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Advancement or Anomaly for The Oklahoman?

Last Sunday, the largest Oklahoma City newspaper, The Oklahoman, did something unexpected: The entire edition showed journalistic verve and even boldness in several incisive reports, giving factual information that would equip citizens to take action on important issues. How about that? The big question: Is this an advancement that will be sustained or just an anomaly, an exception, quickly “corrected” once particular people start calling in? I hope it’s an advancement.

While some Progressives in Oklahoma have made a name for themselves criticizing the paper, most residents jYesterday's Sunday Edition of the Daily Oklahomanust wanted it to do what large papers are supposed to do: direct sunlight on problems in government and society that need to be brought out of the shadows so that they can be corrected.

It has always been a delicate dance for anyone at The Oklahoman who tried to lead that organization into a more traditional role of providing clear, well-researched reportage, with editorial positions clearly taken on the editorial page and not slipped into the front page.

Powerful and extremely conservative forces in our state have exerted deep pressure on The Oklahoman for years to direct public opinion in every page toward not just a conservative, but a right-wing agenda. And now that they have a new owner, Denver-based billionaire and right-wing philanthropist Phillip Anschutz, the question has loomed even larger if the paper would ever achieve its potential as a news outlet of integrity.

Denver-based billionaire Philip Anschutz
Denver-based billionaire Philip Anschutz

So, while I have been openly critical of The Oklahoman and NewsOK.com for their clear, deep, but unacknowledged bias lately, I gladly want to give them credit for this latest Sunday edition.

The largest piece, “Addicted Oklahoma”, took up much of the front page and continued onto 8 more pages inside. It was the result of a productive collaboration between Oklahoman reporters, Jaclyn Cosgrove, Phillip O’Connor and Warren Vieth of investigative outfit Oklahoma Watch.

Environmental issues? Only if Sen. Imhof says they aren’t there, right? Hey, wait…Brianna Baily’s piece on the first page of the Business section, “Pollution Problems: Old Aircraft Factory Is Site of Concern”, showed good research coupled with a timeline and diagrams. It dealt openly with the conflict about ownership of earlier pollution problems when a company like the old North American Aviation/Gulfstream plant goes by the wayside and leaves the cleanup for someone else.

Over the last several years it has seemed like the OPUBCO’s NewsOK.com, has shown a much more tolerant and broad editorial policy than The Oklahoman which certainly is read by an older age demographic than the online content. Sunday’s showing reveals what seems to be a good experiment.

I’m going to allow that The Oklahoman will have to serve its sometimes-dark corporate and political masters on the Opinion pages as long as power remains concentrated on a wealthy minority the way it is now in this state. But, this slow change, starting with what they allow reporters to do and publish, shows me that leaders in The Oklahoman realize that central Oklahoma is becoming more progressive and more heavily populated than the surrounding rural areas served by that paper. If they act now, and move closer to a central position, they have an opportunity to rescue the newspaper. If not, numbers will continue to dip as smaller, more nimble papers pick off it’s increasingly younger demographic.

That’s why I will give them praise when they do well and serve their public rather than serving that one-percent-ish minority hiding in the shadows. I encourage you to do the same. When we do, we may help that part of their staff who should be winning editorial arguments in meetings within The Oklahoman.