Lortons, Tulsa World stood the test of time together
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
2/26/13 at 7:04 AM
Related Story: Tulsa World to be sold to Warren Buffett's BH Media Group
From a reluctant beginning, the Lorton family's relationship with the Tulsa World proved uncommonly durable.
Monday's announcement that the newspaper is being sold to BH Media Group of Omaha, Neb., will end more than a century of Lorton involvement and ownership in the Tulsa World.
Since 1911, when Eugene Lorton grudgingly agreed to move from the Pacific Northwest to edit an upstart Republican journal in a Democrat-controlled state, the World and the Lorton family have been synonymous.
They were one of the last holdouts in a business that has few family-owned publications remaining, and perhaps none the World's size.
"I certainly applaud the Lortons for sticking around for such a long, long period of time, through good times and not-quite-so-good times," Mayor Dewey Bartlett said. "They really are a very, very significant part of Tulsa - part of our history as well as our future."
Eugene Lorton arrived in Tulsa at a pivotal time in the city's history. Its first real oil boom, from the Glenn Pool, was fading. An even greater bonanza, from the Cushing field and the Osage, were just ahead. Tulsa's population more than tripled from 1910 to 1920, and its reputation as the Magic City was made.
During those years, Eugene Lorton outlined the fundamentals of the newspaper business that his successors followed through four generations.
"If the policy of the newspaper is indefinite where the public welfare is concerned and definitely selfish where its own advantage lies, then the newspaper can never be anything more than an organ and an out of tune one at that," he said in 1919.
"The newspaper that becomes an institution does so by immersing itself in the life of a community and becoming an integral part of its growth and prosperity. It has a broad perspective and keeps its policy always in advance of the growth and development of its community. The Tulsa World is that sort."
The Tulsa Daily World, as it originally was known, began publication in September 1905 under the direction of J.R. Brady, whose family operated the similarly named Lawrence, Kan., World.
The newspaper was owned by several local businessmen who belonged to a Republican faction that was at odds with an existing GOP-backed publication, the weekly Indian Republican. The town's only existing daily was the Tulsa Democrat.
The World grew quickly, but it was not until Lorton became editor in the fall of 1911 that the paper became profitable. Lorton had owned and edited newspapers in Kansas, Idaho and Washington state and was active in Republican politics. He became a part owner of the World in 1913, and in 1917 he bought out his partner, Charles Dent.
Under Lorton, the World became the leading Republican voice in a state dominated by Democratic politics. It feuded with governors and legislators - at one point its correspondent was banned from the state Capitol - and with industrialist Charles Page, who in 1916 bought the evening Democrat and started a morning paper called the Times with the express intention of running Lorton out of business and out of town.
Chiefly, they fought over water. Tulsa had no reliable supply, and Lorton advocated damming Spavinaw Creek and bringing the water to Tulsa through a 90-mile pipeline. Page wanted to sell the city water from a reservoir he owned north of Sand Springs.
Lorton and Spavinaw ultimately prevailed. Page closed the Morning Times and sold the Democrat to Richard Lloyd Jones, who renamed it The Tulsa Tribune.
In 1941, the World and Tribune formed Newspaper Printing Corp., which for the next 50 years handled the two papers' production activities, including printing and advertising.
Upon Eugene Lorton's death in 1949, he was succeeded as publisher by his widow, Maud Lorton. In 1959, general counsel Byron Boone became the publisher, a position he held for nearly 30 years until his death in 1988.
Boone's protege during those years was Eugene and Maud Lorton's grandson, Robert Lorton, commonly known as Bob.
Together they guided the World through a difficult period in which they reacquired shares in the company that had been left to relatives and long-time employees upon Eugene Lorton's death.
In 1992, the World bought out the Tribune, then one of the few remaining independent afternoon papers left in the country, and the Tribune ceased publication.
Bob Lorton became the publisher upon Boone's death in 1988 and was succeeded by his son, Robert Lorton III, in 2005.
Over the years, the World supported other defining capital and infrastructure initiatives, including what became Tulsa International Airport, the Turner Turnpike, the Civic Center and, in more recent years, downtown development.
The family also was instrumental in the building of the University of Tulsa's Reynolds Center and Lorton Performing Arts Center as well as other projects on the TU campus.
"The Lorton family is a beacon of Tulsa's history," said Tulsa Metro Chamber President Mike Neal. "Their commitment and investment in this community has contributed to the Tulsa we all love and call home."
Tulsa World history
1905: First issue, with J.R. Brady as editor, James F. McCoy as publisher.
1906: Newspaper bought by businessman George Bayne.
1911: Eugene Lorton is named editor.
1913: Eugene Lorton becomes co-owner.
1914: World moves to 13-15 W. Fourth St., at the side of its current location.
1917: Eugene Lorton becomes owner and publisher.
1918: World moves to new building at 318 S. Boulder Ave., which remains part of the current plant.
1938: Robert Lorton, Eugene Lorton's son and presumed successor, dies at age 24.
1941: World and Tulsa Tribune form Newspaper Printing Corp. to produce, print and distribute the two newspapers out of the World's facilities.
1949: Eugene Lorton dies; his wife, Maud Lorton, is named publisher.
1959: General Counsel Byron Boone is named publisher.
1962: Maud Lorton dies.
1988: Byron Boone dies; Robert E. "Bob" Lorton Jr. becomes publisher.
2005: Robert E. "Bobby" Lorton III becomes publisher.
2013: Sale to BH Media announced.
Original Print Headline: Lortons, the World stood test of time together
Randy Krehbiel 918-581-8365
Tulsa World Publisher Robert E. Lorton III (left) and Robert E. Lorton Jr., chairman of World Publishing Co.
Eugene Lorton, publisher of the Tulsa World from 1917 to 1949, with his grandson, Robert E. Lorton Jr., in the late 1940s.