May 5, 2017
In 1974, Alan Leveritt and a few friends launched the Arkansas Times, an alternative monthly magazine that provided political and cultural news to the state. Leveritt had gotten his start in the media business during his college days in the early 1970s at Little Rock University, now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR). He founded and operated an independent student newspaper, Essence. On its editorial page, Essence supported Leveritt’s personal politics, which embraced the ideas of libertarianism and the Young Americans for Freedom party. Using a $200 donation from a local bookstore, Leveritt and his associates published the first edition of the Union Station Times on September 5, 1974, so named because it was headquartered near Union Station in Little Rock. In July 1975, the name of the monthly publication was changed to Arkansas Times.
The Times is now weekly published each Wednesday, continuing with the same mission. Leveritt’s goal for the Arkansas Times was to establish a second newspaper following the newspaper war between the Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat that resulted in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. “I went out and raised $680,000 to convert the monthly magazine into a weekly,” Leveritt recalled in an article that appeared in the fortieth-anniversary edition of the Arkansas Times in September 2014. “We wanted to keep the Gazette’s voice alive in the community.”
In the summer of 2013, the Times introduced digital membership, putting its four blogs — the Arkansas Blog, Eat Arkansas, Eye Candy and Rock Candy — behind a pay wall. The company also publishes El Latino, a weekly Spanish newspaper serving the Hispanic/Latino community; Arkansas Food and Farm, a magazine published twice during growing season; and Savvy Kids, a monthly magazine for central Arkansas families.
In January 2017, the Times launched the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network (ANNN), which is—according to Times editor Lindsey Millar—a “nonpartisan news project dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans.” The ANNN seeks to publish and broadcast deep examinations of crucial topics and develop major investigative series. The publication’s crowd-funded work exploring the ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline rupture in Mayflower (Faulkner County) in 2013 and investigating the state child welfare system in 2015 serves as a model for the ANNN.
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[0:00:09.1] T: Welcome to Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Be sure to stay tuned till the end of the show to hear how you can get a copy of this program and other helpful documents. Now, it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[0:00:23.5] KM: Thank you, Tim. I’m Kerry McCoy, and like Tim said, it's time for me to get all up in your business. For the next hour, my guest, Alan Leveritt, founder and publisher of the Arkansas Times Magazine, and I will, be getting up in the business of how we maneuvered the path of entrepreneurship in pursuit of our dreams.
I started my company; Arkansas Flag & Banner over 40 years ago. During the last four decades, Arkansas Flag & Banner has grown and morphed from door-to-door sales, to telemarketing, to mail order and catalog sales, and now relies heavily on the internet. Each change and sales strategy required a change in company, thinking, and procedures. My wisdom, confidence, and my company grew. My initial $400 investment now produces nearly 4 million in annual sales.
Each week you will hear a candid conversation between me and my guest about real-world experiences on a variety of businesses and topics that I hope you’ll find interesting starting. Starting and owning a business is like so many things, it takes persistence, perseverance, and patience.
I worked part-time jobs for nine years before Arkansas Flag & Banner grew enough to support just me. It’s now grown and expanded so much that to operate efficiently we require — Are you ready? A purchasing, manufacturing, shipping, graphics, technology, accounting, marketing, sales and customer service department, plus a retail store. 25 people make their living from working at Arkansas Flag & Banner.
My guest today Alan Leveritt, who, in 1974, with a few friends, launched the Arkansas Times, an alternative monthly magazine about political and cultural news in Arkansas following the 13-year war between the two newspapers; Arkansas Gazette and Arkansas Democrat, which resulted in the closing of the Gazette in 1991 and the renaming of Democrat to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Allen decided it was time to take his Arkansas Times monthly newspaper to a weekly publication.
Alan said, and I quote, “We wanted to keep the Gazette’s voice alive in the community.” Alan’s company also publishes El Latino, a weekly Spanish newspaper serving the Hispanic Latino community. Arkansas Food & Farm, a magazine published twice during the growing season; and Savvy Kids, a monthly magazine for central Arkansas families.
In January of this year, the Times launch the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, ANNN, which is according to Times editor; Lindsay Millar, a nonpartisan news project dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansas.
Last but not least, when Alan is not trying to change the world, he is a second-generation former or third?
[0:03:12.0] AL: Third.
[0:03:12.7] KM: Third-generation farmer. Welcome to the table, the super ambition; Alan Leveritt. Hey, Alan.
[0:03:18.1] AL: Good afternoon, Kerry. I’m glad to be here.
[0:03:20.5] KM: Thank you for coming. You’re a rock star. When I told everyone around here about you being here, they’re like, “What?” You have these people that really love you or really don’t. That’s kind of like me, isn’t it?
Is the Times a magazine or a newspaper, and what’s the difference?
[0:03:32.3] AL: The Times, I guess, I’d have to say is a newspaper because the Times is much much more current than — We were a monthly magazine for 17 years. As a monthly, we could sort of stand back and write for a little more about perspective. The times is right in the middle of what’s going on in terms of politics, in terms of culture, in terms of weekly music, loud music, entertainment, dining. I would have to say that it’s much more of a newspaper than it was years ago.
[0:04:01.7] KM: What’s the difference between a magazine and a newspaper? The spine? Because they fold differently, don’t they?
[0:04:06.3] AL: No, but a magazine could be — The magazine is going to be, first of all, graphically. You got more time. You can plan out. It’s going to be less on breaking news. We’re very very oriented towards breaking news.
