story by Cyd King
Nearly three years after Stephens Media and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Inc. merged operations in Northwest Arkansas, the union has yet to achieve the expected financial security.
The joint venture, Northwest Arkansas Newspapers Inc. (NAN), has hired an advisory and interim management firm to assess all aspects of the newspapers’ operations. The intent is to pinpoint ways to increase efficiency and hopefully grow revenue, NAN president Jeff Jeffus said Thursday (May 24). The group employs roughly 415 people in Northwest Arkansas, 100 of which are part-timers working in production and the mail room.
For years leading up to the merger, The Morning News, Stephens’ topline newspaper in Northwest Arkansas, and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Northwest Arkansas newspapers had been losing millions of dollars as they went head-to-head over ad sales. Even after combining forces and raising rates, there appears to be room for improvement.
“We’re still not where we need to be or want to be,” Jeffus said.
Some questions to be answered, said Jeffus: “Are we taking advantage of all our revenue opportunities? What can we do better?”
During the next six to eights weeks, New York-based CRG Partners Group is expected to identify strengths and weaknesses in the newsrooms, business offices, advertising, circulation, the organization’s online presence and production, among other areas. Jeffus said NAN hopes to implement CRG’s recommendations at the end of that period. Those plans, as of Thursday, had been shared only with members of NAN’s senior management, he said.
A company overview of CRG Partners Group posted on the Internet by Bloomberg Business said CRG provides operational optimization and financial restructuring services focusing on underperforming companies.
The firm’s services include turnaround and liquidity management, working capital and performance optimization, and bankruptcy reorganization and advisory. It also provides financial advisory services including business plan development, financial projections and liquidity assessments, merger and acquisitions advisory, and debt restructuring and capacity assessments.
Jeffus said CRG has worked with a “multitude of media organizations” and has experience in the United Kingdom, as well as the United States.
Since the merger was complete in 2009, subscribers have received The Morning News and the Northwest Arkansas edition of the Democrat-Gazette in Springdale, Rogers and some outlying areas; subscribers in Fayetteville receive the Northwest Arkansas Times with the Democrat-Gazette; and subscribers in Bentonville get the Benton County Daily Record with the Democrat-Gazette. NAN also publishes several weekly newspapers throughout the region.
Stephens Media has the say over content of all publications except the Northwest edition of Democrat-Gazette, which operates under the statewide newspaper. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette also controls all advertising, business, production and circulation operations for all the merged publications.