An “Obscure Local Social Blog” Launched In 2007 Has Grown Into A Groundbreaking New-Media Force In Oklahoma Politics, Traditional Newsgathering And Local Pop Culture, Winning National Attention Along The Way. With A Mix Of “Colbert Report” Humor And No Hesitation In Circulating Hometown, Untouchable News, Everyone Who’s Anyone Reads The Lost Ogle (Although They May Not Admit It).
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It’s Tuesday night at the 51st Street Speakeasy just off the Western Avenue strip. Spotlighted on a small stage in dimly lit barroom No. 2, 35-year-old Patrick Riley is hosting The Lost Ogle trivia night with comedian Spencer “Spence” Hicks.
They’re seated at a portable banquet table. Spread out before them is a packed house of teams scootched up to tables topped off with cocktails and pints of beer. The conversations generate a din that overpowers the whistling solo from “Young Folks” playing over speakers. A waitress hoists a plate of bacon-wrapped chicken over her head as she weaves through.
The mood is part rowdy poker night, part adult house party. Riley leans in to a mic and his baritone voice interrupts over the PA. “Time for team names, everybody.”
Layoffs underway at Chesapeake Energy’s headquarters, a few blocks north, inspire two crowd-pleasing team monikers that Riley peels off: “I Survived the Chesa-cide” and “I Got Fired by Chesapeake – Need Prize Money.”
And only days after terrorists struck the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Riley announces another team name the crowd instantly, if reluctantly, comprehends: “There’s Malls in Kenya?” A mix of groans and high hoots flood the room. Seconds later, a player shouts, “Not anymore!”
Cleverly tasteless humor is a hallmark of TheLostOgle.com, the website Riley has run for six-and-a-half years. The quasi-anonymous publisher and principal writer, along with his contributors, have turned what was once described as an “obscure local social blog” into a high-traffic, new-media entity unlike anything ever seen in Oklahoma.
Adjectives used to describe it run from derision to devotion. And depending on which post they refer to, they can all be pretty accurate.
Disdainful descriptors include “juvenile,” “offensive,” “sexist,” “mean,” “crude.” On the complimentary side – “hilarious,” “witty,” “refreshing,” “nonconformist,” “important.” Even Riley himself will reel off a few sideswipes: absurd, stupid, sarcastic, a joke. And he’s the first to admit the copy editing sucks.
Yet due to Riley’s interests beyond comedy – specifically the foibles of local media, prominent Oklahomans and state politicians – TLO’s more substantial topics draw readers that include the governor’s office, legislators, on- and off-air news professionals, corporate insiders and metro high society.
As a humor site, TLO reliably lures readers with headlines like the “20 Hottest Women in Oklahoma City Media,” or “This Lady Got Life in Prison for Murdering a Disabled Dwarf With a Crystal Ball.”
It’s Riley’s other feats – like scooping traditional local media on major stories that national outlets then snap up – that earned TLO’s status as the new media kid in town.
During the Chesapeake layoffs, for example, the oil and gas conglomerate that formerly employed more than 4,700 in OKC refused to reveal its termination numbers. It was a bad PR move in a nail-biting metro that had already witnessed company co-founder/local hero Aubrey McClendon blasted from corporate control with the finesse of a 1920s gusher. Most local news media could only ferret out layoff tidbits – like the sacking of the corporate beekeeper.
TLO, meanwhile, posted a confidential Chesapeake email suggesting 500 or more employees could lose their jobs. Forbes.com credited TLO and posted the scoop the same day. It got limited play, if at all, locally. When Chesapeake later confessed its OKC layoff tally, it was 640.
TLO also sued the governor. The American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma needed a plaintiff to sue for emails that Gov. Mary Fallin wouldn’t release. They asked Riley. While traditional media had their own use for the eventually released cache, TLO zeroed in on the juicy stuff: Have you heard about the governor’s chief of staff griping about a state senator staring at her breasts? TLO readers did.
– Mike McCarville, McCarvillereport.com
Last year, Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch praised TLO’s expose of ESPN’s polarizing personality Skip Bayless. TLO published records that showed the Northwest Classen High School graduate had phenomenally overbilled his basketball prowess there. Bayless, a self-described star starter, scored 21 points in his senior season; the top ace tallied 407. “Showing Woodward- and Bernstein-type initiative, The Lost Ogle, an Oklahoma City-based website, did the legwork to discover the truth about Bayless’ high school basketball career,” Deitsch wrote.
Oh, and the FBI reads the site, too. Agents credited TLO as a source for part of its information in a federal search warrant affidavit. When a Reuters News investigative team landed in town to explore alleged malfeasance at Chesapeake, they met with Riley for an off-the-record discussion about local goings-on. Riley still won’t talk about it.
OU political science professor Keith Gaddie characterizes TLO’s rise since 2007 as a right-place, right-time, right-idea phenomenon. “They grabbed this undercurrent rent of pop culture, of local culture, right at the time Oklahoma City pops up as a culturally interesting place,” he said.
