Gannett has sold the Pine Bluff Commercial to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, making it part of the WEHCO Newspapers Inc. empire.
The Pine Bluff Commercial’s final day as a Gannett property will be Monday, Aug. 31, with the Democrat-Gazette publishing the next issue on Tuesday, Sept. 1. According to Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter Hussman Jr., the Commercial will now be printed seven days a week, compared to the five-day schedule (Tuesday-Saturday) it had been following.
Hussman said in a news conference that the Pine Bluff Commercial will be included as part of the Democrat-Gazette’s Arkansas section every day. There will be four pages dedicated to Pine Bluff news, including quorum court meetings, city council news and more.
For the immediate future, there will be print copies of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Pine Bluff Commercial for Commercial subscribers. This will be a temporary arrangement to allow all Pine Bluff subscribers to receive free iPads and training for the digital replica.
“What we’re going to do for the next six to eight weeks is we’re actually going to print a copy of the Democrat-Gazette with the Pine Bluff Commercial in it, and we’re going to deliver it to those subscribers. That’s because it’s going to take us six to eight weeks to finally sit down and meet with every single subscriber,” he said.
After this six to eight week interim period, the print issues will cease, with the exception of the Sunday issue. The Commercial will be included in the Democrat-Gazette’s Sunday issue.
Transitioning the Pine Bluff Commercial into the digital replica model is meant to increase the newspaper’s sustainability. According to Hussman, the Commercial has lost more subscribers in the past five years than it current has and has lost advertising revenue. “This is going to show a model, a path forward for other newspapers to be sustainable and survivable,” he said.
Byron Tate will be taking over as the editor for the newspaper. Previously he served as the editor and publisher for the Commercial from 2010 to 2016. With more than 30 years of journalism experience, he has also served as executive editor of the Southwest Times-Record in Fort Smith and as the president of the Arkansas Press Association’s board of directors.
Tate will be leading a team of four reporters focusing on local news and content. According to Hussman, this staff could be increased if subscriber numbers rise in the future.
“Our goal is to give you something real and truthful, something that holds up to scrutiny. The Pine Bluff Commercial has historically been a newspaper that prides itself on having high journalistic standards and providing readers with first-class local news product – emphasis on local,” Tate said.
The terms of the transaction have not been disclosed. Arkansas Money & Politics reached out to Gannett for more information. According to a WEHCO release, the Commercial will be owned by Pine Bluff Commercial Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of WEHCO Newspapers Inc. Under this arrangement, the subsidiary will pay for and collect advertising revenue, receive all pre-paid subscriptions and honor all existing subscriptions.
A Gannett spokesperson declined to provided additional information on the transaction. However the spokesperson released a company statement.
“As the largest local news publisher in the U.S., Gannett is strongly committed to local journalism and serving businesses throughout all of our communities, and we thank those at the Pine Bluff Commercial for their hard work in helping us stay true to our commitment. We see a great opportunity for Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and for the community to benefit from its interest in Pine Bluff Commercial’s history and relationship with its citizens and wish them success.”
After merging with GateHouse Media in 2019, Gannett became part of the largest newspaper publishing group in the United States. In its most recent SEC filing, Gannett reported revenues of $767 million in the second quarter of 2020, a 89.7 percent increase over the same time in 2019. Of that total, $168.8 million were from digital advertising and marketing services. At the end of the second quarter, Gannett had a cash and cash equivalent balance of $158.6 million.