Several years ago there was briefly an outbreak of violence on 12 Street. I forgot the — What was it? Shooting. Anyway, there was a riot. In 24 hours, that was our cover story. Whereas if it had been a magazine, that’d have been two months later. We’re covering the legislature, we have people out at the legislature. Max Brantley with the Arkansas Blog, arkansastimes.com, his blog is he’ll do 20 post a day.
[0:04:47.7] KM: What?
[0:04:48.5] AL: Yeah. He’ll be sitting there watching the loud feed of legislature on the debates and everything, plus he knows where everybody is buried in the State of Arkansas, so he can bring that 50 years of experience as a working journalist his knowledge with the legislature and technology and deliver really good insightful —
[0:05:09.3] KM: Does anybody else do that? Do blogs, 20 blogs a day from the legislature? Is he the only one?
[0:05:13.5] AL: No one’s doing that right now in this market and no one does it as persistently as Max does.
[0:05:20.1] KM: That’s wonderful.
[0:05:20.8] AL: Yeah, so it’s really good. If you’re interested in breaking news and breaking news from a really really informed left-center perspective, Max at arkansastimes.com, the Arkansas Blog is the place to go.
[0:05:32.9] KM: Is that free to be on the Arkansas Times?
[0:05:34.5] AL: Everything at the Arkansas Times is free except the Arkansas Blog, and the Arkansas Blog is a meter, it has a metered pay wall. You can go there 10 times a month free of charge, and then we cut you off. Because we try to always deliver to doors and as you said, technology is changing. We are trying to find new advertising revenues and new revenue streams and what we found is that we need to be —
[0:06:01.7] KM: You need money.
[0:06:02.9] AL: We need money, yeah.
[0:06:04.1] KM: Technology is expensive.
[0:06:05.5] AL: People are expensive. People like Max who have the experience and the knowledge and the knowhow, I’ve got to pay them. Readers have got to step up and help pay that bill too not just advertisers anymore.
[0:06:18.1] KM: Yeah. The Arkansas Times is free. It’s everywhere. You can pick it up everywhere. You can’t make money off of that. It’s not like the newspaper where you have a subscription. There’s no subscription.
[0:06:18.1] AL: In the Arkansas Times, we joke internally. We’re aspirationally profitable. The Arkansas Times sells advertising. We sell a lot of advertising. Plus, we do other things. Like you said, El Latino, we do Arkansas Wile Magazine, which is eight times a year. It’s a statewide. We do two bike magazines a year, four Arkansas Wild Magazines a year. We do Paddle Magazine once a year. We have a lot of things.
[0:06:49.6] KM: How many employees do you have?
[0:06:50.9] AL: We have 35.
[0:06:52.3] KM: How many freelance people do you have?
[0:06:54.2] AL: A few. We use some freelance. We rely on — On the Arkansas Times, we’re probably 80% staff-written. We’ve got seven full-time staff members at the Times. This has been a rough time for newspaper all over the United States. The Democrats has had a layoff — Gosh! I don’t know, 15, 20 reporters since January. We have been able to avoid that, but it’s been very, very difficult.
[0:07:20.7] KM: How many words in a day do you read?
[0:07:23.2] AL: I don’t know. I don’t read as much as I need to.
[0:07:28.1] KM: Oh! I cannot even imagine. Let’s talk about how you get started. For all the people that are young and are trying to get started and admiring you. I read you started your media career in college. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
[0:07:41.1] AL: Actually, I started a newspaper at North Little Rock High School called Essence, and I was actually a conservative activist, a conservative political activist in high school. I came from a very conservative family politically and was active in Young Americans for Freedom. I started Essence in high school, my senior year and then took it to college with me, and it was a libertarian independent student newspaper.
[0:08:03.6] KM: That’s not conservative.
[0:08:05.1] AL: It is, actually.
[0:08:06.2] KM: Libertarian is conservative? What’s the definition of that?
[0:08:09.4] AL: Well, libertarians believe in very very limited government, and so they want to keep their government out of your pocketbook. They also want to keep the government out of your bedroom.
[0:08:18.9] KM: I agree with that.
[0:08:20.0] AL: I respect libertarians the way I respect the Catholic Church. I don’t agree with their stance on abortion, but it’s very very consistent with their pro-life stance on the death penalty. I respect the Catholic Church, because even though I disagree on abortion, they are very very consistent in their pro-life. Not like many evangelical conservatives who say, “Well, we’re pro-life when it comes to abortion,” but were they all for the death penalty?
[0:08:46.7] KM: Oh! I never thought about that.
[0:08:48.1] AL: Libertarians are the same way. Whereas a social conservative is they want to get the government out of your pocket, but they would have put the government back in your bedroom. Libertarians are very consistent in saying that as little government as possible.
[0:09:00.7] KM: I’ve never thought about either of those issues. After you got out of college, you started another newspaper.
[0:09:07.4] AL: Jim Bale, the owner of Publishers Bookshop gave me $200. I asked him if he wanted to buy stuff. He said, “How much you looking for?” I said, “What do you got?” He says, “I’ll give you $200.” I said, “Great.” I’d been down to park and printing company and they’d want me to blank stock certificates off, fills it out, gave it to him and he gave me $200. Found out years later he had written down this checkbook donation because he never expected to see the $200 again.
[0:09:31.6] KM: That newspaper was called.
[0:09:33.0] AL: Union Station Times.
[0:09:34.1] KM: That’s right.
