WEHCO Newspapers, Inc. Acquires Pine Bluff (AR) Commercial from GannettBack to News

Pine Bluff, AR – August 31, 2020 – Gannett has sold the Pine Bluff (AR) Commercial to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and its parent company, WEHCO Newspapers, Inc.

Dirks, Van Essen & April, a media merger and acquisition firm based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, represented Gannett in the transaction. Terms were not disclosed.

The Pine Bluff (AR) Commercial will return to seven day a week publishing as part of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette digital replica edition, effective tomorrow. The newspaper had been printed and mailed five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday.

“We are pleased that the Pine Bluff Commercial, a newspaper with a great legacy and tradition, has found a new home with WEHCO and potentially a sustainable business model for many years to come. We were honored to serve the readers and advertisers in the Pine Bluff market,” said Jay Fogarty, Gannett’s SVP of Corporate Development.

The Pine Bluff Commercial will be included in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Arkansas section in their digital replica edition every day. It will also be included in their print edition delivered to subscribers of the Pine Bluff Commercial on Sundays.

Byron Tate, previously editor and publisher of the Pine Bluff Commercial, will return as editor of the newspaper. He will lead a local staff of reporters covering Pine Bluff news, including city council, school board, quorum court and other meetings as well as other local news of general interest. In addition, the Pine Bluff Commercial will have an editorial page. The newspaper’s editorials won a Pulitzer Prize in 1969 with Paul Greenberg as its editorial page editor.

All Pine Bluff subscribers will receive a letter explaining the conversion to the digital replica, including one-on-one, in-person training with each subscriber along with the free use of an iPad to receive the digital replica every day. As a temporary and interim measure, and until all subscribers can be delivered new iPads, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will include in its print edition the pages of the Pine Bluff Commercial and deliver those to Pine Bluff Commercial subscribers until the conversion is completed. It is estimated the conversion may take 6 to 8 weeks to complete.

The company’s affiliates, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and the El Dorado News-Times have converted from a seven-day print publication to a seven day digital replica of the print edition along with the Sunday newspapers delivered to subscribers.

Walter Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette stated “We are deeply committed to try to find a solution to maintain quality community journalism. We think the digital replica, as well as the core values of serious and objective journalism, is the answer for Pine Bluff. While many newspapers are eliminating some days of publication, we are adding back two days in Pine Bluff so we can cover the news every day.

Due to the collapse of advertising, not just during the COVID-19 pandemic, but over the past 14 years, print publication is no longer economically sustainable. We’ve also learned that while scrolling websites can add convenience and incremental revenue, they have not been able to provide enough revenue to sustain the salaries of reporters and editors necessary to cover the news and provide a quality newspaper reading experience.

We believe delivering to subscribers the exact same format they enjoyed in print in a digital replica on an iPad is not only a substitute, but a better user experience, confirmed by what our readers tell us. They not only get the exact same information in the same place they found it in print, but even more information in a more readable format by being able to enlarge type, as well as additional features like expanded photos, videos and the ability to receive the paper earlier and anywhere.

We think this will provide a solution for Pine Bluff to continue to receive a daily newspaper and cover the news so important to sustaining a community and its progress. The success of the Pine Bluff Commercial will depend on new and former subscribers finding this a better newspaper experience and having a newspaper the people of Pine Bluff will be proud of for its journalistic quality and commitment to the community.”

Gannett is the largest publisher of local news in the U.S. after recently being acquired by New Media Investment Group Inc., which has owned the Pine Bluff Commercial for five years.

WEHCO Newspapers, Inc. and its predecessor newspaper companies were started by Clyde Palmer in 1909 where he was publisher of the Texarkana Gazette, and the company has remained in the same Arkansas family ownership for over 100 years, with his grandson, Walter Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and his great granddaughter, Eliza Hussman Gaines, managing editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The University of North Carolina recently renamed their journalism school the UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media and adopted a statement of core journalism values, which will be published on page two of the Pine Bluff Commercial every day.