Tag Archives: AGN Media

Worried about future of journalism in a city I love

My concern about the future of newspaper journalism in a city my wife and I once called “home” is building. I am unsure of how or where this concern will end up. Suffice to say I cannot shake this feeling of doom for the future of the Amarillo Globe-News.

I do not read the daily print newspaper. I no longer reside in Amarillo. I do try to read the “paper” online, but I need to subscribe to it. I decline to do so. Why? There’s not enough news about the Texas Panhandle to interest me.

The Globe-News is now owned by Gannett Corp., the company that merged with GateHouse Media; GateHouse assumed control of Gannett, but kept the Gannett name. Gannett is known throughout the newspaper industry as a cost-cutting juggernaut. It seeks to “save its way to prosperity.” From what I have seen for many years now, through three corporate ownerships, the Globe-News has been slashed, decimated and reduced to a newsgathering organization that is just a mere shadow of what is used to be.

The most troubling thing I see in the online edition is a heavy reliance on news from down south, in Lubbock, where Gannett also operates a newspaper.

My point is this: I see a lot of news relating to Texas Tech University on the front page of the Globe-News’ online edition. Texas Tech is a fine school, but it is headquartered in Lubbock. It has a decent presence in Amarillo, but its influence there remains somewhat muted.

Conversely, when I look at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s online edition, I never see news covering Amarillo or the Texas Panhandle. Do you get my drift? If not, it is merely that the influence flows only in one direction, from Lubbock to Amarillo.

I am left to wonder whether there will even be an Amarillo Globe-News in the future. The newspaper used to employ dozens of reporters, line editors and photographers. It now employs a single sports writer, two general-assignment reporters, a regional executive editor and a regional director of commentary.

That … is … it!

The grumbling I hear from my many friends in Amarillo all say the same thing. The newspaper doesn’t report the news.

It saddens me terribly.

I want desperately to be wrong about the future of print journalism in the Texas Panhandle.

Journalism takes another step toward irrelevance

It pains me to acknowledge this, but based on what I have just learned, daily print journalism — I am talking about newspapers — has taken another big step toward a dark hole of irrelevance.

The Providence Journal, Rhode Island’s largest newspaper, has announced it no longer will publish editorials. You know, those are the opinion pieces that represent the newspaper’s view on issues of the day.

Here is part of a letter that Journal executive editor Alan Rosenberg wrote to readers:

It’s a decision that we don’t make lightly. But it’s been coming for a long time…

[After the partisan newspapers of the 19th century,] most newspapers abandoned partisanship in their news pages, but kept the idea that they should speak out, in their editorials, on what they perceived as the best interests of their community and country.

But in doing so, they inadvertently undermined readers’ perception of a newspaper’s core mission: to report the news fairly. Our goal in news stories is always to learn, and reflect, the facts of a situation, then report them without bias. Reporters’ opinions, if they have them, have no place in our stories.

But when the newspaper itself expresses opinions on those same subjects, it causes understandable confusion. Readers wonder: Can reporters really do their work without trying to reflect the views expressed in their employers’ name? Can they cast a skeptical eye on a politician their paper has endorsed, or a generous eye on one it has opposed?

The answer is a definite “yes” — but my email since I became executive editor shows that many just don’t buy it.

The Providence Journal is owned by Gannett Corp. What we have here is a display in gutlessness. It is a shameful capitulation to the forces that are slowly but inexorably making daily newspapers irrelevant in the lives of thinking Americans.

I spent the vast bulk of my 36 years in journalism writing editorials and editing opinion pages. We once were committed to providing leadership to communities that used to look for some semblance of guidance from their newspapers. Sure, we had that argument with readers that Rosenberg mentioned about whether news coverage was influenced by newspapers’ editorial policy.

This news out of Providence, R.I., saddens me terribly. It well might get even worse for readers of the last newspaper where I worked on my professional journey, the Amarillo Globe-News. Gannett owns the Globe-News and Gannett has become a cost-cutting master in this era of declining subscribership and advertising.