“What they’re doing is teaching a lesson about the new era of journalism and social media. They’re a part of something bigger – which is America’s coming to Oklahoma. The world’s coming here, and it won’t leave. We’re going to change, and a lot of people aren’t going to like it, but they represent that new, more diverse Oklahoma that’s coming up.”
Riley has an abbreviated take: “We just talk about the things that everybody’s thinking.”
“If you stumbled across this link on your niece’s Facebook page, I should warn you that The Lost Ogle is an irreverent satirical news and entertainment website. It’s not for everyone, especially if you’re nice and kind-hearted. If you take everything way too seriously, and poking fun at our state’s fine people and Wal-Mart culture bothers you, stop reading now …”
– TLO’s disclaimer on this year’s Oklahoma State Fair Photo Contest
‘A Little PR/Marketing Magic’
TLO can be described as a derivative of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” and “Daily Show” – but in blog form and focused entirely on Oklahoma. The first insider test to “get” The Lost Ogle is its name. It’s a reference to the omnipresent Ogle family news dynasty that includes brothers Kelly, Kevin and Kent – the long-running fixture anchors at channels 9 and 4.
Kelly and Kevin Ogle, in particular, are known for their conventional-opinion segments called “My Two Cents” and “The Rant.” In that context, the “Lost Ogle” is kind of like the embarrassing brother the Ogles locked away long ago in an electrical shed at the foot of a broadcast tower. Now he’s busted out and is shamelessly exercising his birthright to transmit his opinions to hapless Oklahomans everywhere.
Riley grew up in Oklahoma City. He’s the son of G. Patrick Riley, a nationally recognized artistic mask maker, sculptor and arts educator who retired from OKC public schools. His mom is an accountant. Both had good senses of humor, Riley said.
“My mom has some sharp little sarcasm – a cynical quick wit. I think I picked up some of that,” he said.
The seeds of The Lost Ogle blew in on a hurricane. Katrina huffed the New Orleans Hornets out of their arena in 2005 and into the Ford Center for two seasons. Leveraging his English degree from the University of Central Oklahoma, Riley was working full time as the marketing/communications manager for a prominent OKC medical laboratory when he created HornetsCentral.com on the side.
That site’s sensibility wasn’t far off from TLO’s. Besides NBA ball play, topics included snarking on local and national sports media and glorifying Honeybees cheerleaders.
When the Hornets packed up, then-married Riley hit on the idea of an “offbeat local blog about Oklahoma people, places and things,” as he described it. He emailed a couple of local bloggers he didn’t know, but whose writing he liked – Tony Hanadarko and Clark Matthews.
“Hopefully, by pooling the resources of 3-5 gifted people and using a little PR/marketing magic (my day trade), we could get something pretty cool going,” he wrote to Tony. After rejecting names such as WhatWouldLindaCavanaughDo.com, the three founded TLO in May 2007.
The distraction of starting TLO helped Riley through a divorce and to discover new interests. Before TLO, his near-exclusive use for TV was watching sports – scarcely local news or politics. Perhaps age had something to do with it, he says, but his interest in both grew.
Early influential sites for TLO’s direction included Gawker, Deadspin and WWTDD.com – a humor site asking “What Would Tyler Durden Do?” Durden is the reckless uber-man role model in the Chuck Palahniuk novel, and subsequent cult film, “Fight Club.”
As with Durden and Colbert, Riley mostly writes in a persona in his TLO posts. It’s that alter ego who has the cojones to describe the then-wife of one of the planet’s richest billionaires, local oil company tycoon Harold Hamm, as “that hot piece of plastic surgery.” Or call local Christian publishing executive Ryan Tate one of the “the world’s greatest assholes” for praying with his staff before announcing firings, haranguing them and threatening to sue.
Recipients of that kind of TLO treatment don’t always take it well. Alex Weintz, Gov. Fallin’s spokesman, only had this to say about TLO’s takedowns related to the governor: “I would appreciate their humor more if they would leave the governor’s kids alone.”
who I am or who I’m not.”
– Christina Fallin, daughter of Gov. Mary Fallin
“There’s an element of me in everything you’re going to read, and even sometimes I don’t really know which one’s writing a post sometimes,” Riley says. “But I go over the top with the absurdism of everything. It’s me playing just a very snarky character that’s making jokes. It’s like being a comedian.”
One element present on the site and in Riley is a sarcastic nature. It’s something in real life that gets under some people’s skin, he says. “I’m a love me or hate me kind of guy. Some don’t like my sarcasm. That’s portrayed on the site, but then again, I’m playing a character and ultimately just trying to make people laugh.”
In conversations about his site, Riley takes an analytical approach and doesn’t joke much. He’s a marketer at heart – one who can write. Gaddie says Riley’s the “kind of guy that this medium was built for. Someone who’s funny, who isn’t funny in person necessarily. But he’s deeply funny.”
When he does joke, it pounces like cute on a Facebook kitten. As he mused about how he can be annoying sometimes, he said maybe a psychologist would conclude that, deep down, he’s a mean-spirited person.
“My girlfriend will sometimes complain. She’s like, ‘Quit making fun of me.’ And I’m like, ‘All right.’ Then I’ll go put on a collar and a leash, and she’ll just walk me around the house – joking! Joking about the collar. It’s just a leash.”
‘Startling and Refreshing'
From Riley’s “office” in his two-bedroom house, TLO directs social-media traffic counts that threaten to rival the metro’s traditional broadcast and print. It averages about 25,000 page views a day – a tally that varies depending on the allure of a topic.
Its roughly 18,000 Twitter followers earlier this year compared to 27,000 for NewsOK.com, a site bristling with resources from the multi-billion-dollar Anschutz Company and a 140-member news staff at the state’s largest newspaper. On Facebook that month, roughly 25,000 people “liked” NewsOK. Riley’s boot-strap enterprise was clocking about 14,000.
Mike McCarville, the conservative journalist behind the influential McCarvilleReport.com, is the pundit who christened TLO as an “obscure local social blog” it its early years. TLO eagerly lapped up the gift as its signature motto. McCarville, a fan of the politically progressive site, recognizes its evolution to a major media presence.
“To me, it’s startling and refreshing at the same time,” he said. “At a time when everybody’s taking things way too seriously, it’s just fun to have something like The Lost Ogle to read and chuckle. I agree with them very little, but I look forward to reading it.”
McCarville has seen TLO’s ripples in Oklahoma’s political class. The site’s readers include young political professionals, agency secretaries, mid-level administrators – the rank and file of Oklahoma politics.
“If they mention some politician, that politician knows about it in about eight seconds,” he said.
Another fan who doesn’t necessarily side with TLO’s political takes is Nate Webb. A lobbyist with Capitol Gains, he was Fallin’s former congressional chief of staff. He considers TLO another incarnation of classic political satire and a bona fide member of the state’s political “lexicon.”
“I think it’s one of those things that people in political circles look at with their eyes kind of squinted to make sure they’re not in there,” Webb said. “And then they can kick back and relax and laugh at somebody else.
“I’ve heard some people say ‘these guys need to move onto something else,’ but those are the people that usually have a target on their back at that particular time.”
One of the site’s leading regular targets is Christina Fallin, the 26-year-old daughter of the governor. She’s drawn TLO’s lampooning about her cotton-candy pink hair, two marriages, electronica punk band and high profile in local and national media. In TLO’s world she’s a “self-absorbed narcissist” and “attention-crazed wannabe hipster.”
“The only thing Christina hasn’t done yet is release a sex tape, reality show or perfume. Expect one of the three to happen soon,” Riley wrote as “Patrick.”
Fallin, a former lobbyist whose endeavors include photography and business consulting, says she’s been mad at TLO posts in the past. She realizes Riley makes money creating a caricature of her, she said.
“It’s actually kind of funny to me because I’m portrayed to be this wild character who gets drunk, or something,” she said. “I don’t even drink. I don’t drink at all. I don’t do drugs. I don’t smoke cigarettes. I’m a vegetarian. There’s so much they’re assuming about me – who I am or who I’m not.”
While she takes the parodies in stride, she’s more concerned about people close to her who haven’t lived in the public eye their entire life as their mom ascended from state representative to congresswoman to lieutenant governor and now the state’s highest office.
“My friends have ended up in The Lost Ogle in pictures, and they text message or call me and they’re like, ‘What am I doing on this?’ They don’t know how to take it. That’s the part that kind of makes me mad, because this isn’t something a person can get used to very quickly. I’m used to it.”
Riley says he has no personal animosity against the governor’s daughter, but the site has a certain focus.
“Yeah,” he said, “we’ll come after her a little bit and make fun of her for being this weird hipster. And she’s done some incredible things to make us take notice. The easiest way to make The Lost Ogle? Just do some of the things that she does – just being so out there and visible like that.”
TLO has been sued twice – legal actions that fizzled out shortly after payment of the filing fee. In solving one of them, Riley met with the plaintiff and smoothed things over, and he ended up advertising with TLO.
Threats of lawsuits, however, are more common. On the advice of an attorney, he formed a limited liability company to separate his personal assets from TLO’s corporate identity. In a nod to pop-culture trivia, it’s named Vandelay Entertainment.
With nearly seven years’ Ogling, Riley says he’s at a crossroads. He’s thinking about dropping the popular State Fair photo contest because of the trend against bullying and not letting the joke get old. The contest involves TLO readers sending in photos of the “real” State Fair – such as an obese man riding a Jazzy-style power chair while two-fisting a turkey leg and a churro. “I think he needs another gallon of soda to put in his little basket,” TLO remarked.
Last month, Riley was inducted into the Oklahoma City Community College Hall of Fame for TLO. He enjoys the freedom of running his own business, which earns him about as much as he drew in his last marketing job, he said. Investors have made him offers to grow TLO, but he’s turned them down. He calls himself an “overachieving underachiever,” wary of giving up content control to a partner.
“I think, really, if I would be better organized – more planning, more driven – I could be like Walter White in the empire business,” he jokes. “But that’s just not how I’m programmed. I don’t work that way. I’ve been successful in the private sector. I’m enjoying life.”