Q: Why did you buy and consolidate the Chattanooga newspapers?
WALTER HUSSMAN: We were very impressed with the Chattanooga market and how its leadership had really transformed the city from more of a blue-collar town into more of a white-collar city. Chattanooga has done a remarkable job, probably more than any city in America, in tackling the pollution issue.
When you see that type of leadership in a community, it’s usually a very attractive place to invest money.
We were impressed with the fact that Chattanooga had very good readership of both newspapers, probably because they had competitive newspapers for so long. There was a great heritage at both newspapers. We saw it as a great opportunity and we were fortunate enough to pursue and buy both papers.
Q: Why did you merge the two daily newspapers in January 1999?
MR. HUSSMAN: We realized that if we could consolidate the two newspapers, probably Chattanooga could have a better single newspaper by eliminating a lot of the duplication involved and being able to devote more resources to news gathering.
I think Chattanooga has a strong newspaper as a result of that. Of course, there is no competition in newsgathering by the two newspapers like there was before. But we were able to preserve the competition of ideas because we maintained two editorial pages.
Q: Why did you maintain both the Free Press and The Times editorial pages?
MR. HUSSMAN: Chattanooga had a great tradition of two very good newspapers and one was fairly conservative and one was fairly liberal. It was just a unique opportunity to try to perpetuate that.
A second editorial page is often used as an opinion page for opposing viewpoints from what the newspaper might express. We thought if you have a liberal editorial page and a conservative editorial page you don’t need an op-ed page because you are going to have contrasting viewpoints. The commitment was to hire the additional personnel to put out a second editorial page. We think that commitment of spending more money on the product has paid off because it’s given the paper a unique identity by having both editorial pages.
Q: Unlike most newspapers, The Times Free Press and other Wehco Media newspapers have not cut back on staff or the size of the newspaper. Why not?
MR. HUSSMAN: We believe that we have a lot of really valuable people at our papers and one of the greatest assets we have is our personnel. So if we were to cut back on our personnel that would hurt. So we are resisting that as much as we possibly can, even though this is the biggest downturn in my lifetime working in newspapers for 38 years. There have been pressures to reduce staff, but we look at that as sort of a last resort and we’re hopeful that we can come out of this economic downturn and not have to have any layoffs. We have had to have a wage freeze and a hiring freeze, but that is one of the milder measures that have taken in our industry.
Q: How is Wehco’s approach different from other newspapers’?
MR. HUSSMAN: Our philosophy is something that my dad always said. You have different constituencies that you serve as a newspaper: You have readers, advertisers, employees, creditors and shareholders. If you keep those constituencies in that order, then in the long run the shareholders will do quite well. But if you put any of those groups in a different order, things don’t seem to operate as well. The shareholders of our company are going to get considerably smaller dividends than they have in the past, at least for a few years. But we think that is what we have to do, even if we take a hit in our profits, to help our employees as much as we can.”
— Compiled by Dave Flessner
Video: Two editorial voicesWalter E. Hussman Jr., chairman of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, discusses his decision to purchase the two newspapers in the Chattanooga market 10 years ago and to merge them into one operation. Mr. Hussman also talks about the distinct nature of having two editorial voices in the newspaper.