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Pryor Daily Times
The final edition of the Pryor Daily Times announced its own closure. (Provided)

When the Pryor Daily Times published its Saturday, April 29, edition, the top headline above the fold rocked the small northeastern Oklahoma town: Pryor Times publishes final edition.

“I was just stunned and shocked by the way everything went down,” Pryor Chamber of Commerce president Barbara Hawkins said nearly a week later via phone. “It’s a newspaper. I would think that a newspaper publisher and the owners of newspapers would understand the value of a newspaper in a community so that if they felt the need to close, it would have been done differently. But it wasn’t.”

How things went down included the immediate shuttering of PryorDailyTimes.com, which initially displayed an error for days after the announcement but now redirects to the Claremore Daily Progress. Like the Daily Progress, the Times was owned by Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc., a national newspaper conglomerate that now owns 15 papers in Oklahoma.

“It’s hard. We’re a town of 10,000 people,” Hawkins said. “It’s one thing to support a local newspaper, but when you have to support the local newspaper and, on top of that, the bottom line of whatever the out-of-state owner requires, it’s difficult.”

Hawkins, who has a background in publishing, said the chamber and many businesses went out of their way to advertise in the Times because they recognize the need to support journalism as the industry’s financial models are changing and shrinking.

“In a town our size, there was a lot of what I call ‘support advertising’ — to support the community and also to support the publication,” Hawkins said.

As examples, she pointed to ads commonly congratulating local students or thanking veterans for their service.

“You’re going to see more and more papers go away because the advertising dollars are going away,” said longtime Pryor Creek Mayor Jimmy Tramel. “We have a huge communication gap in this country today, and I don’t know what the answer is. It’s a drastic blow to our city because, how do we get information out?”

For the time being, Tramel said Pryor Creek — known as simply Pryor for years despite its original 1909 incorporation as the two-word term — will rely on local billboards, the city’s website and the town’s weekly news alternative called The Paper.

The Paper has no online presence, and Tramel said he doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter personally. He pointed out that the town, despite being home to a Google data center, has limited internet access for many residents.

“We’ve got some internet, but Pryor doesn’t have full-blown internet capabilities,” Tramel said. “We provide some free access to internet, but the kids that have to do their homework, some of those kids have to go to McDonald’s and sit up there because the internet capabilities are not at their house.

“There’s a lot of areas in our community that don’t have internet access, and the ones that do have to pay for that high-dollar internet out of the sky, and they can’t afford it.”

Loss of online archives ‘very disturbing’

Rep. Tom Gann (R-Inola) represents Pryor Creek. He read about the paper’s closing on Facebook.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s not too surprising,” Gann said. “There was another local paper out of Adair, The Banner, that ceased publication as well. So it’s not good. It’s a small business like anybody else who has suffered tough economic times.”

Gann said he understood the reality that a company needed to make money to survive, but he wishes the online archives would be made available.

“If it’s a matter of survival, I can understand [shutting down the website] from a business standpoint, but those archival records are the life of the community, and I would hope that [Pryor residents] at some point in time would have access to those clippings and articles in the Pryor paper that documented the way of life,” Gann said.

Hawkins spoke more bluntly of the online issue.

“That’s very disturbing to me because there were articles on that website that we would have — had we had the opportunity — we would probably have liked to pull for our archives. Just for the community’s archives,” Hawkins said. “There was valuable, historical information on that website that we would have liked to been able to pull for future generations and our town and county.”

Hawkins, Tramel and others in Pryor Creek are talking about what options they may have moving forward to support media in their community. For now, they may rely extra heavily on The Paper, which Terry Aylward and Paul Lewis started as an alternative in 1999.

“I’ve been doing Pryor news for 40 years,” said Aylward, who worked for two decades at the Pryor Daily Times with Lewis. “We’ve been running a 40-page (tabloid-size) paper pretty regularly. Every once in awhile we bump to 48. But today we’re working on a 56, if that tells you something.”

Aylward said community members are concerned about losing one particularly personal element of papers that publish multiple times a week.

“The biggest complaint we have heard is people saying, ‘What are we going to do about obituaries?'” Aylward said.

Gann agreed that media are important for small communities.

“It’s our link to communication, from the bizarre world of Oklahoma politics to the real world of Pryor and the eighth House district,” Gann said. “They were part of our media that we sent press releases to on a weekly basis. I tried to write a little column and give a little update on what was happening here at the Capitol.”

Calls to Carolyn Ashford — former publisher of the Pryor Daily Times who has been serving as interim publisher of the Claremore Daily Progress — were not returned for this story.

(Correction: This post was updated at 10:20 a.m., Thursday, May 11, 2017, to correct the spelling of Pryor Creek Mayor Jimmy Tramel’s name. NonDoc regrets the error.)

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William W. Savage III holds a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma. He covered two sessions of the Oklahoma Legislature for eCapitol.net before working in health care for six years. He is a nationally certified Mental Health First Aid instructor.