Some days ago, I re-watched the 2011 film Page One.
If you haven't seen it and are interested in media, newspapers, and the "deep" meaning of Warren Buffett's recent purchase of the Tulsa World, you might take the time to see it -- the movie is riveting in a way I didn't expect.
Page One is, in surprising part, about the fear manifesting at the top of The New York Times, arguably the greatest newspaper in the English-speaking world. The fear depicted in Page is widespread in newspaper land and a looming consequence of the convulsive changes in the media sphere -- changes induced by the iPad, other tablet devices, pervasive online access to news, and of course 24/7 cable. Cable is where most of us secure our daily news/factoid feed. Some of us require something a little beefier, which is where daily and weekly newspapers come in -- but for me, and I imagine a lot of you these days, it's their online incarnations that we read.
COURESTY OF MOVIES.COM
Page One is also alluring because it's in significant part about The Times' idiosyncratic media reporter David Carr. Carr is a fantastic writer, with an extremely inventive and often witty outlook -- he also has the ever-so-ironic detachment that comes from being a recovering crack addict.
We get to see a bevy of internal discussion that the Times management was then engaging with Apple and other parties, to ensure that the Times was available on the then-brand new, now-ubiquitous Apple tablet device. But there is a lot more going on in this top notch slice of newspaper land -- the film is about disruption and how media operations, newspapers in particular, are under tremendous pressure to recover lost print ad revenues and remain fully relevant in a time marked by hyperkinetic coverage of everything imaginable by online and cable news operations.
Part of the way forward, for media players here and elsewhere, is providing superior content for increasingly picky readers with a bodacious array of choices, dollars to spend, and savvy net/interactive media habits. Keith Skrzypczak, publisher of Urban Tulsa Weekly and Michael Mason, editor of This Land Press (I know both) are very passionate about content -- two riveting examples: Lee Roy Chapmen's lucid piece last year on Tulsa pioneer and Klan exponent Tate Brady and Brady's lurid connection to a set of unsettling events from 1917 to 1920--signal events that may have precipitated the Tulsa riot of '21. As a matter of disclosure, I moderated a follow-on panel on Chapman's article at the Greenwood Cultural Center last year; this was a fascinating experience for me and hopefully of real interest to the over 300 people in attendance. And Chapman's article and subsequent discussions had a real world impact -- This Land publisher and equity investor, Vince LoVoi, changed what was then called the Brady Tavern -- he and his partners renamed this fab downtown Tulsa bar/eating venture -- it is now known simply as the "Tavern".
Another grand example -- my UTW colleague Joe O'Shansky's always cogent, frequently irreverent commentary on movies that show up here in Tulsa. Joe is one of four pole-stars that I use routinely to discipline the time and dollars that I have for watching movies -- a terrible obsession for me.
Chapman and O'Shansky are superb examples, together with Janet Pearson's often excellent long-form essays in the Tulsa World of critical, well-constructed and vivid narratives that are rare in Tulsa's media world. Often the real value of their pieces is the tangible connections they make between the larger world, our hometown, and the historic forces that have shaped Green Country.
Investigative reporting -- how about more? The World does a tiny bit from time to time: World writer Ziva Branstetter's very good series on EMSA is an example -- but it is atypical. The Tulsa Tribune -- the evening daily, absorbed by the World in the early '90s, was much better at investigative work. The World's management is now free basically to amplify this part of their portfolio. Some readers may know that that new World owner Buffett is a political centrist who has supported Barack Obama among others. Buffett is also a billionaire who has opined that multimillionaires should have a tax rate in excess of what their secretaries experience. But the Oracle of Omaha, as Buffett is sometimes called, is also known for not "big footing" the editorial direction of the newspapers his organization owns. So, will the World's newly "autonomous" local management team honor us by using the still impressive human resources at their disposal to examine the often dark interface between politics and commerce that is a hidden part of Tulsa's landscape?
Wolrd Leaders. Tulsa World Executive Editor Joe Worley and Tulsa World Managing Editor Susan Ellerbach
Will the new World ratchet up critical coverage of locally relevant business and economics? The World does an okay job at the moment, but in a part of the country that is at the center of the new gas/fracking revolution, we've had only cursory coverage of the changing economics of this industry and its manifest potential to impact the physical environment -- including the very ground we straddle. Green Country and Stillwater in particular, are also at the heart of the fascinating transformation in aviation, privacy, and economics that we could call the "drone revolution" -- a transformation that will profoundly alter commerce/aviation, warfare, law enforcement, and other areas. Where is the amped up coverage from the World?
How about displaying a little independence from Tulsa's business establishment -- a little actual detachment from the Chamber of Commerce's always aggressive agenda? Last fall's wall-to-wall World coverage was almost entirely uncritical of Vision2, our nearly billion-dollar economic development/aviation and critical project voter referenda -- and the slant was simply disgusting. I'm not one who thinks that the Tulsa Regional Chamber is evil, but sometimes I think they are on the wrong path. Having the city's only metropolitan daily supporting them in the course of last fall's Vision2 campaign without real critical/analytic pieces was a grand disservice to the voters and anybody with a critical thought in their head. Media organizations can be boosters of the places, the communities they serve, but being uncritical in the extreme is dysfunctional and not okay.
And then there's the matter of sports coverage -- maybe more properly, covering the world of sports. Here the World has done a story, from time to time, about the humongous controversy surrounding neurological damage of football players, but they haven't been at the forefront of coverage of this matter. Come on folks, we have been, and are now, the red-hot center of football land. Obviously, some of the most visible coaches, most powerful teams, and most revered experts live within our home zone. All of this non-coverage, despite the fact that there is a long and storied tradition of critical stores in sports journalism. Isn't it about time that the Tulsa World found its way into that tradition?
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