Tag Archives: AGN Media

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

 

Happy Trails, Part 174: So-o-o glad to be retired, especially these days

My retirement journey has settled us into a very good place. We are living much nearer to our granddaughter; we have lots of time on our hands; we get to sleep in if we choose to do so; we are free to travel for as long as we wish.

Moreover, I am free of the tension, turmoil, tumult and tempest of working in a changing media environment.

I have been following lately the big media merger involving GateHouse Media and Gannett Corp. GateHouse took over control of Gannett to form the largest print media country in the known universe.

What’s next for the new media titan? Layoffs, man! Apparently lots of ’em to boot.

I left my last job in print journalism in August 2012 at the Amarillo-Globe-News in Texas under unhappy circumstances. As I look back on that sudden departure, I am filled with gratitude that it happened when it did, even though I still sting a bit over the manner in which it occurred.

However, my place now is so good that I am nearly compelled to reach out to my former employer and thank him for saving me from the misery he and other newspaper executives inflicted on those who have toiled in the trenches to produce a newspaper worth reading.

The GateHouse-Gannett merger is bound to produce a lot more misery. It likely will affect people I know who are still in the business. I acquired many great friends during my 37 or so years in the business. They are fine men and women who work hard at their craft. They love what they do even if they think much less of the execs for whom they do it.

Is that a dichotomy? No. They invoke what I consider to be a universal axiom made famous by Rotary International, an organization to which I have belonged for more than 25 years and which adopted a simple slogan as its worldwide mission: Service Above Self. They sign on to serve their communities, even when their own careers might be placed in jeopardy.

This latest pending wave of layoffs — and I believe the reports that they are coming — only affirm my comfort in the place where I have landed as a retired print journalist. I just hope and pray that those who get pink-slipped will land softly and take their myriad talents to their next great adventure.

What does future hold for Amarillo’s daily newspaper?

I chatted this morning over KETR-FM public radio at Texas A&M University-Commerce about the state of journalism in one of the Texas communities where I worked before my career ended in August 2012.

On the weekly broadcast “North by Northeast,” we talked about the decline of daily newspaper circulation and the struggle that many print media are having as they transition to the “digital age” of news and commentary.

Well, we didn’t discuss it on the air today, but I want to broach this subject briefly here.

The Amarillo Globe-News seems infatuated with reporting on issues involving Texas Tech University, which is headquartered about 120 miles south of Amarillo in Lubbock. I see the G-N on my smart phone daily. I am able to read headlines and I look occasionally at stories under those headlines.

I am struck by the preponderance of stories related to Texas Tech. Sports coverage, general news coverages, features, editorials, guest commentary … a whole lot of it relates to Texas Tech.

I’m wondering: Why? What is happening here?

I’ve reported already on this blog about how the newspapers — the Globe-News and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal — are being managed under a “regional” operation. The papers have a regional executive editor, a regional associate editor/director of commentary; they have combined their business operations, their production ops, circulation and some advertising functions.

It’s the news and editorial coverage that piques my interest.

So much of it these days relates to Texas Tech. Back when I worked at the paper, we hardly ever gave Tech any notice. I mean, the university is way down yonder; the Panhandle is served by West Texas A&M University and the newspaper concentrated its higher education coverage on WT and on Amarillo College.

Texas Tech seemingly has supplanted WT and AC in garnering the attention of the Amarillo Globe-News.

I keep feeling the rumble in my gut that is telling me that something is going to happen to the Amarillo Globe-News … and that it won’t be a good thing for the future of print journalism in Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle.

I want in the worst way to be wrong.

Hodgetown earns honor, sending Center City director ‘over the moon’

Beth Duke is beaming with pride … and why not?

The Amarillo Center City director nominated Hodgetown, the city’s new downtown ballpark, for recognition as the best downtown construction project in Texas. Hodgetown then got the honor.

Duke, a lifelong Amarillo resident and a big-time promoter of its downtown revival, should be proud. So should the city for this latest honor granted to the shiny new ballpark that is home to the city’s championship-winning Texas League baseball team, the Sod Poodles.

The award comes from the Texas Downtown Association. It honors the ballpark’s look, its ambience, the attraction it proved to be for baseball fans and other Texas Panhandle residents.

As Duke told the Globe-News, where she worked for more than 30 years before taking over the Center City directorship: “I think you all know how proud I am of every building and the progress we’ve made in our beautiful downtown. I nominated Hodgetown for Best New Construction in a Texas (city) of more than 50,000 people. I was so gratified to be a finalist and the night we won, I was just over the moon.”

She should be over the moon.

I have taken great joy in applauding the city’s effort to build this structure, formerly known as the “multipurpose event venue.” It is a gorgeous home field for the Sod Poodles. More than that, it is a fabulous addition to downtown’s urban landscape.

Hodgetown came to fruition after a sometimes-rocky ride. I am more than willing to acknowledge harboring a doubt or two that the city could complete the project. There was turmoil on the City Council relating to the future of what was called the MPEV. Top-level city management went through a wholesale change with resignations of key personnel, including the city manager.

Despite the occasional ruckus at City Hall, the ballpark was completed. Hodgetown opened this past spring. The Sod Poodles played some great Class AA baseball in a ballpark full of cheering of fans.

Now comes a high honor from a downtown group that bestows honors that cities can use to their marketing advantage.

Beth Duke is the perfect advocate for Amarillo’s downtown district. She is a happy woman today. I am proud of her and of the city for the steps it has taken toward rebuilding its downtown business and entertainment district.

Well done.