Alt-Weekly Oklahoma Gazette Turns 25

Oklahoma Gazette | October 13, 2004
For most, 25 years is a pretty significant span of seasons; for me, personally, it’s nearly a lifetime. Like the city it both calls home and covers, the Oklahoma Gazette has blossomed into something truly special; from a monthly preservation newsletter with a skeleton staff of volunteers to the third-largest newspaper in the state with dedicated editorial and advertising teams, the Gazette has adapted, innovated and always strove to be the voice outside the mainstream, a fresh take for those tired of dominating dailies.

The Gazette’s raison d’etre is right there in an early Nineties memo from former Gazette editor (1991-2001) Mike Easterling: “Aspire to be a thought-provoking, intelligent and well-written journal that offers the best and most comprehensive analysis available of this city’s past, present and future and its pluses and minuses.”

What follows is a somewhat anecdotal journey from 1979 to now and beyond — you can’t enjoy what lies ahead until you appreciate all that has come before. Happy 25, Gazette.


It began with Bill Bleakley and his desire to speak to those Oklahoma City residents who weren’t getting the news the way they wanted it. On Oct. 15, 1979, the first issue of the Oklahoma Gazette hit the racks, guided by volunteer editor Cynthia Archianaco — at the time, it was a bimonthly publication with a circulation of about 2,000 billed as a “journal of contributions to Oklahoma’s quality of life.”

“Publishing the Oklahoma Gazette is a labor of love in which more than 300 people have worked as employees and contributing writers during the last 25 years,” Bleakley said. “For a number of years, that effort was a struggle often requiring personal sacrifices on the part of many. Several prominent members of the community not only invested in our company but also were willing to use potential profits to build a bigger and better newspaper. Without the commitment of these employees and owners, the Oklahoma Gazette would not have achieved the success it enjoys today. It’s that broad-based commitment of which I’m most proud. It is in every way a hometown newspaper.”

From that first issue to the present day, a chief editorial focus has been that of historical and neighborhood preservation; indeed, the Gazette has championed preserving that which makes Oklahoma City historically unique for its entire 25-year existence.

A year after its inception, the Gazette would become a monthly publication, still based out of a loft in the storied Maney House at 1200 N. Shartel.


The Gazette’s impact was immediate, even if folks weren’t exactly sure what to make of this new upstart periodical. The Gazette’s second volunteer editor, Leigh Eldridge, helped create the calendar of events, which remains the definitive source for cultural and entertainment events. The Gazette’s first paid editor and professional journalist, Randy Splaingard, a transplant from The Daily Oklahoman, came onboard as part-owner and general manager in April 1982. He was faced with numerous challenges, not the least of which was explaining to the community just what the Gazette planned to accomplish.

“I would talk about these characteristics (of the Gazette) for the first nine months, and people would look at me with these quizzical looks,” Splaingard said in 1999. “Here was this newspaper that covered a large geographic area. Everybody is always trying to fit something into one box or another, but they just didn’t have a box to put the Gazette in.”


It was during this year that Splaingard launched the commentary section, which still draws complaints, criticisms and kudos to this day.

“We simply did what we felt a newspaper was supposed to do,” Splaingard wrote in 1999. “We looked (readers) in the eye and told them the truth as we saw it. We said what we felt needed to be said, and we did it while respecting our readers’ intelligence and dignity.”

The Gazette also had become a biweekly publication in 1981, latching onto the catchphrase “yuppie” as a quick and easy way to describe precisely whom the paper was targeting. As the Gazette began establishing itself as a force within the community, the staff (which totaled seven people) was experiencing growing pains and soon moved from the Maney House to a space above an auto dealer at Northwest Eighth and Broadway in Automobile Alley.


More growth (with the number of staff doubling to 14) and a return home: it was in fall 1986 that the Gazette arrived at its current incarnation, that of a weekly newspaper. It was also during this period, in 1985, that the Gazette was granted membership in the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, a national organization of like-minded publications.

If all of this continued growth wasn’t enough, the Oklahoma Gazette “relocated” back to the Maney House, taking up three floors of the structure rather than just one. The transition to being a weekly was a crucial one, according to Publisher Bleakley.


The dawn of the Nineties ushered in a period of more growth, a change of scenery and a new face in the editor slot. Faced with an increasingly sprawling staff (now up to 30), Bleakley and company packed up and moved from the Maney House — home to the Gazette for nearly 20 years — and settled at its current location, 3701 N. Shartel, a former Phillips 66 filling station.

Mike Easterling came onboard as editor in 1991, smoothly transitioning from Splaingard’s tenure, as he went on to pursue various other interests, including work in television and politics. Easterling wrote in 1999 that the paper “solidified its reputation as a source for well-crafted, comprehensive reporting” over the next decade as Oklahoma City underwent some of the most exciting and tragic times in its history.


It’s positively numbing to think of it now, but the horrific April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, which killed 168 people, is but a blip on the national radar when held in context with Sept. 11. But sudden, tragic and calamitous it was, indeed, and the Gazette was quick to shake off the shock and rise to the occasion with award-winning coverage of the days and months following the bombing.

Phil Bacharach, former Gazette staff writer and current press secretary for Gov. Brad Henry, found himself at the center of the tragedy as he struck up a correspondence with convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh, which garnered national attention, as well as a visit from the FBI.

