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Monday, April 30, 2012

Griffin Smith to step down as editor of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Posted By on Mon, Apr 30, 2012 at 2:47 PM

IN THE BEGINNING: Griffin Smith at his hiring announcement in 1992.
  • Dixie Knight
  • IN THE BEGINNING: Griffin Smith at his hiring announcement in 1992.
Hot rumor: Momentous change reportedly being announced in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette newsroom.

Fasten your seatbelts.

UPDATE: Multiple anonymous sources are now reporting that Executive Editor Griffin Smith has announced his resignation, effective tomorrow, and that Managing Editor David Bailey will be taking over supervision of the news department. He announced his resignation, not retirement, at a newsroom meeting attended by Democrat-Gazette Publisher Walter Hussman. No explanation was given for the change.

One staff member said the announcement came with what would be reassuring news for the staff, an end to regular "furloughs" as a cost-saving tool.

Smith has been executive editor of the paper since about July 1, 1992, just shy of 20 years. He's a lawyer and has a background in magazine writing.

According to a brief account on the newspaper website, Smith said it was the "right time" and Hussman said no replacement would be hired for the immediate future. Hussman, according to the account, praised Smith's work. There was no mention of whether Smith's wife, Libby, would continue as newspaper travel editor. According to the D-G account, she learned of his decision when he announced it to the staff. He remarked that she would become the family's main breadwinner.

Also to watch in the future: Whether some of Smith's favorite quirks will be continued under new leadership, notably his rewriting of history pertaining to the Little Rock school crisis to put Orval Faubus in a more favorable light and his insistence that seatbelt use not be mentioned in reports on fatal auto accidents. Could use of the word "vomit" be far behind? And, perish the thought, spokeswomen? And less attention to David O. Dodd's birthday? (UPDATE: I now have the statutory two sources who say don't expect vomit to grace the pages. That, I'm told reliably, is a word the publisher banned.)

The Democrat-Gazette has posted a story on-line that doesn't appear to be behind their pay wall.

I spoke later with new newsroom leader Bailey, 62, who's been at the Democrat-Gazette since 1993. Contrary to what I indicated in first reports from various sources, the appointment wasn't characterized as an interim one. This would follow the pattern of the Hussman-owned Chattanooga paper, where a departing executive editor wasn't replaced and the managing editor assumed newsroom leadership.

He said the end of the one-day-a-month furlough had been under discussion for sometime and was met with warm applause from the staff. "I think things are looking up," he said.

Bailey, who had advance word of the change (and who also didn't tell his wife, but she was out of town), said he wasn't currently contemplating any changes at the paper, but also "wouldn't rule anything out." I asked him about some of the stylistic points on which I've tweaked Smith now and then. He said such matters were low priority at the moment.

"This has been an unusually successful paper because of the way it does things," he said. "I'd have to consider anything very carefully before I changed them."

He said he was excited about the newspaper's prospects, even moreso in recent weeks with reporting and investigating successes by the staff.

I should add: David Bailey returned my call despite what has to have been a fairly busy and momentous afternoon. Griffin Smith never did.

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