by Max Brantley
For those interested in what the end of daily newspaper competition means in Northwest Arkansas, I pass along on the jump some e-mail related to a paring of community columnists from the offerings of the surviving zoned local wrappers that will go around regional editions of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Someday, perhaps, there'll be an accounting not just of news and opinion impact, but advertising, circulation, production and other moving parts. I still can't figure how the ad sales are going to work on the zoned local wrappers and what ad buys will look most attractive to larger, regional buyers -- the 50-50 Hussman/Stephens local wrappers or the regional D-G. I presume the business reporting staff of the new monopoly enterprise will inform us in due course.
But back to the opinion writing slots:
FROM ART HOBSON
Some of you might be wondering what's going on with the NWA Times. The short answer is that there is now a single Opinion Page editor (Doug Thompson) for all 4 local NWA newspapers , all the local opinion writers such as myself have been fired or, perhaps, temporarily suspended in favor of several new regional and state opinion writers, and consequently our local newspaper now has less of a local character. For more detail, I invite you to read the well-considered words of fellow columnist Fran Alexander, below. Following her letter is a short note from the new Opinion Page editor, Doug Thompson.
Before the Times appeared in its new format, I had already submitted an article which would have appeared last Saturday Nov. 7. It's about the recent big archeological discovery, Ardipithecus ramidus. You can read it at http://physics.uark.edu/hobson/NWAT/09.11.07.html. All my old columns are at my website, http://physics.uark.edu/hobson/.
Cheers - Art
FROM FRAN ALEXANDER
Some of you have asked what the status of my article, and the articles of the other community writers from the Times, will be now since the 2 local newspapers have merged. Below is the answer to that question from Doug Thompson, who is now the editorial page editor for 4 papers-----F'ville, S'dale, B'ville, and Rogers. As he puts it, we community columnists have all been "suspended," and explains that there will be guest editorials on Mondays, but those will be chosen in a hit or miss selection much like how letters to the editor are chosen. Perhaps there will eventually be room for columnists (see #3 below), but as of now nothing is certain in that realm. I can assure you that hours of research, reading, interviewing, attendance at various/ numerous meetings, and writing just for a chance at a hit-or-miss-maybe publication will not make me feel very eager to submit much stuff.
My chief concern about this new development is that this policy may shrink the local community input of voices and views now more than ever. On the other hand, with a variety of guest columnists, it may vastly open up discussion and debate. That remains to be seen. What I believe will definitely be lost if local writers are not used, however, is the consistent reliability and familiarity that readers feel toward certain writers for specific information or entertainment. For example, Art Hobson was definitely the writer to count on to cover global warming and energy issues, just two examples among his vast topics, and Lowell Grisham certainly could be counted on to put his finger in your heart or in your eye, depending on what you needed poking at the moment. Hoyt Purvis covered national and foreign relations stories, and Grady Jim Robinson could be counted on to give us a good giggle or gasp or gulp. We knew these things about these writers before beginning to read their articles, and they are people we see or know in the town we live in. I'd like to think people read my articles because they have some interest in local environmental issues and in some of our local characters, which I occasionally wrote about. I never wanted nor took pay for articles, and as far as I know, the other community writers took nothing or very little for theirs. We, for the most part, are not professional journalists (except Hoyt) and did not pretend to be, but wrote on topics we follow or are involved in. So we worked cheap, to say the least, but newspaper costs money, and one has to respect the economics of that reality. I grew up the daughter of a newspaperman so I know both sides of the business----the making-ends-meet and the putting-the-news-out.
It makes sense that the professionals will have their articles in print regularly since they are the ones putting out the papers, but I maintain that IF the Times is to truly be a local paper, there should be space for local opinion. Although I'm pleased to know John Brummett will be in the paper, occasionally he writes from a Little Rock perspective like he did this week in an article about the Hillcrest pumpkin roll in Little Rock. He is sharp and savvy on state issues that we all need to know about, but a LR pumpkin hardly helps me feel very warm and fuzzy about F'ville. And a couple of times in this first week of the new "Times" (which looks like the Morning News with the Times name only), the letters to the editor have been from Bentonville and Rogers. Today, Sunday, the two editorial pages IN THE FAYETTEVILLE paper (although it is called the NW Ark Times, I'll admit) contained two letters to the editor, one from Bella Vista and one from Springdale. Two of the four editorials with by-lines were from Little Rock (Brummett and Sanders). The editorial "How we see it" on the far left side of the pages was about saluting our troops, certainly a worthy notion but one, I'd think, that belongs more in the Dem Gaz than the local rag because it is more a generalized national topic, which can and should be read all over the state than it is one specifically pertaining to Fayetteville. On Sunday's front page only the far right single column lower index one-liners mentioned Fayetteville in stories on 3A and 4A. It will be hard to have a local paper if we do not insist on having the voices in it be about local citizens and happenings. Sometimes stories in local newspapers are the only recordings we have written down anywhere of items that combine to make the history of a town. Will the archives of the future only contain sporadic mentions of local news and people and events? If so, there will be little information for historians to find out about what we did in this town during our time here.
I have been writing my article twice a month for eleven and a half years and always considered myself very lucky to have the space to say at least some of what I think about various topics. I've tried to walk a tight line because my daddy always warned me, "Whatever you do, stay in print." But, he said that about controlling himself in his own columns, not about my writing, since he wasn't alive by the time I began my column. I haven't really spewed out all the anger and venom I've felt many many times in situations because of his caution so am at least glad if I won't be in print any longer it's not because of some slip-up in my temper or bile-letting opinions, but because of economic and political and who-knows-what-else conditions our world is in right now. I do very seriously worry there will be no environmental writer for the paper(s) at all.
I would like a chance to write a farewell column, at least, but Thompson says final farewells may be premature because there may be column space in some form someday.
To have ANY local news/feature/opinion coverage in a newspaper, we, the readers, will have to demand it-------(believe me on this if you've ever believed anything I've ever said)--------and you all have phones, computers, voices. You don't need guts to have an opinion or to speak or write it because there is very little a newspaper can do to hurt you. You only have to have will.
For the sake of having a local newspaper, I hope you have that.
FROM DOUG THOMPSON
Thanks for your understanding. Here it is:
1. Syndicated columnists (New York Times, etc.) are gone.
2. We're suspending all columns for one month except these:
Zoned columnists: Greg Harton (Fayetteville), Caudle (Springdale), Leeanna Walker (Rogers), Dave Perozek (Bentonville).
The non-zoned columnists will appear on the editorial page on various days of the week. A guest column will appear each Monday.
The zoned columnists will appear in the news sections.
3. We are going to assess, at the end of one month, how much more room we can spare for columnists - if any. Any room will have to come out of news sections, not the editorial page.
We've discussed reserving that possible additional space for the columnists who were contributing to the NWA Times and the Benton County Daily Record on a rotating basis. In short, if they get their column space back they will have to agree to a rotation or schedule.
Sorry for the "plop, there it is" presentation, but that's all of it. You are more than welcome to submit something to the guest column. It won't "count against you" in any way when we make a decision in a month.
I will call you or e-mail you with any new developments. E-mail me back (my address will change soon, I'm told, but it's good for now). By phone, the best way to reach me is to call the Morning News main office in Springdale and ask for me until I get my phone set up. If you are transferred to my phone and get my answering machine. I won't get the message. I don't have a password yet.
That's about it. Sorry again for keeping you waiting.