Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, commonly abbreviated locally as the Dem-Gaz , Demgaz, or DemoZet, is a daily newspaper published in Little Rock, Arkansas.

By virtue of one of its predecessors, the Arkansas Gazette (founded in 1819), it claims to be the oldest continuously published newspaper west of the Mississippi River; however, due to interruptions in 1850 and during the Civil War, and especially how the Gazette was merged into the Arkansas Democrat (founded in 1878) in 1991, that claim is disputable. (The Oregonian in Portland, Oregon, continuously published weekly since 1850 and daily since 1861, has a more accurate claim to this distinction.) The original print shop of the Gazette is preserved at the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock.


Early years

The history of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette goes back to the earliest days of territorial Arkansas. William E. Woodruff arrived at the territorial capital at Arkansas Post in late 1819 on a dugout canoe with a second-hand wooden press. He cranked out the first edition of the Arkansas Gazette on 20 November 1819. Early in its history the Gazette scrupulously avoided political involvement or endorsement.

In 1821 the territorial capital was moved to Little Rock, and Woodruff moved his Gazette along with it. The Gazette led the campaign for Arkansas statehood which was accomplished in 1836 and constantly promoted new immigration to the state.

The Gazette supported Texas independence and called for volunteers from Arkansas to assist the Texans and supported the Mexican-American War. In the 1840s Woodruff lost control of the paper and established a competing paper, the Arkansas Democrat (not related to the later Democrat in the present name).

In 1850, after the Gazette had briefly failed under its new owners, Woodruff regained control and combined it with his Democrat as the Arkansas State Gazette and Democrat. Later in the 1850s, under another owner, the name was shortened to the Arkansas State Gazette.

Civil War era

The Gazette struggled through the early Civil War years facing financial problems and shortages of supplies. The Gazette had initially been pro-Union but altered its position after Lincoln's call for troops, much like Arkansas as a whole. (Its secession convention initially voted to remain in the Union, but after Lincoln's call all but Isaac Murphy voted to secede.)

In 1863 Little Rock fell to Union troops and the Gazette suspended publication until May 1865 while Federal authorities used the presses for their own publications.

Competition after the Civil War

During the Reconstruction years a competitor arose called by a variety of names, under a variety of editors, and with several different owners. In 1878 J.N. Smithee bought the newspaper, changed its name to the Arkansas Democrat, and went after lucrative state printing contracts held by the Gazette.

The Gazette and the Democrat engaged in a war of words that soon escalated into an exchange of gunfire between the owner of the Democrat and a part-owner of the Gazette.

Over the years the Gazette and the Democrat supported opposing candidates and took opposite editorial positions. Throughout the simmering battle the Gazette continued to be the dominant state newspaper. The Gazette was owned and edited by John Netherland Heiskell who guided it with a firm hand through most of the twentieth century.

Central High crisis

In 1957 the Gazette took a strong editorial stance against Governor Orval Faubus when he tried to prevent the Little Rock Nine from desegregating Little Rock Central High School in 1957. In 1958 the Gazette was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its stand, and executive editor Harry Ashmore won the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing. Despite its honors the circulation of the Gazette dropped during the crisis due to boycotts, which ended when Ashmore left the paper.

The Democrat took a more segregationist editorial stand, but its photographer Will Counts took several important pictures of the crisis, including a famous picture of Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Nine, being shouted at by an angry white girl, later identified as Hazel Massery; the Associated Press declared it to be one of the top 100 photos of the 20th century. Counts also helped arrange the public reconciliation of Eckford and Massery in 1997.

In more recent times, the current Democrat-Gazette editorial cartoonist, John Deering, and his wife Cathy created a bronze sculpture of the Nine, entitled Testament, on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol.

The newspaper war

In 1974 the Democrat was sold to WEHCO Media Inc., owned by the Hussman family. The publishing duties went to Walter E. Hussman, Jr. At the time of Hussman's arrival the morning Gazette was far in front of the afternoon Democrat. Hussman embarked on a campaign of major cost reductions and concentrating subscription effort on the Little Rock urban market. These efforts had little success and by 1977 Hussman attempted to reach an agreement with the Gazette to combine operations but his overtures were rejected.

Hussman vigorously fought back and was intent on becoming the state's largest newspaper. A war ensued between the two papers. The Democrat expanded its news operation, offered free classified advertisements, and switched from afternoon publication to morning publication.

In 1979 Hussman appointed John Robert Starr to the position of managing editor. The fiery and irascible Starr was photographed squatting atop a Gazette newspaper box with a dagger between his teeth to show his seriousness. Starr doubled the size of the news staff and concentrated on hard news. Under Starr's direction readership increased steadily. During 1980 the Democrat was the fastest growing newspaper in the United States.

The Gazette responded by hiring new staff, going to a color format, and filing a federal antitrust suit against the Democrat in 1984. The suit accused the Hussman enterprises of trying to put the Gazette out of business. The Democrat responded that it was only trying to remain competitive, and that none of its practices were intended to run the Gazette out of business.

A federal jury in the court of U.S. District Judge William R. Overton rendered its verdict on March 26, 1986. The Democrat was found not guilty of all the allegations leveled against it by the Gazette.

The Heiskell family sold the Arkansas Gazette to Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper chain, on Dec. 1, 1986.

Gannett had immense assets with which to fight the Democrat but received criticism for bringing in out-of-town reporters and staff and losing the local feel of the paper. The Gazette, nicknamed the "Old Gray Lady", became flashier but critics complained that the paper had lost the respect of the readership.

Over the next five years the two newspapers dueled. The readership of the Gazette remained steady over that period of time, but the daily readership of the Democrat went from 78,000 to 133,000 and the Sunday readership leapt ahead of the Gazette's 225,000 to achieve 241,000.

Victory of the Democrat

The financial losses of the fiercely contested battle were too much for Gannett to justify. The "Old Gray Lady" published her last edition on 18 October 1991. Gannett sold the Gazette and all of its assets to the Democrat and the next morning, 19 October, the first edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette was published. Most Arkansans, regardless of which paper they subscribed to, were saddened by the sudden loss of their historic newspaper.

Many of the reporters and staff of the more liberal Gazette were thrown out of work and not picked up by the more conservative Democrat-Gazette. Many of these former employees were bitter at Gannett for their management of the newspaper war and angry at the Democrat for achieving victory. Many employees left for other markets while some who remained aided in converting the Arkansas Times from a magazine format to a tabloid newspaper in order to provide a more liberal weekly alternative to the dominant conservative paper.

In the years since, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has maintained a higher circulation than newspapers in similarly sized cities. Many newspapers that defeated in-town rivals concentrated on reducing costs and reduced news coverage to meet their goals. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has continued to balance quality goals with profitability. Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Greenberg was appointed the Democrat-Gazette editorial page editor on April 29, 1992. Griffin Smith, a sixth-generation Arkansan, was appointed Executive Editor on June 23, 1992. Both continue to serve in those positions.


Critics of the Democrat-Gazette continue to argue that the paper is more conservative than its Little Rock subscriber base. The Democrat-Gazette points out that its op-ed pages are open to many different viewpoints and that it accurately reflects its statewide constituency.

In February 2008, State editor Marilyn Mitchell resigned citing a sexist atmosphere at the Democrat-Gazette. In lieu of a resignation, she sent an email to the staff at the newspaper with the subject "Fuck the Glass." In the email, she said: "It's a good ole' boys club...Male editors are allowed to talk about penis size during news meetings...Editors call Hispanics wetbacks in news meetings Editors are proud to call blacks niggers in news stories.


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