How the Arkansas Times survived poverty, the Dixie Mafia, the U.S. Supreme Court and Mike Huckabee 

An oral history of the first 40 years.

AN EARLY STAFF MEETING AT THE SHACK: (From left) Alan Leveritt, Margaret Arnold (known today as Mara Leveritt) and David Glenn.

AN EARLY STAFF MEETING AT THE SHACK: (From left) Alan Leveritt, Margaret Arnold (known today as Mara Leveritt) and David Glenn.

What follows is a compilation of quotes from an oral history project initiated by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and phone interviews. Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.

Sept. 5, 1974

First issue.

Alan Leveritt (founder, publisher): We printed the first issue with $200 that I got from Jim Bell, who owned Publisher's Bookshop in Little Rock. The only requirement to work at the Times was that you had a night job or another means of support. I was a taxi driver.

Jim Bell (investor): The investment was a crapshooter's chance. Both Alan and I were very desirous of having the city grow and become a place of intellectual excellence. Alan would drive his taxicab up to the bookstore and come inside, and we'd drink coffee and talk about what could be done.

Alan Leveritt: We thought there was a real lack of investigative reporting being done at the Gazette and the Democrat, so we wanted to get out there and save the world and uncover wrongdoing, and do right. Plus, we were fascinated by the culture of Arkansas.

Mara Leveritt (contributing editor, former associate editor): At first we were the young, real alternative paper when there were two, big competing papers throwing millions and millions of dollars at each other.

Alan Leveritt: The main idea was that there was a group of us out of UALR and we just wanted to write. I got the UALR journalism department to let me use an electronic typewriter that would duplicate a letter over and over, and I sent out a pitch to come start a magazine to journalism schools all over the country.

I got responses from someone in Virginia, New York, Boston and Wisconsin. So I hitchhiked across the country to interview them. I could tell the guy in Virginia really wanted to do it, but his parents were pretty well-to-do and wanted him to be a lawyer. The mother of the girl in Boston really didn't like me, and wouldn't let me spend the night. I convinced the girl to drive me to Walden Pond; we went skinnydipping in it, and I slept in the woods. David Glenn was at NYU. He was really suspicious of me, but I ended up convincing him to come to Arkansas. About five years ago, I got a letter from the guy from Virginia wanting to know whatever happened with the magazine. He was a lawyer in Richmond or something.

OLIVIA MYERS FARRELL: Circa 1985 image

Olivia Myers Farrell (former publisher, sales manager and account executive): We referred to the company as the University of the Arkansas Times. I was out of school for a month, not even a month, I think, when I went to work at Arkansas Times. I remember in the early days, the median age of our staff was 23. We all basically learned the business while we were building it. I got my master's and I think my doctorate in publishing at the Arkansas Times.

Alan Leveritt: A TV station did a story on us after the first issue, and Ira [Hocut], who was then a maintenance supervisor at MM Cohn, saw it and hopped in a cab and came in and volunteered to do paste-up. He must have been the only legally blind production manager in the country. But because he had to get within an inch or so of the articles when he was pasting them up he never made a mistake.

Alan Leveritt: Of course our $200 was gone in two weeks. We lived in the office. We had a little railroad house down on Second Street, and David and I slept in the back. Don Mehlburger was our landlord — sweet man. I was so embarrassed finally I stopped going to explain why I couldn't pay the rent, and he just left us alone. The heat went out in the wintertime, so we had no heat in our office, nor in the house where we lived, and I was too embarrassed to ask Don if he could fix the heat since I wasn't paying rent.

Bill Terry (former editor): I had gotten fired at the Democrat for activities like throwing antique typewriters into wastebaskets and for, in general, not doing right. I came on part time in the fall of 1974 and full time in July 1975 on the terms that I would receive no pay for at least a year and would not be allowed to take a pencil home.

July 1975

Bill Terry becomes editor and Union Station Times becomes Arkansas Times.

Alan Leveritt: Bill was out of work, and I said, "Bill, why don't you be the editor, and I'll be the salesman." I didn't know if I could do anything, but I went down to The Shack barbecue and sold a half-page ad on my first sales call, and I thought, "Shit, I can do this."

