Now through Dec. 31, your tax-deductible donation of up to $1,000 to The Frontier will be doubled through the Newsmatch program. Launched by the Knight Foundation in 2016, NewsMatch is funding more than $3 million in matching funds with the support of a diverse group of donors including Democracy Fund and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.
The Frontier is dedicated to independent, uncompromising journalism that shines a light on issues Oklahomans care about. We’re profiling a different Frontier staff member each week through the end of the year in conjunction with our NewsMatch campaign.
Name and title: Clifton Adcock, senior reporter
Favorite book: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. I’ve never laughed so hard while reading a book. And Ignatius J. Reilly may not be the hero this country needs during these trying times, but he is most certainly the one it deserves.
Favorite movie: Like Dylan, I’m going to go with a Stanley Kubrick classic — Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Darkly funny, still relevant and shot through with sexual metaphors. What’s not to like about this film?
Favorite food: I’m no food snob or connoisseur of fine foreign cuisine. Feed me steak and eggs.
Tell us about yourself and how you came to join The Frontier.
As a young boy, I loved to read and usually had my nose in a book of some sort. My family lived out in the country. I was an only child and there weren’t really any other children close by for me to hang out with, so I spent most of my time either exploring the woods near our house or reading, or both. After graduating, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, until I read two books from the local library — The Politics of Lying: Government Deception, Secrecy, and Power, and All the President’s Men. I remember reading how the journalists in those books asked very tough and uncomfortable questions to the most powerful people in the country and thinking “This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” So I started doing it. I began working as a sports stringer for the weekly newspaper in Stigler and eventually landed a full-time reporting position in McAlester, worked my way up to larger papers and eventually the Tulsa World and Oklahoma Gazette. For much of the time, I was also attending college and raising a family. In 2013, I went to work for Oklahoma Watch, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization based at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where I completed my master’s degree in journalism in 2015. In early 2017, I was approached by former Frontier editor Ziva Branstetter and publisher Bobby Lorton and asked whether I wanted to join The Frontier as a reporter. I knew Ziva and Bobby from my time at the Tulsa World and jumped at the chance to be part of the team.
What’s your favorite thing about being part of The Frontier team?
It truly operates as a team. Each person here has his or her own unique set of skills and strengths to contribute to a project or story. That sort of teamwork makes the finished product that’s presented to the reader that much stronger. Being able to bounce questions, or story ideas, or technical issues around other reporters like Dylan, Kassie and Brianna has not only helped me to deal with whatever immediate issue might be at hand or tighten up a story, but has allowed me to do better journalism overall as well.
What’s your favorite story The Frontier has published or that you’ve written?
I would say the story published earlier this year about a Broken Arrow organization named Gatesway, which provides housing and employment assistance to intellectually-disabled adults. Gatesway had provided essential services to some of the state’s most vulnerable adults for decades, but what we discovered about the organization’s finances and management was appalling. Those stories were truly the product of the teamwork I mentioned in the previous question. The process of doing this story involved going through hundreds of pages of internal memos, meeting minutes and other documents from Gatesway that we had obtained. It took the whole team to go through them (while also doing interviews, backgrounding, verification and research) to pull the story off. Some of the things the former president of the organization was accused of doing with its money and resources — putting the lease to the building his company was headquartered in under Gatesway’s name, buying pet grooming services and expensive steak dinners with the company credit card, hiring and promoting family members and friends — was shocking, especially given the fact that the organization was millions in debt and was frantically trying to sell off its assets just to make past-due loan payments and keep the doors open. The organization was also spending tens of thousands of dollars hiring outside consultants who were closely connected to some of its board members. Meanwhile, it was also “terminating” individuals who had been clients of Gatesway since it was founded if they were deemed, in the words of one of the nonprofit’s board members, to be among “the most unprofitable” clients. We had tried to reach out to Gatesway executives and board members for more than a week before publication. When they asked for the questions in advance, we provided them with three, with the understanding that there will be more, but to give them a gist of what types of questions we would be asking. They responded by issuing a press release to numerous media outlets in an attempt to get in front of the story. The issues surrounding Gatesway, led to still more follow-up stories by The Frontier that, among other things, revealed the wrong person had been charged with a felony for allegedly stealing money from Gatesway clients, cases of unreported neglect, and state agency findings of clients being cut for no good reason by the organization. Not many other media outlets wanted to touch the story, or chose at the last minute to water down what had been happening there. We did the story straight, no chaser. And that is another reason I’m proud to work at The Frontier.
Why is nonprofit news important in Oklahoma?
The legacy mass media business model (advertising = revenue = journalist salaries/company profit) has been upended by the Internet. Publishing news is no longer limited to three main broadcast networks or the local newspaper, thanks to the technological advances of the past few decades. Advertisers can now connect directly with the consumer — and even target specific consumers who are most likely to buy their products — via social media. The advertiser’s reliance on legacy media to get their products in front of potential customers’ eyes is steadily shrinking. So are the advertising dollars used by those legacy media outlets to pay the journalists whose job is to serve as a check on those whose hands grip the levers of power by holding their actions up to the hot, white light of public scrutiny. Journalists are now expected to do far more — social media, photography, data analysis, design, reporting and writing, to name a few — with less, as newsrooms across the country and here in Oklahoma continue to get smaller and smaller. Investigative stories that might take months to track down take a back seat to the daily story that needs to be done 10 minutes ago. Nonprofit journalism addresses this. Our focus here is exclusively on what legacy news outlets may not be able or willing to cover — the lengthy investigative story, the deeper look into an issue or event, or the compelling and important story from an area outside the beaten path. We are not concerned about the major advertiser that might pull their ad (and ad money) if a negative story about them is published, because we don’t rely on ad revenue. We rely on you, our reader, the public. Just as the informed citizenry that is essential to the protection of our democracy relies upon a free and independent press to be informed, we here at The Frontier rely on you, the informed citizenry, to provide us with the support we need to help you protect those democratic ideals that we as Americans hold sacred. Help us find truth, and report it.