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Smith leaves, restaurants lose

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KATV mainstay Pamela Smith is leaving the station at the end of the month to become the Little Rock School District's director of communications. As weekend anchor for more than a decade, she's been a familiar face to KATV viewers, who'll no doubt miss her steadiness. But one group in particular that's bound to be especially bummed by Smith's departure? Restaurant owners.

Since 2009, Smith's selection of a restaurant for her weekly "Pam's Picks" dining feature has been like Oprah picking a book for her bookclub once was — a guarantee of a significant sales bump. Big Orange, the popular West Little Rock burger joint, set a sales record the week it was featured. Owners of Brown Sugar Bakery and Stickyz, both in the River Market and both featured on "Pam's Picks" last year, also told me they got big boosts after their segments, particularly from first-time customers outside of Central Arkansas.

The popularity of "Pam's Picks," which airs at 5:15 p.m. on Wednesdays and often on "Saturday Daybreak," is fairly obvious. People love to look at footage of food. Moreover, while most local media only cover food with reviews, news and recipes, Smith's segments are decidedly more narrative driven. Over four or five minutes, a typical "Pam's Pick" fits in interviews with chefs and customers, an extended look behind the scenes in the kitchen, shots of much of the menu on the plate and a quick review. All the cheesy local news tropes are there — too much stock footage, interviews with "real people" who have nothing to say, forced studio patter — but "Pam's Picks" still manages to offer a more complete sense of the restaurant experience than just about any other local media.

The series came naturally, Smith said. She's a foodie. "Until recently, I had well over 2,000 pictures of food on my phone. When I go on vacation, that's what I do. I chat with chefs or servers and I videotape it. I have an adult son. When we go out to eat, and I'm chatting with folks, he always says, 'Mom, do you really have to do that?' "

Smith, who also operates a "Pam's Picks" blog (katvpamspicks.blogspot.com) and a Facebook page, said she wants to figure out a way to keep the series going, but doesn't know how it will fit with her new schedule. Her last day at KATV is March 30. See "Pam's Picks" videos at arktimes.com/pam.

As the Times gears up for several anniversaries on the horizon — in May it'll be 20 years since we first became a weekly and our 40th anniversary is coming in 2014 — we're making a concerted push to digitize our considerable archive. You can already see a scattershot sampling of our efforts at Old Times, our new Tumblr site (oldarktimes.tumblr.com.), where daily we're posting interesting odds and ends from our back pages. So far, that includes a picture of the cover of our first issue in 1974, an excerpt from a 1979 article on Lucinda Williams that describes her three-night stand at White Water Tavern, and a cover story on Nolan Richardson after he won the national championship. We've also just enabled the Timeline feature on our Facebook page, facebook.com/arkansastimes, where you can see more archival images and read about the history of Arkansas Times.

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