Bill Terry: I will never forget that first day at the office. Back then, Alan had one pair of pants, two shirts and a pair of shoes with one sole that flapped. He drove a 1961 black and white Ford that was scarred like a cueball and had tires slick as cannonballs, and he lived in the Terminal Hotel in a $10-a-week room with a warehouse view and neighbors down the hall who went to bed and got up in the morning thinking of muscatel. Alan had come into the office a few minutes before, and it was raining. The door wouldn't shut tight, the rain was blowing in and there were two or three leaks in the roof that splattered on the floor making a sound like a very slow and half-crazy clock. A cat came in, looked around and went back out into the rain. The place was drafty: on the order of driving a car with the windows down, and it had a chain-pull toilet that flushed with a kind of wail and groan that reminded you of a boatload of people sinking. The furniture was what you would call gothic salvage, and included ripped chairs, leaning desks, a table made of unfinished plywood set on concrete blocks and a couple of typewriters with unreadable keys.

Alan got up to shake my hand, and I said, looking around at everything: "We're going to set the world on fire!" It was a way of saying we didn't have a chance, and it seemed like a humorous way to put it. But Alan leaned forward a bit and looked into my eyes, deeper than my mother ever has, and said: "You bet your ass!"

In 1975, Times staffers got wind of the existence of an audiotape made by private investigator Larry Case of a conversation between him and Little Rock Police Department Inspector Kennith D. Pearson, in which Pearson asked Case to plant marijuana in the car of Jim Guy Tucker, who was prosecuting attorney for Pulaski and Perry counties at the time the tape was made and Attorney General when the Times learned of its existence. Arlin Fields, the first Times reporter to draw a salary ($50 a week, drawn from publisher Alan Leveritt's cab fares), tracked down Case.

Alan Leveritt: The good news was that the tape existed. The bad news was that Case wanted $500 for it. That might as well have been $500,000 for us in 1975. So I went to Dixon Bowles, founder of The Group, and I told him the whole story. He said, "Be at the Worthen Bank Branch at Cross Street at 9 a.m. in the morning and just stay in your car." So I pull up in this piece-of-shit Pontiac, and this guy I don't know gets out of his car, walks in the bank, comes out and, as he walks by my car, he just pitches a little envelope in with five $100 bills.

Fields paid Case for the tape and wrote the story. But just before it went to press, Fields showed the story to Tucker, who told him it would only increase interest in rumors of drug use by him that had circulated since he first ran for office in 1970. Tucker threatened to sue the printer if it was published. The printer stopped the press as the Times was printing and told Leveritt he would only start it up again if the Times promises to pay any legal bills he might incur. So Leveritt went to several local civil rights lawyers, who signed a contract saying they would defend the printer for free up to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

Alan Leveritt: So we got the thing printed. The story comes out, the police officer resigns, and Jim Guy Tucker leaves the state for two weeks, so he is not available for comment, and the Gazette runs the story on its front page with all kinds of caveats because they didn't have all the details.

Not long after we published, Case calls Bill Terry and says that a judge who's friendly with the police chief is getting ready to subpoena the tape to erase it, so we needed to get the tape out of our safety deposit box at Worthen Bank.

So Bill and Arlin go down there and walk in with Case to the safe deposit box and get the tape out. As soon as they do, Case grabs the tape, opens his jacket and he's got a pistol, and he says, "Touch me and I'll shoot you," and he walks straight out of the bank with the damn tape and gets in his car. Bill jumps in front of the car and says, "You're not leaving," and Case says, "I'm going to run your ass over." Case starts the car and guns it, and Bill leaps out from in front of the car just in time to avoid getting run over. So there we are. We have no tape, story's out, a lot of people are denying shit although the police officer is gone, so we just waited. Fortunately, no one ever called. That story made people take us seriously.

click to enlarge A SLICK, NUDE DEBUT: The first glossy cover starred Arkansas Arts Center director Townsend Wolfe (center), the magazine's first (and only) nude model and artist Danny Morris image
  • A SLICK, NUDE DEBUT: The first glossy cover starred Arkansas Arts Center director Townsend Wolfe (center), the magazine's first (and only) nude model and artist Danny Morris.

Alan Leveritt: The big newspaper distributor of the day said we were communists and wouldn't distribute us. So I'd gotten attorneys Johnny Bilheimer and Phil Kaplan to loan me money, so I could buy pay boxes distributed around town. At the time we were doing a lot of reporting on organized crime, the Dixie Mafia. And our racks kept disappearing. They found 20 of them down by the river. They had been blown to pieces by high- caliber rifles.

I sat with a crowbar one time in the foyer of TGI Friday's, across the street from The Shack barbecue, and a son a bitch stole one of our boxes right across the street from me!

February 1976

Arkansas Times prints its first glossy cover.

June 21, 1979

An arsonist burns Arkansas Times' office at 1111 Second St. The culprit was never apprehended.

Mara Leveritt: Alan and I were living together at the time and someone banged on the door and said the office was burning. We stepped out on our front porch and we could smell the smoke.

Alan Leveritt: Our offices [had moved to] this big beautiful mansion. We were so proud of it. We were living high. Someone threw something through our picture window, like a Molotov cocktail. The fire chief said it was an accelerant. The fire marshal was asking me all these questions, and I realized, "He thinks I burned this down." Then he asks, "How much insurance did you have?" And I said, "I don't have any insurance." Suddenly I went from being a perp to an idiot.

Mara Leveritt: All the staff who'd showed up at the fire, which was just about everyone, came back to our apartment and we started fixing bacon and eggs and had a big breakfast. There was never ever doubt that we would go on.

Alan Leveritt: We had just gone to the printer that morning. So despite everything, we got the next issue out on time.

Olivia Myers Farrell: I remember climbing on top of Alan's shoulders to go in through a broken window after they put the fire out to try and recover as much of our accounting materials as could be saved. We lost everything really and just started over. We had to ask our advertisers what they owed us, which was hilarious. As far as we know, everybody was very understanding and forthcoming.

click to enlarge DONKEYS AT THE LEDGE: Shortly after this issue hit newsstands, the Times was audited by the state image
  • DONKEYS AT THE LEDGE: Shortly after this issue hit newsstands, the Times was audited by the state.

June 1982

Alan Leveritt: We did an issue on the worst politicians in the state. About three weeks later, the revenue department shows up on our doorstep to audit us for sales tax. We tell them that the law says newspapers don't have to pay sales tax. They say, you're not a newspaper, you're a magazine. They audit us and come up with $10,000 that we owe. That was an existential threat. We were just absolutely sure that this was wrong, so we took it to chancery court. We said that you can't discriminate among publications. We won. Then the state revenue department appealed it to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which upheld the department. Ann Owings, our attorney, said, "I want to take this to the U.S. Supreme Court. I'll do it for free. I'm sure we can win this." And damned if the U.S. Supreme Court didn't agree to hear the case. And she went up there and won it. So we got our $10,000 back.

May 1983

Bob Lancaster becomes editor.

Bob Lancaster: I had a chance to get a real dream job with the New York Times, so I had to decide right then if that was going to be what I was. I finally decided that wasn't what I wanted to do, so I came back here to Arkansas without a job and without much of anything other than two kids to raise. I was here and not doing much of anything. Bill Terry got me to write a piece about the Arkansas diamond mine and the prospect for a big-money diamond industry here, which was a big topic at the time. At that same time, he was about to retire. Alan asked me to become the editor, so I did. It was just a matter of timing.

Mel White (former editor, senior editor): Bill Terry was a talented guy and very quirky and kind of an iconoclast. He liked to shake up the tree. He liked to go after corruption. Bob came in and was a little less interested in politics and more interested in Arkansas culture, Arkansas history and Arkansas traditions. And just good writing for the sake of good writing.

BOB LANCASTER: Turned down the N.Y. Times for the Arkansas Times image
  • BOB LANCASTER: Turned down the N.Y. Times for the Arkansas Times.

Bob Lancaster: I decided to sort of change the character of the magazine from news tabloid journalism to do something that I thought was classy and beautiful. We got some good people to do historical pieces. We got some really good photographers to do photo features. Dee Brown did a lot of stuff for us, and people liked that. We changed it into a sort of semi-literary magazine instead of muckraking and that sort of thing. That worked.

Mara Leveritt: Bob Lancaster has his own place in Arkansas literature that will never be filled by any other voice.

Mike Trimble (former associate editor): I left the Arkansas Gazette to go to the Times. Bob was the editor. He had sent out feelers saying if I ever wanted to take a cut in pay and work longer hours that the Arkansas Times was there for me.

