Ouachita grads fill news void after Arkadelphia paper closes

    August 19, 2019

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    dispatch-flagARKADELPHIA – “Newspapers are the glue that unites the community,” said Bill Sutley, editor of the new Arkadelphia newspaper – the Arkadelphia Dispatch.

    Sutley and John Schirmer, editor of the Nashville News-Leader and owner of Graves Publishing Company in Nashville, started the weekly Arkadelphia newspaper after the Daily Siftings Herald closed in September 2018.

    “Some of my friends in Arkadelphia talked to me about starting a paper in Arkadelphia soon after the Siftings closed,” said Schirmer. “I had already thought of the possibility and decided to explore it. People assured me that the community would respond well to a new paper.”

    Schirmer got in contact with Sutley, who had recently moved back to Arkadelphia. Both of them had gone to Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) together. Sutley worked as editor of The Signal, OBU’s student-run newspaper, and Schirmer worked on staff.

    “I began hearing rumblings that a new Arkadelphia newspaper might be a possibility,” said Sutley. “I allowed my name to be floated around as someone who would be interested in joining such an effort, but that I had neither the background nor interest to start selling ads or handling all other non-news aspects of newspaper publishing.

    “I heard from my old friend, John Schirmer, and we discussed what a new Arkadelphia newspaper might encompass,” continued Sutley. “Schirmer is something of an expert when it comes to publishing successful weeklies, and he’s also very hands on.”

    SchirmerAfter graduating from OBU, Schirmer worked as the publications adviser at Nashville High School and worked part-time for The Nashville News. In 2000, he left the school to work full-time with the news paper before helping start the Nashville Leader. In 2016, he bought Graves Publishing Company, which owns and publishes the Nashville News, Murfreesboro Diamond, Glenwood Herald, Montgomery County News and Arkadelphia Dispatch. Schirmer closed the Nashville News and changed the name of the Nashville Leader to Nashville News-Leader.

    Sutley, who grew up in Arkadelphia, began working in the newspaper business at 17 years old with the Siftings Herald. He continued to work there part-time during college and served full-time as sports editor and general assignment reporter after graduation. He has served on staff at newspapers in El Dorado, Little Rock, Columbia, Mo.; Memphis, Tenn.; Monroe, La.; Hattiesburg, Miss.; Jackson, Miss; Columbus, Ga., and Anniston, Ala.

    Sutley

    In addition to his newspaper career, Sutley has taught journalism at OBU, Henderson State University (HSU) in Arkadelphia and Auburn University in Auburn, Ala. He has also worked in public relations at Columbus State University in Columbus, Ga., and University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Miss.

    “Newspapers serve several roles in a community,” said Sutley. “Weekly newspapers do a lot to highlight what is best about a community, with stories and photos about achievement often ending up on refrigerators or in
    scrapbooks.

    “That said, I’m still a firm believer in the watchdog role of the newspaper. We present facts in an objective manner that don’t always portray the community in a positive light, but that’s part of the truth-seeking role of journalism,” continued Sutley.

    Sutley is currently the only full-time employee, but he has received occasional student help from both HSU and OBU.

    The Dispatch had a trial run in November 2018 before publishing its first official issue Dec. 6, 2018. While the paper has had several
    hundred people subscribe over the past months, the main challenge is acquiring a mailing permit.

    “We are working through postal regulations to obtain a periodicals class mailing permit so that we will be able to mail the paper to subscribers,” said Schirmer. “We’re making progress there. For now, we appreciate the businesses that allow us to leave copies of the Dispatch each week so that readers can pick them up.”

    Schirmer has been pleased by the response to the new newspaper. According to Schirmer, the two colleges and school district have been cooperative in providing pictures and stories about events and sports.

    “Newspapers are an important part of the community,” said Schirmer. “The only place that folks in Arkadelphia can keep up with local events, the public school district, Ouachita Baptist, Henderson State, local sports and other activities in one spot each week is the Dispatch. The same is true in other communities.”

    Contact Sarah Davis at sarah@arkansasbaptist.org.

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