[0:09:34.5] AL: Which eventually morphed into Arkansas Times, because we realized we couldn’t make a living as the neighborhood newspaper and we were down at this little railroad house down the 2nd Street, about the train station, Union Station. David and I lived in the back and then we’d put out the — Our volunteer staff put out the —
[0:09:50.3] KM: Was it conservative?
[0:09:51.8] AL: No, it was moving on a more liberal direction. It mainly was focused — It wasn’t so political. It was really focused on investing and importing. We weren’t near as peggable if you will. Although I remember Siebert Distributing, they were the magazine distributor here in Little Rock back then. Mr. Siebert decided we were communist. Where he came up with that. He said we were communist and so he wouldn’t distribute us, so that’s when we started having to put out boxes and come up with all kinds of ways to get the newspaper at people’s houses.
[0:10:23.4] KM: That Union Station Newspaper, that was investigative reporting morphed into the Arkansas Times today.
[0:10:30.6] AL: Right. It became Union Station Times and Arkansas as Union Station Times.
[0:10:35.5] KM: In 2015, you did a really big investigative story and you broke some news in Northwest Arkansas. They got picked up nationally.
[0:10:41.6] AL: Oh, yeah.
[0:10:42.5] KM: All right. It’s time to take a break. When we come back we’re going to ask Alan his opinion about the future of media in America, about what drives a person to want to be a newspaper man with its deadlines, cutthroat competition and inflammatory headlines. We’ll hear his favorite news story. Last, what it’s like to be a farmer today in Arkansas.
You’re listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with Alan Leveritt, publisher of the Arkansas Times, El Latino Newspaper, Arkansas Food & Farm Magazine, and Savvy Kids, just to name a few of his publication.
Alan, the Arkansas Gazette, I read when I was doing the research for you, started in 1819 in Arkansas before it was even a state. I had no idea. When it folded in 1991, its assets were purchased by the then Democrat Newspaper. What did you think about all that, because you were already in business.
[0:12:05.0] AL: My second job was writing weekend obituaries at the Arkansas Democrat. I could barely type. My third job was being the weekend obituary writer at the Arkansas Gazette a year later. I worked at both papers and that’s the lowest of the lowest entry level jobs. Not only to be the obit writer, but to be weekend obit writer.
I knew that the Gazette was by far the best paper in terms of reporting, in terms of journalism. Had a sorry business office. There was nothing but order takers, but want a salesman in amongst them.
[0:12:45.6] KM: You know they were — The Democrat was only quarter of the size of customers as the Gazette had.
[0:12:52.4] AL: Right, but you had a very very dedicated publisher. You had a young guy that a very very deep pockets for this family.
[0:12:59.0] KM: Are you talking about Mr. Husman?
[0:12:59.9] AL: Yes. He was young then. He had very deep pockets. His family had been doing cable television for years and years. He was able to just out-lose the Gazette. When the owners of the Gazette sold out to Gannett, we had thought, “That’s the end of the Democrat.” What we didn’t realize is that for Gannett, this was a business decision. How many millions of dollars they were going to lose. They had to answer to stockholders.
For Mr. Husman, it was a lifestyle decision. Do you want to be a publisher of the daily newspaper in Little Rock, Arkansas? That’s a life and that’s hard to put a value on. Evidently, he put a greater value on it than Gannett and their stockholders did. Ultimately, they walked and he took over.
I would tell you, I think the Democrat today is a very good newspaper and we’re lucky to have a local owner. You see some of the sorriest papers in the world in some cities much larger than ours because their daily papers, business is tough. You don’t have a publisher that commit personal resources to keep that paper alive and keep it doing what it ought to be doing for its community, and I think the Democrat does that.
[0:14:14.7] KM: We are lucky to have a local owner for our newspaper and it’s not some big corporation in New York that’s running it.
[0:14:19.7] AL: Exactly.
[0:14:20.7] KM: When I read about how good Walter Husman and what a great business man he was and how competitive he was and how he just was not going to fold. When his subscribers were low, he went to the Gazette and said, “Do you want to buy my paper?” They said, “No.” 13 years later, they’re folding and he’s buying their assets for probably 10 cents on the dollar.
[0:14:44.4] AL: I’m sure it’s frustrating thought because when he took that over, basically he had a printing press for money. When he was able to finally win that newspaper war and wasn’t five or six years later, the bottom fell out of the newspaper business. I’m sure he’s made it back. I’m not worried about Walter.
[0:15:00.2] KM: Arkansas Gazette is one of the newspapers that is solvent across America. When everybody was not, it was solvent and it’s sometimes used as an example of how to do business.
[0:15:08.7] AL: The Arkansas Gazette? Oh! It was wildly profitable.
[0:15:13.0] KM: When this happened, it made you change to how you wanted to do that Arkansas Times. You wanted to jump in and maybe —
[0:15:19.9] AL: It was very very important. If you’d go back to 1957 integration crisis, what saved Little Rock, in my opinion, in terms of sort of the soul of Little Rock was while the community and the Arkansas Democrat basically had turned themselves over to the mob, the Arkansas Gazette took a very principled stand, went to a very very difficult advertiser boycott and said, “Basically, we need to follow the law here, law land disintegration. We need to integrate central high school.
For that reason, all the banks, the retailers, the department stores, all walked out on the Gazette. They lost a million dollars that year. That was when a million dollars was a million dollars. The Gazette won the admiration of most of the journalist of the nation that time because the family is willing to take that hit.
