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The next battleground.

The Little Rock Newspaper War Is Over: Will Arkansas Ever See Another?

Will the Oct. 18 closure of the almost 172-year-old Arkansas Gazette result in changes in the editorial products of newspapers throughout the state and region?

From Pine Bluff to Memphis, Tenn., to northwest Arkansas, newspaper officials are debating how they will react to the death of the Gazette.

Pine Bluff Commercial Editor Mike Hengel says his newspaper could benefit from readers looking for an editorial-page alternative.

"We're not going to pretend to cover Little Rock," Hengel says.

But he adds, "One thing we're kind of hoping ... is people in Little Rock subscribing because we're another voice."

The draw is the Commercial's Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial page editor, Paul Greenberg.

In the two weeks since the Gazette closed, Hengel has received dozens of calls from Little Rock residents interested in receiving the newspaper.

The Gazette traditionally was stronger than the Arkansas Democrat in east Arkansas. Can the newly created Arkansas Democrat-Gazette capture that Delta audience?

Editors of The Commercial Appeal at Memphis think their newspaper can be dominant in the area.

Still, Editor Lionel Linder says there will be no immediate changes in his newspaper's coverage of Arkansas.

The Commercial Appeal once had bureaus in Jonesboro, Forrest City and several other east Arkansas cities. It continues to operate a Little Rock bureau but otherwise relies on free-lance reporters and correspondents hired on a contract basis.

Linder says he'll continue to send Memphis-based reporters into east Arkansas when news events warrant.

The Dallas Morning News isn't yet planning to open a Little Rock bureau, although it perceives itself as a regional newspaper and operates an Oklahoma bureau at Oklahoma City.

"We'll go anywhere," says Ralph Langer, the newspaper's executive editor. For now, though, the Gazette's closure isn't prompting the newspaper to expand its Arkansas presence.

"It would be highly unlikely," Langer says.

No Time For Change

John Troutt Jr., editor and publisher of the 26,525-circulation Jonesboro Sun, says his paper's circulation has grown by 10,000 during the past decade despite the Little Rock newspaper war.

"We have had an ongoing campaign to boost circulation," Troutt says.

He adds, "As far as expanding into new areas, no, we probably have all the area we can handle."

Troutt says his editorial product also will remain the same.

Jack Moseley, editor of the 43,722-circulation Southwest Times Record at Fort Smith, tells a similar story.

"We were not affected by the war to any significant degree," Moseley says. "Neither paper spoke for the people of west Arkansas like we do."

The Southwest Times Record was redesigned last spring, but the change did not come as a result of the Little Rock newspaper war, according to Moseley.

"This newspaper never engaged in the war in any way," Moseley says.

There are some northwest Arkansas newspapers, though, that are engaged in what seems to be a battle of their own.

The Northwest Battle

"War is probably a misuse of the word," Jim Morriss, editor of The Morning News at Springdale says of his newspaper's competition with the Northwest Arkansas Times at Fayetteville.

Morriss says he simply tells his reporters, "Get out there and get it, and let's get it in the paper."

Springdale's morning newspaper has a circulation of 16,089, while Fayetteville's afternoon newspaper has a circulation of 12,531.

The Morning News changed from afternoon to morning publication last year in what some saw as a move to increase its Fayetteville circulation.

Morriss increased his editorial staff size and took a more regional approach toward covering the news. But he says he doesn't view the competition as fierce.

"I don't look on it in the same way people have characterized the Gazette and Democrat war through the years," Morriss says.

"We're not having a newspaper war," claims Janet Fontenot, who has been editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times for three weeks. "We're conducting business."

Thomson Newspapers Inc., which owns the Fayetteville newspaper, recently changed its editor and publisher there. Most believe the moves were partly in response to circulation gains made in Washington County by Donrey Media Group's Morning News.

Donrey also owns the daily newspapers at Fort Smith, Rogers, Pine Bluff and Arkadelphia.

There is competition in Benton County between Donrey's 15,183-circulation Northwest Arkansas Morning News at Rogers and Community Publishers Inc.'s 9,245-circulation Benton County Daily Record at Bentonville.

Once again, though, newspaper officials are reluctant to describe their competition as a war.

"Healthy competition" is how Rusty Turner, the new editor at Rogers, refers to it.

"Editorially, our reporters are aware there's another good daily newspaper in the county," Turner says. "It's nice to have a standard to compare yourself to."

But the emotions that were so evident in Little Rock during the brawl between the Gazette and Democrat just aren't there.

For now, at least, newspaper wars in Arkansas appear to be a thing of the past.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Journal Publishing, Inc.
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 among Arkansas' newspapers as a result of the closure of the 'Arkansas Gazette'
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 4, 1991
Previous Article:The paper chase: national newspapers get Little Rock run with Delivery Systems Inc.
Next Article:The essence of the Arkansas Gazette: former staffers continue to mourn her passing.

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