It was a strange feeling for many reporters, and some former reporters. A strange presence felt, which caused peculiar feelings to creep among the crowd members.
At a recent press conference in the state Capitol, there were a few familiar faces, but they were standing in unfamiliar places. Gov. Brad Henry was addressing the situation in the aftermath of the ice storms that gripped much of the state last month.
Most visitors to the governor's press conference are the usual suspects: reporters; members of the gov's staff; sometimes legislators, state agency heads and invited guests. Among the crowd that day to hear about the storm damage and what Henry planned to do about it were longtime Oklahoma City journalists Terri Watkins and Dick Pryor. But they were not sitting with their brethren, waiting to bomb the governor with questions. They were not even taking notes. They stood in the back in an observational posture.
It was quite clear they have settled into their new roles as minions of political public policy propaganda. They had joined the dark side as "¦ uhh "¦ public relations people.
Watkins, who gained many admirers as a tough-minded investigative journalist for KOCO-TV Channel 5, is now the public information officer for the Oklahoma Office for the State Auditor and Inspector. Pryor, the face of OETA news for nearly two decades, has moved up the ranks to chief of staff for Lt. Gov. Jari Askins. It's tough to see two dedicated journalists who served the public as seekers of the truth now reduced to the spinners of the truth.
Their move, though, is not setting a trend. It is part of one. The year 2006 might be known as the public relations migration. Several reporters hung up the microphone or put down the pen and walked across the rope to the greener pastures of communications. Here is the list:
Former KFOR-TV Channel 4 weekend anchor Jack Damrill went to the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. Former KWTV Channel 9 reporter Tamara Pratt crossed to the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism. Former KTOK-AM 1000 radio reporter Bill Bateman got on with the state auditor and inspector's office. Former Oklahoman newspaper reporter Diane Clay went over to Evergreen Productions.
Add Watkins and Pryor to the list, and one wonders, just what are journalism salaries like?
The barrage of the dearly departed was enough to make Oklahoma Observer Editor Frosty Troy ask Henry, "Governor, do you miss being questioned by Bill Bateman?"
The gov just gave him a look of "don't ask."