Category Archives: media news

We’ve lost a first-rate print … and broadcast journalist

Jim Lehrer is gone. I just learned it a few minutes ago and I am saddened by the news.

He was a longtime PBS news anchor, co-hosting the “MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” on the public TV network. Before he went to broadcasting the news to us, he was a print guy, a solid newspaper reporter who earned his spurs right here in Texas, where he spent much of his youth.

That brings me to a brief recounting of an encounter I had with Jim Lehrer.

I was working at the Beaumont Enterprise in the early 1990s when I spotted a gentleman standing in front of our newsroom secretary’s desk. I walked across the newsroom, turned the corner and stood at the elevator. I looked back at the secretary and whispered, “Is that Jim Lehrer?” To which the gentleman answered, “Yes. It is.” I was embarrassed to the max.

I came back around the corner, introduced myself and he returned the intro to me. We chatted right there and then headed into the newspaper library. He was looking for newspaper clippings as part of his research for a book he was writing. He attended French High School in Beaumont and spoke of his Golden Triangle connection.

We had a wonderful and fruitful visit for seemingly forever in the library.

Then he left. I felt as if I made a new friend. I don’t know how he felt about me. It would be my hope that he got as much out of our visit as I did. I never continued that relationship.

A year later, he came back to Beaumont to offer the keynote speech to the Press Club of Southeast Texas. We met again in the buffet line at lunch. I said “hello,” and — as God is my witness — he remembered our meeting the previous year.

Was I a bit star struck? More than likely. It is my story and I am sticking to it.

R.I.P., Jim Lehrer.

Listen up! No politics in church!

I have sought to follow a time-honored credo, which is that I don’t discuss politics or my work while I am in church.

My response usually goes like this when someone would challenge something I wrote in the newspaper where I worked at the time: I came here to talk to God, not to you … about my work; call me in the morning, then we’ll chat.

We have relocated in the past year to a lovely community in Collin County, Texas. We have found a new church where we like to worship each Sunday. It’s a small congregation, but it fulfills our need. Everyone is welcoming, warm, hospitable and the place is full of love.

However … we have run into individuals who like to talk politics with us, or I presume just about anyone who’ll listen. It wouldn’t surprise you to learn that the congregation is a pretty conservative bunch, which is all right with me. That’s their call. I adhere to, um, a different point of view.

Thus, when one of our new friends decides to engage us in a political discussion, I am inclined to nudge them away. I change the subject. I haven’t yet offered up my longstanding retort. Hey, I don’t know them well enough yet. Perhaps over time, they’ll get the hint and I won’t need to drop the verbal hammer on ’em.

If not, I am ready to put them into what I perceive to be their place.

NY Times double endorsement: a head-scratcher

The fuddy-duddy in me is making me scratch my noggin over the New York Times’s decision to split its endorsement in the Democratic Party presidential primary, offering its nod to two of the challengers remaining in the still-large field.

The Times, admitting it was “breaking with convention,” went with U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar for the party’s nomination. Warren is a champion of the party’s liberal/progressive wing, while Klobuchar bears the standard for the party’s more moderate wing. Therefore, the Times figured, why choose just one of ’em? They went with both.

Here’s where this endorsement strategy breaks down for me. Only one of them can emerge as the party nominee this summer. One candidate will get the nomination and will face Donald John Trump, the current president who is seeking re-election.

I am going to presume — and this is no giant leap into the unknown — that the Times likely will endorse whoever is running against Trump. Why won’t the Times take the leap that Democratic voters all across the land in primary states are going to take? They can’t choose two candidates. Voters’ choice is limited to just one.

A few years before resigning from my final job as a daily print journalist I enacted a policy that did away with endorsing in party primaries when there was a contest in the other party. The Amarillo Globe-News decided to make endorsements only in those primary races where there was no candidate waiting for the nominee in the fall. In the Texas Panhandle, that almost always meant that Republicans would have contested primaries while Democratic primaries had no candidates on the ballot.

My thought then was that primary contests generally are the work of political parties. A one-party primary, though, was tantamount to election. Thus, we would weigh in on a primary.

In all the years I interviewed political candidates and wrote editorials offering a newspaper recommendation on who voters ought to choose, I never wrote a two-fer.  My thought always has been that if we’re going to ask voters to make a choice, then the newspaper ought to show the same level of courage … and make a single choice.

Here is the Times editorial: You make the call.

I won’t argue the merits of the candidates’ points of view. I merely question a great newspaper’s decision to hedge on a critically important decision.

Time of My Life, Part 43: Walking a libel tightrope

Most newspaper editorial pages have sections set aside to allow readers of the newspaper to vent, to complain, to speak their minds either positively or negatively about issues of the day and the individuals who make that news.

They also present editors of those pages at times with vexing problems. They involve that mysterious line that separates harsh commentary from libel.

I experienced many of those episodes during my 37 years in print journalism.

Here’s how it went … most of the time.

Someone would submit a letter for publication on our page. It might be full of anger at, say, a mayor or a city council member; perhaps the target is a county commissioner or a school board member; or, maybe it’s aimed at public figure not necessarily holding a public office, someone like a prominent businessman or woman.

