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Magazine | Editorial

Pork Bellies and the Future of This Land

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Posted 04.03.11

Michael Mason has started something big. And it all began with two pork bellies.

Several months ago, when This Land was a one-issue newspaper with an uncertain timeline for the second edition, I set out to learn more about the newspaper business for reasons unrelated to Michael’s efforts: a Tulsa-based technology start-up declared that it would “end the Sunday newspaper coupon supplements” in the same way that Craigslist ended the classifieds. I was curious.

Michael is a long thinker and knows a lot about media trends. So I invited him to join me at a downtown Asian restaurant for lunch. We both ordered a ramen, which came topped with a savory slice of roasted pork belly and a fried quail egg.

We had no idea where or how far our conversation would go.

Now, after many more rounds of pork belly, I am the publisher of This Land. And Michael remains editor and founder of Oklahoma’s first New Media company. We are business partners in this endeavor.

We are as optimistic about the future of This Land as we are certain that the world of journalism is turning upside down. Michael and the growing team at This Land intend to reinvent how you—the reader…or viewer…or listener…or web—surfer—understand media. And they will do so in ways that make sense, without predispositions, always listening to our community of users.

We have staked out an ambitious mission for This Land:

Our mission is to chronicle life in Oklahoma through courageous, compelling stories. With a mindful diligence to narrative, we will steward our community’s well-being and interests. We aspire to become the most reputable media voice in the middle of America, while remaining pledged to the story of the people of Oklahoma and opposed to the injustices that surround us. Our goal is to form a loyal community that will in turn nurture and sustain our enterprise.

In a world that has convinced itself we only think in sound bites and tweets and posts on Facebook, these are big ideas for today’s journalists. Story-telling, courage, and justice. If that’s our focus, then there are some things that This Land cannot be.

This Land will not be about information.

Information has moved permanently to a more efficient domain – the many domains of the Internet. We can learn about events in Libya, tsunamis in the Pacific Rim, lawsuits in City Hall, or menus in our school cafeteria more quickly and efficiently and from more reliable sources on smart phones, Facebook, 24 hours cable news, or the web. Information is ubiquitous. We don’t need it dropped on our driveway. This Land may give you access to information, but it will not be our purpose.

Our purpose will always be the story of Oklahoma itself, over time, as a culture and a place. That’s what great journalism is all about. To enable a community to better understand itself, to see itself more clearly, to move forward with greater certainty.

Here’s another thing that This Land will not be: it will not be a newspaper. Or a website. Or any particular form of media.

News providers can no longer dictate to you what form the news shall take. You tell us. This Land will be ready and able to offer choices, with many stories in more than one media.

For example, we won’t just print major interviews: we’ll film them and let you draw your own conclusions. You can read about it in our print paper, but you will also be able to view it online or listen to a podcast. When we review a restaurant, you’ll join us in the kitchen with the owner or chef and hear its story.

We will follow your lead. And together, we’ll explore the new modalities, both those that exist today and others that will appear tomorrow. We enter without prejudices or already-invested capital. Our only bet is that quality content distributed in an accessible manner will appeal to Oklahomans.

Another thing that This Land will not be is wasteful.

We charge two dollars for our newspaper because we believe it has value. We want you to value it too. We respect Tulsa’s free press and legacy newspaper but believe This Land is different.

This Land has already demonstrated its ability to maximize the potential of a broadsheet through the use of smart design, large-scale photography, and interrelated collections of stories. Each printed issue of This Land is a unique experience, unparalleled anywhere in Oklahoma. Readers tell us they notice the feel of This Land, that our paper is a different kind of paper.

We value it and will avoid waste. We promise that old stacks of unread newspapers will not be piled somewhere, out of sight, in dumpsters or warehouses.

And finally, This Land will not be timid.

Michael has already surprised many with the experiment of an auction for advertising space – allowing a true market to determine value. We’ve been surprised too by the results. “Courage” is in our mission statement and courage underpinned the coverage of Private Bradley Manning. And the world celebrates courage. Already, This Land has been referenced in Harpers, The Daily Beast, MSNBC’s Today Show, National Public Radio, and a host of other national and international outlets.

We will try many new things. Some will succeed and others will fail. But one of our legacies will be innovation.
That’s why we view ourselves as Oklahoma’s first New Media Company. It’s a technical term, describing exactly what we’re doing across media. But it also captures the spirit of what we’re doing.

The Columbia Journalism Review recently described This Land as “a rare example of literary journalism on the community level.” That’s what we’re all about. (It also described us as “The New Yorker with balls.” That too, is what we’re all about.)

Michael has introduced you to some of the individuals who have joined This Land in the past few months. He’s building a great team that can do many things. We’ll unveil a series of additional improvements over the coming year. There will be new staff. We’ll announce an advisory editorial board made up of people who will surprise you, people with great credentials who think in new ways.

As we launch This Land, we do not know where it will end up. We’re setting out on a journey with you.

You’ll never know where a pork belly might lead.

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