W.P. "Bill" Atkinson - Newspaper Publisher, Developer: Part Four
Written by Steve Lackmeyer
Saturday, 12 February 2011 00:00
We begin Part Four of the Atkinson series by listening to the man himself. In this interview, brought online for the first time by OKC History with the permission of Ronnie Kaye, we will learn Atkinson's own account of his two runs for governor, his friendship with Oklahoman E.K. Gaylord, and his days as publisher of the Oklahoma Journal and as developer of the Quail Springs area.
After the break, learn a bit more about the Oklahoma Journal and get a glimpse of the paper's inaugural issue in this final segment on the life and times of W.P. "Bill" Atkinson.
So we know that W.P. "Bill" Atkinson had a co-conspirator in Sen. Robert S. Kerr in starting up the Oklahoma Journal. And we also know that Kerr wasn't around long enough to bankroll it as Atkinson might have envisioned. But that didn't stop Atkinson from taking his best shot at creating a newspaper that would boast some of the best young talent in the business, one that would re-create how a newspaper looks and uncannily look like The Oklahoman of the 1980s and 1990s.
Before looking through the 1964 inaugural issue, some final items of interest.
The paper swore to tell both sides. But that doesn't mean there weren't some skeletons in Atkinson's newspaper closet.
Charles Hill, who hosts the well-read www.dustbury.com, offered this tidbit from a conversation with the legendary Frosty Troy (I tried to get Troy to contact me to tell me more about this story, but to no avail):
"The editor was Forrest J. "Frosty" Troy, lured away from The Tulsa Tribune's Capitol bureau with the promise of at least equal bucks and a substantial stock position," Hill wrote after his 2005 conversation with Troy. "Troy was enthusiastic at first, but a chill set in when Atkinson suggested that local stories be vetted by a county commissioner (who happened to be his partner in various local businesses), and that stock position eventually proved to come with a stiff price tag. Troy departed, to be replaced by John Clabes."
Former employee Russell Vaught recalled upon Atkinson's death that the publisher talked him into leaving a drilling equipment company to raise $4 million to start the newspaper. He was instructed to keep the stock at no more than $500 per person.
"I said, 'Why the limit?'" Vaught recalled. "He said 'We don't want anybody to have more in it, so if the paper fails, we don't want anybody to get hurt too bad.'"
E.K. Gaylord, one-time friend turned rival, played hard ball against Atkinson, freezing up wire availability and trying to force advertisers to avoid the Journal (this even resulted in successful lawsuit waged by Atkinson).
In 1978, Atkinson entertained Rupert Murdoch, then publisher of the New York Post, who was reportedly interested in buying the Oklahoma Journal. Atkinson said after the meeting he had no interest in selling the Oklahoma Journal and would own it "as long as I live."
But Atkinson did sell the Journal, handing over control to Early California Industries for $700,000 in April 1979. The company, which mostly owned weeklies, ceased publication of the Journal Nov. 2, 1980. Atkinson's newspaper is a fading memory among oldtimers, but his legacy lives on in Midwest City and in the areas he developed, most notably Quail Springs. Atkinson died in 1999 at age 92.