Man, what a week.
It starts out Monday (like all great “what a week” stories) with news that the decision was made to shut down the North Little Rock and Lonoke newspapers, both weeklies. I don’t know the hard “look at this spreadsheet” specifics, but we also know that to be in the newspaper business these days is not easy.
The shutdown hurt. It hurt for a lot of reasons, not the least being the editor down there was the one who lined me up for this job. And it hurt, again, because I worked with him and his team every week. And, finally, the guy was a friend of many years, decades even, standing.
More pain: That was the fifth and sixth weekly paper to shut down in Arkansas this year. The Harrisburg Modern News, Gurdon Times and Des Arc White River Journal have also ceased publication in 2018. But then these are modern times. In fact before the week was out we heard of a newspaper serving a major metropolitan area - The Village Voice up in New York City - shutting down.
With that said, one of the things to like about Van Buren County is its ability to keep a newspaper viable (like this newspaper, for example). And for that matter the county’s able to keep several newspapers going - an amazing statistic in these modern times. And say what you will about business in Van Buren County (as an aside, I understand the Van Buren County Democrat, having started back in the later 1800s, is the oldest business in the county) but this business, this paper, keeps going.
The question is “Why?” Other small town papers aren’t able to pull it off, why here?
It comes down to this: This County is pretty good at conversation. Seriously, I have a lot of conversations - it goes with the job, after all - but then I enjoy a good conversation and this is a great county to have one. Stop by the store to get a coffee of whatever, you can have a chat. It can be about the weather, children, armyworms, gas prices, any of that, people are just willing to talk. People ‘round here are flat willing to talk.
Other places, people don’t want to talk. Let me put it another way: I have friends, journalists, and they have a tough time getting in to see people and having useful conversations. I go cruising around Van Buren County, popping into various offices, and sometimes they even offer me coffee! For that matter I’m honestly amazed at what other reporters have to put up with. (One time I went into a small town not very far south of this county, stopping by a police department to get a copy of some reports - a routine task. I was met with the kind of hostility that I thought the guy misunderstood and he thought I was asking for his daughter’s hand in marriage. “You know what? I’ll just submit a request by fax. Have a nice day bye,” as I backed out the door.)
So, yeah, a county that appreciates conversation. But think of what that means, reading this on a page in a newspaper. Words, the words of a newspaper, are a community having a conversation with itself (not my phrase, but repurposed from an Arthur Miller quote about “a nation talking to itself,” about national newspapers). So when it’s all said and done, this is a newspaper in a community which appreciates conversation, and in appreciating conversation has more use for a newspaper than in less, shall we say, conversant environments.
Then some good news came blowing in Wednesday. Newspaper tariffs, which is, to be clear, a tariff being levied on the paper used for producing newspapers, had been dropped by the International Trade Commission (ITC). The tariffs were first announced around the start of the year and were risking, at as much as 32 percent, putting small newspapers out of business. (I’d written a column on this earlier in the year.)
It was a tough week, but things are going to work out.