The letter levels accusations that I cannot substantiate. The rhetoric is harsh, man. I call the author of the letter to confirm its source. I question the assertions made in the letter.

The writer of the letter stands by his or her assertion. He or she says it’s true and he can prove it. I ask the letter writer to provide documented proof. The writer can’t deliver the goods. I tell the writer that I am afraid the letter is libelous, which means it makes statements that could bring harm to the individual being criticized.

The letter writer then says something like this: “It’s my letter. Let ’em sue me!” To which I then say, “Actually, once you turn it in to me, it becomes my letter, too. Moreover, I don’t care if they sue you. I do care that they sue me and my employer. Therefore, I cannot publish this letter. I will not publish it. Thanks and have a great day.”

I had that conversation countless times over the years. It presents a stunning example of the responsibility that newspapers editors have when they go through each day dealing with issues that present themselves, sometimes in unexpected fashion.

There were times when I was less than patient with letter writers. I regret those instances. Then again, my patience occasionally was rubbed away when letter writers presumed to know more about the nuts and bolts of my job than I did.

They were wrong. I never did apologize for telling them so.

What took so long to build has collapsed in virtually no time at all

It took print journalism, chiefly newspapers, nearly two centuries to attain what used to be a virtually exalted status among their consumers.

And yet, the craft has all but collapsed in virtually no time.

What took years to erect has all but vanished in the blink of an eye.

That observation came from a dear friend of mine with whom I used to have a professional relationship when I worked in Amarillo as editorial page editor of the Globe-News. My friend was a freelance columnist; he had a regular day job, but wrote for us because he was good at it. Our professional relationship ended when I left the newspaper in August 2012. Happily, our personal friendship remains intact.

We were visiting the other evening when he made that stunning observation. His point is that newspapers climbed for a long time up a proverbial mountain to attain an important status in people’s homes. Readers of newspapers depended on them for news of their community, of their state, nation and the world around them. If you wanted to know what was happening in the world, you collected your newspaper off the porch, opened it up and spent a good deal of time reading what it reported to you.

We believed what we read. I mean, if it’s in the daily newspaper then it had to be true. As my friend noted, it took a long time for newspapers to achieve that status.

Then it all changed. Rapidly! Dramatically! Newspapers fell with a loud thud!

The Internet arrived. I can’t remember when it happened, but suffice to say it was the equivalent to the “day before yesterday.” Cable TV exploded. Social media burst forth, too.

All of that media took huge bites out of newspapers’ influence in people’s lives. Has print journalism become less reliable, less believable, less credible than before? I do not believe that is the case. Americans are still reading some first-class reporting from major newspapers that remain important purveyors of vital information.

And yet, we hear the president of the United States refer to the media as “the enemy of the people.” Right-wingers blast what they call the “mainstream media.” They accuse newspapers and other legitimate media organizations of peddling “fake news.” The attacks have exacted a terrible toll on newspapers.

The smaller papers, those that tell us about our communities? They are struggling. Many of them — if not most of them — are losing the struggle. The Amarillo Globe-News, my final stop in a career that I loved pursuing, has been decimated by competing media forces and — in my view — by incompetence at the top of its management chain of command.

My friend’s analysis, though, rings so true. It saddens me beyond measure to realize that it has taken so little time for it all come crashing down.

Blog about to close out a record year

The year is about to pass into history. We’re getting set to enter the third decade of the 21st century. What a year it has been.

With that I want to take a moment to look back on High Plains Blogger’s year.

For starters, I set another record for page views and visitors to this blog. It’s my fourth year in a row setting records from the previous year. Two stupendous months in early 2019 set the pace.

I cannot predict if another record will fall in 2020. Some of that depends on the news that will unfold.

We have an election coming up. We’ll have a trial in the U.S. Senate (eventually!) to determine whether Donald Trump remains as president. My guess is that he will. So he’ll keep this blog full of grist on which to chew for the coming year. That’s how the president rolls. He craves being the center of attention, so he’ll likely be at or near the center of this blog’s attention.

I also want to thank those who have chosen to read this blog’s musings. Some might call it spewage. It all depends on whether you agree with yours truly’s world view of politics and public policy.

Moreover, take my word for it that I appreciate the constructive criticism I get. Some of it, though, isn’t so constructive. Some folks prefer to scold me. That’s OK, too.

All told, though, critics keep me humble. They serve to remind me in real time that the world is full of diverse points of view. Some of us choose to express our view out loud and for the record in forums such as, oh … blogs!

I appreciate those who take the time to read this blog. I appreciate even more those who spread the blog’s word among their own social media networks. All told, I have posted more than 12,800 blog items during the life of High Plains Blogger.

Let us proceed toward a new year with a tinge of optimism. That’s how I prefer to look toward the future. If it disappoints, though, I’ll be ready to unload my frustrations through this venue.

We’ll all just be able to enjoy the ride.

‘Trolls’ are out there, but not sure they’ve found me

Someone who I do not know has begun following High Plains Blogger and has emerged as an individual I gather appreciates the point of view expressed in this forum.

