maintaining the therapy of controversy
By Terry Clark, 2000 Inductee
Utter that name and everybody in Oklahoma journalism and government in the second half of the twentieth century knew who you were talking about. Everyone who knew him has at least one “Blackstock” story or quote, usually told with a smile and a laugh.
Ben Blackstock, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Press Association (OPA) from 1953 to 1996, was among the most influential people in Oklahoma journalism. His driving personality, energy, and forward thinking built the press association into a national model as an economic, political, and innovative powerhouse for Oklahoma newspapers and citizens.
He earned it the hard way, hired when the OPA was functioning but almost broke, leading with ideas and bulldog determination, unafraid of confronting conflict to settle disagreements. He called it “the therapy of controversy,” which he mastered. Blackstock took on any task to promote and advance the OPA and its members.
Advertising revenue poured in after he launched the services. He made the clipping bureau profitable. He led the effort to move from the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City to a new building north of the Oklahoma State Capitol. He then had to go out and raise money for the new building himself.
No item was too small for attention, not even classified ads. “When I run a classified ad, I want it to stick out like a ruby in a goat’s ass,” he said. Classic Blackstock—humor, bluntness, and perhaps profanity.
Always a visionary for change, he created traveling workshops, the first in the nation and copied by other states, in writing, advertising, and other areas to help small newspapers improve their staffs. He established a research bureau and a legal advisory service for members. With the advent of computer technology, he hired two “circuit riders” to travel and aid newspapers.
He was a force at the Oklahoma State Capitol as a lobbyist, his favorite task, supporting bills favoring newspapers and opposing those that were harmful. He seldom lost. He’s credited with helping establish Oklahoma’s strong Open Meeting and Open Records laws.
He conducted surveys and chided publishers for paying poor wages. He knew how to use controversy.
“I’m going to tilt at windmills, I intend to take ‘em out,” he said, talking about his strong opinions.
Seeing the journalism program decline at his alma mater, the University of Oklahoma, he called for its closure and raised such a furor that administration was changed and the school rescued.
Despite his irascible, always blunt, and sometimes profane presence, his honesty and loyalty, spiced with humor, made friends of former opponents.
His leadership went beyond Oklahoma and journalism, serving as president of the Newspaper Association Managers, American Newspaper Representatives, Oklahoma Society of Association Executives, and Sigma Delta Chi.
A World War II radio operator on B-29s in the Pacific, Blackstock graduated from OU with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, where he is a distinguished alum. He taught journalism and was director of public relations at Central State College before leading the OPA.
Blackstock received many honors, including the OPA’s Milt Phillips Award, the Oklahoma City Ad Club Silver Medal, the National Newspaper Association Amos Award, and the Freedom of Information (FOI) Oklahoma Marian Opala First Amendment Award. FOI Oklahoma annually presents the Ben Blackstock Award to a person or organization showing a commitment to freedom of information.
Blackstock was a dog lover and an unterrified Democrat. When he retired, the OPA published The Ben Years, a 32-page tab of photos and biography, including almost 100 messages of congratulations from Oklahoma and the nation.
In his later years, he’d end emails and messages with “Maintain.” Blackstock always maintained.
Because of a donation from his family, Ben Blackstock’s scrapbook, typewriter, and two cartoons given to him by Hall of Famer Jim Lange are now displayed in the Hall of Fame Museum.