I hate saying it … but I fear the end of daily journalism in Amarillo, Texas, might be at hand.

So glad to be free of the media misery

I am watching with great dread the fate of my former colleagues in print journalism, watching as they are being forced out of work or forced to take unpaid furloughs.

It’s a continuation of what has been happening to the media landscape for years.

Gannett Corp. laid off seven newsroom staff members from the Austin American-Statesman this week. One of them is a former colleague of mine with whom I worked way back when I first arrived in Texas in 1984. She gravitated from the Beaumont Enterprise to the American-Statesman two years later and was told that her 34 years of service was no longer relevant.

Another former colleague of mine, who works for a Gannett newspaper in Corpus Christi, is being told to take one week of unpaid leave each month for an undetermined amount of time. He told me recently “it sucks,” but he’s doing what he needs to do.

Gannett, by the way, is the name of the company that now owns the newspaper that served as my final stop in a daily print journalism career that spanned nearly 37 years. That career ended in Amarillo when the paper was owned by Morris Communications. Morris eventually sold all its papers to GateHouse Media, which this past year purchased Gannett Corp.; however, the newly minted newspaper giant operates under the Gannett name.

This is tough to watch.

I am watching it happen in real time while thanking Almighty God in heaven that I am no longer subject to that kind of misery. I went though enough of it as my career ended. Two pay cuts, decimating of staff, a newsroom reorganization and finally being told I would no longer do what I had done with some success for most of my career.

My heart hurts for my colleagues who are still toiling, still wondering, still awakening every day while not knowing with any form of certainty what the future holds for them.

They are doing their jobs the best they can do. The media landscape is shifting under their feet. It is unsteady at best.

All I am left to do — if you’ll pardon the cliché many of us have grown tired of hearing — is offer my thoughts and prayers for those who are being caught up in the media sausage grinder. I was there once myself. They just need to know that many of us who have gone on to “pursue other interests” are in their corner.

Newspapers become casualty of coronavirus … wow!

This is what I call a serious punch in the chops to those of us who love newspapers and cherish their role in reporting the news to the communities they serve.

Gannett Corp., which owns scores of newspapers around the country — including the one I left in August 2012 at the end of my journalism career — has announced unpaid leaves for its staff of reporters, editors and support staff.

That means, the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas — the paper to which I referred — will be left with even fewer people to cover a region afflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

GateHouse Media bought the Globe-News in 2018, then purchased Gannett this past year. Gannett’s name, though, remains the one in force. So it fell to Gannett Corp. to announce the furloughs.

The Globe-News reporting and editing staff has been decimated already by the changing media climate. Now comes this news, about the pandemic, and the newspaper’s reporting capabilities have been reduced even further — if that is even possible.

The newspaper company announced the furloughs this way: Gannett advised in a memo to staff … that it will be instituting furloughs and other cost reductions in response to big advertising declines.

Those “big declines” have occurred because businesses that advertise with the newspapers have been shuttered by the pandemic. Since they can’t stay open, they can’t earn revenue, some of which they spend on advertising with newspapers and other media.

The victims of this terrible turn of events aren’t just the businesses, or the media outlets that deliver their message through paid ads. They include rank-and-file Americans like you and me who depend on newspapers to tell us what is going on in our communities. We need to know what’s going on; we need to understand how the pandemic is affecting life in our surroundings.

Oh, sure, we can turn on the TV, boot up our computers, activate our smart phones and all of that. I happen to be rather old school. I also depend on the printed word that is tossed onto my driveway before the sun comes up.

I am unclear how the regional editors of the Amarillo Globe-News will be able to cover the news of their community. For that matter, I’ve wondered how they do it for some time, given the precipitous decline in personnel on hand to report on and deliver the news to the region.

Read about the announcement here.

This “news” saddens me way beyond measure. Gannett says the austerity moves are “temporary.” I want to believe it. That rumbling in my gut tells me something quite different.

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.