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Looking Back at the Arkansas Gazette

An Oral History

Edited by Roy Reed

Publication Year: 2009

With a legendary beginning as a printing press floated up the Arkansas River in 1819, the Arkansas Gazette is inextricably linked with the state’s history, reporting on every major Arkansas event until the paper’s demise in 1991 after a long, bitter, and very public newspaper war. Looking Back at the Arkansas Gazette, knowledgeably and intimately edited by longtime Gazette reporter Roy Reed, comprises interviews from over a hundred former Gazette staffers recalling the stories they reported on and the people they worked with from the late forties to the paper’s end. The result is a nostalgic and justifiably admiring look back at a publication known for its progressive stance in a conservative Southern state, a newspaper that, after winning two Pulitzers for its brave rule-of-law stance during the Little Rock Central High Crisis, was considered one of the country’s greatest. The interviews, collected from archives at the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History at the University of Arkansas, provide fascinating details on renowned editors and reporters such as Harry Ashmore, Orville Henry, and Charles Portis, journalists who wrote daily on Arkansas’s always-colorful politicians, its tragic disasters and sensational crimes, its civil rights crises, Bill Clinton, the Razorbacks sports teams, and much more. Full of humor and little-known details, Looking Back at the Arkansas Gazette is a fascinating remembrance of a great newspaper.

Published by: University of Arkansas Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

The Arkansas Gazette was John Netherland Heiskell’s newspaper for seventy years. He became its editor and one of its principal owners in 1902, at the age of thirty. He relinquished his grip on it in 1972 a few weeks after he turned one hundred, and they buried him in Mount Holly Cemetery. In many...

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The Cast

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pp. xv-xxvii

Following is a brief description of the participants in the Arkansas Gazette oral history who are quoted in this book. They make up only a minority of the hundreds who were employed at the paper from World War II until the paper’s merger with the Arkansas Democrat in 1991. But the group quoted here constitute a strong cross section of the players who occupied the...

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1. Mr. Woodruff’s Newspaper

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pp. 3-4

The Arkansas Gazette was born in a log cabin November 20, 1819, on a bank of the Arkansas River. A local establishment donated a barrel of whiskey to celebrate the event. The first issue carried a complaint from a citizen that the town had too many lawyers.When the paper died 167 years...

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2. The Old Man

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pp. 5-16

Bob Douglas:We didn’t have the same frame of references.We were running a bunch of stories about layoffs once, so he called me in and said, you know, “This isn’t news. We have to be concerned about scaring people here, you know, overplaying these things.” He had a point, of course, but I...

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3. Mr. Heiskell’s Newspaper

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pp. 17-42

The Arkansas Gazette was the state’s newspaper of record for most of two centuries. During its second century, its standards of language, editing, and reporting compared favorably to those of the nation’s best newspapers. Even those readers who disliked its liberal editorial page during its...

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4. Gazette People

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pp. 43-98

In newspaper language, color is material off to one side of the main story. It is information that a reporter uses to add savory to a story, like black pepper on eggs. The occupants of the Arkansas Gazette newsroom were color, a little offbeat and off to one side of the main flow of the town’s citizens. Not one of the...

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5. The Newsroom

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pp. 99-123

The decline of American newspapers began when they put carpet on the floor of a newsroom somewhere. A publisher who had been in too many corporate offices decided that his paper should be spruced up—civilized—and that carpet in the newsroom was a good beginning. The Gazette newsroom in the 1950s had a hardwood floor that predated the memory of everyone except that of the Old Man himself. You could scuff...

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6. Stories [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 124-172

Any day’s Gazette could be counted on for the latest installment in the affairs of the city, the state, the nation, and the world. Sometimes the story was politics or government or the latest doings of Arkansas’s always colorful politicians. Sometimes it was disaster—a tornado or an explosion in a missile silo. Sensational murders occurred with dismaying frequency. Civil rights and the accompanying...

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7. Harry Ashmore

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pp. 173-182

Harry Scott Ashmore was a South Carolinian. His newspaper career began in the 1930s at the Greenville Piedmont and the Greenville News. He left his hometown to work two years at the News in Charlotte, North Carolina, then won a Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University. World War II interrupted in 1942. He served in Europe as an officer with General George Patton’s...

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8. 1957

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pp. 183-198

The Gazette’s biggest story during the last half of the twentieth century was the desegregation crisis at Central High School. The Little Rock School Board, led by Superintendent Virgil Blossom, had proposed to comply with the Supreme Court’s 1954 desegregation decision by moving nine black students from their all-black school to Central in the fall of 1957. On the day they arrived, they were...

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9. Gannett and Be Damned

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pp. 199-223

The Gannett Company, Inc., bought the Gazette in 1986 and promised to respect it and maintain its reputation as one of the nation’s best newspapers. It did neither. Instead, it systematically set about making the oldest paper west of the Mississippi into an imitation of USA Today with its splashy color, tasteless photos, and page one stories designed to titillate instead of inform...

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10. The War

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pp. 224-259

The Arkansas Democrat, an afternoon paper, habitually lagged behind the morning Gazette in circulation, revenue, and reputation during the middle years of the twentieth century. That was typical of afternoon papers around the United States. The evening television news shows had seriously eroded their circulation. Walter Hussman knew the risks of buying a newspaper that was struggling...

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11. The Last Days

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pp. 260-270

The last issue of the Arkansas Gazette was published October 18, 1991. A photograph on page one showed fresh flowers someone had left on the grave of William E. Woodruff in Mount Holly Cemetery. Woodruff published the first issue of the Gazette November 20, 1819, at Arkansas Post. When it died, it was the oldest newspaper west of the...

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12. P.S.

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pp. 271-277

Carrick Patterson: I watched on A&E a biography of Jackie Kennedy the other night, and there was a lot of talk about Camelot and that sort of thing. And what that really meant, I think, was how excited those people were to be there, how really vital they felt, how they felt they were...

Suggestions for Further Reading

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pp. 279


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pp. 281-295

E-ISBN-13: 9781610752497
E-ISBN-10: 161075249X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781557288998
Print-ISBN-10: 1557288992

Page Count: 378
Illustrations: 8 photographs
Publication Year: 2009