Tulsa World: January 2009 Archives

At 3:46 pm yesterday I received a phone call from Tulsa World reporter Randy Krehbiel, asking for my reaction to the lawsuit filed against me by the World Publishing Co. I told him I was unaware that a suit had been filed and that he was the first Tulsa World representative to contact me about a suit.

According to the OSCN database, at 3:01 pm on Thursday, Jan. 15, just 45 minutes before Krehbiel's phone call, attorney J. Schaad Titus filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of World Publishing Co. against Renegade Publishing Inc. DBA Urban Tulsa, Keith Skrzypczak, and Michael D. Bates alleging libel.

I have not seen a copy of the complaint. Based on the offense named and the defendants named in the suit, it appears to have something to do with a column I wrote, likely the most recent column dealing with layoffs at the daily paper.

It is always my intention to present readers with an accurate picture grounded in fact. I put a lot of time into researching details because I think it's important to be able to back up what I have to say. A friend once told me that the reason some readers get frustrated with my columns is because they don't like my conclusions, and yet I've covered all my bases and answered objections before they've been raised.

If WPC believes I've written something in error, I'm disappointed that the company would file a suit against me without first contacting me with evidence to contradict what I wrote and giving me the opportunity to issue a clarification or correction.

I'm certain that I am not guilty of libel, but that doesn't mean this won't be a difficult time. Your prayers would be appreciated.

Until I see the complaint for myself and have conferred with an attorney, that's all I have to say.

Whirled update

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Mike McCarville reports that cost-cutting at the Tulsa World, which laid off 28 staffers last week, only goes so far:

While executives at the Tulsa World were deciding which 28 employees would be fired in a cost-saving move to help the company deal with reduced advertising revenue, the president of the company, John R. Bair, was being processed for a $90,000 "proprietary membership" in the ritzy Southern Hills Country Club.

A list of those proposed for membership in the exclusive club was obtained by The McCarville Report Online following the newspaper's announcement that 26 newsroom employees and two other staff members were being fired immediately a week ago. Bair's is the first name listed on the December 29th document, prepared by the 650-member club's office on behalf of its board of governors.

The $90,000 figure for a proprietary membership in the club is an estimate; no one would discuss the precise fee, which apparently includes state sales tax.

I understand that you can't keep 28 newsroom staffers employed for $90,000. I understand that country club memberships were, once upon a time, important tools for building business networks and negotiating deals. But Bair's job is handling the financial side of the World, bringing in advertising to cover the cost of putting out the paper. Trust-fund babies aren't going to be buying ads in the paper. The World should be selling less-expensive niche ads for the website, matching ads with appropriate news content. The small business owners who are most likely to buy those ads won't be hanging out at the Southern Hills clubhouse.

As one of McCarville's sources told him, "It just doesn't look very good, does it?"

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma Observer reports that the paper didn't fulfill its 2008 pledge toward construction of the Oklahoma Capitol dome and may not make good on its 2009 pledge:

The Tulsa World owners have declined to meet their current $100,000 pledge on the Capitol dome. (They may also defer on $100,000 owed next year.)

(Via Dustbury.)

The Tulsa World announced today that it has laid off 28 employees, 26 of them members of the news staff. Two of the three members of the paper's State Capitol bureau were let go.

This is the second major cutback in a year. The paper closed its Community World bureaus last March, moving some jobs downtown.

The carnage included a designer for the paper who has a blog about newspaper design called Heady Goes Herey:

I was only there for four months, so I don't have the exact tally of what positions were all eliminated and I'm not sure if or how many were laid off from other parts of the company. I do know that the graphics department has been eliminated, I was the only designer, there were two photographers (one of whom was the main videographer), the advisor of the high school section, at least two copy editors, a sports designer/editor, administrative assistants were eliminated and several reporters.

In a thread at TulsaNow's public forum, member sgrizzle reports an intriguing rumor:

I heard that the Lortons were heavily invested into buying another newspaper earlier this year (likely why they cut back in March) and were close to completing the sale when the economy tanked. Now they can't secure the financing and can't complete the sale which hurt them.

Also, they had upped the individual paper cost and upped the pay to their box route carriers (retail stores and vending machines) in response to gas prices, then gas prices subsided. That had to also hurt.

New York magazine's blog had this to say:

The Times is resorting to desperate measures, but the Atlantic thinks that, like, might not make a difference. Forbes is laying off more staffers, and that dream you had of escaping it all and running away to a little publication in Tulsa? Forget it, bud....

Tulsa World, a family-owned newspaper, has laid off 28 staffers. In case you were wondering if there were still jobs in Tulsa.

The same item offers a link to this helpful list of things a reporter should do long before the security guard comes to escort him to the exit -- e.g., e-mailing all your contacts to a personal e-mail account, weeding through personal belongings, and saving your best work to a flash drive.

Another commenter at TulsaNow's public forum, cannonfodder, writes:

Anytime a paper cuts back it cuts back on its content. Which cuts back on its readership. Which cuts back on its ad revenue. A horrible spiral.

What the World needs now is to break out of the stall spin. If they want to regain readership, the World's owners and senior management need to confess and repent. They need to acknowledge that their one-sided editorial section and the bias they've encouraged on the news pages have driven away readers. And then they need to balance the paper -- add opposing views to the editorial board, hire an ombudsman to take a critical look at the paper's news coverage, convene focus groups of the paper's harshest critics. The paper's ownership and senior management need to acknowledge that they have a blind spot and then act to correct it.

It was only four years ago that Ken Neal, then editorial page editor, boasted of the lack of dissent and diversity on the editorial board. That lack of diversity is killing the paper's credibility and its readership. Perhaps the present crisis will inspire some overdue humility and soul-searching.

MORE: The AP story adds some details:

Managing Editor Susan Ellerbach said that overall, the cuts represented about 5 percent of World Publishing Company's work force.

Those laid off were informed at a meeting Tuesday morning. Cuts in the newsroom included two Capitol bureau reporters, a police reporter, photographers and employees in the graphics department, among others.

Newspaper Death Watch mentions the World in its "Layoff Log" and also links to this Editor and Publisher column by Steve Outing with 12 online money-making tips for newspapers. The World seems to be pursuing many of these avenues already. Much of the advice has to do with pursuing niche online content and selling targeted ads for those niches. As for the print edition, Outing advises: "Don't bother chasing young people... Focus on the core demographic... Guide older print loyalists to a life online... Reduce the number of print editions."

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa World category from January 2009.

Tulsa World: June 2008 is the previous archive.

Tulsa World: August 2009 is the next archive.

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