Four years before Oklahoma joined the union, 29-year-old Edward K. Gaylord, a newspaper business manager from St. Joseph, Missouri, came to the territory, prowled the still unpaved streets of dusty Oklahoma City and bought a minority interest in the fledgling Oklahoman. That was in 1903. By 1918, E.K. Gaylord had gained control, and his family has been running Oklahoma's largest newspaper ever since.
Today the Daily Oklahoman, circulation 224,000, and the Sunday Oklahoman, with 308,000 copies sold, constitute one of the country's largest remaining independents. Both paper and family have figured prominently in the development of the 46th state, and their presence is apparent. One of Oklahoma City's downtown streets is named for E.K. Gaylord. At the large and impressive National Cowboy Hall of Fame, a bronze bust of Gaylord, a "founding benefactor," stands in the museum's Hall of Great Westerners. Special exhibits there are housed in the Edward L. Gaylord Exhibition Wing, named for E.K.'s son. Tens of millions of Gaylord dollars have been given to universities, hospitals and dozens of charitable and civic organizations.
More recently, after the catastrophic 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, the newspaper donated its former headquarters there--a vacant but classical 1909 building listed on the National Register of Historic Places--to the YMCA, whose own building had been severely damaged by the blast.
Clearly, the Gaylords have a sense of civic pride and an interest in the well-being of Oklahoma. At the same time, they have done extraordinarily well themselves. Large amounts of the family's wealth have been spun off into Gaylord Entertainment Co., which created the Nashville Network and Country Music Television and owns the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. In 1991, the newspaper itself was moved to a stunning, 12-story black tower that rises from the flatlands in north Oklahoma City. "We now have by far the nicest newspaper facility in the United States," the general manager, Edmund O. Martin, boasted during the paper's 1994 centennial celebration. It would be hard to argue. With palatial paneled executive offices, an airy newsroom, and such amenities as a cafeteria, auditorium, fitness center, outdoor running track, basketball court and lake, the Oklahoman's quarters are truly impressive.
It's not clear, though, that enough Gaylord money has been spent to make a better newspaper. Modest in size, modern in its printing but old-fashioned in its narrow eight-column design (punctuated by a full-color American flag at the top of the front page), the Oklahoman gets by with a small news staff--just under 150 full-timers, says Managing Editor Ed Kelley, an Oklahoma native and staffer since 1975. He knows that's low for a paper the size of the Oklahoman but says he inherited staff limits when he returned from the Washington bureau in 1990 to take the top newsroom job.
Some papers this size have half again as many newsroom employees. On the other hand, it's not clear what the paper would do with additional reporters, given its relatively small newshole. The staff is about 35 percent female and less than 5 percent minority, Kelley says, adding that "we need to do better." Analysts point out that the weekday Oklahoman traditionally has had low household penetration in its market. Kelley is proud, though, that the paper covers the entire state and circulates in every county, and he boasts of its coverage of local news and sports. He says the suburban news, and the writing and editing in general, "certainly need to be better." And he cares about the paper's performance. "I want us to get to the point where we're not a pretty good newspaper," he says, "but a very good newspaper."
The paper's locally written stories often lack style and imagination. When the federal building was bombed, the paper did not publish an extra, but it did put together four- and six-page special sections every day for the next week. At the same time, the Oklahoman more than doubled the number of papers printed for street sales. More important, Kelley believes the paper helped hold the community together during a time of devastation and fear. The coverage cost about $1 million in extra pages, bigger press runs and overtime pay, he says. The paper spent another $250,000 to cover the bombing trials in Denver, and the coverage continues. "This story will be for Oklahoma City like the Kennedy assassination was for Dallas," he says. "It will go on forever."
The paper's coverage won several awards but did not make the finals of the Pulitzer competition. In fact, rather surprisingly for a paper of its size and dominance, the Oklahoman has won only one Pulitzer, and that was 59 years ago for editorial cartooning.