Lately, though, this person has begun questioning the quality of the “trolls” who criticize my point of view. This individual believes I should get “better trolls.”

I’m an old guy and I am not entirely sure what an Internet “troll” really is, so I looked the term up. Here’s what I found:

In Internet slang, a troll is a person who starts quarrels or upsets people on the Internet to distract and sow discord by posting inflammatory and digressive, extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the intent of provoking readers into displaying emotional responses and normalizing tangential discussion, whether for the troll’s amusement or a specific gain.

This definition has me wondering: Do I even have anyone who follows this blog who fits the description mentioned? I am not entirely sure that I do.

I have plenty of critics. They weigh in frequently when I criticize the president of the United States. When they do, they often draw responses from other High Plains Blogger readers who take them to task for what they say. When those exchanges begin, I generally stay out of the way; I’ve mentioned already on this blog that I prefer to let my commentary stand on its own and let others have the last word.

Now and then, though, the back-and-forth gets pretty darn fierce, even ferocious. That’s when this particular individual — again, someone I do not know — takes Internet foes to task, all the while urging me to “get better trolls.”

Even though I have been blogging for about a decade now I do not know how to do what this individual is asking of me. Nor do I even fully believe I have “trolls” as defined by the example I have provided who are weighing in regularly.

Whatever. I’ll just keep plugging away and take the brickbats along with the bouquets. Hey, it goes with the territory.

Biden to ex-WH flack: ‘It’s called empathy. Look it up.’

Sarah Huckabee Sanders has shown that she learned some cheap-shot skills while working for Donald J. Trump.

During a 2020 Democratic presidential joint appearance this week with six other candidates for the party nomination, former Vice President Joe Biden talked about how he overcame a severe stuttering problem.

He told of how he visits with children with similar issues, saying that a children might tell him “I-I-I-I can’t talk. What do I do?”

Sanders, the former White House press secretary, decided to tweet out a snarky message, saying via Twitter: “I I I I  I have absolutely no idea what Joe Biden is talking about.” Biden responded by saying that he was seeking to employ some “empathy,” and urged Sanders to “look it up.”

The smart-alecky response from Sanders drew the expected rebuke on social media. To her credit, she did apologize, saying she didn’t know about the former VP’s stuttering history and that she should have “made my point more respectfully.”

Indeed. But the problem with social media and with Twitter serving as a platform to deliver these messages instantaneously, the damage gets done and often is difficult to repair.

Take better care, Sarah Sanders, when you decide to take shots at political foes. They tend to cheapen themselves rapidly.

Cameras are … everywhere!

Walking through a teeming crowd of Christmas revelers this weekend, I was struck by the sight of the 21st century’s most ubiquitous device.

Cell phones, man! Everyone has one. And, yes, they all are equipped with picture-taking “apps” that turn these telecommunications devices into cameras.

It begs the obvious question, which you well might anticipate.

Why in the name of social media invasion do celebrities of any stripe — politics, entertainment, athletics, whatever — allow themselves to be photographed doing something they shouldn’t be doing?

Every person is a potential paparazzo. They see someone famous acting up — or acting out! — they point their phone/camera at them and snap pictures to be recorded for everyone to see. By “everyone,” I mean potentially every human being on Earth; at last count that number was well north of 7 billion.

Yet we keep hearing about individuals who get caught punching someone out, or acting inappropriately after consuming too many adult beverages.

I suppose this is my way of saying that if it’s understood by most of us that cell phone cameras are as plentiful as we know they are, then celebrities who get caught misbehaving deserve the recrimination that comes their way.

Trump engaged in frontal assault against freedom of the press

Leave it to Chris Wallace, the host of “Fox News Sunday,” a staple of Donald Trump’s favorite news/opinion cable TV channel, to put it in perspective.

Wallace said this to a gathering at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.: “I believe President Trump is engaged in the most direct, sustained assault on freedom of the press in our history.”

Oh, brother, is he ever!

The man who played on his “experience” as a reality TV celebrity host, who once courted the media because they found him, um, entertaining is now launching a full frontal assault on the constitutional guarantee of a free press.

He routinely bullies cable, broadcast and print media representatives. He accuses them of peddling “fake news.” He curries favor with media outlets and then blasts them to smithereens when they don’t do his bidding; Wallace and the Fox News Channel serve as a prime example. Trump has labeled the media as the “enemy of the people” and has applauded right along with the know-nothing faithful who cheer his frightening rhetoric.

Presidents dating back throughout the history of the republic all have noted the adversarial relationship with the media that is built into the presidency. None of them — not until Donald Trump came along — has blathered the kind of incendiary rhetoric toward the media that this president has spewed forth.

As a former full-time print journalist, I — along with many of my former colleagues — take this kind of treatment personally. Now that I am writing for myself, I still take it personally.

Moreover, I continue to salute and honor the great work that media organizations of all stripes continue to do in reporting the goings-on regarding this presidential administration.

The good news for all of them — and the rest of us — is that Donald Trump won’t be president forever. He’ll be gone from the halls of power and will no longer be able to bully the media.

I am waiting for that moment of deliverance from this attack on our essential press freedom.