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Where Gannett went wrong.

One Year After The Gazette's Closure, A Consensus Is Reached

The video file footage from local news stations' coverage of the Gannett Co.'s purchase of the Arkansas Gazette is more interesting today than when it aired in 1986.

Then-Gannett chairman Al Neuharth told Arkansas, "We're here to ensure not only the Gazette but the community that Gannett will use its considerable resources to preserve and to enhance that splendid record we are inheriting."

He was right about using considerable resources. Gannett outspent its competitor, the Arkansas Democrat, by $50 million and had losses totalling more than $20 million a year in its final years in the state.

Few people -- including Gannett officials -- think that the media corporation enhanced the Gazette's image, and everyone knows the company didn't preserve it. Gannett sold the Gazette's assets to Democrat Publisher Walter E. Hussman Jr. in 1991.

After one year's reflection, there seems to be at least a limited consensus on what happened.

"All they had to do was let things alone," says Robert Douglas, a former Gazette managing editor. "I don't know how anybody who made that much money could be so dumb."

"Nothing was based upon a long-range plan," says David Petty, the Gazette's former assistant editor. Petty says there were never any measurable goals for the paper to work against.

Consequently, when one approach didn't work, it was quickly discarded and another was attempted.

"They would not be consistent with what they tried to do," says Hussman.

And Hussman's best defense?

"He had a plan, and he stuck with it," says Bill Rutherford, who was the Gazette's last managing editor.

Petty agrees. "His best decision was just to hold on."

But Gannett was intent on making changes from the beginning.

"I really think they had no idea of listening to the local people," says Carrick Patterson, whose family sold the paper to Gannett and who served as editor of the Gazette, including one year under Gannett's ownership.

Before he was "basically fired" from the publication, Patterson says Gannett adamantly refused to listen to anything anyone said and "bluntly went about their own business."

The Gazette's final publisher, Maurice L. "Moe" Hickey, recognizes Gannett's mistake.

"I would have kept the essence and the sense of the newspaper pretty much the same," says Hickey.

"Operationally, we tried different things," says Keith Moyer, brought in by Gannett as the Gazette's final editor. "Hindsight's great."

Even Moyer says the reason Hussman triumphed is "he had a plan and he stuck to it."

Douglas McCorkindale, vice chairman and chief financial officer for Gannett, says the Little Rock newspaper war was one the company never should have entered.

"If we had known that the paper had lost as much market share as it had in fact, we probably would not have made the decision," says McCorkindale.

He says Hickey, who was brought out of retirement in Reno, Nev., less than six months before Gannett sold the paper's assets, was not brought in to shut down the paper.

"We brought him down there with the idea of turning it around," says McCorkindale. Hickey rented an apartment and examined the status of the paper before committing to buy a house in the state.

"He told us it was going to go on forever and that we better be prepared for that," says McCorkindale. "Neither side was making greater progress. It was just sort of a stand-off."

So, probably before Hickey's lease was even up, the paper was shut down, the assets were sold and the Gazette's final publisher moved back to Reno.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Monopoly; Gannett Co.
Author:Rengers, Carrie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 19, 1992
Words:594
Previous Article:Back in the black.
Next Article:Faded newsprint.
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