Columns » Max Brantley

Happy birthday to us

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The Arkansas Times observes 30 years in business this week and if things had gone according to plan, I wouldn't be here to write about it. I dropped out of grad school in 1973 and landed a reporting job at the Arkansas Gazette thanks to kind words from a Stanford professor, Bill Rivers, who knew the Gazette's city editor, Bill Shelton. I would have been happy to die at the Gazette, had the Gazette not died first. In September 1991, before the Gazette closed, but when its fate was becoming clear, I got a call from Alan Leveritt. He offered me a job at the Times, should I need one. Come mid-October, I did. Shortly after, I was working for the Arkansas Times magazine, but planning for conversion of the monthly to a weekly newspaper the following May. Alan wanted to fill some of the void left by the Gazette's passing. Twelve years later, we're still at it. I had first met Alan soon after arriving in Little Rock in 1973. A UALR student, he worked the "crap desk" (writing obits and news briefs) at the Gazette. He'd started an independent publication on campus, but he dreamed of creating an Arkansas magazine that raked muck, entertained and, importantly, revered all that was Arkansas. It seemed grandiose for Alan's modest station at the time, to tell the truth. But it also smacked appealingly of the then-hot "new journalism." I remember sitting around the Gazette city desk with Alan, reading aloud bits of Tom Wolfe's article on astronauts in Rolling Stone, a piece that would grow into "The Right Stuff." It was writing and it was real, even if it wasn't much like journalism as practiced by the daily newspaper of record. Alan got his little publication started and a funny thing happened. The Gazette wouldn't allow its crap desk man to work for a "competitor." Goodbye crap desk. Alan would drive cabs, frequent low dives, beg, plead, borrow, deliver papers and do just about anything else to keep his little publication alive. I risked my own job by writing an article for the Times under a pseudonym. It wasn't exactly investigative journalism. I ate at every barbecue joint in the Little Rock Yellow Pages and filed an in-depth report. Took the photos, too. Earned the handsome sum of $25 after dunning Alan for months. We're here today - along with a bevy of spin-off publications - in large measure because of Alan's survival skills and unparalleled salesmanship. But to appreciate him, you need to know that it was ideas and journalism that brought him here, not money. When he decided that his skills were better used in sales than writing, it didn't lessen his determination to make a difference with the content of his publication. That explains our staff - larger and more experienced than most alternative weeklies - and the unusual amount of space we devote to editorial content. I know first-hand Alan's fearlessness. Several of the state's biggest advertisers won't do business with us because they don't like what we write. It is the cost of speaking the truth. I've never known a publisher more willing to pay the price. Here's looking at you, Al. Happy 30th.

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