Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bates Knows Best: Tulsa World Critic Gets It Wrong (Again)

Tulsa blogger Michael Bates always has a lot to say. Too bad that he frequently gets it wrong. 

The latest example is his Batesline blast at the Tulsa World. When the paper announced 28 layoffs yesterday, Bates couldn't resist another editorial jab. The World (he spells it "Whirled," apparently unable to actually say the name) is in a "stall," Bates argued, because it's biased and out of touch. 

According to Bates, the paper's tone-deaf management and editorial philosophy is the problem. The paper, Bates writes, needs "to acknowledge that their one-sided editorial section and the bias they've encouraged on the news pages have driven away readers." (There's more, but you get the point.) 

Trouble is, Bates is wrong. It's not politics or bias that hurting the World, it's the economy. 

Regardless of politics, newspapers everywhere are losing readers and advertising dollars, a fact that has a lot more to do with technology and the current economic downturn than politics or (perceived) bias.

As evidence, let's look at the Daily Oklahoman, a newspaper presumably more in tune with Bates and his fellow conservatives. If Bates were correct, the Oklahoman would be booming, adding readers and revenues.

Too bad, then, that the Oklahoman announced 150 layoffs just a few months back, a fact that contradicts the Bates argument. Too bad that KOTV Channel 6 and KTUL Channel 8 also recently downsized, more facts that undermine Bates.  

Indeed, news organizations and media outlets locally and nationally have been hurt by the decline in ad dollarsand it has nothing to do with politics or bias. From Boston to Bozeman, the economy matters, which is exactly what the World said when it announced its layoffs. 

Speaking of Bozeman, here's a statement from the Chronicle's publisher on their publishing environment: 
I'm sure most folks are aware what a lousy year newspapers had in 2008. Declining ad revenues were fueled by a plummeting economy—reduced spending necessarily affects businesses ability to advertise. Weekly news of industry layoffs at metro papers and small ones alike clouded the pages. And the Chronicle was no exception….
Could that scenario apply to Tulsa? Sure. But Bates isn't really interested in hearing such arguments. Instead of facts and actual analysis, Bates trots out the same tiring rant against the World, mining the blogs for rumors and anti-conservative conspiracies.

In search of skulduggery (he's sure it's there somewhere), he ignores the most significant fact of all—the economy—and ends up on the wrong side of the facts.


Tulsan said...

Bates is still living in the make-believe world with other out-of-touch right-wing bloggers

With as much Schadenfreude as Bates exhibits toward the Tulsa World, I think his influence, such as it was, is fated to dwindle.

Many of his followers now have new priorities, such as surviving the consequences of conservative governance.

Tulsan said...

Related news today:

Big bucks right-wing outlet Pajamas Media boosted their journalistic credibility with a key hire.

Joe The Plumber is their new Israel correspondent.

The future of right-wing news is bright.

Michael Bates said...

I gather that you think I'm talking about liberal vs. conservative bias, and you incorrectly assume that the sources I quoted in my blog entry were conservative. Only TulsaNow commenter cannonfodder is right-leaning, and I think he's more of a libertarian than a conservative. New York magazine has the political bent that you would expect a New York-based magazine about culture, media, and entertainment to have.

I could have done a better job of spelling it out, but I wasn't thinking about national issues when I wrote about the World's bias problem. The World and the Oklahoman have the same problem with bias on local issues, bias grounded in the owning families' social and business connections. The World has targeted populist local politicians and activists on both ends of the political spectrum (Roscoe Turner, Jack Henderson, Don McCorkell, Chris Medlock) and backed local politicians whom they trust to maintain the status quo.

Although both papers have some good local reporters -- Steve Lackmeyer's coverage of downtown Oklahoma City development and April Marciewicz's coverage of higher ed in Tulsa are two examples -- overall, local news and opinion coverage in the two papers isn't trusted. They need to rebuild that trust in order to survive.

Even though they threatened me with a lawsuit for linking to their website and using limited excerpts for the purpose of commentary, I don't wish to see the paper fail. Tulsa needs a good daily paper. The suggestions I offered were made in earnest. Rebuilding trust on local coverage is the only way the World can survive in the long run.

Tulsan said...

Exactly half of the TulsaNow forum comments on this topic to date are from foul-mouthed "inteller," and "Wilbur," neither of whom can be accused of being liberal or moderate.

But yes, that makes it practically a hotbed of leftist sentiment by Tulsa blogging standards.

Much of the rest of the thread consists of "RecycleMichael" Patton and others chastising "inteller" for a personal slur using an ugly word. An intellectual feast it is not, though Michael and others leaven the thread with some common sense and decency.

Bates linked to the World's PDF version strictly out of malice, and the World countered with law rather than technology out of ignorance. It was a draw.

Let's get real. If the World were a right-wing rag, we wouldn't be hearing from Mr. Bates about trust.

Michael Bates said...

I linked to their PDF pages because at the time it was the only way they provided to allow my readers to read the full article on which I was commenting. That's what bloggers do: We link to what we read and allow readers to click through, see it in context, and judge for themselves.

Tulsan, I didn't quote Inteller or Wilbur, did I? The only other forum participant I quoted was sgrizzle, who is not a right-winger by any means.

Tulsan said...

