The past year — particularly the past three months — saw dramatic change in the landscape of the northwest Arkansas newspaper war.
In August, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette announced that it had entered into an “alliance” with Community Publishers Inc., which owns the Northwest Arkansas Times of Fayetteville and the Benton County Daily Record of Bentonville.
Donrey Media Group — still trying to work out the kinks after launching four zoned editions of The Morning News in July — responded in November by buying Ozark Newspapers Inc., which owned three Washington County weeklies.
The commotion means there’s one less competitor in one of the nation’s most competitive newspaper climates: the Walton family of Bentonville. This is no minor change. The Waltons are the richest family in the United States and possibly the world. James Walton, primary owner of CPI, has signed a truce with Walter Hussman, owner of the D-G.
Hussman is now fighting only one heavyweight contender: the Stephens family of Little Rock, which owns Donrey and one of the largest investment banking firms off Wall Street — Stephens Inc. With the alliance in place, Hussman and Stephens effectively control all the daily and weekly paid-circulation newspapers in Washington and Benton counties.
With the dust still floating in the air, The Morning News, Donrey’s primary property in Northwest Arkansas, has pretty much held onto its circulation base of 35,000.
Our list of newspapers shows the D-G’s statewide circulation (which has dropped slightly), but the more telling picture is circulation in the four counties of Northwest Arkansas: Washington, Benton, Carroll and Madison. Both the Times and Daily Record showed solid gains from 1999 to 2000. But when their circulation is combined with that of the D-G under the new alliance, the combined product rivals The Morning News in circulation.
As of Oct. 1, in the four-county area, the alliance newspapers had an “unduplicated, merged circulation” of 34,405 daily and 46,225 on Sunday, said John Burnett, circulation director for the alliance. Those numbers haven’t been audited.
If you’re confused about all those newspapers showing up at your door and haven’t figured it out yet, here’s what’s going on. The Fayetteville and Bentonville newspapers are now delivered automatically with the D-G to D-G subscribers in Washington and Benton counties, and the D-G is delivered along with the Times and Daily Record to subscribers of those newspapers. In the deal, CPI’s six weekly newspapers in Benton County have also fallen under D-G jurisdiction but aren’t being delivered in combination with any other newspapers.
The alliance is unusual, and there’s been no legal challenge from Donrey. Had Hussman attempted to buy the Times and Daily Record outright, the story would likely be different.
In the area’s broadcast media market, KFSM, Channel 5, based in Fort Smith and Fayetteville, still leads the television competition with the highest Nielsen rating for the dominant market area, which includes eight counties in Arkansas and two in Oklahoma.
KHBS/KHOG, Channels 29/40, was close behind and usually leads within the Washington/Benton county area, which has younger viewers on average than the Fort Smith area.
NBC 24/51 relaunched its newscast in Fayetteville and Fort Smith after closing it down in 1992. It’s too early to tell, however, from the Nielsen ratings if the $5 million investment by station owner John Griffin of Muskogee, Okla., is paying off. Sign-on/sign-off numbers indicate an average of viewers watching the station throughout the day, not just during the time of the local newscasts.
Although there was some shuffling in our radio list this year, KKIX-FM stayed on top with a 16.1 share of viewers between the ages of 25 and 54. KKIX and the No. 2 station on our list, KJEM-FM, are owned by Clear Channel Communications Inc. of Texas and are part of what is known as Radio Central.