Fast food advertising executives love to sell us on the values offered by their discount menu. But the truth is that few things in life cost just a buck. The best things in life are free -- like love, personal fulfillment, deep spiritual connections, Urban Tulsa Weekly, etc. Or, they can cost a bit more like, say, buying the Dallas Cowboys or all of Wall Street's bad debt.
Of course, there are still plenty of bargains out there, and yes, a dollar can still go a long way. For example, if a person were in the right place at the right time, he could purchase a newspaper. No, not just a copy of the paper, the actual paper itself, the whole enchilada. And that is exactly how Forrest J. Troy, nicknamed "Frosty" by his grandfather, came to own The Oklahoma Observer.
The Oklahoma Observer was first titled Southwest Courier, a Catholic newspaper run by Father John Joyce. Joyce started the paper 40 years ago with funding from the Archdiocesan council.
"The new Pope John XXIII created those little councils in every diocese, so the rank and file would have some input. Well, they were horrified when [Father Joyce] came out strongly against the war in Vietnam," Troy explained. "The Catholic Church is a top-down operation and [Father Joyce] delighted in tweaking the powers that be. [Father] Joyce was very militant, hammering social issues."
The council met and voted to take away $80,000 from Father Joyce because of his views on Vietnam and his fondness for "tweaking" authority.
Troy, a Catholic himself, could also be accused of bucking the system in his own church and he's not ashamed to admit it.
"My politics makes the hierarchy nervous because I think the church's position on family planning is beneath contempt. [According to a Guttmacher survey] more than 60 percent of Catholics of childbearing age plan their family," Troy explained. "The Hierarchy's problem is that they have never heard the patter of too many little feet."
Born in McAlester to a large Catholic family, Troy served in the U.S. military, fighting in Korea in 1951 and 1952 and earning a Bronze Star. After brief stints at the Muskogee Phoenix and the Lawton Constitution, Troy took a job at the Tulsa Tribune where he stayed for 14 years. As the State Capitol correspondent for the Tribune, Troy met Father Joyce.
"I had known Father Joyce through his anti-war activities," Troy said. "I had written freebie social issue stories for him."
Shortly thereafter, the council took away Southwest Courier funding; Father Joyce called Frosty Troy.
"Father Joyce explained that the Diocesan Little Council met and decided to withdraw the subsidy.
Would I be interested in taking it over?" Troy recalled. "Two independent lawyers said I was safe, that most everything was in Father Joyce's name. I asked him what he wanted for [the Courier]. He said $1. I was stunned."
Troy consulted with his wife Helen, an accountant, about making the purchase. She enthusiastically encouraged him to buy the paper. She managed to put the paper in the black in two years while raising their two adopted children.
99 Cent Frosty Anyone?
Today, a copy of The Oklahoma Observer costs $2.50, and that's for a copy of the latest edition, not full publishing rights.
The Observer is funded primarily through its 6,000 paid subscribers who pay $40 a year for the twice monthly (except July and December) paper. Steve's Sundry, 2612 S. Harvard, sells the paper in Tulsa.
Because readers fund the 20-page, tabloid-style paper, there are few ads, which are found in the last two pages. Advertisers range from lawyers, an auto mechanic, an accupuncturist for the Oklahoma Education Association and a Unitarian church in Oklahoma City, among many others.
In any given issue of The Observer, the front page begins with an op-ed usually encompassing both state and national politics and a plucky political cartoon. The paper's filling contains "Observations," which are five or six paragraphs of commentary that covers many topics. The "Observerscope" section has even shorter, one-paragraph commentary bites filled with praise and criticism.
The "Letters to the Editor" section usually garners its own page near the front of the paper. The letters show The Observer's diverse readership, be it a letter from a citizen concerned about the availability of public transportation and rail in Oklahoma in the face of fluctuating gas prices, or a letter from a concerned church-goer who fears moderate churches in the state aren't doing enough to stem the rise of less tolerant fundamentalists congregations.
Those sassy little cartoons, some political, some not, show up on just about every other page. Many of the implicitly political cartoons come from nationally known, syndicated artists. You may find the same cartoon in The Observer as you will in other papers throughout the country.
Feature stories cover a large range of topics, including civil rights, education, health care, the environment and, of course, politics.
The Observer's masthead reads "An Independent Journal of Commentary," its slogan, "To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable," and its publisher emeritus, Troy, at 75 years old, intends to keep enforcing this tradition of independent, left-of-center commentary with his own contributions to The Observer. Even though he shows no signs of slowing down, he already put into action his plans to keep the paper going beyond himself.
Enter Arnold Hamilton.
Former Oklahoma bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News, Hamilton took the editor position and publishing rights for The Observer in September 2006, paying Troy, you guessed it, one whole dollar for the rights to the paper.
"I found a sucker. I sold [The Observer] for just what I paid for it, one dollar," Troy joked in front of a packed house at the Tulsa Rotary Club's September 10 meeting. Taking on a more serious tone, Troy described Hamilton as a "perfect match" for The Observer. Few would disagree.
Look Both Ways before Reading
Arnold Hamilton started working in journalism for a high school paper called The Oklahoma Journal. The Journal was started in the '60s by developer W.P. Bill Atkinson, formerly a journalism professor at Oklahoma City University.
When Atkinson ran for governor in 1962, E.K. Gaylord, then publisher of The Daily Oklahoman, refused to run any of the Democratic candidate's campaign ads.
Atkinson failed in his gubernatorial bid, defeated by the first Republican governor in Oklahoma history, Henry Bellman. Because of the snub by Gaylord, Atkinson decided to start The Oklahoma Journal as a rival to The Daily Oklahoman.
