Arkansas family newspaper war ends with merger – The Olympian

Another chapter in community journalism is being written in Nashville, Arkansas, with the purchase and merger of the Nashville Leader and the Nashville News. The newspaper now goes by the name The Nashville News-Leader.

The Texarkana Gazette (http://bit.ly/2axuqqF ) reports that after nearly two months, the community has had little problem adjusting to a new owner-John Robert Schirmer of Nashville-since he is a local teacher and helped launch the Nashville Leader with Louie Graves in 2003.

“A key desire on our part in selling the newspapers was passing ownership to someone who lives in the local area rather than having community newspapers owned by out-of-state interests who only care about the bottom line,” said former Graves Publishing Co. CEO Michael Graves of Nashville.

The sale of the Graves Publishing Co. was concluded May 31 and included The Nashville News, Murfreesboro Diamond, Glenwood Herald and Montgomery County News. The press, commercial printing operation and building in Nashville were also included.

“We are confident that Mr. Schirmer will be a good steward of these award-winning newspapers, which are so much a part of their respective communities,” Michael Graves said.

The possibility of a merger started last fall in August or September when the Graves brothers wanted to talk about selling the newspapers, Schirmer said.

“The idea of one newspaper came from newspaper broker Tom Bolitho of Ada, Oklahoma.”

“We were shocked at first and surprised,” Schirmer said.

The broker had “long talks” with the owners beginning in September and, in April, an offer was made. The deal was completed May 31.

Some of the talks were delayed while Schirmer recovered from a broken leg. He tripped over the junior high school cheerleaders “run-through poles.”

The Nashville Leader was opened by Louie Graves in 2003 with the help of Schirmer.

In a town with a population of nearly 5,000 the two newspapers competed for advertisers and circulation. It’s unusual to have two local newspapers in a small town and the competing publishers were brothers.

The Graves family considered selling the Nashville News 13 years ago along with the other newspapers and equipment.

Disagreements developed over the possibility of the sale in 2003 and it never went through.

Louie Graves and his wife, the late Jane Graves, launched the Nashville Leader. Schirmer, who is also a high school history teacher, helped.

Jane Graves died of cancer in 2007.

The newspaper personality of the Leader has been a blend of news, sports and personal comments. Louie Graves column ends each week with a tribute to Jane Graves with the phrase “Sweet Dreams, baby.”

Schirmer had worked at the Nashville News and was a journalism and English teacher.

Though Louie Graves described the competing newspapers as a 13-year newspaper war, he declined to discuss it.

He said he has learned to “button his lip and not fan the flames of a family war.”

He entered the Nashville News building after the sale of the newspaper and felt a rush of memories.

“After Schirmer bought and owned the building, I went to the newspaper office and it was the first time I had been in the building since I left in a huff in 2003. The smell flattened me again, to smell the ink and solvent. It awakened some memories,” Louie Graves said.

He will keep his advertising tactics to pay the bills. It’s something he learned in the newspaper war.

During the weeks before Christmas-and the peak time for advertising sales-Louie Graves will continue his tradition of dressing as Mrs. Claus.

The image of Mrs. Claus is used to encourage people to purchase gifts from local stores. He shows the advertising customer he is trying to earn their business.

“I hear about Mrs. Santa Claus all year long and people look forward to it,” he said.

“They can’t believe an old guy like me puts on a dress, pearls, lipstick and a wig. They just don’t know me. It helps pay the light bill in December.”

Michael Graves issued a statement about the history of the newspaper and the Graves family.

“On behalf of the Graves family, I would like to thank the people of Nashville and Southwest Arkansas for giving our family the privilege of publishing these hometown and community-owned newspapers. We give a special thanks to our subscribers, advertisers, and valued employees.”

Graves publishing has its roots dating to 1950 when the late Louis “Swampy” Graves and Wilton Graves of Texarkana purchased Howard County’s oldest continuous business, The Nashville News and moved to Nashville. Graves was a World War II Flying Tiger.

Graves wrote a popular, award-winning column called “Facts and Fancies” and, over two decades, built up the circulation of the News with lively coverage of sports and the local political scene. He and Wilton raised 10 children. Wilton is still going strong at 94 and lives in Nashville.

Louis Graves was joined in running the Nashville News by oldest son, Louie, and his wife the late Jane Graves, in the early 1970s. Another son, Lawrence, started the Murfreesboro Diamond in 1975.

In 1979, the late Ray Ross of Glenwood and Louis Graves formed a partnership and purchased the assets of the Glenwood Herald and Montgomery County News.

Ross sold his ownership in the newspapers to a company later owned in its entirety by Graves Publishing, which was owned by the 10 Graves siblings.

The newspaper war has ended, but Schirmer said, “There is not a winner or loser, but a survivor.”

Information from: Texarkana Gazette, http://www.texarkanagazette.com

An AP Member Exchange shared by the Texarkana Gazette

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