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‘Sea change’



The newspaper made the announcement on its website and stated that all Oklahoma Publishing Company stock will be sold to the Anschutz Corp., which is owned by Philip Anschutz, 71, a Denver-based businessman ranked by Forbes magazine as the 37th richest person in the United States and the 124th wealthiest person on the planet with a net worth of $7.5 billion. 

The Anschutz Corp. had no comment at the time of the announcement.

The Colorado billionaire has roots in ranching and oil and gas exploration, Christy Everest, chairwoman and CEO of OPUBCO, said in an online announcement, and that “there are amazing similarities between the interests and conservative values of the Anschutz Corp. and those of OPUBCO.”

In a Sept. 16 editorial, titled “With new hands on the wheel, OPUBCO will stay the course,” the writer stated that the publishing company “has been steered by steady hands. … Those hands have shared common family genes, but they also shared common conservative values. … This is a sea change for OPUBCO, but not one that’s entering uncharted waters. ... Into your (Anschutz’s) capable hands we place a company born before statehood and a newspaper that’s helped steer the good ship Oklahoma since 1903.”

In addition to investments in oil fields in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Texas, Anschutz’s holdings have included hotel properties, publications (the conservative Weekly Standard through Clarity Digital Group, as well as the hyperlocal and The San Francisco Examiner), telecommunications companies, railroad companies, theaters and Anschutz Entertainment Group.

Anschutz also is heavily involved in philanthropy, according to Faces of Philanthropy, donating to such causes as Foundation for a Better Life and Random Acts of Kindness Foundation and is “actively involved in moralistic filmmaking,” helping to bankroll movies such as “Holes,” “Because of Winn- Dixie,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Waiting for Superman,” which advocates education reform.

Anschutz is also a supporter of groups such as the Institute for American Values, a campaign against Internet pornography called Enough is Enough, and the Discovery Institute, an organization promoting intelligent design.

Anschutz makes substantial Republican campaign contributions, and in 1992, he contributed $10,000 to a group called Colorado Family Values in support of a state constitutional amendment invalidating state and local laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation (although it was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court), according to a 2004 profile of Anschutz in The Washington Post.

There are amazing similarities between the interests and conservative values of the Anschutz Corp. and those of OPUBCO.
—Christy Everest

OPUBCO announced Gary Pierson, chief operating officer, will become the new president and CEO of the company, and Mike Collison will serve as vice president and chief financial officer. All other employees at and The Oklahoman will retain their normal responsibilities, according to the announcement, and the paper will operate independently of other Anschutz papers.

The sale price was not made public in the announcement, and a call to Chris Reen, publisher and president of the OPUBCO Communications Group, was not returned.

The sale had been hinted at for some time, especially following the departures of former Editor Ed Kelley, who went to The Washington Times, and David Thompson, Reen’s predecessor.

Like many media companies affected by the economic downturn, the paper implemented changes. In 2008, OPUBCO made offers for early retirement to 102 employees, followed by 155 employees being laid off. In May 2010, 57 more employees were laid off and in January 2011, 46 more were let go.

Between 2008 and 2011, the company went from about 1,100 employees to 690.

Finally, this June both Kelley and Thompson, who were both hired to their respective positions in 2003 by Edward L. Gaylord, announced they would be leaving the paper. The announcements came about 10 days apart, and Thompson said the timing was purely coincidental.

Everest said in the announcement about the sale that Anschutz approached OPUBCO with an offer in early June, just prior to the Kelley and Thompson announcements.

The departure of Kelley and Thompson was a sign that the paper’s sale may have been imminent, said Terry M. Clark, director of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame and professor of journalism at University of Central Oklahoma.

“Anytime the top editor of the largest newspaper in the state and publisher leave, it tells you something: That in spite of all the official stuff, something is going to happen. Change is happening,” Clark said. “Everybody was sort of expecting that. We knew it was possibly on the market for quite a while, but we didn’t know what to expect from that.”

Editor’s note: For more on what changes new ownership may bring, read next week’s Oklahoma Gazette.

Photo by Mark Hancock

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