We in the Oklahoma journalism community are mourning the loss of one of our own this week.

The Edmond Sun - one of the oldest newspapers in the state, and one of the best - closed its doors this past weekend. The staff - including my friend Mark Codner - was laid off, and the Sun has merged with its sister publication, the Norman Transcript. Meaning that two cities located 36 miles apart by car (following the I-35 north and US-77 north route) will now be sharing a single daily newspaper.

The official story, as stated in the Sun’s editorial announcing its own demise, listed the cause of death as declining revenues. I have little doubt there is some truth to that; the past decade or so has seen difficult times for the newspaper industry in general, and the situation has been made worse by financial realities created by the current pandemic.

Indeed, a few days before the Sun wrote “30” on its final edition, another Oklahoma paper - the Duncan Banner - announced that it is slashing the number of days a week that it prints. 

And here at the paper where I work, the Johnston County Sentinel, we have responded to the current situation by cutting back on the number of copies we print each week, allowing subscribers outside our immediate area to access our online edition for free in an effort to cut back on postage costs until things start to improve.

But a few people who would appear to be in a position to know have suggested that the Sun’s demise was at least partially brought about by a virus of another kind: corporate greed. If this is true, it is cause for both anger and concern.

Twice in my career I have worked for corporate-owned daily newspapers. Both stints were, to be as diplomatic as is humanly possible, somewhat less than fulfilling. In one instance the situation was so bad that I was not allowed to run news stories about a local criminal case that was being covered by practically every other news agency throughout the state because of concerns that an advertiser would take offense.

In both instances I found myself working for owners whose interest was NOT in keeping the public informed or playing the watchdog role set forth by the First Amendment but, rather, how much money was coming into the coffers so that the owners could keep buying their fancy private airplanes and taking trips to islands with names I still can’t pronounce.

I have written in the past about the importance of local newspapers to the communities they serve. Like the local schools and post offices and certain businesses, the newspaper is part of the lifeblood of the commuity. They help create the community’s very identity. 

That’s one reason we fought so hard to get the Sentinel up and running in the first place two years ago.And that’s why I have always been happier working for a “mom-and-pop” operation like the Sentinel than with papers that are corporately owned. 

In most cases the corporate owners do not even live in the communities their papers serve; they have little if any understanding of what makes those communities special. 

All they care about is the ka-ching

That might be a fine way to run a retail store or a restaurant, or even a lemonade stand. But it’s a pretty lousy way to run a newspaper as far as I’m concerned. 

Look, I’m not naive. I know we’re a business too, and there are certain financial realities that have to be attended to if we want to keep doing our job. I’ve got bills to pay too, after all.

But when a newspaper puts those considerations above their responsibility to the public, that newspaper has lost sight of why it exists in the first place. And the community suffers because of it.

The people of Edmond have lost that vital part of their community. We should all be saddened by that.

If you’re not... well, I just don’t know what else to say.

(Copyright © 2020 by John Allen Small)