When that newspaper was shutting down and its assets were being taken over by the old segregation, this afternoon paper that was the Democrat, or that was their heritage. It was a very conservative paper. I just felt like we needed to keep that voice here in the community, and so I went out, and Mara Leveritt, my wife at the time, she said, “Why don’t we take the magazine and turn it into a weekly newspaper?” I looked at her and I said, “That’s a great idea.”
I raised $680,000 from 22 business people here in the community and we took the monthly Arkansas Times Magazine to weekly and hired the senior staff of the Arkansas Gazette as they were hitting the street.
[0:16:50.9] KM: So you gave people jobs.
[0:16:53.0] AL: Oh, yeah. Yeah, we didn’t give everybody a job, but we gave —
[0:16:56.6] KM: The best.
[0:16:56.7] AL: Gave a lot of people. George Fisher came to work for us and Ernie Dumas and Max Brantley and a lot of people, yeah.
[0:17:02.8] KM: I bet that was a really exciting time in your life.
[0:17:04.8] AL: That’s still exciting.
[0:17:07.2] KM: You have a lot of publications, not just Arkansas Times. You have the El Latino Newspaper, the Arkansas Food & Farm Magazine, Savvy Kids, you named a few others. How do you manage all of those newspapers?
[0:17:19.1] AL: There’s other people that are responsible for a lot of those titles and responsible for more than I wish it was.
[0:17:26.2] KM: There’s a managing editor for each one of those.
[0:17:28.4] AL: Yeah, there’s an editor for each one of those.
[0:17:30.5] KM: Do you read each one of them before they come out?
[0:17:32.3] AL: No. I don’t read before they come out. I read after they come out. There’s no way — If I had to sit there — First of all, if I got to read everything and approve it, then I need to get a different editor.
[0:17:42.2] KM: Oh, I got you.
[0:17:42.5] AL: No. I don’t read anything before it comes out. I’ve got great people. I trust them, and I respect them. I don’t always agree with them. Sometimes I’ll come after the fact and I’ll say, “I wish you hadn’t done that,” or “Why did you run a cover with black and red, or a black background and a red type that no one can see in a news statement?” Stuff like that.
To the extent that you possibly can, you need to have a wall between editorial and business. I represent the business side, and I’m under enormous pressure from the business side to make compromises.
[0:18:14.6] KM: When you say you’re under the business side, do you mean you sell ads?
[0:18:16.5] AL: I sell ads. You bet. I’m the salesman and chief down there. I started out as the editor and no one could sell an ad, so I said to my friend Bill Terry at the time who’d just been fired from the Democrat. I said, “Bill, you take over. You write the stories and I’m going to see if I can sell some ads, because if I don’t, we’re going to be out of business next week.” This was ’74.
I walked down the street at The Shack BBQ, and God love him, the guy there bought a half page ad. I thought, “Maybe I can do this.” That was my training.
[0:18:48.7] KM: It is very impressive. When you come in Alan and you’re selling an ad. You came to see me a couple of years ago and said, “Kerry, do you need an ad?” I was like, “You’re here to see me as busy as you are.” I mean, you were just kind of like, “Okay, I’ll buy an ad.”
[0:19:01.2] AL: That’s great! We need to talk.
[0:19:04.4] KM: How do you find your stories? You don’t really have to do that. You have reporters that do that.
[0:19:08.8] AL: Oh, yeah. That’s their job. Although I hear stuff all the time because I pollinate a lot of flowers. I talk to a lot of people because I’m on sales calls. They’re interesting people. I love selling. One of the great things about doing what I get to do is that I will sit there and I’ll talk to a small business owner at 9:00, and at 10:00 I’m talking to a banker, and at 11:00 I’m talking to a farmer, and at 1:00 I’m talking to a Flag & Banner owner. You get to just talk to a lot of people. You get to — It’s a very eclectic day.
[0:19:43.0] KM: Your writers. Do you have a lot of turnover in writers?
[0:19:45.5] AL: No, we don’t.
[0:19:46.4] KM: How do you not have a lot of turnover in writers? Which position at your place turns over, and do you have to hire those people and fire them, or do you have an officer manager that does all that?
[0:19:56.6] AL: No. I have to let people go sometimes. Sales is always a challenge. It’s not that we have a lot of turnovers. It’s very hard to find people who can do that, who like to do it. You got to have thick skin. You got to have energy. You go to be fearless. You can’t be afraid of other people telling you no or being mean to you. We find that women are much better as salespeople. We find that teachers are very good sales people.
[0:20:27.2] KM: Really?
[0:20:27.7] AL: Yeah, school teachers, because they’ve been at the front of people explaining stuff for a long time. They know how to present. They know how to hold people’s attention.
[0:20:34.6] KM: That’s really interesting, because my sales manager who is awesome, is a teacher.
[0:20:40.3] AL: The idea of a salesman is some sort of shyster or something silly. Yeah, we find that teachers are good. I find that educated women, young women tend to just be — They’ll walk through walls. Sometimes I just want to put my foot into a guy’s tail end because he’s just — He can’t take it. Someone is insulting to him and it ruins his week. I’m just like, “Get over it man.” Women will just sit there and let it bounce right off of them and go on to the next one. Anyway, those are gross generalizations, and please no one sue me for sex discrimination.
[0:21:11.3] KM: You’re going to the right direction for suing. If you just said it the other way, you’d be in trouble. Your writers don’t turnover much and you don’t use a lot of freelance writers .
[0:21:19.9] AL: No. We just lost a writer, a great writer, but it was her personal reasons. It had nothing to do with us.
