If you’re reading a paper copy of this esteemed publication right now, you’re holding something special in your hands: the last weekly print edition of the Arkansas Times, the end of an unbroken chain that goes back and back, week by week, every week, to May 1992, when the Times became what the hep cats call an “alternative newsweekly.” Our famous annual Native’s Guide will be out next week, but as for a true edition of the Times as a weekly, this is it. Don’t fear or celebrate, though, lovers and haters, respectively. In addition to remaining on the throne in our vast digital castle in cyberspace at wordpress-237995-832720.cloudwaysapps.com, we’ll be back on the racks come February as a new monthly magazine. We think you’re gonna like it. Your Old Pal will be batting cleanup on or near the last page of each issue. Look for us there. While the change means The Observer will be seeing less of you and vice versa, Dear Reader — 12 times a year or thereabouts instead of 52 or thereabouts — we promise there will be no corresponding dip in our passion or intensity, and we hope the same is true on your end. What’s that about absence making the heart grow fonder?
While going monthly is a response to certain financial realities that have affected the whole newspaper industry — no sense beating around the bush about that like an overdrawn suburbanite, given that we’re forthright and uncouth downtowners — a monthly schedule is actually a return to form for us. In ’92, The Observer’s Rich Uncle Alan recognized a soul-sized gap in the local media landscape after the Arkansas Gazette was felled and cannibalized by Lilliputians, at which point he hired several of the Old Gray Lady’s former all-stars and went weekly on newsprint. Before that, though, Arkansas Times had been a glossy monthly magazine. And before that, a free-wheeling, rabble-rousing, superfly publication that debuted in September ’74 as the Union Station Times, printed on pulp paper so chunky it probably could have been used to sand the corner off a freshly cut oak plank, and full of content that likely scandalized quite a few folks. Yeah, change is scary. But here’s what you’ll learn if you’re lucky to live long enough for the cobwebs to creep in at your temples: Life is change. As long as you’re changing, as long as you’re willing to change, you’ve stiiiiiiillll got it. The moment you won’t, or can’t, you’re worse than dead.
The Observer worked 15 years on the weekly Times, and we can tell you: We’re looking forward to taking a breath. A few years in, speaking to our old pal Mr. Photographer, Yours Truly likened turning out a paper week in and week out to going up to the roof every Wednesday and beginning the process of assembling a full-sized replica of the Wright Flyer from scratch, our little team steam-bending the ash frame and stretching the canvas, carving the propellers with draw knives and bolting them on, pouring in the gas and watching the little homebuilt engines cough to life before finally pushing the contraption off the roof, hearts full of hope, and watching as the spindly thing sputters and climbs to disappear over the horizon. At that point, we would all turn to each other, hammers and wrenches in hand, and say: “What’s next?” and begin building another one. The Observer, of course, wasn’t there for all of it, but it was like that, every week, since May 1992. You, Dear Reader, were lucky to have never witnessed it. There were fights and tears, even on the days when we got everything right. We honestly have no idea how folks at the daily papers do it without going bare-assed insane. Some of them don’t, in our experience.
So now, The Observer and our compadres stride boldly into the future for this outfit we love and this profession we love and this city we love, Arkansas Times to be reborn by Valentine’s Day as something new but still us, still that plucky bunch of raconteurs that started way back in 1974, though many of the faces around the coffee pot in the morning are different these days. We’ve done that Phoenix act before, so it don’t scare us none. Hopefully you’ll be there with us when we emerge anew, and keep on proudly telling our advertisers you saw it in the Arkansas Times. As for this chapter of our story, though, The Observer will end it the way we were taught by the eldest of old-timers way back in the day, and simply say: