In a strange sequence of events, billionaire industry mogul Philip Anschutz was recently interviewed about an exclusive resort he owns by a newspaper he also owns: The Oklahoman.
Anschutz bought out his partners at Georgia’s Sea Island resort in mid-June. A fortnight later, The Oklahoman published two pieces by veteran reporter Randy Ellis detailing Sea Island’s bells, whistles and business arrangements.
Cone of newspapery silence
Ellis, referred to as a “tenacious investigative reporter” in his Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame bio, wrote the Sea Island features, worked the word “synergies” into one of them and declined to speak about his awkward assignment with Corey Hutchins of the Columbia Journalism Review.
From Hutchins’ write up of The Oklahoman’s resort coverage:
The front of the Sunday Life section featured a full-page spread about Sea Island, Georgia, a luxury five-star resort more than a thousand miles from The Oklahoman’s offices. The page featured two articles by Ellis, one carrying a Sea Island dateline and the headline, “Resort offers one-of-a-kind experiences, chance to be pampered.”
It’s a full-fledged puff piece even by the standards of a travel feature, noting up high that the resort is “world-renowned for its pampered elegance” before running down the joint’s lodging accommodations, multiple golf courses, and horseback rides on the beach.
Mmm, pampered elegance. Ellis must have enjoyed visiting Sea Island, Ga., as signified in one story’s dateline. Such fine lodging accommodations are not the sort of thing journalists often get to experience.
Neither, apparently, is interviewing Anschutz, as the CJR has previously noted the billionaire’s proclivity for avoiding interviews.
But Ellis miraculously landed one when fulfilling his assignment to profile the owner’s presumably humid paradise. (Amazing!)
Hutchins, however, couldn’t land an interview with Ellis’ editors.
Reached via Twitter hours after his CJR piece published, Hutchins said he had called Ellis’ editors — Robby Trammell and Kelly Dyer Fry — “at the end of last week,” and he said he sent multiple follow-up emails to no avail.
In his piece, Hutchins noted Dyer Fry’s auto-reply email message, meaning she was likely out of pocket.
Bad precedent to set
In contemplating their navels and pretending like Hutchins and the renowned publication he represents aren’t worth calling back, The Oklahoman’s editors are setting an extremely bad precedent.
The public might as well avoid returning NewsOK journalists’ future phone calls if they don’t want to. The publication’s own editors don’t seem to value the courtesy, so why should anyone else?
In all, the Sea Island scenario stands as just another tone-deaf faux pas likely to make The Oklahoman’s reporters facepalm, seethe with anger and/or drink heavily in recognition that their own bosses don’t understand basic ethics.
If Philip Anschutz wants to improve the value of his newspaper investment, future cross-pollination efforts will seek to stabilize The Oklahoman’s newsroom budget with properly labeled advertising from his Sea Island business.
Perhaps the Columbia Journalism Review would even do a follow up in praise.
Newspaper ownership should exhibit transparency by William W. Savage III