Columns » Max Brantley

The rest of the news

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New briefs worth further comment:

• Item: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman told a national meeting of editorial writers in Little Rock last week that newspapers were being ruined by providing news free on the Internet. It's a failed business model to give your product away, he said.

Really? Hussman established a monopoly in Little Rock's daily newspaper market by, among other strategies, 1) littering the city with millions of free newspapers once a week for years; 2) “gracing,” or continuing to deliver without payment, thousands of other newspapers on a daily basis, and 3) giving away millions of dollars in free classified advertising under the smart belief that it builds readership and brings other advertisers. He also 1) has started a free weekly newspaper, Sync; 2) has started a free monthly magazine, Arkansas Living, and 3) provides all the news and features in his Northwest Arkansas newspapers for free on the web at nwanews.com.

Think about it. Hussman perfected a print version of Craigslist (free want-ads) years before free on-line ads started playing hell with newspapers. New media models have curbed Hussman's plans to cash in on his print monopoly. He's just tasting a bit of his own bitter medicine.

• Item: The Conway Log Cabin Democrat reported last week that Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker's use of a University of Central Arkansas tent for a campaign fund-raiser at the home of UCA trustee Michael Stanton did not “throw up any red flags” in an Arkansas Ethics Commission advisory opinion. Baker was quoted as being “thrilled” with the opinion.

Further comment: The opinion did not investigate Baker's use of the tent. It only offered general advice, including strong urging that  public officials be cautious about campaign use of public property. If public property is available to all on an equal basis, then it might be legal.

Baker, who didn't pay for the UCA tent until after the Arkansas Times began making inquiries, neglected to mention that there's no record of anybody but Baker's campaign ever renting the tent. Sound equal to you?

The Log Cabin didn't trouble to ask Baker why he couldn't rent a tent elsewhere. It also could have asked about that special UCA housing for Baker's son. It also could have asked about how UCA contributed money to Baker when he was a paid fund-raiser for a foundation headed by a woman Baker was grooming to run for political office.

Red flags? I see them all over.

• Item: Rep. Clark Hall of Marvell led the charge at a legislative committee last week for a back-to-school sales tax holiday. He contends Arkansas retailers are being harmed by similar holidays in surrounding states. National chain retailers — Dillard's, Wal-Mart — have no objections because they get the business wherever the shopper goes.

The they-all-do-it argument seems popular with legislators. But if Arkansans are now flocking out of state for sales tax holiday sales, they need to go back to school.

Take Hall. He'd have to drive about 150 miles for a round-trip to Memphis. The cost of that drive is about $75, including depreciation. You'd have to spend $1,000 or more before your tax savings would recoup the cost. Gas alone for a Ford F-150 would require about $500 in purchases to break even. Competing holidays, if a problem, are primarily an issue in a handful of border cities.

 

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