JOAs and the Tribune

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Dustbury has an recent item about the dispute between Seattle's two daily papers, the Times and the Post-Intelligencer. The two papers have a joint operating agreement (JOA) -- content is handled separately, but production circulation, and advertising are handled jointly. The Times wants out, but a judge ruled that the terms for exiting the agreement had not been met. The Seattle JOA is relatively young -- 20 years. The Dustbury entry has more about JOAs and links to a couple of stories and comments, and also remembers the JOA linking the Tulsa Whirled and the late, lamented Tulsa Tribune. There's another entry on Dustbury remembering the Tribune, with a tantalizing quote from a 1961 speech by publisher Jenkin Lloyd Jones entitled "Who Is Tampering with the Soul of America?" and subtitled "The Stomach-Turning Point". (Anyone have the full text?)

Here's a brief history of the Tribune-Whirled JOA. It's from memory, so please write me at blog at batesline dot com with corrections:

In the early '40s, the Tribune was in difficult financial circumstances, made more difficult by the economy of the Great Depression. To keep it from going under, the Tribune formed a JOA with the Whirled about 1943, ending head-to-head competition. The Tribune became an afternoon paper, publishing six days a week, leaving the lucrative Sunday and morning editions to the Whirled.

The JOA was to run until 1996, and as that year approached the Tribune began to position itself for independence, modernizing its appearance (including an ill-advised change to its masthead font, which was later reversed), and trying to build circulation. Anyone else remember the commercials with Debbie Campbell singing on a porch swing --

Can't wait to get my Tribune,
it's a fresh point of view.
It's everything that's Tulsa;
where to go and what to do. ...
I can read when I want to,
Anywhere that I choose.
So bring me the Tulsa Tribune!
It's my kind of news!

(If anyone has the rest of the lyrics or an actual recording, send it along and I'll post it.)

But in early 1992, the Tribune was not ready to go it alone. Perhaps the oil bust of the '80s and the national recession of the early '90s created too much drag. Sometime that spring, the Whirled publisher made it known that he was not interested in renewing the JOA when it expired. The Tribune could try to prepare to compete head-to-head, but the success was unlikely, and the paper's owners could see a lingering demise looming -- losing money and readers as the paper's talented staff moved on to longer-term job prospects. Rather than slowly bleeding to death, the Tribune shut down gracefully on September 30, 1992. In an interview with the TU student newspaper a month later Jenk Jones, Jr., said that the death of the Tribune was ultimately the decision of one man, Whirled publisher Robert Lorton. If the Whirled had been willing to renew the JOA, both papers might still be in business.

I grew up with the Tribune. Dad didn't have time to read the paper during the day, so we got the Sunday Whirled and the Tribune through the week. When I went away to college I subscribed to the Tribune by mail and was proud to leave it on the living room table next to the Boston Globe and the New York Times. When the Whirled shut down the Tribune, I swore I'd never subscribe to the Whirled again, and so far I haven't. I've since met a number of people, from across the political spectrum, who made the same decision.

The Tribune was the first Tulsa paper to have a second Op-Ed page, a second comics page, a special weekly feature section ("Innovate"), guest editorials, call-the-editor, color photos, a scoreboard page, and a modern look. The Whirled didn't bother to update its look until a month after the Tribune was dead. The Whirled did take on a few old Tribune staffers, including columnist Jay Cronley and cartoonist David Simpson, but working for the Whirled seems to have drained the humor out of them. I am looking at a compilation of Simpson's work at the Tribune in the late '70s, and many of the cartoons are still laugh-out-loud funny. Nowadays, Cronley and Simpson are rarely funny, more often just cranky.

Just a few years after the Tribune was closed, and about the time the JOA was set to expire, the World Wide Web came into being and London's Daily Telegraph began publishing an electronic version. I have often wondered whether the Tribune might have soldiered on as a web-based newspaper. They were always the first to try something new, and I think they would have beaten the Whirled onto the web and could have made a successful venture out of it.

The results of a Google search for references to the Tribune were disproportionately about the newspaper's shameful involvement in the 1921 Race Riot. That's understandable, but sad that the newspaper's better days are not remembered on the web.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 27, 2003 2:32 AM.

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