Justice Dept. clears Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Stephens Media to combine their operations after newspaper owners lost millions of dollars; new company to start publishing newspapers Sunday

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas , October 28, 2009 () – The Justice Department has cleared the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Inc. and Stephens Media LLC to combine their operations in northwest Arkansas, and the newly formed company will start publishing newspapers on Sunday.

WEHCO Media Inc. and Stephens Media have been in intense competition in the region for years and said they've been losing millions of dollars.

Stephens Media owns The Morning News of Springdale, while WEHCO Media owns the Democrat-Gazette northwest edition, two other daily newspapers published in conjunction with the Democrat-Gazette in the region — the Northwest Arkansas Times of Fayetteville and the Benton County Daily Record of Bentonville — plus several weekly papers.

The Morning News and the Democrat-Gazette said that, as of Sunday, all those operations will be taken over by a new company — Northwest Arkansas Newspapers LLC — owned 50-50 by the owners of Stephens Media and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Inc.

Some workers will effectively be retained, but employees at The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas and the Democrat-Gazette's northwest operation have been notified their positions will be eliminated as of Saturday. All can apply for jobs in the new joint venture.

The Democrat-Gazette northwest edition has 369 employees, 101 of whom are part time. The Morning News has 188 employees.

During the Justice Department investigation, The Morning News was put up for sale, but no buyer came forward.

The plan calls for Stephens Media to be responsible for editorial control of all publications except for the northwest Arkansas edition of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. That newspaper's editorial content will remain under the statewide Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and will provide regional, state, national and international coverage, while the other publications will focus on local and regional coverage.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Inc. will control advertising, business, production and circulation for all the publications.

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