat in 1984. Second, the Gannett Corp., the nation's largest newspaper chain, bought the Gazette in 1986.
    A federal jury in the court of U.S. District Judge William R. Overton rendered its verdict on March 26, 1986. The Democrat was found innocent of all the allegations leveled against it by the Gazette.
    The Gazette's circulation was substantially larger than the Democrat's in 1986. However, within five years the Democrat had closed the gap: Gazette daily circulation was 134,027; the Democrat's, 133,753. On Sunday the Democrat was substantially ahead, 241,361 to 225,326. Gannett closed the Gazette after publishing a final edition on Oct. 18, 1991. Later that day the Democrat purchased all the assets, including the subscription list of the Gazette, and renamed the combined newspaper the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
    Since that time, the company has made additional newspaper purchases in Chattanooga, Tenn., buying the Chattanooga Times and the Chattanooga Free Press and combining the two publications in 1999 into the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
    Our family's philosophy about publishing newspapers is perhaps best illustrated by a statement my father made:
    "A newspaper has a number of constituencies. Among those are readers, advertisers, employees, creditors, and stockholders. If a newspaper and its publisher always keep those constituencies in that order: readers first, advertisers second, employees third, creditors fourth, and shareholders last, then the newspaper will do well journalistically and financially, and the interests of all constituencies will be well served."

    EDITOR'S NOTE: The above article was published in the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association 100th anniversary edition in November 2004. Walter Hussman is a former chairman of SNPA. Under his leadership as president, the full Traveling Campus program was introduced and educated more than 7,200 individuals in 2002. Through his personal efforts, more than $4 million was pledged to the SNPA Foundation, also in 2002. WEHCO Media has many varied newspaper publishing and cable television interests.