Back in the days when we actually had good newspapers in Oklahoma, the best of the bunch was The Tulsa Tribune, an afternoon paper published by Jenkin Lloyd Jones until 1992, while the decline of afternoon papers in general was accelerating. For fifty years the Tribune and the rival Tulsa World had lived side by side, pooling their sales and distribution teams in a Joint Operating Agreement while occasionally sniping at each other on their editorial pages.
While JOAs do seem to serve a purpose all else being equal, having two daily papers in a given town is an improvement over having just one the end result is often the stronger paper paying the weaker one to go away. A particularly perverse example was the 1999 purchase of the San Francisco Chronicle by Hearst, which owned the San Francisco Examiner, the weak sister of the San Francisco JOA; under the terms of the buyout, Hearst would make a perfunctory effort to find someone to take the Examiner off their hands. The Department of Justice, expecting no buyer, raised the antitrust flag; eventually, the Examiner was spun off to the Fang family, owners of the three-times-a-week San Francisco Independent, in whose hands it remains today.
In Baghdad-by-the-Bay, at least, this story had sort of a happy ending: both papers are still alive, though the Chronicle still has about four times the circulation of the Examiner. More often, though, once the JOA ends, either by the expiration of its contract or the antsiness of its participants, that's it for newspaper competition. Goodbye, Miami News; goodbye, St. Louis Globe-Democrat and goodbye, Tulsa Tribune.
In the Tribune's last op-ed, Ben Henneke, president emeritus of the University of Tulsa, once a World staffer, mused:
I know many of the editorial staff at the World. They will try to be evenhanded, fair, impartial, wise and many-voiced. In the future it will be volitional. It was mandatory when there was a Tribune.
The Tribune was a decidedly conservative paper, though its politics were confined to its opinion page. Jenkin Lloyd Jones took a dim view of modern culture: he once grumbled, "We are drowning our youngsters in violence, cynicism, and sadism piped into the living room and even the nursery. The grandchildren of the kids who once wept because the Little Match Girl froze to death now feel cheated if she isn't slugged, raped, and thrown into a Bessemer converter." But Jones was no curmudgeon either. In October of 1961, he addressed the Inland Daily Press Association in Chicago, and parts of his speech, titled Who Is Tampering with the Soul of America?, are still quoted today; Frosty Troy, editor of The Oklahoma Observer, who used to work for Jones, reprinted part of it in his 2002 Christmas letter to subscribers. After forty years, it still rings true, perhaps even more so with the rise of the Blogosphere. Said Jones:
We can learn a lesson from history. Twice before our British cousins appeared heading into a collapse of principle, and twice they drew themselves back. The British court reached an advanced state of corruption under the Stuarts. But the people rebelled. And in the wild days of George IV and William IV it looked as though Britain were rotting out again. But the people banged through the reform laws, and under Victoria went on to the peak of their power.
Jenkin Lloyd Jones' subtitle for this speech was The Stomach Turning Point. If you can find a better title for a news blog, use it.
Copyright © 2002 by Charles G. Hill