If you throw out all the TulsaNow forum posts dealing with inteller's bile, Mr. Grizzle's remarks are among the few remaining. Just pointing out that the forum is not underrepresented by the right. TulsaNow attracts malcontents and cranks of all stripes (along with some thoughtful posters) who regularly discharge on all topics.

Your citing of relatively liberal criticisms of the World is a sensible tactic. If I were making a point against a conservative paper, I would marshal the words of conservative critics, since they would tend to have more force with other conservatives. Liberals would likely already be on board.

Of course, the Tulsa World, while not a right-wing house organ, is liberal only from a Red State perspective. They endorsed W. both times, after all.

AT's point that all newspapers are in trouble is clearly a more plausible reason for the World's difficulties than "trust" issues.

Granted that the World going after you and a few other Tulsa bloggers for linking was extremely dumb and a PR black eye. That doesn't alter the fact that you have a long-standing personal grudge against the paper.

If you want to look more high-minded in your criticism of the paper, you should dump your self-coined epithet, "The Whirled."

Tulsan said...

I've got to laugh.

Here I am, not exactly defending the Tulsa World, but definitely not supporting its harshest critic.

Now look what our buddy Mike McCarville reports:

"While executives at the Tulsa World were deciding which 28 employees would be fired in a cost-saving move to help the company deal with reduced advertising revenue, the president of the company, John R. Bair, was being processed for a $90,000 'proprietary membership' in the ritzy Southern Hills Country Club."
"Bair, World president since 2007, is no stranger to controversy. In 2005, then the company vice president, Bair began an attempt to prevent Michael Bates at in Tulsa from reproducing, quoting, or linking to articles in the World. That created a blogger firestorm that raged for almost a year and prompted an attorney for the Media Bloggers Association to return fire and resulted in a number of national media news articles about the First Amendment and the blogosphere."

The VP screws up big time, so promote him and put him in the country club!

Michael Bates said...

You're not really hip to local issues, are you, Tulsan?

Tulsan said...

I haven't kept up with the current executive hierarchy at the Tulsa World as you no doubt have, due to your special interest in the paper.

Tulsan said...

Very related news today:

World files suit over circulation claims

"The Tulsa World sued Urban Tulsa Weekly and columnist Michael Bates for libel on Thursday, citing what it says was Bates' false claim that the World had misled advertisers about the newspaper's circulation."

I'm not "hip" enough to local issues to say whether this is more a harassment suit, or whether it has true merit.

Bates may have put too much topspin on his "Whirled" story.

Tulsan said...

Even as a non-Bates fan, I must say this lawsuit seems frivolous. Bates says the numbers "suggest"? That's libel?? Only in the eyes of the big, bad, and dumb Bair.

I almost hope Bates can make hay from this as he did from Bair's last dumbass move.

Brian said...

I frequently disagree with Michael Bates, and have for a long time; further, repeating the incomprehensible not-quite-slur "Tulsa Whirled" is just ridiculous.

However, he makes a valid point in these criticisms of the World. He's absolutely right that they're biased, and that their bias has very little to do with political parties -- it's pro-Old Boy (and Old Girl, in Kathy Taylor's case), nothing more, nothing less. It's there to sell ads and to not make waves, and these layoffs are the prolonged whine of a family aghast at the concept of earning profits that suddenly dip below the double digits (a margin that any other industry would jump at the chance for).

If the paper (read: the Lortons) were bright enough, they'd keep qualified people around and concentrate on producing a legitimately good paper instead of cutting the news hole back to nothing (an 8-page news section, 1 to 4 of which are full-page ads, is not uncommon). Unfortunately an idea like this is as alien to them as publishing entirely in Croatian. They'll keep doing what they're doing, and circulation will keep declining, and they'll keep scratching their heads and wondering why their family isn't raking in cash anymore for doing what they've always done. It's a metaphor for Tulsa itself, in a lot of ways.

jpbanjo said...

Every reporters dream is to uncover a hot story of wrongdoing by some big evil corporate entity and in Bates’ case that Evil Empire is the Tulsa World. They’ve already hammered him once for using their copy written material and linking to there website. It’s obvious from his other blogs on the subject that he bares them more than a little malice and he’s out to expose them for the frauds he believes them to be..
However, like a lot of internet bloggers, he’s let his political convictions over come some simple journalism practices that apply in the print world. First, if you have a hot story with damaging information, in this case that the World was cooking the books on it’s circulation numbers to up it’s advertising rates, you always find a second independent source to confirm your facts or suspicions. That’s Journalism 101. Next you call the company or person you are about to expose for the frauds you believe them to be and ask if they care to comment on what you are about to publish about them. That’s Journalism 201
When they don’t return your call, you sit back and watch them sweat, knowing that you, the white knight, are protected by the best defense for libeling or defaming someone, called the truth.
Unfortunately, Bates did not follow Journalism 101 or 201 and judging by the retraction printed by his own Urban Tulsa’s editor there’s no truth in his defamatory accusations either.
If you print that Dr. X’s medical clinic’s credentials are ‘Probably 20% inflated” or “Bank Y’s assets are probably overstated by 20%” those are both suggestions of fraud on their part and both are actionable libels. If the World can show malice on his part (probably yes) reckless disregard of the truth (possibly) and loss of income from the libel (probably not) they have every right to drop the hammer on him and since there is no love lost between them, they probably will.

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