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The Whisper That Mobilized a Neighborhood.

"'WE'RE IN A NICE NEIGH-borhood, and we spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on our homes, and now they want to build a damn Wal-Mart out here!' exclaimed Cindy Fields, who lives on Duquesne Court in west Little Rock.

"Many residents of the area's affluent neighborhoods are outraged at recent whispers that a Wal-Mart supercenter will be built at Arkansas 10 and Chenal Parkway."

The way the Arkansas DemocratGazette worded it was kind of cute, like an inside joke. To the general reader, the May 3 article implied only unconfirmed rumors. But readers of Arkansas Business knew that the news of another attempt by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to infiltrate the wilds of far west Little Rock broke first in our "Whispers" column.

At this point, we can tell you no more than we did on April 30. WalMart is, or was at that time, deeply into negotiations with Deltic Timber Corp. of El Dorado. The site is already zoned for general commercial activity, so it wouldn't require a rezoning battle like the one that last year scared Wal-Mart away from a potential site on Highway 10 at Taylor Loop Road. But it is also smaller, something less than 20 acres, than the 32.8 acres Wal-Mart was scoping last year.

The fact that we didn't name the name of our sources, or that no other news organization has been able to duplicate our information, didn't prevent the residents of nearby Chenal Valley from mobilizing in opposition. We created a conundrum for other reporters. The rallying of citizens is news... but is what they are rallying against?

It is a compliment to the reliability of Arkansas Business that a short, anonymously sourced item is taken so seriously. It helps to have a 15-year track record in which the overwhelming majority of our "Whispers" turn out to be right on the money -- just as I'm convinced the Wal-Mart one was.

Here's why: Arkansas Business does not define "Whispers" as idle rumors. "Whispers" is not, despite its title, a gossip column. We are as responsible -- ethically, morally and legally -- for every word in "Whispers" as we are any other article we publish.

Our definition of a "Whisper" is any short, compelling bit of news about business or business people in Arkansas that our subscribers haven't already read somewhere else. These items are sometimes attributed to unnamed sources; occasionally they aren't attributed at all (a habit that drives hide-bound, j-school types bonkers). That doesn't mean we haven't checked them out.

Just as often, they are attributed to real, live, named sources or public documents such as deeds, tax records or court filings. Sometimes the items deserve no more than a few inches of type. Others, like the Wal-Mart story, deserve much more coverage -- and will get it as soon as we can confirm any more hard information.

What really makes a news item a "Whisper," though, is not how wegather the information. It's how we write it. We indulge in a conversational, sometimes catty and, yes, gossipy writing style. It's fun for the staff -- and for the readers, judging by reader surveys that show Whispers to be the best-read feature in Arkansas Business.

There's a bit of irony in the vociferous opposition to a new western Wal-Mart. While the neighbors insist such a store is neither wanted nor needed, their objections rest on the certainty that a supercenter on Highway 10 would attract just as many shoppers as Wal-Mart thinks it will.

Thus goes the love-hate relationship Arkansans have with Wal-Mart. We are proud to be the home state of the world's largest retailer, and Sam Walton was the embodiment of everything we'd like the rest of the world to think of Arkansans: business acumen, innovation and entrepreneurship all wrapped up in a laid-back, downhome, unpretentious manner. I don't know anyone who doesn't shop at Wal-Mart, at least occasionally.

But we sure don't want anyone to build a "damn Wal-Mart" anywhere near our nice homes.

Gwen Moritz is editor of Arkansas Business.
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Title Annotation:Wal-Mart Stores Inc. unwelcome in wealthy Little Rock neighborhood
Comment:The Whisper That Mobilized a Neighborhood.(Wal-Mart Stores Inc. unwelcome in wealthy Little Rock neighborhood)
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 21, 2001
Previous Article:Trendsetter.
Next Article:Finding Your Market.

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