By: Mark Fitzgerald
Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and president and CEO of family-owned WEHCO Media Inc., is E&P’s Publisher of the Year, the magazine announced Monday.
In the cover profile of its April issue — available to subscribers online later today at this site — E&P portrays a savvy publisher who prevailed in the legendary Little Rock newspaper war of that raged from the 1970s into the 1990s against two successive rivals who began with big head starts and far deeper pockets. But the owners of the Arkansas Gazette, once the undisputed market-leader, underestimated the 27-year-old who took over the sickly Arkansas Democrat, who introduced such innovations as free classified private-party ads — decades before Craigslist.
“Now, in probably the most perilous period in modern U.S. newspaper history, it appears people are again underestimating Walter Hussman,” the E&P profile says.
For Hussman, a third-generation newspaper man, has become a contrarian in an age of new industry conventional wisdom.
Rather than shrink circulation, the Democrat-Gazette maintains its ambition to be a state-wide paper, even fighting another newspaper with zoned editions for markets 200 miles from Little Rock. He also rejects the mantra that news coverage must be relentlessly “local, local, local.”
In an era when even family-owned papers are giving in to aggressive cost-cutting, Hussman is resisting downsizing either the newshole or the newsroom.
Perhaps most controversially, Hussman also urges fellow publishers to stop giving away news and information on their Web sites. The Democrat-Gazette puts most of its Web content behind a paywall when print circulation began to soften. In the most recent reporting period, the Democrat-Gazette was one of the few metro papers anywhere to actually gain circulation.
Hussman, 61, is past president and chairman of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, a former board member of the Newspaper Association of America and C-SPAN. He is a present board member of The Associated Press.
The E&P profile also describes Hussman’s many civic activities, especially his efforts to improve public education and after-school programs in Little Rock and the state of Arkansas.
Hussman is married to Robena Kendrick Hussman. They have three children, a 22-year-old son Palmer, and 19-year-old twin daughters Olivia and Mary Eliza.