“I am particularly proud of the Gazette’s coverage of the Federal Building bombing and the subsequent investigation and trials,” Bacharach said. “We were a staff of a whopping three news writers at the time, and still we managed, I think, to bring a fresh and relevant perspective to a range of issues stemming from that tragedy.”

Former staff writer Emily Graham said the Murrah bombing was an experience few journalists likely ever encounter.

“We had all lived through the bombing and covered it as reporters, but having the FBI show up at work and the paper become part of the story was something different altogether,” she said.


As the 20th century wound to a close, the Gazette acknowledged the exploding trend of media convergence and branched out into cyberspace, launching in July 1999. The Gazette also figured heavily into stories that the local mainstream media just wouldn’t fully explore, such as “The Tin Drum” controversy or MAPS for Kids.

“One of those big stories was MAPS, which, in my mind, is perhaps the most important undertaking in Oklahoma City’s history,” said Holly Bailey, former staff writer and current Newsweek staff writer. “City officials promised the public that it would redevelop Oklahoma City in the best possible manner — I think our coverage tried to hold them to that promise.”

It was this writing staff of which former contributor Heidi R. Centrella was a part from 1996-2001, which she credits as a professional highlight.

“Working among the editorial likes of Easterling, (associate editor) Pam Fleischaker, (Phil) Bacharach, Holly Bailey and Jerry Church certainly made life at the Gazette a learning experience,” Centrella said. “It’s a rarity to work with such talent when you’re fresh out of journalism school.”�


The new millennium brought with it a new managing editor in the form of Susan Grossman, who’d previously been a staff writer and associate editor with the Gazette. Under her guidance, the paper continued its tradition of being the arts and entertainment authority in Oklahoma City, while maintaining its position as one of the leading community news sources. The staggering tragedy of Sept. 11 only re-doubled the Gazette’s efforts to be the best it could be, which for former contributing writer (1991-2001) Jerry Church, was every single week.

“Looking back, I relished the 10 years that I spent with the paper, as I have always been a big fan of newspapers,” Church said. “But that cult of fraternity of being associated with the Gazette will never really fade away. People still buy me beer when I venture into a club, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.”


While the Gazette had undergone minor cosmetic tweaks and touch-ups throughout its existence, nothing approaching the full-blown visual overhaul — which was completed in early 2003 — had ever been attempted. Gone were the chunky lines and cluttered pages of block type; what emerged was a clean, sleek, modern look that heralded a new era in the history of the Oklahoma Gazette. The redesign extended to the paper’s Web site, as well, bringing readers a fresh spin on their beloved alt-weekly.

Currently, the Gazette’s circulation numbers about 55,000 with a readership of more than 200,000, which is supplemented by the Web site reaching thousands more.

“As the demand and support for the Web as a source for local information grows, we’ll be ready to serve those readers and advertisers,” Bleakley said. “It’s an exciting future ahead of us. For those with one foot in the past and one foot in the future, it will not be long before we will have the technology to read full-size newspaper pages in full color on a computer screen. The staff of the Oklahoma Gazette is fully engaged in researching and applying advances in information technology.”

2004 (and beyond)

The ever-evolving Gazette saw more transitions in 2004: managing editor Grossman stepped down and Rob Collins, formerly of The Norman Transcript and Edmond Sun, took over as editor. Not long after joining the Gazette family, Collins wrote a cover story that helped spearhead an effort to place artist Charles Banks Wilson’s portrait of Woody Guthrie in the state Capitol.

“We knew Guthrie’s portrait belonged in the Oklahoma Capitol, but we didn't know a finished painting of Woody actually existed until just before deadline,” Collins said. “When we ran the cover story explaining the situation, the only missing piece to the puzzle was the funding.”

After the cover story, Bleakley initiated a fund-raising drive to cover the costs of the artist’s commission, framing and hanging of the portrait.

From statewide fund raising to covering the metro, Bleakley also said the Gazette’s commitment to locally owned and operated journalism, as for the past quarter-century, is unwavering.

“Like much of mainstream journalism, much of alternative journalism is now subject to conglomeration and absentee ownership,” Bleakley said. “The questions for the future are whether many of these alternative newspapers, like mainstream newspapers, will be lost between younger generations who prefer information via computers and older generations with which they may lose touch.

“Maintaining our presence as an independent, locally owned newspaper willing to address all the issues of the day and keep our readers informed is our mission. I believe our presence during the last 25 years has benefited our community, and we look forward to continuing our efforts into the 21st century.”�

“I think the Gazette has made a significant contribution trying to stir up the spirit and spunk of this ol’ town,” former associate editor and current contributor Pam Fleischaker said. “I have especially loved working with some great writers — crazy characters one and all: Phil Bacharach, Holly Bailey, Lisa Smith, George Lang, Kathryn Jenson White — are just a few.”

For all the remembrances of the Gazette’s long and fruitful journey to this place in time, perhaps former managing editor (1999-2001) Shelly Hickman summed it up best: “You don’t realize you’re in the midst of one of the most exciting, compelling experiences of your life when you’re in the thick of it. No, it’s not until years later, when time marches on and inevitably grants you needed perspective, you fully grasp and appreciate the impact it has made on your life.”�

Oklahoma Gazette

In its inaugural issue of Oct. 15, 1979, Oklahoma Gazette, at that time an upstart, bimonthly publication with a mere 2,000 circulation, featured a page-one story about the Oklahoma City Council’s recent passage of an urban conservation district. Hardly sexy...
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