Arkansas Papers Ask Feds To Approve Joint Venture

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc., publisher of the state’s largest paper, and Stephens Media, owner of The Morning News and weeklies in Arkansas and Missouri, want to merge their Northwest Arkansas properties into a joint venture with equal interests. The two have asked the U.S. Department of Justice for permission, and have been told Stephens must first put the Morning News up for sale. The Democrat-Gazette is owned by Wehco Media, whose CEO Walter Hussman is a leading proponent of online paywalls for newspapers as a way of maintaining print circulation. In a statement, the companies say their Northwest Arkansas properties “have suffered significant financial losses during the current economic recession” and, despite cost cutting, “continue to have significant operating losses.” How it would work:

— The Democrat-Gazette would put its Northwest Arkansas zoned edition in the JV along with Stephens’ Benton County Daily Record, the Morning News (Rogers and Springdale), and Northwest Arkansas Times.
— The newspapers would stay separate. Stephens would run the editorial side of the locals; the Democrat-Gazette would retain control of its editorial, while running advertising, business, production and circulation.
— Covering a newsroom meeting, Arkansas Online reports that Hussman says some competition will continue but the D-G will focus on regional while the locals cover their areas. The locals would be delivered wrapped around the regional paper.

Hussman told the staff: “A lot of towns are struggling to support a single newspaper right now. … Our responsibility is to make sure this economy can support one newspaper. We need to make sure there