[0:21:27.3] KM: What is it you like about publishing business the most?
[0:21:29.6] AL: The thing that gets me up in the morning —
[0:21:32.3] KM: That’s actually one of my questions; what gets you up in the morning?
[0:21:34.9] AL: I think all of us in life look for something larger than ourselves. We all look for meaning in life, and so for me being able to get up, and I’m not the engineer, I’m not the editor. I’m not putting out the stories, but I’m the fireman on that locomotive. I’m pitching the wood into the fire, keeping the steam up. That’s my role. I’m real content with it.
My job is to back up my editor, find the money to pay them and let them do their job. The only real influence that I have is that I hire them. Once I hire them, so long as they’re doing their job, that I get out of the way. A good publisher in my opinion is a publisher that knows when to leave the room.
[0:22:24.1] KM: A good manager of any kind. You probably weren’t always that way. You probably started off wanting to write.
[0:22:30.0] AL: Oh, I did. When I started the Times, all I wanted to do was write. I went to my friends — I was editing, doing most of the writing for Essence, which was this independent student newspaper at UALR that we did for three years. I didn’t want anyone tell me what to write. I had ideas, stories I wanted to write, and I wanted to write them. I thought, “Well, find some [inaudible 0:22:51.4] to sell the ads and all of us cool guys will sit here and write and find somebody who’s sold out to be the salesman and who’s only interested in money.”
I found out very quickly that everybody else wanted to write too and no one wanted to go out and do the work, which was selling.
[0:23:06.5] KM: Which was grow the business.
[0:23:07.8] AL: Yeah. Just be able to pay the rent.
[0:23:10.0] KM: We talk about that all the time on this show, that managers get stuck in the business instead of working on the business, and working on the business is really where the owner and manager needs to be.
[0:23:19.8] AL: There was a great, very influential story I read in the magazine, trade magazine folio 40 years ago. It said — The cover was all these — It was a photograph of a cemetery. All these tombstones and they had written the names of all these dead magazines on the tombstones and the headline said, “So you want to start a magazine?”
The advice that they said, it says, “Whoever has the vision editorially, they need to get out of the editorial office and into the community.” Whoever it is that is consumed with this mission that this publication is going to have, they need to be the ones out there conveying that to the business community and not sitting there and trying to provide all the stories.
[0:24:04.1] KM: How do you quench your thirst to write? Do you go home and write in your journal? Are you writing a book?
[0:24:10.7] AL: I don’t write.
[0:24:11.7] KM: You don’t write anymore?
[0:24:12.4] AL: No. Very little.
[0:24:13.2] KM: You have this burning desire to write and you don’t do it anymore.
[0:24:16.8] AL: No. Writing is hard work. I guess, maybe — I’ve been doing this 43 years. Maybe I’ve gone a little lazy. I do a little writing. I write maybe one or two columns a year. I’ll get incensed about something and I’ll sit down and write.
[0:24:30.0] KM: You blog? You have your own blog?
[0:24:31.4] AL: No.
[0:24:32.2] KM: That’d be a great outlet for you. I’m going to push for you to get a blog.
[0:24:35.2] AL: Yeah.
[0:24:35.5] KM: What’s the most challenging thing about being a newspaper man?
[0:24:38.7] AL: Just continuing with the change and the marketplace, the move from print to digital. If I hear one more person tell me print is dead —
[0:24:48.1] KM: They’re wrong.
[0:24:48.6] AL: They’re wrong. Absolutely, they’re wrong.
[0:24:50.3] KM: I can tell you that in advertising. At Arkansas Flag & Banner, snail mail outperforms Google AdWords.
[0:24:56.3] AL: I’ll look at someone and they’ll say, “Well, no one reads print anymore.” I’m going, “Well, I had 23,000 newspaper picked up last week and somebody is picking them up.”
[0:25:04.0] KM: I can spent $10,000 on Google AdWords and not drive as many people to my website as I can with $2,000 in mailing.
[0:25:11.7] AL: It’s true.
[0:25:12.5] KM: It is. People think snail mail is gone, and it is not. You know what else I’m thinking about? Legislature affects your business. Doesn’t it?
[0:25:19.8] AL: Well, state government advertisers. One thing that the republicans have been pretty effective at is that they are very careful that taxpayer money does not go to publications that oppose their policies.
[0:25:31.9] KM: Oh, that makes sense. We may talk about that later if we have time. You can be more specific, but it’s time to take a break. When we come back, we’re going to ask Alan his opinion about the future of media in America. We’ll find out what his favorite story is, and I think I already know what that is and probably his most successful story. Last, what it’s like to be a farmer in Arkansas today.
You’re listening to Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with Alan Leveritt, publisher of the Arkansas Times, El Latino Newspaper, Arkansas Food & Farm Magazine, and Savvy Kids. We had a question during the break, and it is; with so many people getting their news online, is it hard to be competitive while keeping quality content?
[0:26:43.0] AL: First of all, we publish arkansastimes.com which had 450,000 unique visitors last month according to Google. It’s the first or second largest news site in the state. We have tremendous traffic there. We put a lot of resources into it. Max is there with the Arkansas Blog doing break news and perspective all day.
[0:27:03.8] KM: There’s only Arkansas News too, right?
