NOT CHOPPED LIVER: The 12 counties served by the NWA D-G will continue to get a real newspaper. The future is digital in the newspaper’s home base of Little Rock.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported further today on Publisher Walter Hussman’s plan to transition to a digital newspaper six days a week, with only the Sunday paper continuing to use ink and paper.

The article seems to have been prompted by weekend discussion on the web about the change and some assertions (erroneous) that the changeover could occur by July.

Today’s article says the conversion is planned for completion in 63 counties, including Pulaski, by the end of the year.

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But …. the article also says the 12 counties in which the Northwest Arkansas version of the newspaper is delivered will continue to get a seven-day print edition.

Why?

That’s a question I hope to see answered in the days ahead. I haven’t seen circulation figures lately, but Pulaski County, home to the newspaper, is presumably the biggest single source of subscribers and the easiest to serve in terms of population concentration. Why are readers in Little Rock chopped liver?

I can’t help but wonder if this is a subtle signal of the power shift in Arkansas to the economic boom areas of Washington and Benton counties? What’s next? A move of the Capitol?

Another question on the newspaper changeover: I understand that Internet disruption of the newspaper business calls for a new model in which readers rather than (non-existent) advertisers pay more of the cost of the reporting staff. That means a higher subscription price (around $400 a year for now for the D-G).

But why should readers who already own tablets and computers subsidize the $12 million the publisher has invested to provide “free” tablets as an inducement to subscribe (of scant value if you don’t have WiFI or an unlimited data plan on a reliable cellular service)? Why shouldn’t those who don’t require a tablet get consideration in the subscription price?

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By noting these marketing difficulties, I don’t mean to suggest hope for failure of the bold plan. I’m a committed subscriber, paper or pixels. I’m old enough to believe society is well-served by an energetic “press.” And I understand the dilemma on a personal level. The Arkansas Times may be smaller, but it is no less human. Several dozen people depend on our continued existence and we’ve coped with industry changes by reducing the frequency of print publication, instituted a subscription fee for unlimited web access and taken other steps to remain in business. Times remain difficult.

Our staff is much smaller than that of the D-G, five full-time writer/editors to their more than 100. But we like to think we make a difference. Just this morning, the D-G on page one and its local news section front showcased stories you read first on the Arkansas Blog — the Pulaski County juvenile probation squabble between circuit judges and County Judge Barry Hyde and the AETN decision not to broadcast an episode of a kids cartoon show, “Arthur,” because it contained a depiction of a gay marriage. We turn up an acorn now and then.

Some also might even welcome the decided difference in editorial outlook.