Bob Lancaster: I had a lot of friendly battles with Alan over stuff. The Times was founded as a kind of political manifesto, and Alan wanted to continue to do that. I wasn't much interested in it, so we battled over that.

August 1985

Mel White becomes editor.

Mel White: Bob's a great, great writer. He was wasting a lot of his time doing editor duties. So he didn't get to write as much as everybody wanted him to. We were wasting his talent. So we flipped positions. I became the editor and stopped doing so much writing.

Mike Trimble: We were pretty smart-ass about our Best and Worst of Arkansas issues. One year I said the ugliest building in Arkansas was the Dillard's headquarters. I said it's the biggest mausoleum in Arkansas and the only one with a clock.

Alan Leveritt: Dillard's had three pages of advertising in the magazine then, and they canceled their contract. Maybe we could have done without that, but it was very funny.

I really believe in letting editors edit. I've always said the Times has always had better talent than it could afford. I think one reason that we've always been able to attract such excellent people editorially is that the publisher stayed out of it. If they write something that destroys an advertising contract, I hate that, but it's the way it is. My job is to back them up, to find another source of income, and let them do what they do because ultimately it comes down to the readers. It comes down to journalism. It comes down to stories.

Max Brantley (senior editor, former editor): We've had any number of issues over the years, where things we've written cost us advertising. I've never worked for a publisher or newspaper executive who takes it more in stride than he does. I mean, he hates to lose a customer, but he has never said, "Can't you take it back? Can't you do it differently?"

MIKE TRIMBLE: His joke about Dillard's headquarters cost the Times a major advertising contract image
  • MIKE TRIMBLE: His joke about Dillard's headquarters cost the Times a major advertising contract.

March 1990

Richard Martin becomes editor.

Mike Trimble: The magazine changed. The new editor was a guy named Richard Martin. Apparently, the idea was to goose up the magazine, make it more contemporary and appeal more to younger, hipper readers. I don't know what. Richard had a lot of plans to make the magazine snappier and more relevant. More trend pieces. More 10 best this and more 10 worst that.

Richard Martin (former editor, associate editor): I was in town in '89, and heard that Alan was looking. That was during the Mel White period. It was basically Mel, Mike Trimble and Bob Lancaster, three of the best journalists in Arkansas history. But the place had gotten pretty moribund. They were losing money, and Alan wanted to spice it up and all that. He hired me to kind of come in and shake things up.

Mel's a good friend of mine and he's a great journalist. He's a naturalist by vocation. That's what his passion is, so it was much more of a nature magazine when I came in. My charter was really to take it back and do some of the investigative reporting and bring some new energy. It was successful. We doubled the page count and increased circulation and won a couple of awards.

Mike Trimble: I remember one of the first editorial conferences. Martin said, "We got to get readership up and we are going to do things that you might have thought were beneath us, but we're really going to strive for new readers. So don't be surprised if you see some bodacious ta-tas on the cover in the next few months. Mara was incensed at that remark, and I was just sort of, "Whoa! Don't include me in that, pal!"

Richard Martin: This was my first staff meeting. What I was trying to say was perfectly legitimate. We were kind of planning out issues and this was going to be the May or June issue, on Summer Fashion or whatever. What I was trying to say was, "This is the issue where you put an attractive woman on the cover and you drive newsstand sales." There's nothing mysterious about that. Unfortunately, the way I put it was, totally offhandedly, I said, "You know, on this cover, we need a pair of bodacious ta-tas." To say the least, that was the wrong thing to say in front of Mara. She immediately walked out. That was my first major faux pas as the editor. I think she's finally forgiven me. It took years, but I think she's finally realized that I'm not a sexist pig.

RICHARD MARTIN: Pushed for more investigative reporting and "bodacious ta-tas" image
  • RICHARD MARTIN: Pushed for more investigative reporting and "bodacious ta-tas."

Bob Lancaster: Martin wanted to write stuff for people. He wanted to tell them how to write it and would pretty much change your stuff up. He was a real hands-on editor. I wasn't real proud, but I wasn't going to put up with that. God Almighty! So we had a parting of the ways there.

