ANALYSIS – Houston-based company buys Lawton Constitution, more than three dozen seasoned journalists laid off

Southern Newspapers, Inc., a chain whose headquarters is in Houston, Texas, has bought The Lawton Constitution. The sale finalized earlier this month. 
Brothers Brad Burgess and Bill Burgess Jr. have owned the Constitution since 2012. They bought it brothers Steve and Don Bentley, who had inherited it from their father, Bill Bentley. The elder Bentley  inherited it from his father-in-law, Ned Shepler.

Southern Newspapers is a 70-year-old privately held company that operates 15 newspapers in Texas and Alabama; the Constitution is their first paper in Oklahoma.
Southern required all incumbent Constitution staffers to apply for positions with the new employer.
Approximately 40 staffers were not rehired. They include editors, reporters, at least one photographer, classified personnel (two of three women in that area), circulation personnel and support personnel, many of whom have been at the Constitution for 25 or more years.

The new management will assume daily control of the Constitution on April 1.
Local sources indicate the newly reorganized news staff will be expected to be general assignment reporters, no specialists. 

Those departing from employment at the Lawton Constitution include:
David Hale, the former managing editor who went to half-time several months ago. Hale has been in charge of the Constitution’s editorial page for 31 years. Local sources have indicated to the author of this story that Southern will have no longer have an editorial page, and that any editorials that need to be written will be written by the new publisher. Hale has been with the Constitution for 32½ years. He has been in the news business for 45 years, starting in Altus and including a stint at the Muskogee Phoenix. On a personal note, I know Mr. Hale, although we have not talked in several years. We did not always agree on policy issues, but he is a solid journalist, a fine writer and a community-spirited reporter.  He is 70 and has the ability to continue writing and reporting. The loss of his voice  on a daily basis in southwest Oklahoma’s largest city will be grevious.
Jeff Dixon, a photographer,  has been with the Constitution for 53 years; he started to work there when he was in high school, under original publibhser. 
Stephen Robertson, who succeeded David Hale as the Managing Editor. He came to Lawton from eastern Oklahoma. Robertson is 60. Like your humble servant here at The City Sentinel, Robertson is too young to draw Social Security and could face challenges securing an appropriate position in the new business. I have friends who have been laid off from news organizations in recent years who were out of work for a year or more. I hope there is an insightful owner of a newspaper or other news organization who gives a person like Robertson, who has much still to contribute, an opportunity. 
Mitch Meador has been chiefly responsible for covering Fort Sill, the biggest employer in Lawton. Apparently, Fort Sill will be just another general assignment under the new managers at the Constitution.
Steve Metzer of Duncan, a combination reporter/editor. Admirers of The Lawton Constitution have considered Metzer the newspaper’s best writer, or certainly among the best. He is known for his witty headlines. He is young enough to find another job in the news business if that’s where he wants to remain, and I hope that somehow he will
Mike Andrews, a solid “desk man,” is losing his job, as are both reporters whose “beats” focused exclusively on Southwest Oklahoma area beats, a young sportswriter fully able at his craft, and Mike Owensby, the paper’s long-time general manager.
– Others departing include individuals with irreplaceable knowledge of the city and state.

I earn my living as an educator and garner limited income from journalism. Although I was not compensated for my work at News9 in the weekly “Capitol Report” I valued the relationship immensely, particularly because the CBS affiliate was and remains locally owned. When my ties to News9 ended on March 10, I asked viewers to support community journalism, including broadcast facilities and newspapers. 

Times change, and information delivery is transforming. Although I remain an eternal optimist, I am less so than some years ago.
As newspapers across the land diminish, the future of the Republic looks darker, less hopeful and more divisive. 
NOTE: In addition to his work as founder and editor of CapitolBeatOK, an online news source, McGuigan is publisher and editor of The City Sentinel newspaper in Oklahoma City.