UCA professor, 501 contributor publishes book on Arkansas Gazette

by Cassidy Crawford
College of Fine Arts and Communication Media Office

Dr. Donna Lampkin Stephens, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Central Arkansas, will hold readings and signings for her first book, “If It Ain’t Broke, Break It: How Corporate Journalism Killed the Arkansas Gazette,” in April.

The first signing will be at WordsWorth Books & Co., 5920 R St., in Little Rock from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday, April 11. The second will be in the UCA Mirror Room in McAlister Hall from 1:40 to 2:30 p.m. Thursday, April 16. Both events are free and open to the public.

The book, recently published by the University of Arkansas Press, offers a firsthand account of how and why the Arkansas Gazette, then the oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi River, died on October 18, 1991, after perhaps the country’s last great newspaper war. The Gazette, which under the ownership of the Heiskell/Patterson family won two Pulitzer Prizes in 1958 for its coverage of the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957, was sold to the Gannett Corporation in 1986 after the family was unable to sustain the ongoing war against the Arkansas Democrat. But under the yoke of corporate journalism, the newspaper lasted just five years. Gannett sold the Gazette to Walter Hussman, owner of the Democrat, which then changed that newspaper’s name to today’s Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

From her seven years working as a sportswriter for the Gazette from 1984 until the day the doors closed, Stephens depicts a detailed insider’s account of Arkansas’s most honored newspaper destroyed by corporate journalism.

The book is the culmination of several years of research that included Stephens’ dissertation for the Ph.D. she earned from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2012. Her dissertation earned honorable mention in the 2013 Margaret A. Blanchard Prize for outstanding doctoral dissertation by the American Journalism Historians Association.

“I am very pleased with the final version,” Stephens said. “I did some revising from the dissertation but not a great deal, and I think it’s very fair and accurate.”

Stephens’ other work includes similar projects involving the story of the Gazette. She produced “The Gray Old Lady: Arkansas’s First Newspaper,” a 2006 feature-length documentary film telling the story in that medium, as well as “The Crisis Mr. Faubus Made: The Role of the Arkansas Gazette in the Central High Crisis” (2009), a 30-minute documentary film aimed at school children. She has traveled extensively sharing the films with students and teachers.

“It does feel good to come to the end of 10 years of work,” Stephens said. “It’s the crowning achievement of my career.”

Copies are available on Amazon.com and at area bookstores, including the UCA bookstore.

For more information, contact Stephens at 501.450.5605 or [email protected].