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Newspaper transformation 

Forty-six years ago this week I visited Little Rock in hopes of getting a job at the Arkansas Gazette. Then-Managing Editor Robert Douglas was friendly, but said (with good reason) that I was a little green. Perhaps, he said, I could try the Pine Bluff Commercial to get a little seasoning.

Fate stepped in. My faculty adviser in grad school wrote a letter of recommendation to Gazette City Editor Bill Shelton. He called me with a job offer. And here I am.

I loved being a newspaper reporter. I covered cops, schools and Kiwanis Club speakers. Then I became an editor on the city desk, from which I helped fight and lose the great newspaper war. In the last year of the battle, during the 1990 gubernatorial campaign, I became an accidental columnist, a job I'd never contemplated, because of a staff departure.

About a year later, the war was over and I went to work for the monthly Arkansas Times, which converted to a weekly publication with me as a weekly columnist. And here I am, writing my last column for the weekly print edition of the Arkansas Times, which will revert to a glossy monthly format next month. I'll continue to cover the news on a daily basis through the Arkansas Blog at arktimes.com, a website we plan to expand.

Our move is a product of the changing newspaper business. Google, Facebook, Amazon and the like have disrupted newspaper publishing. Circulation and advertising have dropped precipitously. The future appears to be digital, though profits for that remain elusive for most in the business. We've been more successful than many in attracting paying customers for digital access to the Times, in part because local news sells. I also provide the news with a dose of opinion, as anyone who reads it knows. There's no hidden agenda.

So, if no more birdcages will be lined with paper carrying my words next year, I hope to continue to scatter some pixels around. There's so much to write about. Just last week:

*Diane Zook, a state Board of Education member from Izard County, laid out a breathtaking plan for administrative control of the Little Rock School District. Apparently Education Commissioner Johnny Key, already intent on a pro-charter, anti-teachers-union assault on the district he controls, hasn't been tough enough. I hope no member of the business community steps up to endorse Zook (aunt of a $230,000-a-year lobbyist for Walton charter school interests) as they did in endorsing state removal of the then-black-majority school board. If they do, the Little Rock City Board should end its $300,000 annual corporate welfare payment to the local chamber of commerce and send it up to Izard County instead.

*If the balance of local school power is to shift to Izard County, perhaps the state could expand that planned Interstate 30 concrete gulch through downtown all the way to Melbourne. Speaking of which: Expect more in days ahead about how the state highway department has buried a cheaper alternative to replacing the I-30 river bridge that would improve the lives of people in the city, but, sorry, perhaps not shave a few seconds off white-flight suburban commute time.

*Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge proclaimed victory in the first round of a lawsuit to kill the Affordable Care Act, with its coverage of pre-existing conditions and its requirements for extended family coverage, nondiscrimination against women in premiums, required coverage of birth control, mental health and preventative medicine. In November, she won 60 percent approval of voters who knew, or should have known, that Rutledge was waging this fight to end health insurance coverage, and maybe even the lives, of many Arkansans.

*We already knew the Hutchinson administration wanted to cut health insurance coverage, home health care and transportation for the ailing poor. Savings will help pay for a tax cut for millionaires. Now we also know, thanks to Democrat-Gazette reporting, that the nursing home industry, protected from similar cost-cutting by the state Medicaid reimbursement scheme, had an early hand in drafting the rules that will drive disabled people out of their homes for lack of personal assistance and into the arms of more expensive nursing homes.

You can see I still have plenty to gripe about. If you've only been a print reader, take a look at arktimes.com and consider a subscription for unlimited access. Our future — which means preservation of a point of view in short supply in the dying news industry in Arkansas — depends on it.

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