Richard Martin: In my obituary, I'll be The Guy Who Fired Mike Trimble and Bob Lancaster. That's not completely true. I didn't fire Bob. To Bob, I said, "Bob, here's what I want you to do. I want you to just go hang out at the Capitol and do what you do best. Be our political reporter. Just be the H.L. Mencken of the Arkansas Capitol." He said, "Well, let me think about it." Two days later, he came back and said, "I don't think I can do that." And he quit. Like a week later, he became the political correspondent for the Gazette.

Mike Trimble: Rick Martin and I got along, but I could tell that he thought I was a little hidebound and conservative literarily, not politically, and he thought that I did not write enough stories. And I thought he was a little whiz-bang superficial. We each had a point, but he was in a better position to press his point than I was.

Richard Martin: I love Mike, but he was, like, writing one story every two issues. He was writing six features a year. I said, "Mike, we've gotta have more productivity." It just didn't work out, and this is to my eternal shame. Finally, after a couple of weeks, he came in and said, "So, are you firing me or what?" I said, "Mike, I don't want to fire you, but this is what I've gotta have." It didn't work, so essentially I did fire Mike.

John Brummett (former editor, senior editor, columnist): I came to the Arkansas Times in October of 1990. I came from the Arkansas Gazette, where I was writing a very popular six-days-a-week column. Front page of the Metro state section, a real newsy column.

The Gannett company had made the mistake of inviting me to a planning retreat at the Red Apple Inn that summer, and what I got out of that planning retreat was that we were going down the tubes, and I needed to find something else to do if I wanted to be in journalism in Arkansas. As it happened, Alan Leveritt had previously talked to me about becoming senior editor of both his publications at the time: Arkansas Times, which was a slick monthly magazine, and Arkansas Business, which was this still-young business weekly. I thought, OK, I'll do that.

Richard Martin: The word for me when I took over was "callow." I was wet behind the ears. I did an OK job, but it was clear that the best thing I could do for the magazine was write for it. So [Alan] brought in Brummett as the editor. That was a short-lived, misguided experiment. John is great at some things, but he's not a magazine editor.

John Brummett: I loved being in charge, and I loved the assignment I had from the top, from Alan, to make it more topical. To make it more newsy. He kept telling me about Tina Brown and buzz. And I said, OK, let's buzz this thing up.

We had a first-person cover article about David Pryor writing about his heart attack. I went down to Dallas on the Monday after he won the Super Bowl and did an interview profile with Jerry Jones. We did a piece on John Daly. We were sort of trying to make it a Vanity Fair. Newsy. It was fun.

... Charles Portis called me one day. I knew him from drinking at the Afterthought and the Faded Rose. He said, "You're the editor now?" I said, "Yeah." He said, "You want a piece?"

He had driven along and explored the Ouachita River from its start up in the hills and he just did a cultural thing. He would show up at my desk about every other day to make sure I hadn't changed a letter, and I hadn't. But he wanted to make sure.

click to enlarge MAX BRANTLEY: Took a 60 percent pay cut to join Arkansas Times image
  • MAX BRANTLEY: Took a 60 percent pay cut to join Arkansas Times.

Max Brantley: In 1991, when it became clear that the great Arkansas daily newspaper war was coming to an end, Alan, who I had known since I first came to town in 1973 and who tried to hire me several previous times, came to me and said he wanted to talk to me about going to work at the Times. His then wife, Mara Leveritt, was a chief advocate for converting the monthly magazine to a weekly newspaper, in large measure to fill the hole that was going to be left philosophically by the closure of the Arkansas Gazette, which had a reputation as a progressive newspaper. Alan offered me $25,000 a year. I also had a job offer from what was then another alternative weekly in town, Spectrum. They offered $26,000 a year. I was making about $64,000 at the Arkansas Gazette at the time. I knew it was a seller's market, so I told Alan, "You've got to match Spectrum." So he matched Spectrum at $26,000, and the die was cast.

John Brummett: I don't know who had the idea first — I think Leveritt smartly let me think it was my idea that Max should be the editor and I shouldn't.

Alan Leveritt: I went out and raised $680,000 to convert the monthly magazine into a weekly. We wanted to keep the Gazette's voice alive in the community.

May 7, 1992

Arkansas Times becomes a weekly with Max Brantley as editor.

