Tag Archives: AGN Media

Time of My Life, Part 47: 9/11 changed the dynamic

Events can shape people’s lives and even influence the direction their careers take.

The terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 was a date that changed damn near everything in this country, not to mention the career I had chosen to follow.

I cannot prove this with actual, tangible evidence. It’s an anecdotal thing, to be truthful. But the 9/11 terror attack opened the floodgates for me as an opinion writer and editor.

I was working on 9/11 as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I got word of the attack from a colleague who stuck his head into my office to ask if I had heard about the plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center.

Well, the rest is history, right?

One element of that momentous day was the absolute flood of issues on which we could comment at the Globe-News. It never stopped after that terrible moment in our history.

There had been times in the years preceding 9/11 when I had to look for issues on which to offer editorial comment. As they say in the news business, “There are good news days and bad news days.” The good news days always gave opinion editors grist on which to comment; the bad days forced us to look for that grist.

The post-9/11 era — which lasted essentially for the duration of my career a dozen years later — often filled me with the greatest dilemma an opinion editor could face: too many topics on which to comment. 

There were a lot of days when I would go to work and have to face a decision. What issue can we set aside for another day? Think about that. I seemed to never face the problem of having to look for ways to fill that space on our opinion page with editorial commentary.

It was a curious phenomenon that I cannot quite explain even to this day. It just happened. The world was changing. The nation went to war against international terrorism. That era spawned issues that demanded leadership from newspapers that at that time were still considered beacons for their communities.

I hated the circumstance that caused that phenomenon to occur. However, I was oddly grateful that it did occur and gave me a treasure trove of topics on which to comment.

Those were the days, man.

Happy Trails, Part 179: The past is vanishing

There once was a time not long after my wife and I embarked on our retirement journey that I would want to cling to the career I left behind. I would want to keep looking back on the fun I had pursuing a craft I loved and remembering the people with whom I worked and laughed.

That was then.

Now, let me be clear about something. I enjoyed many, many wonderful relationships during my 37 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and opinion writer. I have maintained many of those relationships over that span of time. These are wonderful people and I count some of them as my dearest friends on Earth.

But my last stop on my professional journey has left me with terribly mixed feelings. Not about the people with whom I worked, but about the organization I departed.

My departure from journalism was an unhappy one. You know about that already. The Amarillo Globe-News was my employer for far longer than any other newspaper during my career. I worked there for nearly 18 years.

I walked away from that job on Aug. 31, 2012. My wife and I got into our car and drove east on vacation. We spent a couple of weeks seeing dear friends and enjoying the sights of the Shenandoah Valley and all the landscape between the Texas Panhandle and our destination.

I clung for a good while to my relationships at the Globe-News. Then it all started to disappear before my eyes. Longtime colleagues left. They retired, or were “bought out,” or they moved on. The newspaper instituted a no-hire policy. The ranks of the Globe-News dwindled … and dwindled some more.

It wasn’t too many years after my own unceremonious departure that nearly the last of my colleagues had departed. The news staff had been reduced to a tiny fraction of its former size.

The company that owned the Globe-News, Morris Communications, sold its entire group of newspapers to GateHouse Media. Strange, given that Morris used to boast about its longstanding “newspaper tradition” and the “love” it had for the communities it served.

Today, the Globe-News operates out of an office in a bank tower. The building that housed the Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper is vacant. One former colleague remains on staff there; he is a sports reporter/editor, the only person covering sports in a region the newspaper used to blanket with coverage.

The executive editor splits her time between Amarillo and Lubbock, as does the director of commentary. There are two general assignment reporters, down from more than 40 individuals who used to work there.

I have moved away. I have moved on. I no longer miss the newspaper, because the organization that used to pay me no longer exists.

It’s a weird sort of out-of-body experience I am feeling these days. I am now totally disconnected from the company that once filled me with pride.

However, I have never been happier than I am at this very moment.

Place that drew me there has vanished

The image you see with this blog illustrates what I did for a living for nearly 37 years. I took notebooks such as this with me to jobs in Oregon and then to Texas.