The paper tries to put six news stories on the front page each day, the usual mix being four city/state stories and two national/international. The paper uses AP copy "nine times out of 10," says Assistant Managing Editor Mike Shannon, another native Oklahoman and a staffer for 27 years. "We have a bias here that government needs to be watched. We watchdog state government and see how they're spending the taxpayers' money." Kelley and Shannon are hardly alone in believing that a paper's chief mission today--even the key to survival--is intensive local reporting. They may be right, but the trend is leading many papers to abandon intelligent and thorough coverage of national and international news. The Oklahoman's selection of foreign stories is quirky at best. Earlier this year when the United States was threatening to bomb Iraq and the Pope was visiting Cuba, the Oklahoman's coverage was so skimpy that a subscriber would have been better served reading almost any out-of-town metro.
The paper seems most dedicated to urging a right-wing, anti-government conservatism on its not-always-receptive readers. The editorial page editor, Patrick McGuigan, says it forthrightly: "We're trying to change the political culture; we're trying to make Oklahoma a conservative bastion." Unsurprisingly, that dovetails with the longtime philosophy of the Gaylords, including E.K. Gaylord II, grandson of the founder and current president of the parent Oklahoma Publishing Co. He has written of the need for a "weeding out" of government employees with "socialistic ideas" and for passage of a state right-to-work law to help Oklahoma business. His father, Edward L. Gaylord, used to blast what he called "liberal bubbleheads" and once accused the notably down-the-middle AP of being leftist.
McGuigan, 43, a longtime Oklahoman with a graduate degree in history, joined the editorial page in 1990 after 10 years at a conservative Washington think tank, the Free Congress Foundation. He describes himself with cheerful enthusiasm as "a multi-issue conservative" and believes his page is "filling a critical niche" in a national landscape of liberal editorial pages. When the first stories appeared about President Clinton's alleged sexual affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, McGuigan immediately published an editorial titled "Clinton Should Resign." Three days later, in a signed piece, he accused Clinton of "habitual immorality" and "a casual indulgence in fornication." Though the charges against the president were just beginning to be investigated, McGuigan was confidently saying, "He did it."
Aiding McGuigan are two full time editorial writers--one in Oklahoma City, one in Washington--and longtime editorial cartoonist Jim Lange. McGuigan says the page wants to "help people understand what's important in life," is "pro-free enterprise, anti-regulation," supports a strong military defense and favors conservative social values. "We're not buying into the gay rights agenda," he volunteers. "In fact, we don't use the word 'gay'; we use 'homosexual' and 'lesbian.' We get accused of being homophobe, but we're not."
Actually, the problem with the Oklahoman editorial page is not that it's conservative but that it's blindly so, simplistic and loose with the facts. When McGuigan's page went after the global warming treaty agreed to in Japan last December--labeling the U.S. role "Clinton's Kyoto Calamity"--it claimed, dubiously, that there is "growing doubt among climatologists about the human effect on atmospheric temperature change." When the AFL-CIO launched an advertising campaign in January to promote union membership, the Oklahoman's editorial said the ad campaign failed to disclose the "brutality, selfishness, fraud, corruption and intimidation" associated with unions. Disagree with union "bosses," the editorial concluded, and "your life may be in danger, your tires may be slashed and your family may be trembling in fear that you won't come home in one piece."
The city's alternative weekly, the Oklahoma Gazette, publishes letters attacking the Oklahoman. After the verdict in the bombing trial of Terry Nichols, the daily paper was editorially upset by the jury forewoman's criticism of the FBI. But a Gazette reader wrote that the Oklahoman itself had helped "sow the seeds of cynicism" by its "relentless knee-jerk harangue of almost all government."
The conservative message appears on page two in the person of Argus Hamilton. He writes what passes for a humor column, stringing together often tasteless one-liners on a variety of issues. In a January column, he noted a popularity drop by President Clinton and wrote that "only Sonny Bono went downhill faster." When the Clintons got a male Labrador retriever, Hamilton wrote, "So far, they say the three-month-old puppy jumps all over every woman who walks into the White House. Monkey see, monkey do."
