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.