The Times hired much of the senior editorial staff of the Arkansas Gazette — Jim Bailey, Leslie Newell Peacock, and Doug Smith; columnists Ernest Dumas and Deborah Mathis, and political cartoonist George Fisher.

Max Brantley: You had all these potential readers that you could add to your circulation base who were disaffected daily newspaper readers who were not particularly happy that all they had left was the Arkansas Democrat -Gazette to read. We hired a big staff and we went to work at it and we pretty rapidly over about a three-year period spent all the money up [laughs].

LESLIE NEWELL PEACOCK: Sold copies of the Times election issue on the street with Mara Leveritt (in background) image
  • LESLIE NEWELL PEACOCK: Sold copies of the Times election issue on the street with Mara Leveritt (in background).

Leslie Newell Peacock (managing editor): On election night in 1992, we all stayed up all night and went to all the parties and got pictures of Bill and Hillary. The next morning, Mara and I went around downtown, exhausted and hung over, and hawked papers on the street: "Here's the Times! Get your Times!" Then we went to Clinton headquarters and got James Carville to autograph our own copies.

click to enlarge cover_story2-11.jpg

Max Brantley: It was fortuitous for us really when Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992 because at that point the surviving dominant daily newspaper in Arkansas was the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It did not like Bill Clinton. The editorial page hated Bill Clinton. So there we were, the alternative newspaper really, with more or less the mainstream outlook on Bill Clinton.

I think we were particularly important in writing about abuses by the special prosecutor Kenneth Starr when he operated in Little Rock that helped create an atmosphere in Little Rock that the town was being picked on and being abused and people's lives were being ruined in pursuit of a political vendetta.

click to enlarge STARR-ON-A-STICK: The Times' send-up of the special "persecutor." image
  • STARR-ON-A-STICK: The Times' send-up of the special "persecutor."

Alan Leveritt: During Ken Starr's persecution of Clinton, we made "Starr-On-A-Stick," a funeral fan with his face on it. He was teaching law school in New York at the time, and some of his students heard about it and ordered 100 of them from us. One morning he came into the classroom, and they all raised the fan over their faces. We heard he was not amused.

Alan Leveritt: We were doing 30,000 copies a week selling them, mostly through subscription statewide, which is hard because your advertisers aren't statewide, they're mostly in Little Rock.

We were down to about $20,000 in the bank. I was losing $220,000 in circulation annually, and I talked to the publisher of the Memphis Flyer, who was distributing a free weekly, and he was making money. So we went free, we moved our circulation more into Little Rock, and we bought news racks and suddenly we were visible all over the city. Advertisers started seeing results. We hit the mountain and got the nose back up and started making money again.

Max Brantley: Mike Huckabee once gave me the biggest compliment anybody could ever give somebody. He got really mad at an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter who'd raised a question on some ethical matter that we'd first reported, and he said something to this reporter like, "What, is Max Brantley the puppet master of the Arkansas media? You're just asking this because they wrote about it." To the extent you can ever contribute to the public discourse and the shape of the debate and you hope people come to your point of view, well, it's great.

Leslie Newell Peacock: The funny thing is that though the Huckabee administration wouldn't include us in press notices — we weren't really a paper, see — we covered the Huckster like the dew. We didn't need his OK to publish his gifts from Jennings Osborne or Huckabee's sales to the Mansion gift shop of his own books. One of the great things about the Times is that it's the kind of publication where Max could put at the end of The Week That Was column every week a countdown on how many more days were left in the Huckabee administration.

Mara Leveritt: The Times was wonderful for me. I got to find my way into work that I found that I liked, which was reporting mostly on criminal justice issues. I had a foot in the stories I wrote books about because of reporting I had gotten to do for the Times. I don't know if anyone at the paper got tired of me saying, "Well, I've got something else on West Memphis."

Max Brantley: Philosophically and spiritually I think Mara is the mother of the Arkansas Times and deserves a tremendous amount of credit. She has passion for social justice that really undergirded a lot of what the Times did.

David Koon (associate editor): I went to school at UALR and while I was there I started caring about news and current events. As a teenager growing up in Paron, Ark., you don't really care what's going on, none of it's ever going to matter. The Arkansas Times was handed out on the UALR campus, and I start reading some of the early stuff about the West Memphis Three. Mara's stuff, and I believe I even read Bob Lancaster's original story back when they were convicted.