The man behind the message, E.K. Gaylord II, who has admitted that his true loves are horses, rodeos and film production, now seems to have dedicated himself to running the newspaper. Just 41 years old, he pledged during the paper's centennial celebration four years ago that "as long as I'm alive, this will be a privately owned, family-based company." Chances are it will remain independent and in the control of the Gaylords, who own most of the stock. E.K. II, as he's known at the paper, turned down requests for an interview, leaving it to general manager Martin to discuss the newspaper's finances and the family's views.
The Oklahoman, being a private company, does not announce its profit margin, but Martin says "we would far exceed the industry standard," which he says he understands to be a percentage in the mid-20s. "We do very well."
Asked about the Oklahoman's virtues, Martin cites "the love and care and concern about the community and the state we operate in" and the fact that as an independent publication "we control our own destiny in the product we put out." The newspaper is "financially supportive" of local good causes and is "part of the community, like a bank or other major institution." The Gaylord family, he says, "has a commitment to the city and the state, and believes in newspapers."
The Oklahoman's professed care for its community and state seems genuine. But unless it begins to spend more of its ample resources on staff, on more ambitious reporting efforts and on more lively writing, it will remain a journalistic underachiever.
A decade after taking the helm of the Eugene Register-Guard, Tony Baker can relax. He has successfully engineered an agreement among family members to perpetuate their longtime control of the paper, Oregon's second-largest daily, and in January he presided over the move to a new and thoroughly modern plant.
The Guard (as it's known by all) is an 80,000-circulation newspaper that's exceptionally close to its community. The paper is scrutinized, praised and criticized, but hardly ever ignored. The Baker family has owned it for seven decades. Alton F. "Tony" Baker III is editor and publisher, the third of his immediate family to lead it. Baker's cousin R. Fletcher Little is general manager. Another cousin, Richard A. Baker Jr., is information systems manager. Cousin Bridget Baker-Kincaid directs corporate and public relations. Cousin David H. Baker serves the newsroom as assistant managing editor. Cousin Carol Little Johnson is a classified advertising sales assistant. Tony's sister, Susan Baker Diamond, is the Newspaper in Education coordinator.
Tony's grandfather, the original Alton F. Baker, son of the general manager of Cleveland's Plain Dealer, struck out for the West in 1927 and bought the 60-year-old Guard in growing, still raw Eugene. Three years later he purchased the competing Register and merged them. He ran the combined paper for the next 30 years as Eugene grew from a timber and college town--home to the University of Oregon--into a diversified city. He became a civic force, and today the largest public greenspace in Eugene, running for two miles alongside the Willamette River across from downtown, is named Alton Baker Park. Upon his death in 1961, he was succeeded by his son, Alton F. "Bunky" Baker Jr. After Bunky retired more than 20 years later, it was his brother Edwin's turn. Five years after that, Tony Baker took over.
When the paper completed its move to a new $40 million facility in north Eugene in January, Baker said the expenditure demonstrated the family's commitment to maintaining ownership. "It underscores our long held philosophy that we believe the community is best served by a locally owned newspaper," Baker told Register-Guard readers in an 18-page section about the move. "It's the family's intention to continue to own and operate the paper in that manner for years to come. There's no question that if the family was interested in doing anything other than continue to own and operate the paper, it wouldn't be saddling itself with this debt load."
He wrote, correctly, that "there are not many family-owned papers our size..not many left at all." Because of family ownership, he explained, "we're able to make all the decisions here locally... We don't feel the pressure from investors or stockholders, wherever they may be, to drive that bottom line on a quarterly basis... There's pressure but we put that pressure on ourselves, because we make our own decisions about what we're going to buy and sell, the products we're going to produce, where we circulate and the setting of ad rates."
A brightly modern, cleanly edited newspaper, the Register-Guard puts a premium on civic duty and on trying to be the conscience of Eugene, as exemplified by its local public affairs news coverage and its thoughtful, moderately liberal, good-citizen editorial line. It wins deserved praise for its sports pages and its classy and well-displayed photography. A dozen times in the last two decades the Register-Guard has captured the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association's highest honor, its General Excellence Award.
