About four years ago — right about the time Newspaper Death Watch went online — I started pondering the question of whether The Oklahoman could actually survive as an independent entity: Opubco had lots of presumably-profitable non-newspaper interests, but if the economy ever went south, they couldn’t necessarily prop up the paper with revenues from, say, the Broadmoor.
Shortly thereafter, the economy did in fact head for Tierra del Fuego, and I decided that the most likely suitor would be Freedom Communications, owner of the Orange County Register and several dozen smaller papers, on the basis of both financials and editorial philosophy. The financials did not in fact work out: in the fall of ’09, Freedom reorganized under Chapter 11, emerging eight months later with various private-equity firms calling the shots. So I wrote off that possibility and put the subject out of my mind.
Needless to say, the out-of-right-field acquisition of Opubco by Philip Anschutz took me totally by surprise: up to now, his hyperlocal model of several dozen Examiner-branded sites and three actual newspapers hasn’t exactly made waves. (Here’s the Oklahoma City version if you haven’t seen it, and chances are you haven’t.)
Generally, two things are widely known about Mr Anschutz: he’s a shrewd dealmaker, and he occupies a spot on the political continuum about where old E. K. Gaylord used to be, which is somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun. I don’t have a particular problem with this, not being the sort of person who reads a paper for the editorials, though I suppose I might feel differently if we had competing dailies in town. (During my New England sojourn, I picked up the Globe about as often as I bought the Herald Traveler Record American Whatever; at the time, their editorial philosophies weren’t as far apart as they are now.) I know some locals who are disappointed that the new ownership won’t push the paper several steps in the direction of The New York Times, but I’m thinking, if your model is the Times, why not just buy the Times? Their national edition could use the circulation boost.
Ultimately, I suppose, the major benefit of this takeover is that Anschutz can afford to spend some money on the paper. Whether he’ll actually do it or not remains to be seen, but I’m pretty sure it won’t bleed him to death.