Columns » Max Brantley

Arkansas Times 2.0

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This issue of the Arkansas Times marks the 20th anniversary of our conversion of a 17-year-old monthly magazine into a weekly newspaper. I was there for the start, but since last July Lindsey Millar has been editor. Thank him for the smart ideas and writing each week and his collaboration with art director Kai Caddy for the vivid design.

To get quickly to the bottom line: We're still here.

This is no small boast. The newspaper industry has been wracked by declining circulation and ad revenue and loss of readers to other sources of information.

I'd like to say we're still here today solely because of our brains, talent and prize-winning reporting and analysis. But that would be a stretch.

We stood, in the beginning, on the shoulders of a giant newspaper, the Arkansas Gazette. It lost a newspaper war and folded in October 1991, putting me out of work. Times publisher Alan Leveritt and his then-wife Mara Leveritt saw this as an opportunity. The surviving daily Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was neither Democratic in outlook nor remotely like the Gazette. Readers would welcome a competing point of view with a liberal slant, they figured, and they hired me to help them.

We benefitted from the huge talents of former Gazetteers like Ernie Dumas, Bob Lancaster, Doug Smith, Leslie Newell Peacock, Deborah Mathis, Jim Bailey, Bob McCord and George Fisher. (God, I miss cartoonist George Fisher every day. The frackers don't.)

Bill Clinton was running for president in 1992, a help to us because the surviving daily didn't like the state's favorite son much.

For all our brains, our salvation came when we followed the rest of the alternative newspaper industry and stopped charging for the newspaper. Giving it away saved a ton of money in circulation costs. Publisher Leveritt invented new ways every year to generate the ad revenue to support a full-time news staff that — though it never numbered more than single digits — still was larger than those of weeklies in cities with far greater population.

We also were lucky to fail as a major seller of classified advertising. When Craigslist decimated that business for most other newspapers, we had little to lose. We also never wanted or accepted the "escort service" advertising that enriched many alternative weeklies. Good thing. That trade, too, migrated to the Internet.

Speaking of the Internet: Encouraged by Warwick Sabin, one of many talented people we've managed to employ over the years despite modest pay and benefits, we moved early and aggressively to improve our web presence. This included the startup of a blog almost eight years ago. It now brings hundreds of thousands of unique visitors to our website each month. Nearly 10,000 people have registered to post comments.

We aggregate, opinionate and report news. Our four staff blogs focus on Arkansas news, entertainment, food and art. They contribute to a dynamic website that changes every day of the week and most hours of the day, along with our Facebook and Twitter pages. Here's an old-school finding: Nothing attracts readers more than news.

So here we are. Some of the same people who once helped fill columns of hot type with news for the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi are doing the same thing here today. But, unlike May 1992, none of us must wait a week to see our words in print or wait additional hours for carriers to tote words on paper to doorsteps and paper boxes. We can transmit them immediately to the wired planet. For free.

It's amazing to recall we had no e-mail and the Internet existed only in a rudimentary form when we published the first weekly Arkansas Times in May 1992. Imagine what 2032 might hold.

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