The paper's coverage of local news, especially government news, is persistent and aggressive, and stories are nearly always written with skill and style. The main section sometimes gives questionable front page play to local features and photos with little news value, squeezing out state, national or world stories that deserve better play and would better serve Eugene's literate readership. But it doesn't omit those stories from the paper, and its overall report is complete, intelligently edited and rarely dull.
Local coverage mostly adheres to the paper's written "News Coverage Philosophy," which states that "our professional role is civic observer, not civic booster." The paper does, however, involve itself directly as a contributor or backer in such community efforts as United Way and the construction of a downtown performing arts center.
Tony Baker candidly assesses the Register-Guard as not doing enough in-depth projects, needing to beef up literary and cultural coverage, and lacking sufficient reporting on outdoor recreation and on homes and gardens. So he has authorized four new editorial hires this year. The news staff now numbers about 80 full time and 20 part time people, says Managing Editor Jim Godbold. That's an acceptable, but not exceptional, staff size.
Baker says he intends to look at other news needs too, including strengthening the Sunday paper, which is sometimes thin and stints on local news. The Commentary section is solid, often provocative, and replete with intelligently selected pieces usually tied to the news. There's no Sunday magazine other than Parade, but that's not unusual these days. What's different is there's no television magazine either, because the Guard publishes its book on Saturday, believing it's of more use to people then. In fact, the Saturday edition is the biggest seller, at 83,000 copies, because of the TV magazine. The paper sells about 75,000 copies Monday through Friday, 80,000 on Sunday. It forces a seven-day buy on subscribers, and the extra Saturday and Sunday numbers come from street sales. Circulation has been flat for three years.
Although some young staffers use the paper as a training ground and move on to bigger newspapers, Tony Baker says "many people stay a long time because they like the paper and they like the community. We're blessed with a strong staff, a lot of people who are overachievers, who have more good ideas than we can put into practice."
Don Bishoff, a three-times-a-week columnist who holds forth concretely and pungently on local issues, is in his early 60s and has been at the paper for nearly 40 years. Bishoff's columns sometimes take a different point of view on local controversies from the editorial page, but that doesn't upset most staffers, who figure it adds to the paper's appeal.
Editorial Page Editor Don Robinson has been there for 35 years and directs a staff of four, which he says is "certainly bigger than the chain papers of our size." They produce daily editorial and op-ed pages and a four-page Sunday commentary section that are admirable, thought-provoking and well-read, judging from the many letters to the editor. The editorials are more rigorously reasoned than in many larger newspapers. Politically, Robinson says, the Guard is "largely centrist, but sort of moderately liberal." The paper endorsed Bill Clinton in both his presidential bids. Tony Baker's father, Bunky, still in charge during Ronald Reagan's presidency, insisted the paper endorse Reagan over Walter Mondale in 1984, but he initialed the editorial because Robinson and most of the staff disagreed with him.
A flap early this year involving the Eugene city manager, Vicki Elmer, illustrates the extent to which this paper engages in and promotes local debate. Near the end of Elmer's first year on the job, reporter Joe Kidd analyzed her performance. He concluded that she'd made numerous bad decisions and, by firing some key officials, had damaged City Hall morale to the point that her own executive team urged her to quit. The editorial page followed up with a strong editorial, "Elmer should resign," and said if she didn't, the City Council should fire her. Then the paper granted Elmer space for a 1,200-word reply, in which she defended her performance. But the City Council took the Register-Guard's advice and dismissed Elmer. Perhaps because the paper had prepared its readers, no one was taken by surprise and there was a minimum of civic trauma.
The paper suffered its own public embarrassment in December, when the sports editor mistakenly quoted a black University of Oregon football player as saying that bowl opponent Air Force "had a good white defense." It turned out, as a tape recording showed, that he'd actually said "a good WAC defense," WAC being the Western Athletic Conference. This prompted a front page apology by Godbold. He offered "a full and complete retraction of the error," saying it had hurt the image of the university's football team and "the credibility of the Register-Guard in ways that won't be quickly forgotten." The player in question accepted the apology. "It was an awkward thing to go through," Baker admits.