[0:27:05.7] AL: Yeah, reflect upon the republican majority of the house occasionally. Yeah, it’s primary Arkansas. I’ll tell you, I have a subscription to the New York Times, it comes every day, the newspaper. Also, I subscribe to the New York Times website. I will read — During the day when I get a moment, I’ll check and see what’s going on and I’ll read a little bit of the New York Times website. Then at lunch, I will take my newspaper by myself and I’ll sit down and I’ll read the newspaper. I realize there’s so much that I miss just from almost a technical point of view, looking at that website not being able to turn the page and see a story. It’s hard to find stories on the web. Even on a good website, like the New York Times.
I get so much more from sitting there and reading my newspaper, but I also read the New York Times. I always find there’s plenty of stuff that I miss that I can sit down at lunch time and spend an hour.
[0:28:00.4] KM: It’s hard to navigate websites, because an ad will come up and you’ll shoot off in another direction.
[0:28:04.8] AL: Yeah.
[0:28:05.6] KM: People put a lot of thought into actually the print of the newspaper, what stories go together and how it flows. You can’t really see that on a website as well.
[0:28:12.9] AL: Yeah, sometimes the webs makes you have the attention span of a squirrel and you’re just bounding all over the place. Also, I think for long form journalism print is far superior. It’s hard to sit there and read a 3,000 word story online. Just very very seldom happens, whereas you could sit there with a magazine or a newspaper and if the story is engaging and the design is engaging you very likely will get through it.
[0:28:39.9] KM: I feel smart when I’m reading a newspaper. I don’t necessarily feel smart when I’m read — Although I read on a Kindle, but I do feel smart when I’m holding a book and I don’t know why. That kind of leads us into the next question. What do you see for the future of American journalism and news reporting?
[0:28:53.6] AL: I think that in my lifetime, newspaper or print is going to continue. I don’t think I really have any great insights on where journalism is going. People want news.
[0:29:06.2] KM: We’ve already said that print is not out. We’d both agree on that.
[0:29:09.3] AL: Yeah. Whatever form, whatever technology, does or doesn’t bring us, people are still going to want news. One of the things that I find interesting is a lot of people — Sometimes you’d go to a particularly small business people and they’ll say, “We’re doing all of our promoting on social media; Facebook, Twitter, and that sort of thing.”
It’s so interesting. Here you have a platform that has been so discredited. You can look at the presidential election, fake news, all the stuff, all the incredible untruths that have shown up on Facebook and all these different sites; the Pope endorses Trump and all these kind of stuff. If a newspaper did that, no one would read it. They would not trust it, or a magazine, or TV news or whatever.
Yet, people who are operating a credible business who know that trust is an integral part of their relationship with their customers, they’re relying on a platform that has real credibility problems which social media has developed, and I think Zuckerberg is absolutely aware of this, that they have got to do something to get control of the garbage that is showing up on social media, because otherwise people are not going to want to advertise on it.
I was talking to a friend of mine who publish Memphis Flyer and he was with some bankers in Memphis the other day and they were moving their budget back into this newspaper because they said, “Look, we’re a bank. We’ve got to have credibility. After this presidential election and what’s been on social media, we don’t want our bank and our advertising associate. We don’t know where our ads are going to show up on, but they’re going to be next to.”
They’re wanting something that’s curated, and that’s what newspapers and magazines do, is they deliver curated news that you have someone with a brain and who knows the difference between blatant untruths and truth and they’ve done their best to —
[0:31:09.8] KM: That’s a great advertising tip for people out there. A lot of people feel like they’re being pressured to do Facebook advertising and to do internet advertising, but you just gave some great advice.
[0:31:20.1] AL: You have no control. Your ad could be sitting next to porn. Your ad could be sitting next to some troll from Russia. My Lord! You go through all of these effort to keep control of your message, your company’s image and you’re going to put it up on Facebook. Are you crazy?
[0:31:37.3] KM: I’m doing it.
[0:31:38.0] AL: There you go.
[0:31:38.5] KM: There you go. It’s cheap, is why I’m doing it.
[0:31:41.0] AL: Exactly. There’s a reason. It’s cheap.
[0:31:42.1] KM: It is cheap. Facebook is so cheap. This year you started a nonprofit called —
[0:31:48.0] AL: We did. We started — Yeah.
[0:31:49.0] KM: It’s called the Arkansas Nonprofit News Network, ANNN.
[0:31:53.0] AL: Right.
[0:31:53.2] KM: What’s it’s mission and where do you air it?
[0:31:55.7] AL: It’s available to just about every newspaper in the state, and Lindsay has been working on this, our editor. Basically, what it is, it’s a way that we can get people — There are a lot of people that are looking from a philanthropic point of view. They want to donate money towards quality journalism and information about the state. We’re a for profit business, so you really can’t donate money to us and have it come off your taxes, but by putting this 501(c)(3) together and making it available to newspapers all over the state. That gives us the money to go out and bring in freelancers.
We just brought in a staff member on Atlantic Monthly, and she’d won the Pulitzer Prize doing work on foster care around the country. We came in and we did a whole series on foster care and how we’re treating our children in foster care and adoptions in the state. The recommendations that she made over a period of time were the recommendations that the DHS director recently adopted to improve our foster care system here in the state.
[0:32:59.0] KM: The nonprofit news profit seek to publish and broadcast deep examinations of crucial topics and develop major investigative series. That’s really an investigative.
[0:33:09.1] AL: Yeah. What we’re trying to do is bring in experts, people we couldn’t ordinarily afford ourselves, but being able to tap in to the philanthropic community, we can take that money and then we can bring people, either use local people or bring people from out of state.
[0:33:25.9] KM: You can get grants because you’re a nonprofit to do social media.
