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Arkansans gain ac­cess to wealth of news­pa­pers

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - PROFILES - TOM DIL­LARD Tom Dil­lard is a his­to­rian and re­tired ar­chiv­ist liv­ing near Glen Rose in Hot Spring County — where he reads the Malvern Daily Record. Email him at Ark­

Arkansas his­to­ri­ans were ex­cited to learn re­cently that a grant from the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Hu­man­i­ties will en­able the Arkansas State Ar­chives to dig­i­tize mi­cro­filmed news­pa­pers for place­ment on the In­ter­net. Once posted on the In­ter­net, th­ese news­pa­pers will be search­able, mak­ing them far more eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble for re­searchers.

Lisa Speer, the State Ar­chives di­rec­tor, said the $208,128 grant will en­able the dig­i­ti­za­tion of 100,000 pages of his­toric Arkansas news­pa­pers. The Mis­sis­sippi De­part­ment of Ar­chives and His­tory will pro­vide tech­ni­cal sup­port dur­ing the dig­i­ti­za­tion process.

I de­vel­oped a keen ap­pre­ci­a­tion for news­pa­pers at an early age. I can vividly re­call the Weekly Reader news­pa­pers dis­trib­uted in my ele­men­tary school classes. It was from that sim­ple news­pa­per that I de­vel­oped a fa­mil­iar­ity with ge­og­ra­phy and a love for maps as well as cur­rent events. While in ju­nior high school I made a deal with the school li­brar­ian that I would have first shot at read­ing the news­pa­per in ex­change for walk­ing out to the high­way and re­triev­ing the pa­per each morn­ing be­fore classes be­gan. So, for the next six years, I be­gan my school day by read­ing the Arkansas Gazette, a prac­tice which fol­lowed me to col­lege, and which I ea­gerly fol­low to this very day — al­beit the Gazette of those years is no more.

Many Arkansans have a gen­eral knowl­edge of the Gazette and its founder, Wil­liam E. Woodruff, but that ti­tle was merely one of hun­dreds which have been pub­lished in the state dur­ing the past 198 years. In­deed, the ex­act num­ber of news­pa­pers pub­lished in Arkansas is un­known, but it might have been close to 2,000. The State Ar­chives have nearly 1,800 ti­tles in its col­lec­tions, rep­re­sent­ing an es­ti­mated 20 mil­lion pages. His­to­rian Michael B. Dougan, who has writ­ten an ex­cel­lent his­tory of news­pa­per­ing in Arkansas, es­ti­mates that at least 75 per­cent of the news­pa­per is­sues printed in the state have been lost.

About 200 black-owned news­pa­pers have been pub­lished in Arkansas, go­ing back to 1869 — only four years af­ter the Civil War — when the Arkansas Free­man be­gan pub­li­ca­tion in Lit­tle Rock. The black news­pa­per with the long­est run was un­doubt­edly the Bap­tist Van­guard — the of­fi­cial voice of black Bap­tists in Arkansas — which was es­tab­lished in 1882 and which still ex­ists, al­though it is a news­let­ter th­ese days. Very few of the early black news­pa­pers have been pre­served.

Arkansas was also home to a few Ger­man lan­guage news­pa­pers. The Arkansas Staats Zeitung and the Arkansas Echo were both pub­lished in Lit­tle Rock and were fierce com­peti­tors — the ed­i­tors en­gag­ing in fisticuffs in 1892, leav­ing one ed­i­tor with “a black eye, a pair of ben­e­fi­cial kicks to the ribs, and a box­ing of the ears …” Among the other Ger­man lan­guage news­pa­pers pub­lished in Arkansas were the Arkansas Volks­blatt of Fort Smith, and Der Lo­gan County Anzeiger pub­lished at Paris, Ark.

Al­most ev­ery town in the state had a news­pa­per, al­though many folded af­ter only a few is­sues. Ac­cord­ing to Michael Dougan, Car­roll County in north­ern Arkansas, was home to “over 40” news­pa­pers dur­ing its his­tory, while Ben­ton County had a stag­ger­ing 55 news­pa­pers.

While most news­pa­pers pub­lished in Arkansas to­day are owned by cor­po­ra­tions, this was not the case in the past. Great news­pa­pers usu­ally evolved from the sus­tained hard work of own­ers and ed­i­tors. For ex­am­ple, the Sadler fam­ily was the sus­tain­ing force for gen­er­a­tions be­hind the Cleve­land County Her­ald in Ri­son. The Park fam­ily kept the ven­er­a­ble Van Buren Press Argus prof­itable for decades.

Most of the early news­pa­pers in Arkansas were fiercely par­ti­san. Demo­cratic news­pa­pers pre­dom­i­nated, but Whigs were not shy when it came to telling their story in print. Al­bert Pike was the best known Whig ed­i­tor, but fel­low Whig ed­i­tor C.F.M. Noland of the Batesville Ea­gle gained no­to­ri­ety when he killed the nephew of Demo­cratic Gov. John Pope in an 1831 duel.

Among the few news­pa­per­men who tried to avoid par­ti­san pol­i­tics was Wil­liam M. Que­sen­bury, gen­er­ally known as “Bill Cush,” who founded the South­west In­de­pen­dent in Fayetteville. Cush, who was born in Arkansas, pos­sessed many tal­ents — in­clud­ing the abil­ity to draw. His draw­ings were among the early car­toons to il­lus­trate Arkansas news­pa­pers.

Women have played a ma­jor role in Arkansas jour­nal­ism his­tory. Mary W. Lough­bor­ough of Lit­tle Rock es­tab­lished the Arkansas Ladies Jour­nal in 1884, the first Arkansas pe­ri­od­i­cal de­voted to women’s is­sues. Fe­male jour­nal­ists, ed­i­tors and pub­lish­ers grew numer­ous dur­ing the 20th cen­tury. Maud Duncan, pub­lisher of the Winslow Amer­i­can from 1918 to 1958, was known as “the lit­tle printer of the Ozarks” due to her weigh­ing only 80 pounds.

Eastern Arkansas seemed to be es­pe­cially en­dowed with renowned news­pa­per­women — such as Dorothy Stuck of the Marked Tree Tribune, Mar­garet Wool­folk of the Crit­ten­den County Times and Es­ther Bin­dursky, ed­i­tor of the Lepanto News Record for 34 years. Char­lotte Schex­nay­der of the Du­mas Clar­ion was the first fe­male pres­i­dent of the Arkansas Press As­so­ci­a­tion — as well as the first fe­male pres­i­dent of the Na­tional News­pa­per As­so­ci­a­tion.

Two of the news­pa­pers I hope the State Ar­chives will dig­i­tize are the ones pro­duced by the de­tainees at the Ja­panese Re­lo­ca­tion Camps in south­east­ern Arkansas dur­ing World War II. Both pa­pers, the Tribune pub­lished by pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ist Paul Yokota at the Jerome camp, and the Out­look at the Ro­hwer camp, edited by school teacher Barry Saiki, were re­plete with sports pages.

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