OKLAHOMA – Over the past few decades, waves of news coverage have moved from print to online. The trimming of newsroom staffs has necessitated collaboration among for profit and nonprofit entities because smaller organizations do not have the resources to cover stories around the state.
The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch are two nonprofits that focus on investigative journalism. Oklahoma Media Center supports and strengthens Oklahoma’s journalism ecosystem by encouraging collaboration among entities.
Oklahoma Watch distributes content through media partnerships with 100 print and broadcast entities statewide.
“I think it would be fair to say when we were formed, about 12 years ago, we were at a point where the downward trend from print in journalism seemed unavoidable,” said Ted Streuli, Oklahoma Watch executive editor. “As many of the printed products were in some stage of having to downsize and reduce coverage, some foundations came together to feel strongly that there remained a need for investigative journalism and that many of our daily and weekly papers were approaching the point where their ability to do so was diminished.”
He explained that as a nonprofit, Oklahoma Watch has had the freedom and flexibility to pursue deep-dive stories that are shared with different news outlets throughout the state.
“It takes a lot of resources to produce each story when you are doing that kind of work,” he said.
Streuli said the organization experiences its own limitations because it does not have the ability to cover local news from all over the state. Instead, it complements local coverage by addressing topics that affect all, or most, Oklahomans.
“People throughout Oklahoma care about the state’s education system, the approach to mental health, our criminal justice system, the response to COVID, and how the Legislature is spending their tax money,” said Streuli. “Unlike most local news outlets, we are in a position to paint with a broader brush and dive into topics that are important to everyone in the state but are not endemic to one city or town.”
Dylan Goforth grew up in Tahlequah and is a former staff writer for the Muskogee Phoenix. He is now the editor of The Frontier, which has a presence in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Like Oklahoma Watch, The Frontier is also a nonprofit that paints with broad strokes, with a focus on investigative journalism. His team began looking for holes to fill after newspapers throughout the state began folding. Broken Arrow, which has a population of over 100,000 people, has no newspaper.
“There are way fewer reporters than there were a few years ago. We wanted to provide something that there wouldn’t be otherwise,” said Goforth. “Our big focus is accountability. We ask who is being harmed, who is doing the harm, and who can we hold accountable for this issue? Whether it is McGirt or the death penalty, we ask these questions every time."
Unlike daily newspapers, The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch do not distribute articles on a daily basis. Their stories will often run a larger word count than most daily newspapers because they provide in-depth probes on specific topics.
“Our stories are ready when they are ready. We have stories that we’ve worked on for months,” said Goforth. “You won’t see us post every day to build readership. We may have one or two stories a week, but you will know that they will be important.”
Oklahoma Media Center was formed in 2020 and is a collaborative of print, digital, and broadcast newsrooms that work cooperatively to cover pressing issues the public faces.
“We provide funding and story sharing collaboration,” said Rob Collins, OMC project manager and former editor of the Enid New & Eagle. “Collaboratives are not new in the country, but they are relatively new here in Oklahoma.”
In March 2021, OMC began the “Promised Land" story-sharing project to cover the aftermath of the McGirt case and tribal sovereignty. The Tahlequah Daily Press, which has closely covered McGirt as it pertains to the Cherokee Nation, was among the resources.
“OMC launched in 2020 to amplify resources to move the journalism needle for the greater good. Managed by Local Media Association, its mission is to support and strengthen Oklahoma’s journalism ecosystem and spur innovation through statewide collaboration that benefits diverse audiences,” said Collins.
OMC provides training to elevate journalism, grant funding for innovative revenue, and audience engagement experiments and story-sharing collaboration.
“We’ve facilitated a diverse, historic collaboration in support of press freedom in our state. Only 8 percent of the 39 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma have a free press, and all three of those independent news organizations are OMC participants,” he said.
King writes for the Tahlequah Daily Press.