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The Little Rock newspaper war: a status report from those who follow it.

The Little Rock Newspaper War: A Status Report From Those Who Follow It

Gary Heathcott Executive Vice President Combs & Heathcott Little Rock

"I don't know that I agree that there's any more of war with the newspapers than there is between other major businesses or competing industries.

"It just so happens that newspapers are more visible. You trip over them as you step out the front door in the morning.

"I think it's free enterprise at its best. Maybe the answer is more newspapers, not less. Maybe we need a third newspaper to make it more exciting."

Jack Moseley Editor Southwest Times Record Fort Smith

"People thought the Gazette would win, but the tide turned against the Gazette somewhere along the line.

"I think Gannett has gotten the shock of its life. They were in the habit of going in and being the top dog ... I don't think they ever anticipated the resolve of the Democrat to stick it out, fight and very possibly win.

"There was a period when the war was beneficial to both advertisers and subscribers ... It's just about over. The state as a whole has been hurt somewhat by the war because of the pettiness of it at times. I don't think the average Arkansan gives a hoot in hell about which newspaper stopped accepting football tickets first.

"The war sometimes has become the news, and the [real] news has taken a backseat to the war. In their efforts to beat each other, in certain cases [the two Little Rock newspapers] have gone beyond the role of newspapers. They have tried to be the news more than to be a mirror of what's going on."

Robert R. Douglas Retired Chairman Department of Journalism University of Arkansas Fayetteville

"It's a fight to the finish. Only one will survive," Douglas, who was once managing editor at the Gazette, said in a 1983 television interview.

"I still believe that," Douglas says today. "It could have ended fairly early if the Gazette had made the right moves."

Douglas believes the Patterson family, which owned the Gazette prior to its sale to the Gannett Co. in late 1986, did not view Democrat Publisher Walter Hussman Jr. as a threat and thus did not invest the funds necessary to battle him properly.

Now, Douglas says, the war is "where it has been for quite some time" with both newspapers losing money and the Democrat gaining in advertising and circulation.

"The Gazette has made just about every mistake it can make," Douglas says. "The Pattersons made a few, but there have been more under Gannett. The paper has gone through transformations."

Douglas says he has seen some changes for the better under new Gazette Publisher Maurice L. "Moe" Hickey.

"The best thing he did was put the editorial section back the way it was," Douglas says of the Gazette's July 28 return to a broadsheet Sunday "Forum" section. The section became a tabloid under the newspaper's previous publisher, Craig Moon.

"There's a lot of speculation that Hickey's trying to make the paper easier to sell, but I don't see that at the moment because of what he seems to be doing," Douglas says.

Douglas also doesn't foresee either newspaper agreeing to a joint operating agreement.

"Not between Gannett and Hussman," he says. "It might be conceivable if someone else bought the Gazette.

"It doesn't have to end. It could go on this way forever. I like to see newspaper competition. I'm not saying it's healthy, but these are two old papers. I would hate to see either one of them die."

Dr. Joel Gambill Chairman Department of Journalism and Printing Arkansas State University Jonesboro

"They may make people uncomfortable sometimes, but as a whole, we're better served having two newspapers.

"I would personally and professionally hate to see just one left."

Ben Combs President Combs & Heathcott Little Rock

"I don't see anything changing in the immediate future because you have two outstanding editorial staffs. Arkansas is one of the luckiest markets in the nation.

"My hope would be that we would always have two newspapers. It keeps ad rates for our clients competitive. It keeps news dynamic."

Kevin Gruneich Publishing/Information Analyst First Boston Corp. New York

"This can't go on forever. I would be shocked if ... either a JOA or some kind of resolution does not occur within the next year.

"I'm not necessarily saying Gannett is done, but I don't know if I can see a prolonged war. Mr. Hussman has shown a great deal of intestinal fortitude. More than Gannett expected."

Curt Bradbury Chief Executive Officer Worthen Banking Corp. Little Rock

"Frankly, I just don't think it can continue on this basis because ... of the money that's being lost ... and the negative bias the war gives the papers in general ... People are getting fed up with that, and that frustration will begin to show more and more.

"If an effort is not made to be fairer with this state and this community, then I think that over the long run, one of them will feel unwelcome and eventually fold their tent."

Eric Philo Analyst Goldman, Sachs & Co. New York

Philo commented for a past Arkansas Business article headlined "Nightmare At Third And Louisiana."

Afterward, he felt the wrath of Gannett.

When called for comment this time, Philo's reply was, "Not Interested.

"Thank you.

"Goodbye."

Mark Blackwood Principal Blackwood, Martin & Associates Fayetteville

"The power has shifted. For a long, long time, the Gazette had the upper hand. That is not true anymore. I grew up in Little Rock and cut my teeth on the Gazette. I would never read the Democrat [Blackwood finally subscribed to the Democrat a year ago].

"I'm seeing people who have never given the Democrat the time of day embracing it as their newspaper. I am an example of that. My parents are examples of that. Some of my friends are reading the Gazette on a catch-as-catch-can basis.

"Both papers do things because of the newspaper war that aren't necessarily in the best interest of reporting the news. I think it would be better if there were an end in sight.

"If the newspaper war is over, then the Democrat will have no need for John Robert Starr [as managing editor], and then all we'll have to read is real news."

Dr. Don Fry Associate Poynter Institute For Media Studies St. Petersburg, Fla.

Asked if the Gazette's recent streamlining attempts mean Gannett is looking for a buyer, Fry says, "Because of the recession, everybody is streamlining."

Steve Holcomb President Mangan Rains Ginnaven Holcomb Little Rock

"What newspaper war?

"It's just kind of a non-issue right now. These newspapers are competitive, and they're doing things to compete against one another.

"If you called Dale Nicholson [president and general manager of KATV-TV, Channel 7] and asked him if he wanted competition, he would say he didn't. [The newspaper war] is different because it has been publicized as a battle of titans between Gannett and Hussman's papers."

Dr. Robert Picard Professor California State University at Fullerton Fullerton, Calif.

"When Gannett walked into the market, they thought they could dominate it very quickly. Gannett was caught off guard.

"I don't think they're sorry about the product. It's a good product."

Larry Stone Principal Resneck Stone Ward & Associates Little Rock

"I'd like to see both of them continue ... It's healthy to have competition in any business, including the press."

PHOTO : Gary Heathcott Executive Vice President Combs & Heathcott Little Rock

PHOTO : Jack Moseley Editor Southwest Times Record Fort Smith

PHOTO : Robert R. Douglas Retired Chairman Department of Journalism University of Arkansas Fayetteville

PHOTO : Dr. Joel Gambill Chairman Department of Journalism and Printing Arkansas State University Jonesboro

PHOTO : Ben Combs President Combs & Heathcott Little Rock

PHOTO : Kevin Gruneich Publishing/Information Analyst First Boston Corp. New York

PHOTO : Curt Bradbury Chief Executive Officer Worthen Banking Corp. Little Rock

PHOTO : Steve Holcomb President Mangan Rains Ginnaven Holcomb Little Rock

PHOTO : Larry Stone Principal Resneck Stone Ward & Associates Little Rock

PHOTO : CHANGES EVERYWHERE: Things haven't been the same at Third and Louisiana since the Gannett Co. came to town in 1986.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:competition between Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Aug 5, 1991
Words:1354
Previous Article:The 12-year war.
Next Article:A Pointe to make.
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