Society changed, technology changed, and the JOA that helped both papers for so long became a critical lifeline for the Tribune and a lead anchor for the World. The agreement was set to expire in 1997, but negotiations had to begin five years prior.
The World’s management did its homework, saw the same surveys that showed that people had begun to depend on the local paper for the local story, preferring to get national news from cable programs and evening broadcast news. To face the competition, new computer systems were required, modern presses were needed to bring photographs and graphics to life. Changes had to be made and the Tribune was in no position to dictate conditions.
Jerry Pogue, who’d worked at both papers, told it this way:
“The World said, ‘We have no intention of negotiation. You can close up shop now, or you can wait and die.’”
Then again, says Kauffman, perhaps the Trib died at the right time:
When the Tribune closed, there wasn’t the Internet to compete with for eyeballs and ad revenue. The Tribune staff didn’t have to endure the round after round of layoffs that would have been inevitable. It never fumbled with clumsy online versions, trying to mash a square paper in the round hole of the Internet. Its standards for journalism, story telling, accuracy, and adherence to style were high until the end. It won awards and it revealed crooks and it made a difference in the community. What more could you ask from a local newspaper?
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.”
I suspect I’m one of the last people on earth who actually prefers an afternoon paper. (Opubco put the Oklahoma City Times out of its misery in 1984.) Then again, it’s not like anyone consults me on such matters.
Further exploration: The last days of the Tribune.