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NLR journalism icon passes away

Tom Riley and Bob McCordBuy Photo
Tom Riley and Bob McCord

North Little Rock on Sept. 18 lost an icon in local journalism when Thomas Arnold Riley, 92, of North Little Rock passed away.

He graduated with a degree in Journalism from Southern Methodist University. He worked for the Arkansas Gazette and was publisher of the North Little Rock Times where he retired.

“I knew Tom Riley primarily when I worked for the Times,” said Cary Bradburn, a historian for the North Little Rock History Commission. “He was known as the nicest man in the world.”

He was the publisher for the North Little Rock Times for nearly 30 years and retired on June 30, 1995.

He started his career selling advertising for the Arkansas Gazette, joined the North Little Rock Times in 1958 as the advertising manager under the ownership of Robert S. McCord.

When the paper was managed by McCord and Riley, changes were made to the edition to make it stand out from major dailies in the area. The paper then changed its news content to enhance the product, increasing its circulation from around 2,000 during the early years of his tenure to nearly doubling gross revenue every couple of years.

In 1961, the Times was the first newspaper in the state to be printed offset. By 1968, the paid circulation of nearly 9,000 was one of the largest in the Southwest.

On March 1, 1968, Riley purchased the North Little Rock Times after being appointed the newspaper’s general manager.

In a North Little Rock Times article, dated Feb. 29, 1969, states Riley’s ownership “The purchase of The Times by Tom Riley will assure the people of North Little Rock that they will continue to have an independent hometown newspaper, owned and operated entirely by local citizens.”

Former owner McCord spoke of Riley at the time, “I have devoted almost 10 years of my life to the development of this newspaper. Tom Riley has been with me every step of the way. He has the board experience in newspaper work and the great interest in North Little Rock to enable him to publish a fine hometown newspaper.

Under the management of McCord and Riley, the Times had twice won the Arkansas Press Association’s Sweepstakes Award for being the state’s best weekly newspaper.

In 1969, Riley hired John Thompson, a Little Rock native and Harvard graduate as his managing editor.

One of the memorable times for journalists in the 1980s in Arkansas was when the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette began a battle for newspaper supremacy.

Both major newspapers slashed their advertising rates and circulation prices. The advertising rates were low enough that they ended up about what the Times would charge, thus freezing the Times’ rates despite the fact that expenses were increases.

“It kept us in a situation where we were treading water for six or seven years,” Riley said in a Times article dated June 29, 1995.

The Times during the 1980s was unable to add staff or buy new equipment, but the newspaper was able to stay open. The Times stated competitive by printing hometown news items, such as publishing school honor rolls, club news, local events, and upcoming meetings.

Riley served in many other areas other than the newspaper.

He served as an Officer in the United States Navy during World War II. He was a member of Lakewood United Methodist Church and a member of the Bob Millett Sunday School Class. He was past president and member of the Arkansas Press Association and Arkansas Foundation. He has served on the boards of The North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, the YMCA, North Little Rock Electric Commission, and the North Little Rock Lion’s Club where he was past president, the local Red Cross and the Quapaw Boy’s Scout Council. He was a member of the American International Charolais Association and submitted the winning design for their headquarters sign and logo in a national contest, where he won a full-French Charolais Heifer. He was member of the Arkansas Charolais Association and president of Lakewood Property Owners. He also volunteered for Brother Paul’s Friendly Chapel.

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