Walter Hussman Jr. will retire as publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette by the end of the year, he said Thursday night at the inaugural press freedom gala. Arkansas Press Association at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.
Hussman, 75, went from publishing comics in the Camden News for 25 cents an hour at the age of 10 to founding the Democrat-Gazette, when as editor of the Arkansas Democrat, he purchased the assets of the Arkansas Gazette at the end of the Newspaper Wars in 1991.
He also brought the newspaper into the digital age by reserving the paper’s online articles for subscribers and ending the delivery of print newspapers to households, except on Sundays, in favor of a digital edition delivered on iPad which is provided free of charge to subscribers.
“Now is the time for the next generation,” Hussman said Thursday night.
He didn’t say who the next editor would be, though he said his successor would be named by the end of the year.
His daughter, Eliza Hussman Gaines, is editor of the Democrat-Gazette.
Hussman said he has long believed that no one should be responsible for anything past the age of 75, and that belief influenced his decision to step down.
Although his role as publisher will end this year, Hussman said he will continue to work as chairman of the board of WEHCO Media, Inc., the family business.
He said his journey at the helm of the business began when his father returned from service in World War II with a dream of owning his own newspaper, which led to his purchase of the Camden News.
Along the way, Hussman attended the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Journalism, which now bears his name.
The Hussman family purchased the Democrat in 1974. When the Newspaper Wars ended, the Gannett Co. Inc. closed the Gazette and Little Rock Newspapers Inc. purchased the paper’s assets. Hussman began publishing the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette the next day.
A point of pride in his career, Hussman said, is that he never told editors what news to report or his columnists what opinions to share, even if he disagreed with them.
Among lessons from other mentors, Hussman said he learned from Walmart founder Sam Walton that a successful business should aim to deliver products that are better, cheaper and faster than the competition.
This methodology contributed to their decision to move to a digital daily newspaper format on iPads, which not only saved on printing and distribution costs, but also provided readers with a longer and more more complete.
“And down the road, we hope it pays off for our shareholders as well,” Hussman added, recalling his goal of putting readers first.
He pondered the nature of newspaper publishing, which he believed turned the usual corporate profit and service model on its head.
“It’s an unusual business where you’re supposed to put your customers first and your shareholders last,” Hussman said.
Brothers Brent and Craig Renaud, documentary filmmakers who have covered inequality and conflict at home and abroad for nearly 20 years, were also honored Thursday night.
For Brent, who was killed in Ukraine earlier this year while covering the refugee crisis sparked by the Russian invasion, the honor was posthumous.
The organization also recognized Democrat-Gazette political columnist John Brummett, who, like Hussman, was on hand to receive a medal commemorating 50 years of journalism in Arkansas, as well as Governor Asa Hutchinson and director of athletics Hunter Yurachek. from the University of Arkansas, who were awarded. for their roles in Arkansas newspaper headlines.
Gallery: Arkansas Press Freedom Gala