Hussman : 'Brave Thinker' | Arkansas Blog

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hussman : 'Brave Thinker'

Posted By on Fri, Oct 16, 2009 at 11:12 AM

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman has made the list of Atlantic's 27 "brave thinkers." The magazine article (which included the illustration shown here) explains:

For more than 150 years, the Atlantic has told the stories of people who commit acts of moral and intellectual bravery by espousing unpopular or controversial positions. ... These are people who are risking careers, reputations, and fortunes to advance ideas that upend an established order.

Hussman, who heads a multi-state newspaper and cable television empire, has gone against the flow by, for the most part, resisting free access to web versions of his newspaper. In a few months, if his deal with Stephens Media is completed to monopolize  print journalism in Washington and Benton counties, a substantial majority of the content of Arkansas daily newspapers will be behind a "pay wall" on the Internet. Atlantic says Hussman was cited because he's refused to give away content and "his newspaper is thriving."

Hussman began charging for online access to his newspaper in 2002—and the paper remains profitable, with circulation higher than a decade ago. Once, he seemed like a lonely holdout against the future. Now, newspapers and magazines that have lowered their firewalls are looking at raising them again, emulating his revolutionary economic strategy of asking customers to pay money for a product.

"Thriving" might be a bit strong. 

Dozens of Hussman's employees have been laid off and many jobs have gone unfilled, with pay freezes and furloughs a fact of life among those remaining. Ad revnue is off sharply. Circulation is also off slightly in recent years in critical areas, such as the core city zone. Newspaper acquisitions and circulation gimmicks in the Northwest Arkansas war zone have helped keep overall numbers up. The size of the paper has been reduced to save newsprint. Subscriptions for on-line content are few and on-line readership for the content that is available free (and there's a growing amount) is a shadow of that experienced by many dailies nationwide. (Hussman says his website complements rather than cannibalizes his print edition.)

But .... for all that, the thinking is that Hussman has done better than many larger papers nationwide. Nobody can say for sure because his family-owned business releases no figures as publicly held media companies do.

Hussman also may be right. In a few years, probably sooner than any of us think, we'll know.

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