NW Ark. newspaper war over | Arkansas Blog

Monday, October 26, 2009

NW Ark. newspaper war over

Posted By on Mon, Oct 26, 2009 at 6:13 PM

An e-mail bulletin from the Democrat-Gazette says the merger of the D-G Northwest Arkansas editions and the Morning News has been approved by the Justice Department and the merger will be accomplished Sunday.

Here's the story so far in the Morning News. Jobs? Still uncertain.

Employees of the two companies have been sent notification under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which says their jobs will be eliminated on or about Oct. 31. However, all have or will be given the opportunity to apply for jobs with the new company.

Tom Stallbaumer, publisher of The Morning News, will remain publisher for the daily and weekly newspapers other than the Northwest Edition of the Democrat-Gazette. Jeff Jeffus, a vice president with Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc., who has been running the Democrat-Gazette operations in Northwest Arkansas, will continue in that role in addition to being president of the new company.

Stephens Media will control editorial functions of all of the newspapers other than the Democrat-Gazette Northwest Edition, and the Arkansas Democrat Gazette will control business office, advertising, and production aspects.

Rusty Turner, editor of The Morning News, will continue in that role, but his duties will expand to include the daily and weekly papers other than the Northwest Edition of the Democrat-Gazette. Susan Scantlin will remain editor of that edition.

Quote from Jeffus, new NWA newspaper czar: “I think this is in the best interests of both companies, and our readers and advertisers, too. We were both losing millions of dollars. You had to have a model that would succeed.”

This is, of course, balderdash. It's in the best interests only of the billionaire owners of the papers, who now can run a vertically integrated print monopoly -- daily, weekly, free alternative, Latino, important Hog publications -- in two prosperous counties without competition for ad dollars or circulation and without duplication of jobs   (More than 500 people have been employed to put out newspapers with combined circulation, counting substantial duplication, of 80,000 or so.) Competition for news? Dead.

What's going to happen is that Stephens executives will control content of locally oriented newspapers, zoned to the four major cities in Washington and Benton counties -- Fayetteville, Rogers, Springdale, Bentonville -- and they will wrap around a regional version of the D-G. Many D-G employees will remain in place for that newspaper's freestanding operation (presumably including some familiar columnists.) The D-G controls the dough. From a strictly business point of view, which would you rather control?

UPDATE: Dennis Byrd, who oversees Stephens Media newspapers in Central Arkansas the Little Rock news bureau that covers the Capitol says of the bureau: "We are still a Stephens Media operation. The "local" papers in NWA will still be getting anything we produce." The bureau will continue to supply material to the local papers and to others, such as the Arkansas Times, that buy syndicated services.

The D-G version of the story says about workers:

Under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, letters were delivered Monday to all staff at the merged companies, telling them their jobs will be eliminated on or about Oct. 31. An unspecified number of those employees will be immediately hired by Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.

Tom Stallbaumer, publisher of The Morning News and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers, said all staff members who aren’t hired by the new company should be notified of that decision by Saturday.

Staff who aren’t hired by Northwest Arkansas Newspapers will be paid severance based on the amount they normally earn in a two-month period. Some employees will be paid more severance, depending on how long they have worked for the newspapers. Some employees may be asked to work during that time. Others won't.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Inc. has 369 employees in Northwest Arkansas, including 101 who are part time. Stephens Media has 188 full- and part-time employees in Northwest Arkansas.

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