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Public interests can conflict with economic interests, often in a gray area

Stress can exist between journalists as well as the public wanting to know details of downtown development and the developers, who sometimes wish silence would prevail as long as possible.
by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: August 26, 2014 at 4:00 pm •  Published: August 25, 2014

A reader participating in last week’s OKC Central Live Chat prompted a long-overdue discussion of the stress that exists between a public wanting to know details of downtown development and the developers who sometimes wish silence would prevail as long as possible.

The reader, “a friend to some urban developers,” said he was privy to their disdain over observers demanding constant updates. “Development especially in urban infill is a hard process with many entities involved,” the reader said, “and frankly it is not everyone’s business.”

Another reader was quick to respond, saying, “As a citizen of the city that pays for many of the entities the developers need to work through, I have every right to ask about updates. They’re using my tax dollars most of the time so they can deal with the questions about updates.”

News coverage of downtown development was very different 20 years ago. Internet bulletin boards were obscure and access was limited to a small fraction of the community. Online forums, local news websites and social media did not exist.

Developers and economic interests held more control over information. That’s not to say, however, that things always went their way. For years local reporters were told details of public incentives deals for new employers must be kept a secret to avoid a repeat of what officials claimed was the loss of a Harley-Davidson plant to premature publicity.

A decade ago, I was closely reporting on the city’s efforts to redevelop the then-closed Skirvin hotel. I discovered a key financial partner had backed out of the deal.

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's...
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