Eugene being the kind of place it is, a liberal, activist college town where citizen debate is as much a way of life as drive-through espresso stands, not everyone loves the Guard. Some think it's too leftish and lives in the 1960s. Others believe it's turned too conservative. Some think it's gone soft. "A lot of people in Eugene are very critical of the Guard," says Fred Taylor, the retired executive editor of the Wall Street Journal who reads the Guard from 125 miles away in Coquille, where he owns the weekly Coquille Valley Sentinel. "But I tell them they just haven't read enough papers in other towns. The Guard is a very good medium-sized newspaper and one of the best of its size in the country that I've read, and I've read a lot of them."
Not to say he is without quibbles. Taylor says the paper's stories have grown shorter over time and lack detail for "political junkies like me," who he says are apparently expected to get the added information by phoning the paper's audiotext, GuardLine. He adds the paper "ought to look more closely at the university; they don't cover it very well." But Taylor volunteers that he's a stockholder of the competing Eugene Weekly and therefore could be "suspected of self-interest" in any critique of the establishment paper.
Another expert reader is Jon Franklin, who won two Pulitzer Prizes at Baltimore's old Evening Sun before coming to Oregon to write and teach. He calls the Guard "a rather good newspaper"--high praise from the curmudgeonly Franklin, who harbors strong doubts that newspapers will survive as a medium, at least in present form. Still, he finds the paper too buttoned-down, "very sober-sided. There's not a lot of joy. They take themselves very seriously." (Franklin has since returned to newspaper journalism at Raleigh's News & Observer.)
But whatever criticism one hears of the Guard, it's almost always offered in the context of overall admiration for a solid paper that, as Taylor says, benefits from local ownership and stable leadership. The Guard's top brass may sometimes be too close to "the bankers and the developers," he says, "but that's maybe not as bad as a paper being run by floating editors and publishers from somewhere else."
Tony Baker plans to keep it that way. "The prospects for retaining family ownership are good," he says. "I've argued that what's good for this business is good for the family. We've kept pace with what would be considered a reasonable rate of return. We're not as profitable as the published reports of some publicly owned papers--we're not doing 20 percent; let's put it that way. But we're not poor either."
Twenty-one relatives, all direct descendants of founder Alton F. Baker, own the stock and constitute the board of directors of Guard Publishing Co. Five of them, including Tony, control a 10-year voting trust that began in 1987 and was renewed for another 10 years. That arrangement stems from months of discussion among the family in the mid-1980s when Tony's father and uncle were retiring. Eventually the third-generation Bakers signed a document, pledging to their parents that "despite the problems and the tremendous amount of work ahead of us, we have decided we want to keep the Register-Guard in the family. We all have strong emotional ties to the paper and to Eugene. We know we've got a good thing here, and we believe we have the ability and the dedication to maintain it and to make it better."
The paper seems well positioned for the foreseeable future. Managing Editor Godbold says the work force is stable, the new building and equipment are "state of the art," and journalistically, "what I hear all the time from Tony is, 'We want to do the right thing.' "
Such can be the mantra of the independent newspaper.
It's impossible in today's media environment to start a new daily newspaper. That's the accepted wisdom. But such rules do not apply to multimillionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, who is happily cultivating a new and growing daily in Pittsburgh. It's actually a spinoff of his Tribune-Review newspaper in Greensburg, 30 miles to the east.
Heir to the Mellon banking and oil fortune and reportedly worth close to a billion dollars, Scaife is a philanthropist of considerable generosity. But these days he's much better known as the funder of right-wing causes, some way off the chart of believability. He has long been a financial backer of the American Spectator magazine and other conservative critics of President Clinton. And it has been widely reported that Scaife money has benefited David Hale, a former judge who's an anti-Clinton witness in independent counsel Kenneth Starr's Whitewater probe.
But all that is about politics. What motivated Scaife to launch his Pittsburgh venture is a strong belief that a major city should have two newspaper voices. (At least that's the reason his associates give; although Scaife employs journalists he doesn't talk to them.) He proved this once before in Sacramento, where he kept the underdog Union going despite a decade of negative cash flow. In the Steel City, events were put into motion in 1992 when a devastating strike prompted Scripps Howard to unload the Pittsburgh Press. Scaife tried to buy it but Scripps rebuffed him and sold the paper to the Block family, owner of the rival Post-Gazette. The family in turn closed the Press, and an incensed Scaife decided to rectify matters.
