Copyright 2005 Ben S. Pollock
Sunday, Aug. 21, 2005. Saturday, in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas the local column of my old Little Rock colleague Doug Thompson (an earnest journalist, sardonic in conversation) wrote glibly and at times carelessly of Wehco Media purchasing from Community Publishers the assets of the Benton County Daily Record, Northwest Arkansas Times and nearby weekly newspapers. It made me wish that this business decision not drop into the infantile name-calling seen after the Arkansas Gazette ceased in 1991. That persists in the same way some conservatives still take pokes at Bill Clinton years after he left office. It’s ironic, given that the left does the newspaper-bashing in this state.
The executive editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times, Greg Harton (whom I’ve enjoyed knowing as a solid and witty journalist for five years) today writes a positive analysis. Greg emphasizes that the publisher, Walter Hussman Jr., told us in person Friday that all the papers would remain independent, and that he has been a man of his word.
My Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Northwest Edition abundantly covers regional news and regularly beams in on certain local issues, but it does not cover the day-to-day of the area’s four major cities and the nearby towns as closely as the Daily Record of Bentonville and Times of Fayetteville, with which it was in a partnership five years, until last week.
By its structure, history and intent, no edition of the Demzette can be local outside of Little Rock. Being distributed along with the Daily Record in the north and the Times in the south has been an obviously successful choice. The debt is paid in full, Hussman said.
The Northwest Demzette naked looks and feels like the “Little Rock paper” to regular readers, judging by the ones who’ve discussed this. (People in stores or lobbies find out you’re “with the paper,” no matter which one, and they start in on you. It’s not like you ever have to look for a party conversation topic: “Your paper” is heaved at you like a medicine ball.)
While it has a full quota of state-government news and a balance of news from elsewhere in the state, this edition has little Little Rock news. It feels, however, like the Capital Newspaper both to the casual reader and the longtime Ozarks subscriber. Why, it’s in the first name, Arkansas.
When my barber harangues about local politics, he will quote something from “my paper,” “local paper” or “city paper.” I say, noting its name, “You mean the Fayetteville Morning News,” the zoned TMN since September 2000. He cusses and says, “No, the Times.” He does not dislike TMN, but the Times faithfully covers his city. He and others will acknowledge the Demzette’s comprehensive area-to-world coverage, if sometimes chagrined by its conservative editorials on national affairs.
The telling independence of the editorial pages of the two local dailies encourages the vastly different mass personalities of Benton and Washington counties, and they do have them. The Times’ editorials read like Fayetteville: liberal, environmentally attuned yet growth-oriented (naturally at times contradictory). Bentonville’s unsigned opinion page endorses multinational corporate (read Wal-Mart) rationales at the same time citing small-town morals, while occasionally surprising me with its sensitive progressiveness.
Where are the junior high sports scores and the school lunch menus but the little local papers? Besides, neither the Demzette nor Daily Record — nor the milquetoast Morning News — would run a three-page feature as the Times did today on the local drag queen scene, with 13 color photos in the print edition. The three would have different reasons.
For the Demzette to encompass all of this in its Northwest Edition would be among other things expensive, when the separate infrastructures have been right there all along.
I bet Hussman’s promise is good. -30-