After I published my first take on the pending sale of the Oklahoma Publishing Company (OPUBCO), which includes The Oklahoman, to Denver billionaire and right-winger Philip Anschutz, I had a couple of people ask me whether I think major shakeups, including more layoffs, are imminent in the early, post-Gaylord era of the newspaper.
The easy answer to that, and it’s really no brainer, is a decisive “yes,” but that’s really nothing peculiar to The Oklahoman. For years now, many metropolitan newspapers have been squeezed by declining subscribers, huge production costs, which now include online operations, and the remarkable failure of a particular segment of the American intelligentsia to adjust to the changing and fragmented ways we now access our information.
I’m unsure Anschutz, who has been called “famously reclusive,” will come to Oklahoma immediately with axe in hand, looking for what to chop, but he and his team will eventually have to bring out the cutting the board unless they have found that magic, new business model for which many print newspapers are looking. That’s unlikely. The post-Gaylord newspaper will also be leveraged with its percentage of the overall OPUBCO sale price. I do think key, local personnel will be rewarded well for helping in the transition, but what about everyone else?
Some cuts at The Oklahoman seem obvious on the editorial side. Why does the newspaper need a Washington correspondent, who essentially just rewrites the press releases or regurgitates the political rhetoric of Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation? Why does it need so many editorial writers? (Look at The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman. He’s a professor and a popular commentator on a national scale. That’s two jobs.) Also, can all the reporters at The Oklahoman now professionally handle still and video camera work, capture riveting audio and also write? Those that can’t do it all and do it well, or don’t have some specific niche that makes them exempt, are sure to be in little demand at a metropolitan newspaper like The Oklahoman in the future.
Cuts in other parts of the newspaper, the business and production sides, just go hand-in-hand with lower readership and less advertising.
I’ll make three other points in my “second take” on the sale of OPUBCO:
- Perhaps, the operators/owners of The Oklahoman, the Gaylord family, just didn’t have the stomach for continuing to make major cuts. I think this goes along with my conjecture that the current, third-generation Gaylords and their children didn’t have the same attachment to the newspaper business as founder Edward K. Gaylord and, later, his son, Edward L. Gaylord. How do you adapt a declining business to a new reality and challenge if you don’t really have a love for that business? Better to take the money and run. There’s nothing wrong with that, but tell that to the next round of local newspaper people who get their pink slips.
- I will sound like a broken record here, and I mentioned this in my previous post, but, in order to thrive, The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com has to broaden his readership and viewer base, and that means it must open up space for liberals here. It’s true that Oklahoma is a conservative place, but there are thousands of progressives here as well, and The Oklahoman is the largest newspaper in the state. A business that goes out of its way to intentionally alienate a sizeable chunk of potential customers will have problems in a competitive market. When Edward L. Gaylord ran the paper, there were fewer options for people seeking information, and so the big monopoly ruled and the advertising poured in. But new information sources and changing readership habits have changed things considerably.
- I think many metropolitan newspapers, The Oklahoman among them, face a real conscience moment. Many people just don’t trust the corporate media anymore, and Anschutz’s political background shows he might have the same if not more intense right-wing political agenda as the Gaylord family, if that’s possible. What about reporting the news, serving as a community watchdog and allowing differing opinions in new expanded formats? That’s so yesterday.
I have long been a critic of The Oklahoman in this space and elsewhere primarily for the extreme right-wing views on its editorial page.
I have also consistently pointed out right-wing biases in its news coverage, from the GOP, public-relations style of reporting that emanates from the newspaper’s Washington bureau to the way it frames the local news to what it even determines is news.
My posts and articles about the newspaper over the last ten years or so could easily fill a book.
Along the way, I have been critical of the newspaper’s principal ownership, the Gaylord family, for being a major player in a corporate power structure here in the Oklahoma City area that seems more interested in reaping its own financial rewards than working for a common good.
So I was somewhat surprised that when I learned that the Oklahoma Publishing Company (OPUBCO), which includes The Oklahoman, was being sold to Denver billionaire and right-winger Phil Anschutz I was filled with a moment of sadness. The Gaylords have been a bedrock of the culture here, its very own, right-wingers for the left to traditionally criticize and rail against and major members of the eclectic and weird, dysfunctional family called Oklahoma.
Whatever sadness I felt was soon replaced by what the newspaper’s editorial writers would call “class envy” when I realized that the selling price—though not announced—absolutely had to be astronomical and that some of that money will eventually support the right-wing dictatorship we have going on in Oklahoma right now. In announcing the sale, OPUBCO head Christy Gaylord Everest, said she plans to stay here. (She has also been asked to remain on the newspaper’s editorial board.) Now she and others in her family are going to have even more money to influence the political landscape here.
I reserve the right to revise, but here’s my first take on the newspaper’s sale:
- The 71-year-old Anschutz probably bought the newspaper at least partially to advance the right-wing political cause, though most people would consider that fait accompli here in Oklahoma. Newspapers, including The Oklahoman, have been in financial decline for a long time now. There has to be more going on here than a businessperson purchasing a new company and making it even more profitable. What’s his motive? True, there are other businesses within OPUBCO that are probably flourishing financially and expect growth in revenues, but newspapers everywhere are adjusting to a new business model given the internet, and that model includes, simply put, less money and lower profits. The newspaper industry is in a major transition. No one can say what’s going to happen. I believe this makes Anschutz’s Oklahoma newspaper investment a somewhat risky business move and indicates it might be about something more than money.