So he set up a newspaper office in the city's historic Station Square, a scenic spot on the banks of the Monongahela River that he'd earlier restored with more than $10 million in grants from his Allegheny Foundation. He began printing a Pittsburgh edition on his Greensburg presses, while starting construction of a $43 million printing plant north of Pittsburgh.
Last October the state-of-the-art plant, dubbed NewsWorks, opened and started printing Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review at the rate of about 35,000 copies on weekdays, 50,000 on Sundays. The Greensburg edition, whose slogan is "Worthy of Western Pennsylvania," circulates about 61,000 daily, 115,000 on Sundays. Even so, the combined Greensburg-Pittsburgh editions are dwarfed by the Post-Gazette, which sells 241,000 on weekdays, 429,000 Sundays. Scaife's start-up news staff in Pittsburgh, nearly 100 (the Greensburg edition has about the same number), is also small compared to the Post-Gazette's.
"Right now, for us it's not about making money," says David House, who came to Pittsburgh as editor last year from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. "It's about providing Pittsburgh with an alternative daily. Here's a guy, Dick Scaife, who really wants Pittsburgh to have two newspapers. He was willing to put his money where his mouth is."
House says he took the job because "this is a privately owned newspaper and it's an exciting challenge." Newspapers owned by public companies, he says, are plagued by "a bottom-line philosophy and downsizing, with catastrophic results. That makes it tougher and tougher to perform." Over in Greensburg, a classic Pennsylvania mountain town, Editor Tom Stewart agrees. "We were never forced to run on a shoestring here. We've always been healthily staffed. We can react quickly to things." The paper's conservative editorial policy "doesn't drive our news decisions," Stewart says. "We sit here every day and try to put out a good newspaper and cover both sides of an issue."
Still, Scaife's views clearly affect story play, headlines and overall tone. A few days after the Clinton-Lewinsky story broke, the papers' lead story, an AP piece used inside in many papers, explored why citizens weren't more disturbed. It was based on comments from William Bennett, Alan Keyes, Jesse Helms and others from the right. The Tribune-Review headline read "Conservatives Ask: 'Where's the Outrage?' "
Much of the outrage, of course, resides in Scaife's bosom. A virulent Clinton opponent, he seems haunted by conservative conspiracy theories that drive him to publish bizarre stories about governmental intrigue and murder plots in Washington. Those stories--implying, for instance, that White House lawyer Vincent Foster was murdered, and that Commerce Secretary Ron Brown may have died from a bullet to the head, not in the crash of an Air Force plane in Croatia--color every judgment about Scaife's papers. Editors in Pittsburgh and Greenburg, forced to print the stories no matter what they might think, only shrug when questioned about them and try to change the subject.
The most notorious Tribune-Review stories have been written by Christopher Ruddy, a special correspondent who previously worked for the New York Post but was let go. Scaife's editors were reticent when questioned about Ruddy and the details of his hiring, but he apparently was given carte blanche to write and publish his stories on the front page of the Tribune-Review.
Stewart is the paper's liaison with Ruddy, who is based in New York City. "He's broken some controversial stories," Stewart acknowledges. "He's not assigned to go out and dig up dirt on enemies." Asked whether he believes Ruddy's stories about Ron Brown's death, Stewart demurs but says Ruddy has turned up some curious facts about a wound in Brown's head that could have been a bullet hole.
Ruddy's stories implying that Vince Foster's shooting death was made to look like a suicide have brought even more attention but have been thoroughly discredited, including by Kenneth Starr. (Although Starr says he has never met the megamillionaire, their names continue to be linked.) Even so, Scaife apparently believes the stories, having told the Dallas Morning News in a rare interview in 1995, "The death of Vincent Foster: I think that's the Rosetta Stone to the whole Clinton administration. There are just too many questions that have no answers."