"It was a great experience for me," Hamilton recalled, "because [The Oklahoma Journal] was a small operation which didn't have the deep pockets that the long established Daily Oklahoman did. They would give a snotty-nosed kid like me an opportunity to do a whole bunch of different things because I was cheap and I was willing to learn, and I guess they saw some promise in me."
Hamilton covered everything from Friday night football to writing obituaries in the early days of his career.
After his time at The Oklahoma Journal, Hamilton moved on and worked at the Tulsa Tribune, during which time he met and befriended Troy while covering stories at the State Capitol. He spent two years with the Tribune covering the police beat and the state capitol, and then moved to the Dallas Times Herald as the paper's chief political writer in Austin. After a short stint for the San Jose Mercury News, he was offered a position with the Dallas Morning News as the Oklahoma bureau chief, where he worked for 19 years.
After returning from California to work for the Dallas Morning News, Hamilton reconnected with Troy and the two became close friends. As years passed, Frosty and his wife began to talk with Hamilton about the future of The Observer and the potential for him to take the reins.
"Frankly, I was very resistant to it in the beginning because I had a great, great job working for the Dallas Morning News, which was one of the top 10 papers in the country," Hamilton said.
The scope of the large news organization gave Hamilton a lot of freedom and resources he couldn't have had in a smaller operation.
The choice to leave the Dallas Morning News was certainly not easy but, in time, Hamilton's personal circumstances made the move to The Observer much easier.
"The landscape was changing in journalism," he explained. "The Morning News began to focus more sharply on Dallas. We began to go through a series of buyouts and downsizings and the like."
Hamilton and his wife faced two options: either move to Dallas or go forward with The Observer. The Morning News offered Hamilton a buy-out opportunity and the rest of the pieces fell into place.
Since taking over, Hamilton has kept focus on the mission Troy set out for The Observer.
"Our niche is to provide a voice that really is not being provided in Oklahoma. The mainstream media in Oklahoma are almost uniformly conservative," Hamilton said.
Hamilton explained that this conservatism may come from the fact that media owners in Oklahoma are "fairly well heeled and tend to be more conservative and more Republican."
He explained that it is equally true that, from a purely business point of view, media owners in Oklahoma appeal to the overwhelmingly conservative market in the state.
"We try to give a different side," Hamilton said. "We try to provide information and analysis that people are not getting in the mainstream media."
He explained that The Observer wants "to be the voice of the voiceless... Whether it be the public school teacher or the mentally ill."
Or perhaps the politically persecuted. In the October 25, 2008 issue of The Observer, Hamilton wrote: Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics, once mortal enemies, put aside a seemingly unbridgeable theological divide in order to unite on a series of social issues, including abortion and gay marriage creating a powerful political force that often dominates Oklahoma elections.
He goes on to tell a story of a 20-year-old Southern Baptist man who decided to vote for Barack Obama. He was confronted by a friend's father who told him, "You'll have to answer one day for your vote."
The implication could not be clearer, Hamilton wrote, In today's Oklahoma, a real Christian cannot be a Democrat.
Forty years later, religious issues still find room in the pages of The Observer and the minds of its readers.
In the November 10, 2008 "Letters" section of The Observer, Father Henry Roberson of Norman wrote a letter praising Hamilton for the aforementioned article, but he had criticisms of his own:
In the Democratic Party I am shunned because I have a problem with laissez faire abortions. In the Republican Party, I am considered a liberal because I question the death penalty, Roberson wrote.
"The only reason people subscribe to The Observer is to find out how we feel about issues. That's it," Troy told UTW. "The Observer's audience consists of fired-up Democrats, intellectuals, politicians, political junkies and folks who might not agree with the content but hunger for another opinion."
"[The Observer] is such an integral part of the fabric of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma political life," Hamilton explained. "And after so many years in mainstream media, where I played it as straight down the middle as I could and kept my opinions out of my news writing."
Buying The Observer allowed Hamilton to be a little more open about how [he] felt about where the country and the state we're headed. "My sympathies clearly lie on the left side of the political spectrum," he said.
He joked, "Here in Oklahoma, [The Observer is] probably considered so far left that you need a telescope to find us on the political spectrum."
He said that, after his years of covering politics around the country, The Observer is more left of center than far left field.
The Road Ahead
Troy wrote in the July 10/25 issue of The Observer:
I deplore the nasty lies being told about Obama, his family and his heritage...fight him on the issues. Criticize his lack of experience. Scream to the heavens that his opponent is a better candidate. But for God's sake, don't make it a matter of race.
Troy's tenacious spirit is apparent in every word he writes. His enthusiasm for political and social issues is as apparent as ever, despite the loss of his wife, Helen, nearly a year ago. When asked how long he'll continue to write for The Observer now that Hamilton has taken over the biweekly's responsibilities, Troy simply replied, "As long as the good Lord gives me breath and Arnold will put up with me."
The future of The Observer - and all print media for that matter - seems to change by the day. Technology plays an increasingly important role in newspaper operations.
"Like a lot of publications we're trying to figure out ways to reach young people," Hamilton mused. "You're going to see from us a lot more on the Web."
Hamilton thinks focusing on a greater Internet presence is the obvious way to capture a younger audience. He wouldn't go into great detail about The Observer's plans for the Web, as those ideas and tactics are still under development.
Hamilton does not foresee a future without a print edition of The Observer, referring to himself as an "ink-stained wretch.
"I still want my paper in hand."
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