Veteran newspaperman Roy Reed knows, thank goodness, how to dig for those oft concealed, quickly uttered gems that come in long, mostly boring interviews.
The results of his reporting handiwork after poring over several hundred hours of oral interviews about the history of the Arkansas Gazette are outstanding.
There are 108 individuals included in Reed's compilation of interviews culled from the archives of the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History. This collection, headquartered at the state's flagship campus, and Reed's work assembling the essence of these separate interviews, brings us the University of Arkansas Press' latest book, “Looking Back at The Arkansas Gazette: An Oral History” ($34.95, hardback).
And what a book this is.
It rivals the late Margaret Smith Ross' comprehensive book on the Arkansas Gazette's history published in 1970s. But Reed's book contains much more than just dates and facts.
In snippets from these oral histories, the human emotions and now-mind-numbing minutia of the tragic sale of the Gazette to the Gannett Corp. flow with an emotional intensity. The sale that killed the paper, to Walter Hussman, publisher of The Arkansas Democrat, is detailed by both Gazette staffers and Hussman himself.
But not all of Reed's work focuses on the newspaper war of the 1980s and early 1990s. The book begins in what Reed calls “the golden years” with such chapters as “Mr. Woodruff's newspaper,” “Old Man, Mr. Heiskell's newspaper,” and even a delightful chapter aptly entitled “Stories: Scoundrels, Heroes, and Lesser Species.”
The book also contains much of the background of the 1957 desegregation crisis and how the Gazette suffered financially for its reporting and progressive editorial stand.
Reed's book brings to light what those of us who miss the Arkansas Gazette and all it stood for continue to say.