Scaife's employ of Ruddy is of a piece with his financing of dozens of conservative organizations and causes, dating back to his $1 million contribution to Richard Nixon's campaign in 1972. One recipient of Scaife's largess is Pepperdine University. Last year the California university invited Starr to become dean of both its law school and a new school of public policy that the Pittsburgh conservative helped endow. Starr first said he would accept the Pepperdine offer; then, after a storm of criticism, he announced he would postpone his move. More recently he said he would forgo Pepperdine altogether. (Another big financier of the Pepperdine public policy school is Edward L. Gaylord of the Daily Oklahoman.)
Edward H. Harrell, president of the Tribune-Review and the man in charge of both editions, claims not to know the details of the paper's arrangement with Ruddy. "He's a correspondent; he comes up with his own ideas," says Harrell, who runs company operations from an office in suburban Pittsburgh and consults with Scaife frequently. Harrell acknowledges the Tribune-Review's ideology, but he says "no one ever points out that we run some liberal columnists, too." He cites the paper's use of Molly Ivins and Donald Kaul.
Trying to assess the Greensburg and Pittsburgh papers without taking into account the Ruddy portfolio calls to mind the old line, "Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?" But the truth is, overall, Scaife's papers measure up well journalistically. In fact, they're quite good. Were it not for his extreme political agenda, Richard Scaife would be considered a respectable independent-newspaper owner.
The Greensburg newsroom supports a projects team that has published examinations of various state government programs gone awry, a look at problems in prison financing, a year-after piece on the relatives of those killed in a nearby airline crash, and a series on the Bill of Rights called "We the People." The latter, which the editors cite with special pride, ran for five days beginning last July 4 and seemed designed to stir patriotic fervor. In February, the paper published two lengthy front page stories about threats to individual privacy. All these projects were well-crafted and raised legitimate issues, but they possessed an edge that seems particularly suited to a Scaife-owned paper, with their tone of pro-Americanism, pro-individualism and anti-government.
Says Sue McFarland, a news editor in Greensburg, "Our readers feel connected to the paper because Scaife lives in the community and has made contributions to it. He has a vested interest in the community and in the quality of life here." The Tribune-Review, she says, has a good reputation as "a place where you can grow and where you can tackle some meaty journalism."
Art McMullen, the general manager, says "technologically, we're way ahead of other places our size," leading the way, for example, in pagination. The Greensburg and Pittsburgh editions, which have nearly identical makeup, are clean in appearance, with a healthy newshole and a balance of local, state, national and international news. The papers use color and graphics skillfully, and they share a fair amount of content. Although Scaife's operation is not as big, complete or ambitious as the Post-Gazette's, his papers would stack up well against many metros.
House, the editor of the Tribune-Review's Pittsburgh edition, expresses great enthusiasm about his paper's future. "We can't go toe to toe with the Post-Gazette now, but that doesn't bother us." He figures the paper and the staff will keep expanding, as the capacity of NewsWorks, the new printing plant built in nine months, is 320,000 copies daily. Meanwhile, staffers at the old Greensburg office are nervous about their sister paper's ascendancy. The Post-Gazette, clearly not a disinterested observer, published a piece last October saying some in Greensburg thought the Pittsburgh edition was overstaffed and a money drain, while Pittsburgh staffers thought the Greensburg operation wasn't providing enough stories.
But for now, Scaife and his top people seem committed to both editions. With Scaife's deep pockets, that shouldn't be a problem. "Dick doesn't take any money out of the papers," says Harrell. And the profit margin? "We don't say. We're a private company."
Scaife is actually expanding his western Pennsylvania empire. In the last year he has purchased three small dailies from Thomson and two dailies and a weekly from Gannett--all near Pittsburgh and Greensburg. The aim is to capture suburban readership. He's also beginning to print the regional editions of USA Today and Baseball Weekly. Scaife has vowed to spend whatever it takes for up to a decade to make his Pittsburgh edition profitable. If he does--and he's just the man to do it--this mysterious conservative may outdistance the headlines to become an ever more influential journalistic force.
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