If you are a voracious reader of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, you might be aware of a rift that’s developed between Northwest Arkansas Newspapers LLC — the company that operates the ADG’s Northwest edition and the area papers owned by Stephens Media Inc. — and Memphis-based Malco Theaters Inc.
Early last month, the ADG stopped publishing the daily movie listings for the seven area Malco theater locations. The content, according to NAN president Jeff Jeffus, historically has been provided as paid advertising.
But Malco now places a different value on ink and paper in a growing digital and social-media age.
“Malco thinks that we need to provide [movie listings] as a service to our readers free of charge, instead of it being paid advertising,” Jeffus said.
After a couple of weeks of taking numerous phone calls from readers who came to expect such listings, the newspaper took a different approach. Accompanied by the image of a frightened moviegoer, mouth agape and sitting in a darkened theater, an advertisement with the following message was published for several days in the ADG:
“We regret that Malco Theaters has decided to eliminate its daily movie listings in Northwest Arkansas.
“This is not the decision of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
“To the more than 150,000 readers who rely on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Malco schedule for movie listings each day, we sincerely apologize.
“To address this policy change with Malco officials, please contact the company at 901-761-3480 or www.malco.com.”
Jeffus said the ads were published as a means to “clear the air” with readers upset about the absence of movie listings. He wouldn’t say how much revenue the movie listings provided.
Chalk this up in the “sign of the times” category. There’s something to be said for newspapers, but movie listings haven’t been one of them for a long time.
We reached out to Bobby Levy, an executive vice president at Malco, and he was just as forthcoming as Jeffus.
He just has a difference of opinion. Malco’s position is the newspaper should provide movie listings, like cable TV schedules, as a convenience for its subscribers, who expect to find a wide range of content and information in the newspaper.
“We are all aware of the declining relevance of daily newspapers as a source of information as Internet-based technologies have emerged,” he wrote in an email.
Levy also explained Malco’s decision to stop paying for advertising is the result of an expiring contract. When Stephens and the ADG merged in the fall of 2009, Levy said rates rose dramatically and advertisers were forced to either lock into three-year contracts or face the full brunt of the increase.
Levy said Malco will continue to provide the newspaper in advance with daily movie listings and schedules. It is up to the newspaper to decide what to do with them.
“With declining readership, one would think that newspapers want to be responsive to their paid subscribers and provide them with the content they expect to find in the newspaper,” Levy wrote. “Who knows? Maybe the lack of movie listings will be the final reason readers need to cancel their subscription.”