By Joel Phelps
Twelve months may not be a considerable amount of time, but it’s cause enough for celebration.
Aug. 2 will mark the one-year anniversary of the very first time The Arkadelphian clicked “publish” to its highly read Dispatch Desk police blotter. In the days that followed, I kept the name I had chosen for this business a secret, letting a select few know that I was preparing to launch an online news source for the good people of Clark County.
It was a secret I wouldn’t be able to keep for long, as it was evident from very early on that citizens were starving to have local news and information available to them daily and quickly. People noticed that I had started showing up at public events shouldering a camera and occasionally whipping out a pad and pen.
For the next year, I would pick up where I once left off following a decade of reporting local news. Equipped with nothing but a decade of newsroom experience and a degree in journalism, I went to work in hopes of building an audience large enough that advertisers couldn’t ignore my product.
The first six months were a struggle. While more readers were catching on and taking note of the website, it seemed like no one understood how this news model works: I needed advertisers, not just compliments. Fortunately, the advertisements began coming in around February — about the same time I broke news of Henderson’s 20% furloughs, which happens to be my #2 most-read story to date.
If you like what you read in The Arkadelphian, do me a favor and do business with our advertisers. At the very least, tell them you saw their advertisement on this website. It’s all because of advertisements and donations that I’m able to continue providing this service to the community. We’re always open to suggestions, feedback and story ideas. We’re just a click away. You can find my phone number, P.O. Box and email address on the homepage.
For those of you who just started reading The Arkadelphian in the past few months, here’s a glance at some of the earlier stories I’m most proud of. Keep reading to find the Top 10 most-read stories of the first year in operation.
City unveils $2.5M MLK Park
One of the first big stories I got my hands on was the announcement that plans were under way to turn the site of an old hospital into a city park to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
Since then, Ouachita Baptist University has pledged $50,000 toward the park, and Fitz Hill is spearheading the fundraising efforts to make this another dream come true. With more big news coming that same month from Ouachita — like adding housing for an additional 144 students — indicates that at least one of our two universities are in good shape.
Here’s one of the earliest Facebook posts, dated Aug. 5, 2021, when the “secret” started getting out:
News travels fast — sometimes faster than you’d really want it to.
The Arkadelphian was born just two weeks ago. After purchasing a domain and web hosting service, I got to work, creating content relevant to our wonderful community. I kept the name privy to a select few people, and hoped to keep it that way until I was ready to launch. I showed up to one public event earlier this week. I snapped a few pictures, jotted a few notes and recorded a couple interviews before I posted the final product online.
The next morning, my website stats started taking off as I had told a handful of folks the website’s name. I hadn’t planned to create a Facebook page until closer to making a formal announcement. But as the number of page visitors skyrocketed throughout the day Wednesday, I felt it was time for a soft launch. Visitors continued pouring into the website, which is still a work in progress. In all honesty, I’m nervous that many people will see a website under construction and get a bad first impression.
But I’m definitely not complaining. Having been your local news reporter for close to a decade, I’m thrilled about the prospect of Arkadelphia having a constant source of information on what is going on in our fair city, and am excited that I’ll be the one delivering it to you.
When the Gathright Medical Plaza caught fire at 3 a.m., I was there, camera in hand. When the county went wet, I stayed up past midnight writing about an event that forever changed our town’s history. When the Arkadelphia Board of Directors voted to change the name of Pine Street to honor MLK, I drove my scooter as fast as it would go back to the newspaper office, trembling with excitement to get the word out. I was 24/7, and felt more like an employee of my readers than an employee of the Siftings Herald. The Arkadelphian will also be 24/7, and this digital news site will belong to you, the reader.
For those of you who have followed the Arkadelphian Facebook page and/or visited the website, thank you tremendously. Keep visiting, keep liking, keep sharing. I just want you to know that the site is in its infancy. It will improve. There will be more pages, more content and much more news from Yours Truly, who happens to be an award-winning journalist. Bear with me during these first few weeks of technical hiccups and I promise it will be worth it.
My vision is simple: the Arkadelphian will be where anyone who lives here, once lived here or wants to live here can click regularly for all the relevant local information they want to consume. And it’s free! Between now and my official launch date, you’re all invited to check out the page and/or contact me with suggestions — just don’t judge too harshly while I work to perfect the site.
Arkadelphia Schools sees enrollment increase
I’m a big fan of good news. It warms my soul to be able to tell our readers that good things are happening in our community. Like this:
Let’s hope this trend continues into the upcoming school year.
Motorcycle Cannonball visits Arkadelphia
It’s always fun to talk to a bunch of people from out of town who arrive in Arkadelphia for the first time. We like to ask their first impression of the town. Naturally, they’re going to be positive about their observations if they’re talking to the media. But I can honestly say no one has ever said to me, “Gee, this place is a dump. Why do you live here?”
Take note of the image in the story above. I’m not the best photographer, but I’m definitely not the worst. I slowed the camera’s shutter speed and followed each biker with the lens as he passed by, and among the best ones I took happened to be Arkadelphia Mayor Scott Byrd, who participated in the Cannonball, driving past his dental office. How cool is that?
Barkadelphia Dog Park
This is one ongoing project many folks are excited about, myself included. I’m hoping one day soon that there will be more news to share.
I took some creative liberties with that headline. In hindsight, I wish I had worked a little harder on my choice of puns because the headline made it seem like the Leadership Clark County class had to overcome some real obstacles. The pandemic slowed the group down shortly after they began fundraising efforts.
Sav U Mor to become HQ for Arkadelphia police
When I got the agenda packet for the upcoming meeting of the Arkadelphia City Board, I took note of the address of a property the city wanted to buy for a police department.
I drove out to photograph the address but instead found myself taking pictures of another building downtown. I snapped some photos until I was happy with the outcome, then realized not only was I taking pictures of the wrong building, I was on the wrong block! I backtracked until I found the correct address and was as surprised as some readers of the chosen location.
$2M offered to “Cupcake” project
Only a handful of people knew the actual name of a company interested in bringing some jobs to the area. I wasn’t one of them, and neither were any of the 15 people who serve on the Economic Development Corp. of Clark County. But they had enough faith in the Arkadelphia Alliance to pledge $2 million for what would later be announced as Hostess Brands.
I later had a sweet time writing about this. Keep reading.
For the Top 10 most-read stories to date, I looked at the website statistics to show just how popular some of the articles are. More than 15,000 people read our #1 story. That’s almost four times more people than are considered readers or followers. Some articles would have otherwise made the list, but I left most of those out as they were reports where death was involved.
Top 10 most-read stories
10. Centerpoint adopts 4-day school week
9. Talking shop with Arkadelphia’s youngest female firefighter
8. Hostess makes sweet announcement
7. Jury finds Henderson professor not guilty of meth charges
6. Tiger Mart closes for Pine Street widening
5. Fish Net daughter re-opens restaurant
4. Karla Neathery takes Sheridan job
3. Arkadelphia school board names Nikki Thomas as superintendent
2. Hard times at Henderson
1. Henderson faculty learns fate after financial woes