The Future of Newspapers is…an iPad

Little Rock    When you think of innovation, you might think of California and Silicon Valley, but you’re not likely to think, hey, Arkansas!  Well, who knows if this will work, but the statewide newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has announced that, lo and behold, it is going 100% digital by next year, yes, 2020!  You want to read the paper, well, sure, says Walter E. Hussman, the publisher, we can do that, but it’s not going to be a paper, you know, like on real newsprint paper kinda deal, it’s all going to be on an iPad.  Yep, an iPad.

In a mid-May letter to subscribers, Hussman lengthily described his thinking which, front to back, can easily be boiled down to his reveal early in the missive:  they lost money for the first time in 2018!  They didn’t like it, and they could see it getting worse, and that’s not how they saw their business.  Their business sold news for money, and if it was not making money, then that was very bad business.  He detailed an experiment that they had tried in Bentonville, where they had 200 subscribers who were expensive to service.  They gave them all iPads.  They had sessions in the local Holiday Inn to train them on how to use the iPads.  Those that didn’t show up, got home visits and personal tutorials about how to make this work, keep them juiced, and learn to read with their fingers doing the walking.  70% liked it and kept their subscriptions, and that was good enough for Hussman.  On to El Dorado and beyond.

Reading the letter, it looked like their strategy was to encircle the fortress of their subscribers in Little Rock and Central Arkansas by lopping off all the pockets of fans they had here and there.  Hussman’s letter claims this cuts costs drastically, more than offsetting the expense of providing the iPads and will return them to profitability.  The point of the letter, now that he has made the whole deal public in what was left of his paper, was to ask subscribers to pay the same, they were paying – which is a crucial part of his business plan — and get in touch with them so they can iPad them up as well and bring all of Arkansas news readers into Apple-valley.

Will this work?  I’m not sure.  In New Orleans, the Times-Picayune just gave up the ghost after a failed experiment of moving to three days per week and were acquired by The Advocate that came into town and continued to deliver seven days a week.  I failed on their website or on Google to find out the cost for a full-year’s subscription, but if Walmart will let you buy an iPad for $250, I assume Hussman was able to make a deal for less than $200 and assumes by reducing costs of production and delivery, that he will still make money on a one-year subscription.  A local businesswoman told me that Hussman has said that this is costing them $12 million to make the changeover.  Not sure what happens when the iPad dies, and whether he will replace them or not?  For those willing to read on an iPad, why would they not just pay for the paper digitally as opposed to paying full boat for the paper on an iPad with a print Sunday edition?

I’m fighting hard to keep an open mind, since I have spent some years working in Arkansas, and am still scarred by the antics of the Democrat and the Hussman family during their wars with the Gazette and its questionable ownership.  Maybe he’s right that people will like an iPad better than a paper.  That’s never been my experience, and reading papers digitally as well as by hand, I know for a certainty that I miss some articles online, that I find in print.  Maybe an iPad is different and more of a facsimile.  The only thing that I’m sure of right now after reading Hussman’s letter is that he is right about one thing for sure:  for him, it’s about the money, not the news.  It might work out for the business, but we’ll have to see how it works out for the rest of us.


Little Rock Slumlord Highlights Tenant Abuse in Arkansas


Little Rock       Imran Bohra is not exactly a household name everywhere in Pulaski County, where Little Rock and North Little Rock are located, but among lower income tenants, he’s famous in the worst of ways as a notorious slumlord.  He has about 150 properties that he rents in both cities with perhaps the bulk of them in North Little Rock.  Recently, his latest company, Entropy, and his practices got some much-needed attention after he evicted and seized the possession of Theodore Thompson, a tenant who is also a member of Arkansas Community Organizations (ACO), the former Arkansas ACORN, and their tenant organizing and advocacy project.

Of course, saying he was tenant is kind of a stretch in some ways because he was never given a key to his apartment after Bohra drove him to look at the place and kept his car idling outside while Thompson checked it out.  Supposedly, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, his property manager was supposed to drop the key by.  Thompson didn’t pay rent without the key and didn’t know where he was even supposed to pay his rent.  Then Thompson found an eviction note affixed to the door and Bohra seized all his belongings in the process, which amazingly is a landlord’s right in Arkansas.

Thompson, ACO, and the rest of us might ask how any of this is possible and how can it be stopped.  As Thompson says, “It’s hard for me to understand how I’m not the first, and if he’s not stopped, I definitely won’t be the last.”

Sadly, this seems to be just business-as-usual for Bohra and from talking to Neil Sealy, head organizer of ACO, many other slumlords in central Arkansas who operate with similar impunity.  Since the beginning of 2016, the newspaper found that Bohra’s properties had been cited for code violations 170 times in Little Rock and North Little Rock.  Many of Bohra’s tenants claim they believe he has no interest in making repairs because a big part of his business model is based on collecting security deposits, first and last month rent, and pyramiding his money based on quick evictions.

All of that is helped by the fact that Arkansas has arguably the worst laws protecting tenants in the country.  Without a doubt, Arkansas is the only state that has a statute that makes eviction a criminal offense!  What that really means is that a tenant either protesting and withholding their rent to pressure a landlord to make repairs, or a tenant falling behind on their rent is seen under Arkansas law to be effectively stealing from their landlord.

A landlord can also evict a tenant with three (3) days’ notice for any reason or no reason at all and file a notice of “unlawful detainer” in civil court.  As the Attorney General’s website details that’s not a pretty process:

Unlawful detainer actions require a landlord to provide you with a three days’ written notice to vacate. If you do not leave, the landlord can sue by filing a complaint against you in court. After you receive a summons to appear in court, you have five days to object in writing to the eviction. Any objection must be filed with the clerk of the court in which the eviction action was filed, and you should send a copy of your objection to the landlord’s lawyer. If you do not file an objection, you can be removed from the dwelling by the county sheriff. If you do object, a hearing will be scheduled to determine the outcome to your case.

If that’s not bad, it can actually get worse for tenants.  As one report noted:

Tenants who plead not guilty have to pay the amount the landlord says they owe to the court before they can get a trial. In the Little Rock suburb of Jacksonville, they’re held on $250 bail.

If criminalizing non-rent payment isn’t enough to make Arkansas the most landlord friendly state in the country, the fact that there is no “warrant of habitability” guaranteeing that the tenant is living in a safe dwelling also makes Arkansas the only state without such a promise to its citizens as well.

It’s fair to say that Arkansas has the worst landlord-tenant laws in the country.  How long can this be allowed to continue?


Please enjoy Keith Richards’ Talk is Cheap 30th Anniversary Reissue. Thanks to KABF.