[0:33:28.4] AL: Exactly. The Times can’t do that, but the nonprofit can.
[0:33:30.7] KM: No, because it’s for profit.
[0:33:32.7] AL: Yeah. We created a network like the Jonesboro Sun. Other newspapers around the state, and they have the same access to those. We all have access to those stories, and we want to get those messages out. Last year, or maybe two years ago, during the Mayflower oil spill, we hired a woman who had one Pulitzer Prize or had been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for an oil spill on the same kind of things. It was a ruptured — Actually, I think that was a train that turned over up on —
[0:34:03.5] KM: It was a catastrophic event.
[0:34:04.4] AL: Yes. Oil in a river. She really understood how oil is transported and what the problems can be, and she really understood what had happened. We were looking at the coverage that Mayflower was getting and no one owned the story. No one had yet come in there and gone. If you’re interested in what’s going to happen into Conway and what’s happening to all these people and what the potential damage, the real catastrophic potential, is that pipeline runs within a few hundred yards Lake Maumelle.
[0:34:39.6] KM: That’s our drinking water.
[0:34:40.7] AL: Absolutely, for 400,000 people. If that break and that line had happened five miles further down the down, we’d look like Flint, Michigan. That’s what this writer brought to us, so we brought her down and we rented her a house and she stayed down here for six weeks and she did all these stories and did a fabulous job, Rachel Maddow.
I was sitting there watching her one night and she holds up a copy of the Arkansas Times and said, “These people deserve a Pulitzer Prize.” It made my night, but that’s the kind of journalism that if you can marshal these resources and Lindsay’s genius is to figure out a way that the philanthropic community, if someone’s so inclined, that they can go to him and figure out how to make the resources available.
[0:35:24.6] KM: Is this the same group that did the legislature who sold his —
[0:35:30.2] AL: No. That was our staff.
[0:35:31.8] KM: That was your staff.
[0:35:32.8] AL: That was Benjamin Hardy, Benjie.
[0:35:34.7] KM: It wasn’t this nonprofit that found that.
[0:35:36.2] AL: No.
[0:35:37.3] KM: Probably it was the catalyst that started this.
[0:35:39.1] AL: Benjie’s work, which was just a wonderful piece of investigative reporting, amazing piece of investigative reporting. Benjie’s work, I think, is what gave the impetus for us to try to — Benjie, he understood that issue —
[0:35:55.6] KM: Tell our listeners what the issue is.
[0:35:57.6] AL: Justin Harris who was a very conservative and some could say judgmental republican, conservative republican, who was just always bashing gays and just anybody that didn’t quite fit the mold for evangelical conservatism, he had adopted some children; two girls. Over the objections of DHS staff, they said this family was not well-equip to handle these two children who’d been through hell.
When he got them, he realized the DHS was right, and rather than go back and try to get things changed, he just gave them to a friend of his. The friend unfortunately was pedophile.
[0:36:42.5] KM: He repurposed his children.
[0:36:43.9] AL: Yeah. Then the children were raped and abused. He was convinced that they were possessed by demons and so they brought up a preacher from Alabama and they did a exorcism.
All this stuff, no one was talking about, and Benji just peeled — He was like peeling back and onion and he just pulled layer after layer and you’re going like, “When does this finally stop?”
[0:37:11.3] KM: How does a reporter even find that stuff?
[0:37:13.3] AL: Well, he had some sources and he just kept asking questions and he asked people — He went up to North Arkansas and he talked to a former — This guy had a — I forgot. It’s like the Lord’s Work Daycare Center or something. I forgot the name of it.
[0:37:29.8] KM: It’s a red flag.
[0:37:30.7] AL: Yeah. He was getting millions of dollars from the state. Basically, he was running a Sunday school and calling it a daycare center. These kids were — The other thing, he just hated immigrants. Oh my Lord! Illegal immigrants. He was up there whipping every time —
[0:37:46.6] KM: Who is the he? Is it —
[0:37:47.5] AL: Justin Harris.
[0:37:48.0] KM: Oh, okay. It’s our legislator that was doing it.
[0:37:50.0] AL: Oh, yeah. Every time. The guy that did the rehoming. Every time there’d be an anti-immigrant piece of legislation coming up, he’d be sitting up there with the haters and just whipping as hard as he could. He had all these children of illegal immigrants in his daycare that he was getting state money for. Just an utter hypocrite.
[0:38:09.8] KM: He just kept peeling back this onion and finding more and more. Finally, the nation picked up the story. It went national.
[0:38:15.1] AL: Yeah. That month we had over a million unique visitors to our website, in fact it crashed our website.
[0:38:22.2] KM: That’s when I want to advertise. Would you let me know right before you’re about to have a big — I want to get a full page ad in that.
[0:38:28.1] AL: There you go.
[0:38:28.9] KM: Always thinking.
[0:38:30.3] AL: Just be there every week and you’ll hit the jackpot on the week that it works.
[0:39:02.4] KM: You’re listening to Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy. I’m speaking today with Alan Leveritt, publisher of the Arkansas Times, El Latino Newspaper, Arkansas Food & Farm Magazine, and Savvy Kids, plus more. Alan, you’re a third-generation farmer. That how you relax. When did you start farming, because I don’t think you started farming —
[0:39:20.9] AL: About 33 years ago.
[0:39:23.2] KM: Oh! I didn’t know you’ve been doing that long.
