Daily newspapers aren’t what they used to be. They are thinner, with less news and advertising, and just plain don’t cover the news as they once did. Today most daily newspapers only cover a small geographic area close to their main city. In Gwinnett, we now see the pitiful coverage which both the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Gwinnett Daily Post offer.
Unfortunately, the impact of the Internet has drastically reduced daily newspapers to the point that at best, they are marginally profitable. Small daily and weekly newspaper have not seen their quality diminish as much, and most of these are still profitable.
What makes all this so bad is that newspapers once provided the basic information people needed to be good, informed citizens in our republic. The declining quality of newspapers means that not as much useful and necessary information is available for our citizens, threatening our nation’s ability for voters to be informed.
Yet not all newspapers are doing poorly. There are a few newspapers that have forward-thinking and creative publishers who have taken steps to insure their newspaper’s long term viability. One of those persons is Walter Hussman Jr. of Little Rock, Ark. Read today’s accompanying article below about how Mr. Hussman has thought through a dilemma and improved his newspaper and the state of democracy in his state at the same time, and to remain profitable and in business.
Mr. Hussman and his family have been thinking outside the box in the newspaper industry for years. The family owned a small group of Arkansas newspapers when I visited one of those newspapers in Hot Springs, Ark., about 25 years ago. A newspaper publisher from Newnan and I, while attending a National Newspaper Association meeting in Hot Springs, visited his plant. What we found astounded us. Expecting to see a sleepy operation in an out-of-the-way town, turned into us finding and exciting new venture in one of the most modern newspaper plants we had ever seen. They were years ahead of other newspapers in technology.
In 1998, Mr. Hussman bought the afternoon Chattanooga Free Press, in competition with the stronger morning Chattanooga Times, run by the sister of the New York Times publisher. The following year, Mr. Hussman had the upper hand, and eventually bought out the Times in Chattanooga. Today it is a healthy newspaper, Chattanooga Times Free Press.
A similar thing happened in Little Rock, where the Hussmans had owned The Arkansas Democrat since 1974, an evening paper against the stronger morning and well-established Arkansas Gazette. Charging hard at the Gazette, Mr. Hussman offered free want ads in many categories, and adopted several up-front activities that eventually had the long-time Gazette owners looking forward to selling out to the Hussmans. In 1986, the Gazette was sold to the Gannett newspaper conglomerate. After a five year newspaper battle, in 1991 the Gazettesold to the Hussmans.
It was the same old adage: better management through forward thinking and a willingness to try something different, which made the significant difference. That’s the way the Hussmans have run their operations over the years. And Mr. Hussman’s changes have resulted that his Little Rock newspaper has a statewide readership of informed citizens, good for democracy in Arkansas.
Read Mr. Hussman’s explanation in “A letter to subscribers” and see the innovations that the Little Rock newspapers have adopted today. If other daily newspaper publishers are smart, they’ll adopt some of the Hussman tactics, see their newspapers be of higher quality and profitable, and greatly improve their overall community. That’s good for any community, and for democracy, too.
Editor's Note: This story first appeared at the GwinnettForum.com.
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