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Clinton's coattails: Arkansas media may follow Bill Clinton to Washington.

IN PRESS BRIEFINGS GIVEN OUT by the Clinton-Gore campaign just before the Nov. 3 presidential election, there was a line in the copy that stated "unabashed priority will be given to the Arkansas media."

Members of the Arkansas media were, at least in the final weeks of the campaign, given some access that was denied to the national media.

On the campaign trail, Gov. Bill Clinton made special efforts to meet exclusively with the Arkansas press, but President-elect Clinton may not be able to do the same thing.

"We're going to have to realize he's the president of 50 states, not the president from Arkansas," says Neal Gladner, vice president and general manager of KARN-AM, 920.

That doesn't mean the local media is going to stick with wire services and the networks for news out of Washington, D.C.

Arkansas media outlets already are preparing to put a local spin on Clinton's national life.

"When you have reporters like we have who are really highly skilled in politics -- in Arkansas politics -- it really gives you something the networks can't provide," says Bob Steel, news director at KARK-TV, Channel 4, an NBC affiliate.

Steel says a final decision probably won't be made until after the January inauguration, but his station is evaluating whether to open a Washington bureau.

It may be more feasible to hire a contract stringer in Washington, or use the NBC News Channel affiliate service, which offers two White House correspondents separate from the network news.

CBS affiliate KTHV-TV, Channel 11, most likely will stick with Newsnet, a news division within CBS, for its Washington coverage. Former KATV-TV, Channel 7, reporter Regina Blakely is a featured reporter for Newsnet, and KTHV news director John Rehrauer thinks that may help boost viewer interest in central Arkansas.

No one at ABC affiliate KATV would comment on that station's plans for Washington coverage.

There is no guarantee of return on investment for the increased expenditures the local outlets face, which is a serious concern when the blown 1992 budgets are taken into account.

Few Arkansas media outlets budgeted for Clinton's presidential bid to make it past the initial Democratic primaries, let alone all the way to an Arkansas presidential watch party.

That doesn't mean they're going broke.

KARK is almost breaking even between spending extra dollars for expanded coverage and taking in extra money from NBC and other outlets sharing the station's footage and facilities.

"We won't do it if we don't think it's worth it," says Gladner of KARN's plans for covering the Clinton administration.

In addition to looking at what options are available for coverage with a local spin, Gladner says his station is in contact with others around the country that have had favorite sons go to Washington.

For instance, he's spoken with media in former President Jimmy Carter's home state of Georgia to see how they handled coverage of the Carter administration.

In this way, says Gladner, he hopes to keep from reinventing the wheel.

As Seen on NBC

At one stop along U.S. 65 through the Ozark Mountains is a small craft store positioned near a picturesque lookout.

A sign in front of the store reads, "The Ozarks -- as seen on NBC."

Arkansas sites and businesses have benefitted from the exposure they've received from the national press. State media outlets seem determined to show that they, too, can keep up with the big boys--to the benefit of Arkansas readers and viewers.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is planning to boost its one-man Washington bureau to a three- or four-person staff.

No decisions have been made, according to Rex Nelson, political editor.

"We were living day to day until after the election," Nelson says.

With the passage of Nov. 3, there are several considerations before a Democrat-Gazette staff can be assembled for Washington.

Two Democrat-Gazette political reporters, Jane Fullerton and Noel Oman, are married to two Democrat-Gazette reporters. Fullerton is married to Terry Lemons and Oman is married to Cynthia Howell.

Therefore, if the paper sent either Fullerton or Oman to Washington, it would lose two reporters.

If Nelson goes to Washington, he most likely would become a correspondent and a new political editor based in Little Rock would be named.

Regardless of who is assigned there, it's clear the Democrat-Gazette is prepared to devote resources to covering Clinton and the other Arkansans in Washington.

The paper spent more than $100,000 just to travel with Clinton and cover the governor in the months before the election. During the waning days of the campaign, the paper also had reporters on the road with President Bush and independent candidate Ross Perot.

And, reporters were sent to do stories on various "battleground states" that would have a particularly big impact on the presidential race.

Nelson notes that the amount of resources being used is somewhat surprising.

"That's not something you'd expect from a monopoly newspaper in this size market," Nelson says.

But he says it's worth it.

"Bill Clinton obviously is a local story," says Nelson, who adds that the Democrat-Gazette's reporting on the Clinton administration won't be on just the daily White House briefings.

Although Washington already is adjusting to Arkansas ways -- some hotels now serve Mountain Valley Spring Water instead of Evian -- Nelson says it will take Arkansans to report on the Arkansas stories and to know the good Arkansas sources for information.

He says the paper's new, unofficial motto is, "The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette -- We were Arkansas when Arkansas wasn't cool."

Papers around the state, such as the Northwest Arkansas Times and several owned by the Donrey Media Group, will take advantage of Washington bureaus that their parent companies already have.

The weekly Arkansas Times hopes to capitalize on Political Editor John Brummett moving to Washington to write a book on Clinton's first year in office. Times Editor Max Brantley says he'd like to see Brummett continue his weekly column and occasionally write longer pieces.

Brummett has yet to determine if that's feasible. He also is waiting to see what will happen with his contract to write columns for the Democrat-Gazette.

There's a lot of waiting to be done right now for the Arkansas media. "It's hard to tell what the next four years will bring," says Neal Gladner. "It's new ground for all of us."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Journal Publishing, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 16, 1992
Previous Article:Arkansas picks.
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