[0:39:24.8] AL: I had the opportunity to move out to our old family home place, which is 25 miles north of here. It’s my great-grandfather’s old farm that he had bought 1901. It had an old log house on it that was built in the late 1850s. I’ve been going out there every week, practically. As a child growing up, we’d go out there and picnic. After 1965, the house was abandoned, slowly fell into disrepair. Finally, the roof caved in. I kept trying to talk my parents into moving out there. Finally, in ’82, April 2, Mara and I went out there.
[0:40:02.5] KM: Do you live in the log home?
[0:40:04.3] AL: Yeah. Paul bought the farm from Mr. Mason in 1901. It was Mr. Mason’s house. Paul lived down the road and he lived about —
[0:40:12.1] KM: Who’s Paul?
[0:40:12.7] AL: Paul is my great-grandfather.
[0:40:14.0] KM: Okay.
[0:40:15.6] AL: His father was a confederate soldier that started walking west from South Carolina after the war and he and his group got hear and they said it looked kind of like South Carolina, Charlotte. Kind of the land reminded them, so they stopped. They were just wandering after the war.
[0:40:33.5] KM: That’s where they’re originally from.
[0:40:35.2] AL: Yeah, just south of Charlotte. Anyway, I got out there and had no interest in farming and started a little garden. It was like the peasant genes came out in me. It’s just like — Suddenly I’m out there and looking at this land. Every year, the garden would get bigger. Finally, it went from sort of being a garden to being a farm.
[0:40:56.3] KM: You’ve got the hands of a farmer. I wish everybody could see your dirty fingernails.
[0:40:58.6] AL: I do have dirty fingernails.
[0:41:01.0] KM: You got dirty hands. You got hands of a farmer. You can till. You’re in it.
[0:41:04.2] AL: I’ve got a thousand tomatoes. We grow large heirloom tomatoes, three different varieties, primarily, but we always do some — We’re always trying new varieties.
[0:41:12.9] KM: What’s the name of your farm?
[0:41:14.2] AL: India Blue Farm. We’re at the Hill Crest Farmers Market every Saturday. We’ll be there in the morning. In fact, I’ve got — I don’t know anyone south of me that’s growing raspberries commercially. Tonight, we’re picking our first raspberries.
[0:41:28.5] KM: You’re doing raspberries. That’s a delicate, delicate fruit.
[0:41:31.6] AL: Because of that, you can’t ship it. A local raspberry is always going to be really superior, but it’s hard because raspberries don’t do well in the heat, and we’re hot. It’s gotten hotter, and we’ve lost a lot of plants. These are malt so deep and then they’re irrigated down deep that it keeps the roots cool and we’re able to do it.
[0:41:51.7] KM: Do you have anything that you want to say? I know you’re always thinking. If you could change one thing in the world right now, what would it be?
[0:41:59.2] AL: I don’t know if you like a beauty contestant; world peace.
[0:42:03.5] KM: How about this? Does it bother you that the media is now able to owned by so many corporations across so many platforms? Because that bothers me. I feel like we’re losing control of our media.
[0:42:14.2] AL: Keep in mind. At the same time, media is so diverse. Think about the bar to entry. Someone like me with $200 was able to start very very small. If you don’t have student debt, if you’ve avoided student debt, if you’ve avoided having children, if you’ve avoided buying a house where you can live on little or nothing and take a night job like you did and like I did, the opportunity is there. Media is very very diverse right now. One thing you can say about the web is that any jake-leg that wants to get out there and start a blog can do it, and if they’re good enough, very likely they can develop a following.
[0:42:52.8] KM: Great attitude.
[0:42:53.1] AL: Don’t think of things as static. You can do something yourself. Don’t blame corporations. Go do it yourself.
[0:43:00.2] KM: Wow! That’s great advice. Yeah, don’t buy a house, don’t have kids, don’t get student debt. Here, you get a cigar, you smoke —
[0:43:08.0] AL: I hate cigars.
[0:43:09.6] KM: I’ve never had anybody tell me that. You want to give it somebody that does? It’s for birthing a business.
[0:43:13.5] AL: I don’t think — I don’t know. I can’t think of anyone I dislike after getting a cigar.
[0:43:18.1] KM: That is so funny. I’ve never had anybody say that. All right. Give me that cigar back.
[0:43:22.9] AL: I’ll give you the cigar back.
[0:43:24.1] KM: Okay, thanks. Here, give it to me. Who’s our guest next week, Tim?
[0:43:26.7] T: Next week is going to be Don Dugan from Dugan’s Pub and Stratton Store.
[0:43:30.7] KM: I thought Dugan’s Pub was a franchise. I’m so excited, because I’ve known Don Dugan for years.
[0:43:34.8] AL: Yeah, Don does a great job.
[0:43:36.6] KM: He’d sure does. He’s going to be on next week. Also, if you have a great entrepreneurial story you would like to share, I would love to hear from you. Send a brief bio and your contact info to email@example.com and someone will be in touch.
Finally, to our listeners, thank you for spending time with me. If you think this program has been about you, you’re right, but also been for me. Thank you for letting me fulfill my destiny. My hope today is that you’ve heard or learned something that’s been inspiring or enlightening and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence, or your life. I’m Kerry McCoy and I’ll see you next Friday. Until then. Be brave and keep it up.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[0:44:20.9] T: You’ve been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. Want to hear today’s program again or want someone else to benefit from it? Jot this down. Within 48 hours the podcast will be available at flagandbanner.com. Click the tab labeled “Radio Show”, there you’ll find today’s segments with links to resources you heard discussed on this program. Kerry’s goal: to help you live the American Dream.