I mention this notebook today because we have returned from visiting the last stop on my professional journey. I came away with a huge trove of good feelings, seeing old friends, celebrating my son’s birthday and enjoying the unseasonably warm weather under a bright Texas Panhandle sun.

However, I also came away with a feeling of sadness. You see, the newspaper that summoned my wife and me there 25 years ago has all but vanished. The Amarillo Globe-News used to be a towering presence in the community. It has been decimated, reduced to a tiny fraction of its former self.

The Globe-News’s building — at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Harrison Street — is empty. Its signage has been stripped off the exterior wall. There’s an “AVAILABLE” sign on the property.  What’s left of the operation has moved into Suite 103 inside the tallest building in Amarillo, a 31-story bank tower down the street and around the corner.

News racks? Where they sell single copies of the Globe-News? I didn’t see a single one anywhere. I was told that convenient stores still sell the paper. I had a thought about buying the paper, but then I realized I would shell out more than $3 for a journal that would have little news of interest to me. I took a pass.

I guess it’s a sign of the times and the changing media era into which we are still plunging. My previous professional stop, in Beaumont, way down yonder on the Gulf Coast, is undergoing similar retrenchment. It, too, has all but vanished. The newspaper still operates out of its historic structure at 380 Walnut Street, but the corporate owners are looking for a smaller site to house its diminished staff. The Enterprise will vacate that site eventually, although the Hearst Corp., which owns the newspaper, is a proven media company with much greater newspaper chops that Morris Communications, which sold all its properties — including the Globe-News — and then closed its newspaper operation.

That ain’t all, man. My first professional stop, the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier has vanished. It closed completely in the late 1980s. Its parent company — Scripps League Newspaper — sold all its remaining properties and then ceased functioning altogether.

I am saddened by what has happened to print daily journalism. It was driven home to me this weekend on a return to Amarillo. The fellowship of friends was wonderful. The absence of any tangible evidence of the newspaper where I once practiced my craft with great joy and excitement, though, pains my heart.

But … retirement from all of that remains equally joyful and full of adventure.

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.

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.

Longtime friend has earned this high honor

A woman with whom I worked for several years in the Texas Panhandle is about to get a whole lot of pats on the back and expressions of gratitude for the work she has done on behalf of her hometown.

Beth Duke, the executive director of Amarillo’s Center City, has earned all of it.

The Amarillo Globe-News has named Duke its Woman of the Year for 2019. It’s an annual honor the paper has bestowed on overachieving Panhandle women since the mid-1970s. The Man of the Year for 2019 is Paul Engler, the noted cattle mogul and philanthropist. I don’t know Engler well and I am not really qualified to say too much about his honor, other than offer a word of congratulations.

Duke, though, is another matter. I know her well. We were colleagues at the Globe-News. She retired from the paper some years back and went to work at Center City. It was the perfect fit for Duke and for Center City.

Duke was born in Amarillo. She went off to college at Baylor University, then returned to work for her hometown newspaper. If anyone has any more intimate knowledge of Amarillo than Beth Duke, then that person is the best-kept secret in the city’s long and storied history.

Duke brought that knowledge to her post at Center City. It is no coincidence that the city’s downtown revival has occurred during Duke’s time as Center City executive director. No one is a stronger advocate for Amarillo, for its downtown district than Beth Duke.

I am immensely proud of Duke for earning this honor. Her work to revive and rejuvenate the city’s downtown district is dear to my own heart. It is true that others also have played a huge role in the city’s downtown revival. I also am certain that Beth Duke is acutely aware of others’ contributions.

However, as the head of Center City, Beth Duke serves as the spokesman and a leading advocate for the region of the city that has sprung forth on its way toward a bright future.

Well chosen, Globe-News. Well-earned, Beth Duke.

Happy Trails, Part 176: Rediscovering anonymity

Ahh, anonymity is grand.

It is one of the joys I have discovered on this retirement journey on which my wife and I have embarked.

We relocated more than a year ago to Collin County, Texas, after spending 23 years in Amarillo and nearly 11 years before that in Beaumont. I don’t want to oversell or overstate anything, so I will take care when I write these next few words.

