Publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Walter E. Hussman, Jr., was the guest speaker at the Helena-West Helena Rotary Club meeting held Wednesday, June 6, 2018 at UMAS East.
Hussman Jr., Publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and President and CEO of WEHCO Media, Inc., was named Editor and Publisher of the year in 2008. According to Editor & Publisher, Hussman, a third generation newspaperman, has become a contrarian in an age of newspaper industry conventional wisdom. Rather than shrink circulation, the Democrat-Gazette maintains its ambition to be a statewide newspaper.
Hussman, 71, was a member of the Board of Directors of The Associated Press from 2000-2009 and is Chairman of the P.A.R.K. Foundation, an after school program for at-risk teenagers. Included in Hussman’s many civic activities are his continuing efforts to improve public education and after-school programs in Little Rock and the state of Arkansas. In 2016, he joined the Board of Directors of Pathway to Freedom to assist in its prison ministry and education efforts at the Wrightsville, Arkansas prison.
Hussman was the first recipient of the Frank Mayborn Leadership Award from the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, where he served as president in 2001-2002. He served as chairman or president of the Gladney Society, the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the Anthony School and the Donaghey Foundation. In October 2009 Hussman received University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Distinguished Alumnus Award. On February 10, 2012, Walter Hussman was inducted into the Arkansas Business Hall of Fame.
“Not much changed during the first three decades of my newspaper career,” said Hussman. “A lot has changed in the last 10 or 12 years.”
“In 1980, newspapers, collectively all over the United States, had a little less than one-third of all the ad revenues in the United States,” stated Hussman. “Newspapers pretty well dominated the advertising business. 10 years later, in 1990, Newspapers were still taking in 28%. As recently as 2000, newspapers took in about 22% of all ad revenues. That was still plenty of revenue for newspapers to report news in a complete and way and still supply a pretty decent return on investments. In 2002, things were beginning to change. The Associated Press, owned by the newspapers, began giving away news for free.”
“About that time, hi-speed internet was coming along,” said Hussman. “The iPhone was introduced. Now people could read the news on their laptops and read the news on their phones.”
“Newspapers continued to do pretty well,” said Hussman. “Revenues continued going up until 2006. In 2006 newspaper revenues collectively all over the country started going down. They have now come down every year. Today, newspapers take in less than five percent of all ad revenues in the United States.”
“A study conducted at Harvard University concluded that there are three times in human history there had been a major transformation in deliveries of text, something written down,” said Hussman. “They said the first time that happen was thousands of years ago when there was no language anywhere in the world, everything was done orally. Someone thought it would be good to write things down. The second time, they concluded, was in 1440 that’s when the printing press was invented. Why that was so significant, was that text had been done one letter at a time, usually by Monks.”
“When the printing press came along, the constant replicating texts costs dropped about 99 percent,” said Hussman. “The third time was in the 1990’s when we were all alive. It was not just the creation of the internet, it was the creation of the World-Wide Web. the World-Wide Web was basically the software to use for all of us to easily get on the internet. Now any of us can communicate with anyone else in the world, or everywhere else in the world. The cost to do it was very small.”
“How did newspapers respond to all this change?” stated Hussman. “Our basic business model has been totally disrupted. Not just our newspaper, but all newspapers. Typically 80 percent of newspaper ad revenue and circulation was about 20 percent. It was great. Newspapers could keep their subscription prices really low and that maximized circulation. It was a terrific deal. But when advertising started moving away. In 2006 newspapers collected a little over 27 billion dollars, all over the world. Last year, newspapers collected a little under 12 million dollars, worldwide. They’ve gone down 35 billion dollars, 75 percent since 2006.”
“Newspapers responded by reducing the number of employees,” said Hussman. “We did print newspapers in two places outside Little Rock. Now we only print in Little Rock. Most newspapers have eliminated newspaper circulation in rural areas, where it’s not feasible to deliver newspapers.”
“I think there is tremendous value in having a state-wide newspaper,” said Hussman.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette is working on doing away with mail out newspaper subscriptions and going to digital interactive editions to be sent to subscription holders on ipads. The final newsprint copies of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette delivered to Helena and Phillips County will be July 31, 2018.
Walter Hussman Jr’s father Walter Hussman was publisher of the Camden, Arkansas News, 1949-1981, and grandfather Clyde Palmer was publisher of the Texarkana, Texas, Gazette 1909-1957.