It all had a resonance for me, because there were 17 people in my graduating class. It's not like there were cliques of weirdos, there was only one weirdo there and it was me. I was the dude wearing the black T-shirt and listening to the crazy music. Reading the stuff about the West Memphis Three you really got a sense that this is another town so small that the weirdos don't have a pack, they just cling to each other. I think I saw a lot of myself in that story. And that was my entree into this idea that A) you can do good journalism in Arkansas, and B) horrible shit happens in the name of the law and justice in this state.

One day I was looking through the Arkansas Times and saw they were looking for a writer, there was just an ad in the back of the paper, and I remembered those West Memphis Three stories. So I applied for it. I was shocked as hell when I got the job. I was so stoked to be here on my first day that I got dressed in the dark. I put on my one suit — which Max later told me made me look like Frankenstein — and came to the office and realized I'd put on two different shoes. They weren't even close. I went into Michael Haddigan's office, and I showed him the shoes, and he said, "You're going to fit in fine, kid."

click to enlarge DAVID KOON: Times inspired him to become a journalist. image
  • Brian Chilson
  • DAVID KOON: Times inspired him to become a journalist.

Max Brantley: I think our biggest value is that we say things that sometimes other people are afraid to say. And I don't expect Arkansas to wake up tomorrow and say, "Gee, you know, Max Brantley has been right all along. We ought to be liberals." But I do think there's a real value in challenging the conventional wisdom.

Oct. 14, 2004

The Arkansas Blog debuts.

Alan Leveritt: Max wanted to get back into the daily newspaper business, and he saw he could do that with a blog. He's absolutely obsessive about it. He starts at 5 a.m. and quits at 10 p.m. Max knows everybody in town and has great contacts, so he knows where all the skeletons are hanging.

Max Brantley: We were an early adopter of blogging in Little Rock, and it served us very well. It was cheap. I just started doing it on top of everything else I was doing. That's kind of the Arkansas Times model: Do more without spending any money to do it.

David Koon: I see this place as a little family. The very few people not withstanding who were complete and utter shitheads, I'm always sad to see people leave here. It's a small enough endeavor that it sort of forms into this family reunion every day at work.

July 2011

Lindsey Millar becomes editor.

Lindsey Millar (editor, former entertainment editor): To a potential hire, I once described the editorial staff as a family, where Max and Leslie were the parents, who know everything, and David Koon, [former entertainment editor] Robert Bell and I were the sons, and Max and Leslie had given me power of attorney to make decisions in case they slipped into their dotage.

But really I became editor in 2011 so Max could "retire" to blogging. That just means he takes a couple more trips than he did before. He still works 60 hours a week or more.

John Brummett: I don't see the news print product every week. But I check the Arkansas Blog an average of a half dozen or more times a day. And it's a tour de force. That's all I can say. For one guy to sit there — and of course I know him because I've seen him do it for decades — but for one guy to sit there and cover as much as he covers. It's wild! It needs to be remembered for some sort of journalism museum some day. It's remarkable.

Lindsey Millar: Several years ago, before the West Memphis Three were freed, we broke the news thanks to Mara's years of reporting on the case. We broke it online on the Arkansas Blog and pushed it out on Facebook and Twitter. We covered the story live from the court proceedings from the blog and then wrapped all of our knowledge from years covering the case, good sourcing and on-the-ground reporting into a cover package. At the end of the week, Max and I talked about it on our weekly podcast. That kind of encapsulates where I think we are as a paper: We have a wealth of institutional knowledge paired with some young, talented writers who've really hustled. We go after stories that, for one reason or another, others ignore. And we use all media available to do our reporting. In fact, we've really gotten into video this year.

Alan Leveritt: I think the future of the Times is very bright. We've got some good people. I think print is going to be around for a long time, and the web is going to become more and more important. But who knows? In 10 years the company might not be recognizable because of new technology. I'm just running as fast as I can to keep up.

Interviewers for UALR's "Arkansas Times: Product of our Experience" were by Courtney Bradford, Anne Frymark, Victoria Garrett, Jessica Goodman, John Jones and Jim Stalling, students in a public history master's program led by Deborah Baldwin. Bill Terry's quotes come from a sixth anniversary edition of Arkansas Times (September 1980).


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