The craft I pursued in the Golden Triangle and then in the Texas Panhandle — as opinion page editor for two once-fairly significant newspapers — gave me a bit of an elevated profile. I was able to write editorials for both newspapers as well as publish signed columns with my name and mug shot along with the written essays. Readers would see my face on the pages and then would greet me with, “Oh, you’re the guy in the newspaper!” 

I went through that little ritual for more than three decades in vastly different regions of Texas.

We now live far from either place. I do write for a couple of weekly newspapers these days — the Princeton Herald and the Farmersville Times. It’s a freelance gig that I sought out. The publisher of the papers has been kind enough to put me to work — but on my terms!

I now blend into the scenery. No one recognizes me on sight. I’m unsure whether my name will remain anonymous, given the exposure it will get by appearing on top of news features I hope to write for the Herald and the Times.

One more point I want to make. In Beaumont and in Amarillo, I occasionally found myself discussing politics and public policy in the most unusual locations. I would encounter friends and acquaintances who seemed to presume that since I wrote about politics at work, that I live and breathe it when I am off the clock. They are mistaken.

I once vowed that I would not discuss work in some places, such as at church. More than once I have told folks in the pew next to me that “I came here to talk to God, not to talk about politics with you or anyone else.”

So far, so good here in Princeton. Anonymity is a joy I intend to cherish for as long as humanly possible.

Partisan labels are so, so, so distracting

I detest — no, I actually hate — electing judges on partisan tickets, forcing them to run either as Democrat or Republican.

That is no surprise to those who have been reading my musings over many years. I have tried to make the case that Texas needs to shed its partisan election of judges in favor of a system that allows voters to look more critically at someone’s judicial philosophy than at his or her party affiliation.

We’re heading into another election year. It’s going to be a doozy. We get to choose a president; in Texas, we get to select a U.S. senator. There will be a whole host of local offices as well, at the legislative and county levels.

Thus, I want to offer something that I once posited in a newspaper column back in the Texas Panhandle when I was a working stiff writing for the Amarillo Globe-News.

Why must we elect district attorneys, sheriffs, treasurers, tax assessor-collectors, district clerks, county clerks and — gulp! — constables on partisan ballots? I won’t mention justices of the peace, because I include them as judges.

I wrote a column once for the Globe-News in which I pitched the idea that partisan labels don’t apply to many of the officials who must run under either party’s banner. I got a surprising endorsement of that view from the Randall County tax assessor-collector at the time, who said she agreed with the basic tenet of my column. It was that there is no difference between what a Republican tax collector does and what a Democratic tax collector does. They both swear to follow Texas statute, which makes no delineation between the parties.

The same can be said of sheriffs, DAs, district and county clerks, treasurers. How does a Republican sheriff do his or her job compared to a Democratic sheriff? Are GOP sheriffs tougher on bad guys than Democrats? Please.

Same with DAs, which I suppose you could lump into the same sort of mold as judges. Why not judge these DA candidates on their legal philosophy rather than on whether they have a D or an R next to their name?

I know this will go absolutely nowhere. Texas legislators are so very resistant to change, let alone resistant to doing anything that would require amending the Texas Constitution.

I just want to express a continuing frustration with Texas’s love affair with partisan labels.

There. I’ve done it. I feel better already.

Well done, Sheriff Richardson

I just got word via social media that a great police officer and a courageous public servant is calling it a career in Randall County, Texas.

Sheriff Joel Richardson is retiring. A former Randall County district attorney, James Farren, has endorsed Chris Forbis to succeed him. I don’t know Forbis. I want to speak briefly about Richardson.

I wrote a blog more than 10 years about how Richardson stood up to take the heat when an inmate escaped from the county jail in south Amarillo. He said clearly it was no one’s fault but his own. Richardson didn’t toss any corrections officers under the proverbial bus. The inmate escaped from a “non-hardened” cell, crawled over the razor-wire fence, hitched a ride with a couple of fellows, who took him into Amarillo. The cops arrested the escapee later that evening.

The sheriff took the heat for the embarrassing incident. That’s what leaders do.

With that, I want to say it was my honor to know Sheriff Richardson during my years as a working journalist in the Texas Panhandle.

Here’s what I wrote in September 2009.

Taking the heat, like a man