If you’re a subscriber to the Pine Bluff Commercial, October 13, 2020 is a day you’ll likely remember. It’s the last day you were able to shake open and read a print edition of the paper. This marks the end of an era for the 139-year-old publication, which will transition to its new life as a four-page section in the online Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Founded in 1881 by Major Charles Gorden Newman, the Pine Bluff Commercial has long been an institution in the city. In fact, the newspaper was published by the same family (the Freemans) until it was sold to Fort Smith-based Donrey Media Group a little over a century later.
Over the years, the paper was able to attract a number of talented people in the newspaper industry to Pine Bluff, many of whom went on to have high profile careers in the business. One of those was Paul Greenberg, who came to Arkansas in 1962 to become editorial page editor for the Pine Bluff Commercial. Greenberg worked in that capacity from 1962 to 1992, although he took a hiatus in 1966–67, during which he wrote editorials for the Chicago Daily News. In recognition of his 1968 Pine Bluff Commercial editorials, Greenberg was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing in 1969. (Greenberg’s fellow Pulitzer Prize winners that year included the Los Angeles Times for its exposé of the Los Angeles, California, city government; William Tuohy for his Vietnam War coverage; and Norman Mailer for his nonfiction/historical novel The Armies of the Night.)
Greenberg is often noted as the person who dubbed Bill Clinton “Slick Willie.” Greenberg first used the term to describe Clinton in 1980, early in Clinton’s time as governor of Arkansas, and it would follow Clinton throughout his political career, even during his presidency.
In 1986, the Pine Bluff Commercial was sold to Donrey Media Group, ending 105 years of operation by the Freeman family, and expanding Donrey’s holdings to 55 daily newspapers in 15 states.
Donrey Media Group, founded by Arkansas businessman and philanthropist Donald W. Reynolds, was in turn sold to members of the Stephens family after Reynolds died in 1993. The company was later named Stephens Media Group, then later Stephens Media LLC.
In 2015, Stephens Media was sold to New Media Investment Group of New York, the parent company of GateHouse Media, in a deal the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the largest newspaper in the Stephens Media portfolio, said was worth $102 million. As part of the acquisition, GateHouse assumed ownership of 17 Arkansas newspapers, including the Pine Bluff Commercial. In January 2019, print publication was reduced to five days a week, and the company began distributing subscriber copies through the Postal Service.
In August 2019, GateHouse Media announced the impending closure of the Stuttgart Daily Leader and the Helena World newspapers, and the shutdown of the printing press at the Pine Bluff Commercial, at which time printing of the Commercial was outsourced.
Today, as the Pine Bluff Commercial is repositioned for its new life as a digital publication, why not take a moment to honor this important local media outlet and everyone who helped make the print edition possible?
Sources: ArkansasOnline, Encyclopedia of Arkansas