The Arkadelphian launched as an online news source for Arkadelphia and Clark County in July 2021. Founder Joel Phelps, former Siftings Herald reporter who re-emerged as a news gatherer after a four-year hiatus, made measurable progress within a matter of weeks. With its online format, The Arkadelphian is able to deliver local, relevant content not only to the people who presently call Arkadelphia home but to anyone who has ever lived here or is considering relocating.
In two months, The Arkadelphian had an average weekly readership of 5,000 people. Two months later, that average jumped to 7,000 weekly readers. As Phelps settles back into the role as a community journalist and continues providing the readership what it’s been yearning for in the absence of a daily newspaper, The Arkadelphian will continue to grow.
“My whole goal in founding The Arkadelphian has been to provide a central hub of information, where my readers can go to find out what’s going on in their town without having to rely solely on social media, where opinions and political stances overshadow facts,” Phelps said. “These days, information is so scattered across Facebook that it can be a real challenge to find out something as simple as when a parade is. Not anymore.”
In researching other online news sites, Phelps pulled ideas from a variety of other sites in Southwest Arkansas in order to find a balanced approach at community journalism. Having spent the better part of a decade as a police beat reporter, Phelps was initially inclined to follow the path of Hot Springs’ arkansas911news.com, which is focused primarily on crime and car accidents.
He also took notes on hopeprescott.com, which he recalls was “definitely giving GateHouse a run for its money” when it launched, just months before GateHouse folded The Gurdon Times and Nevada County Picayune into its daily counterparts in Arkadelphia and Hope, respectively. Phelps also looked toward the Bryant-based mysaline.com, a flyer-heavy site with a balance of features writing and events promotion.
But it wasn’t until someone off his radar — Columbia County and Southwest Arkansas’ magnoliareporter.com — reached out that Phelps began to really visualize the path he would take. “[MagnoliaReporter.com publisher] Mike McNeill sent an email congratulating me on entering the world of online journalism, and he’s offered a lot of advice and support since then,” Phelps said. “I look forward to incorporating his style of digital publishing into mine and seeing where it goes, both for myself as an aspiring news entrepreneur and for my readers. Mike’s website has been around for more than a decade, so I know online journalism is viable even in small cities.”
McNeill pushed Phelps to join the ranks of more than 300 other digital publishers and become a member of LION Publishers. “He also strongly encouraged me to strike a balance between the police beat and other news items, and I realize this is an important step to take to aid in attracting future residents and employers,” Phelps said. “While it’s necessary to report on significant car accidents and incidents that happen in our small communities, it’s imperative that we keep our focus on the bright side of life.”
So far, Phelps has been successful at finding that balance. Posts about fatal car accidents attract a large pool of curious eyes to the website, but Phelps’ profiles on community leaders or features about community traditions have attracted just as many visitors.
“I want The Arkadelphian to belong to the community,” Phelps concluded. “This is your news and information, and I want the public to help steer it in the right direction.” Contact The Arkadelphian by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling (501) 304-2134. The Arkadelphian is also on Facebook and Twitter.
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