- The most definitive article I have found on Anschutz and his motives in buying publications can be found in this Politico post, titled “Phil Anschutz’s conservative agenda”. Anyone interested in the local media here should read the article, which discusses why Anschutz owns “two money-losing publications,” The Weekly Standard, a conservative journal, and The Washington Examiner, which also espouses conservative views. One media analyst quoted in the article said, “You have to look at what he’s doing as partly a reflection of some of his political convictions.” Those convictions, according to the article, include donating money in the 1990s to the anti-gay rights organization Colorado For Family Values. Can we expect anti-gay vitriol now on The Oklahoman editorial page, along the lines of State Rep. Sally Kern, who once said homosexuality was a greater threat to the nation than terrorism? In recent years, the newspaper had softened its views of conservative social issues. Is it possible the newspaper’s editorial page will become even more strident?
- The sale price was not announced, but it’s difficult not to believe the newspaper will be heavily leveraged by its purchase price. Will Anschutz operate The Oklahoman as a “money-losing” publication given the initial investment? The possible silver lining here is that without a birthright attachment to the newspaper or Oklahoma, Anschutz might have no problem unloading it quickly to someone else down the road. Maybe the next owner will have less of a political agenda and more centrist or even liberal views.
- I do think Anschutz can bring more sophistication to the editorial page and news columns through connections to other publications in his business empire. Is it possible he will allow consistent liberal commentary? Anything is possible, but it’s more likely he will embrace the current business model at The Oklahoman, which is to cater exclusively to conservative subscribers and readers and try to make liberal readers dependent on its sheer density of information and sports coverage. I have argued this business model is not sustainable given the newspaper industry’s problems, but Anschutz might not be thinking long term or even money when it comes to The Oklahoman.
- The Politico post notes Anschutz has a “diverse empire that includes sports franchises he owns completely (the Los Angeles Kings and Galaxy) or holds a stake in (the Los Angeles Lakers), as well as arenas like the Staples Center and Kodak Theatre.” Anschutz also has oil and gas interests and owns Qwest Communications. Forbes has listed him as the 37th richest person (or 33rd or 34th given, I guess, the particular year or the source material) in America. What might be important to note here is his interest in sports franchises. Local businessperson Clay Bennett, who is an owner of the state’s most prominent sports franchise, the Oklahoma City Thunder, is married to Louise Gaylord Bennett, a member of the Gaylord family. Could the Thunder, like The Oklahoman, one day in the near future shed its local ownership? Is Bennett also in a selling mood? Has the Thunder reached its highest revenue potential and now is the time to sell?
- It will be interesting to see how the newspaper’s sale will resonate among the corporate power structure, the chamber-of-commerce lobby in the state and loyal readers. The Politico post notes that Anschutz is “famously reclusive.” How much time will he spend here? Will he buy living space here? Will he become part of the community in any fashion? Will The Oklahoman essentially become faceless? As a long-time Oklahoma resident, I know people here think community ties are important. It can be tough living in Oklahoma, with its turbulent weather, poverty and deteriorating infrastructure, and a shared sense of basic survival in adversity unites us across political spectrums. Anschutz will obviously be viewed as an outsider at first, and if he doesn’t overcome this image, it could hurt the newspaper’s financial prospects.
- Here’s some speculation: Perhaps the third generation of Gaylords didn’t have the same attachment to the newspaper business as did the late Edward L. Gaylord or the late Edward K. Gaylord. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, and, to her credit on the personal family level, Everest fulfilled her father’s obvious wish that the newspaper remain conservative after his death. Under Everest’s leadership, the newspaper also made marked improvements. But maybe Everest and others in the Gaylord family crave to have identities outside The Oklahoman and OPUBCO. Whatever the case, a new era is about to begin in Oklahoma journalism.
Oklahoma could get a $1.2 billion boost from President Barack Obama’s jobs plan, which would help the economy here, but don’t count on much support from the state’s Congressional delegation.
On Friday, U.S. Senate Democrats released a state analysis of the $447 billion American Jobs Acts. One noteworthy part of the analysis shows Oklahoma will receive $489 million for road and transit projects as part of the overall $1.2 billion. The state has a critical need for road improvements.
Oklahoma’s unemployment rate in July was 5.5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is much better than most of the nation, but it could be lower. The national unemployment rate is 9.1 percent, an extremely high rate that prompted the president’s proposal.
Republican leaders, including House Majority Lead Eric Cantor, didn’t immediately dismiss the president’s plan, but U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe issued a blistering, political attack against Obama after Thursday night’s speech.
Here’s a sampling of that attack:
It has been said that the lowest form of learning is trial and error. Unfortunately this President just doesn’t learn. He pushed his failed $800 billion so-called stimulus package that failed to stimulate. Since then, we’ve lost nearly 2 million jobs and our unemployment is over 9 percent. Now he’s offering more of the same and expecting different results.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s statement was more conciliatory, but it simply renewed the Republican call to “fix” entitlement programs through cuts. It also included this:
However, singling out and ridiculing tax breaks for oil companies while touting tax credits for renewable energy doesn’t move us any closer to the kind of fundamental tax reform we need to stimulate real economic growth and job creation.
The de facto public relations arm of Inhofe and Coburn, the editorial page of The Oklahoman, weighed in like this on the jobs plan:
If we see a repeat of the health care bullying from the administration, voters will know he isn't serious about working together for the greater good. They'll know instead, as they do now, that Obama is much more concerned with keeping his own job than he is with creating thousands of new ones for the rest of us.
It’s absurd for The Oklahoman to accuse the president of “bullying” in the face of the petulant, Republican obstinacy when it came to raising the nation’s debt ceiling recently. The editorial writers at The Oklahoman are the real bullies, using a monopoly business to present only one, narrow-minded worldview. Will the newspaper ever offer consistent, dissenting views to its extremist, right-wing opinions?
The bottom line is that Oklahoma will benefit from the president’s jobs plan. State leaders, including Gov. Mary Fallin, should welcome the new money and urge Congress to pass the president’s proposal, parts of which have had bipartisan support in the past.