Saline County News-Pacesetter
Between 1955 and the mid-1970s, an independent weekly newspaper (first called the Saline County News, then—after consolidation with the Saline County Pacesetter—the News-Pacesetter) existed in direct opposition to the Benton Courier in Saline County. Veteran newspaperman Harold Johnson and his wife, newspaperwoman Elsie Cabe Johnson, left the Benton Courier to start their own paper, the Saline County News, in June 1955. It lasted until 1972, when Whitney Jones, son of Dr. Curtis Jones, purchased it from the Johnsons. Continuing as the Saline County News-Pacesetter, the paper lasted until the mid-1970s, when it too was sold. In addition to covering local news and sports, it helped launch the careers of many Arkansas writers and photographers.
The first newspaper to carry the name Saline County News was established in February 1940 by Gene Burroughs in Benton (Saline County). Believing that Benton and the surrounding area were big enough for a second print shop, Harold and Elsie Johnson founded the Saline Printing Company on June 1, 1953. At the time, their main competition was the L. B. White Printing Company, which, in addition to books, printed the Benton Courier, also owned by White. The Johnsons received much of their experience in the news business from printer Lowell Bartow (L. B.) White and his wife, Margaret Purtle White, at the Courier. By June 1955, the Johnsons had left the Courier. With the help and advice of fellow printers such as A. W. Binyon, Roy Adams, and Bernard Neil of the Arkansas Gazette, the Johnsons started their own newspaper in direct opposition to the Courier.
The first issue of the Saline County News was published on June 1, 1955. On page twelve of the first issue, the Johnsons celebrated the second anniversary of their Saline Printing Company, which printed their paper. Its offices were located at 221 East Sevier Street in downtown Benton. The staff in the beginning consisted of Grace Briner, wife of Ernest Briner and sister to Elsie Johnson; Doris Edwards Hughes; Charles H. Zoeller; Charles Dove; and Lee Roy Bagget. The Saline County News was established as a weekly newspaper that was published every Thursday. Like the Courier, the Saline County News focused on local news and sports.
By 1968, the paper had expanded to feature a new look and columns such as “Curbstone Views” by Shirley Parsons Coppock and a “Poet’s Forum,” run by noted poet Anna Nash Yarbrough. On January 27, 1972, the Saline County News announced that, after sixteen years, publisher Harold Johnson had sold the paper to Whitney Jones, a young man from the area who had studied at Arkansas State University and the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County). The Saline County News consolidated with Jones’s paper, the Saline County Pacesetter, and the result was the Saline County News-Pacesetter. Despite selling their paper to Jones, the Johnsons kept ownership of the Saline Printing Company, which stayed open as a commercial print shop.
Under Jones, the News-Pacesetter operated from the basement of his father’s clinic on Market Street in Benton. The News-Pacesetter kept most of the writing staff from the Saline County News but with Jones as both editor and publisher. The News-Pacesetter kept elements such as Coppock’s column from the Saline County News, photographs by David Terry Hughes, Yarbrough’s “Poet’s Forum,” and history columns by Dr. Daniel F. Littlefield Jr., who lived in Benton in the early 1970s. The first issue of the Saline County News-Pacesetter was published in February 1973. By 1974, the News-Pacesetter’s circulation was more than 3,000 issues published every Wednesday.
According to David Hughes, the Saline County News, and later the News-Pacesetter, operated using a “flatbed press,” which printed four pages at a time then flipped around and printed again. Sam Hodges, who owned the Benton Courier, was reportedly so annoyed by the News-Pacesetter that he tried to purchase it several times. Eventually, with the paper losing money, it was sold to a man in Malvern (Hot Spring County), who then sold it to Hodges. With that, it came to an end. Whitney Jones later served on the editorial staff of the Courier from time to time and was editor of the Saline Courier from February 2005 until July 30, 2009.
For additional information:
Berry, Cody. “Longtime News Man Talks County History.” Saline Courier, August 20, 2017, p. 3A.
Meriwether, Robert W. A Chronicle of Arkansas Newspapers Published since 1922 and of the Arkansas Press Association, 1930–1972. Little Rock: Arkansas Press Association, 1974.
“Our Last Issue.” Saline County News, January 27, 1972, p. 1
“Saline Printing Co. Celebrates Second Anniversary June 1.” Saline County News, June 1, 1955, p. 12.
Cody Lynn Berry
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