Thursday, July 05, 2007

Recent closures stir fears for small newspapers, communities in Arkansas

The closure and merger of several small newspapers in Arkansas, in the space of a few days, signals losses of population, losses of local retailers, and in turn a loss of community.

"Newspapers folding, merging or cutting back production is nothing new, although three in one state in the span of a few days is unusual, and new startups have been a rare sight lately," writes Ben Leubsdorf of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "The decline of local businesses and -- especially in the Delta -- dwindling populations pose serious challenges for community newspapers. As owners see their advertising base shrink, publishing a daily, semiweekly or even a weekly becomes more and more difficult, observers say."

Arkansas is home to Wal-Mart Stores Inc., but the company advertises little in newspapers, and when it and other megastores enter a newspaper's territory, local retailerts "either go out of business or become so stressed financially that they can't really afford to advertise much anymore," newspaper analyst John Morton told Leubsdorf, who noted, "Falling population in many rural areas also hurts the local economy."

Leubsdorf gives the details: "The weekly DeValls Bluff Times folded after 53 years of publication, its content absorbed into The Grand Prairie Herald in Hazen, seven miles down the road. ... Within a few days ... the DeQueen Daily Citizen also folded and two newspapers in Monroe County, the Monroe County Sun in Clarendon and The Brinkley Argus, merged to form The Central Delta Argus-Sun." (The weekly DeQueen Bee, which has one of the cutest names of any newspaper anywhere, lives on, under Lancaster Management Inc. of Gadsden, Ala., which bought both papers from a family.)

Leubsdorf interviewed Arkansas native Liz Hansen, a former reporter in the state who studies rural papers as a journalism professor at Eastern Kentucky University. "She said some rural papers are experimenting with other options, such as a voluntary dues model like that which supports public television, or papers banding together to offer group advertising sales. But, she said, there is no 'one ready solution yet.'" The Democrat-Gazette, known for putting little free content online, will sell you this story for $1.95. To get it, click here.

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