Tag Archives: AGN Media

Happy Trails, Part 75

The time has arrived for me to start thinking about what I am going to miss about the Texas Panhandle.

Our retirement journey this week took a big step forward to the next place.

This place, though, has been good to my wife and me. We’ve called it home for 23 years … plus a couple of months. As we prepare to move on down the road, I am filled with many memories.

One of them slapped me in the face the first time I ever laid eyes on this region. It occurred in late 1994. I flew from Beaumont to Amarillo to interview for a job at the Amarillo Globe-News, which had a post to fill: editorial page editor of both papers, the Daily News and the Globe-Times.

I landed at Amarillo International Airport, walked into the terminal and met the man I hoped to succeed. Tom Thompson was about to become press secretary for the newly elected congressman from the Panhandle, Republican Mac Thornberry.

We walked out to the parking lot and I noticed right away: Man, this place looks so … big!

I could not get over how far one can see here. We walked to Thompson’s car and even riding from the airport toward downtown I couldn’t take my eyes off the panorama.

I don’t recall my precise words to Thompson as we drove into the city, but I think it was something like, “I cannot believe how big and spread out everything looks.”

If you’ve been the Golden Triangle, or seen the Piney Woods of Deep East Texas, you get what I meant. The pine trees and the dogwoods are lush. The highways that course through the woods, however, do tend leave one with a bit of claustrophobia.

Not here, man! You see the High Plains of Texas for the first time and you feel, well, sort of liberated.

Yes, I will miss that feeling here. I will miss the big, beautiful sky that I’ve said before is God’s payback to the region for neglecting to grant this part of the world with purple mountain majesty.

I’m like to have more to say in the days and weeks ahead about the many friends my wife and I have made here. I’ll offer a word or two about the professional fulfillment I received while working for nearly 18 years at the local newspaper. I might even say something about how I managed to navigate my way through a community with a significantly different world view than the one I carry with me.

Today, my mind takes me back to that first glimpse of the wide open spaces this region provides. One’s first impression of a place often is the most compelling. So it was when I first cast my gaze on the place we would call “home.”

Oh, how time flies for this blogger

Nine years ago today I introduced myself to those who follow blogs.

It was Feb. 13, 2009 when I posted my first blog item. My intention was to give readers a chance to know just a little about yours truly.

The blog actually appeared on the Amarillo Globe-News’s web site at first. I transferred it to High Plains Blogger after I left the Globe-News in August 2012.

Here is what I wrote then:

Introducing me, John Kanelis

I intended the blog then to focus mostly on local matters, as I was writing for the local newspaper and the posts were pertinent to issues the paper was covering at the time.

It didn’t stay that way. I left the paper and then started commenting on a whole array of issues far beyond Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle.

I invited comment and community discussion then. I still do today.

My entry into the blogosphere produced a fairly paltry response. I am not too proud to acknowledge that the increase in page views has been slow, steady slog. It’s a lot greater today than it was in 2009. It’s not sufficient to satisfy me. For that matter, I am convinced that I’ll never be totally satisfied with the volume of page views and unique visitors this blog attracts.

Hey, I’m like the salesman who earns a living based on the sales he produces. It’s never enough, right?

I just felt compelled to look back briefly at the beginning of my blogging experience. I was doing it for my employer then. Now that I am no longer employed, my current blog posts are more pure. I am able to speak with greater clarity about my own world view.

It still is more fun than I deserve.

But, shoot, man! I won’t apologize for it.

NPR: masters of audio editing

My career in print journalism enabled me to do some very cool things, see some fabulous places, cover compelling stories — and it exposed me to the magic of other media.

I want to offer a good word or three to National Public Radio.

I was given an opportunity, as the editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, on three occasions to take part in NPR interviews. Two of them involved the 2008 presidential election. NPR wanted to chronicle the outlook on the election as it appeared to us in the Texas Panhandle; the other party in the interviews was Kevin Riley, editor of the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. NPR sought the views of editors from disparate regions of the country: heavily Republican Texas and “swing-state” southern Ohio.

The other interview involved President Obama’s economic stimulus package and its impact on our respective regions.

Here is what I wrote in February 2010:

NPR reaches out to the heartland

What I want to recall briefly here is how deftly NPR edited my comments to make them suitable for airing on the public airwaves.

High Plains Public Radio — an NPR affiliate — had a recording studio in downtown Amarillo. I was able to go to the studio and take part in the interview with the Washington, D.C.-based “Morning Edition” program.

What astounded me at the time — and still boggles my mind to this day — is how well NPR edited my comments. They eliminated the occasional stammer and extraneous verbiage without changing the context of my statements to the NPR interviewer. Kevin Riley, the other person being interviewed, sounded much more comfortable with radio. As for myself, it’s not my thing and I was nervous as the dickens every time I took part in this process.

It’s a remarkable skill that continues to amaze me.

NPR receives criticism from time to time, mostly from conservatives who allege the network has a “liberal bias.” My own experience with NPR did not reveal any such bias. I found NPR to be professional to the “nth” degree.

Moreover, the editors at NPR exhibited a magician’s skill at making a nervous newspaper editor sound like an experienced hand at radio.

The media ‘regression’ continues

I’ve been trying to process the news I read over the weekend about the newspaper that employed me for nearly 18 years.

I haven’t yet come to grips with all of it and its implications, but what I see does give me some concern about the future of print journalism in two West Texas communities.

GateHouse Media, the company that now owns the Amarillo Globe-News and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal has hired someone who serves as “regional executive editor” of both papers. Her name is Jill Nevels-Haun.

As I read the story announcing her hiring, I read that she will split her duties between Amarillo and Lubbock. She presumably will commute between the cities, which are 120 miles apart; it’s not a long drive, given that you can drive 75 mph along Interstate 27 but the distance is substantial.

What’s more, the communities’ issues are unique. They both have different concerns that weigh on the minds and hearts of residents and officials. Nevels-Haun speaks of her intent to develop new lines of communication between readers and, I presume, both newspapers.

GateHouse purchased the papers in October from Morris Communications Corp., which had owned the G-N and the A-J since 1972. The publishers of the papers, both were Morris holdovers — Lester Simpson in Amarillo and Brandon Hughes in Lubbock — resigned more than a week ago.

I have been informed that GateHouse plans to hire someone to replace the publishers who resigned.

OK, so what’s the concern?

This has the appearance of an inexorable step toward some form of consolidation of both newspapers into a single operation that would seek to cover the entire West Texas region from Amarillo to Lubbock.

Morris already ditched its printing presses at the Globe-News and gave the print job to the Lubbock A-J. Since the GateHouse sale, the Globe-News has abandoned its office structure on Van Buren Street and moved what is left of the newsroom staff into its building on Harrison Street.

The Globe-News is circulating far fewer copies daily than it did just a half-dozen years ago; I will presume the Avalanche-Journal is going through the same precipitous decline. The decline in circulation, by the way, is far from unique to this part of the world; it’s happening all over the country!

I’ve been away from daily journalism now for more than five years. These comments are coming from the proverbial peanut gallery, which prohibits me from commenting in any detail about what I perceive is occurring.

I do sense an inertia that is depriving both communities of the strongest voice possible from newspapers that have been charged with telling those communities’ stories for many decades.

Nevels-Haun offers assurances that she and her employers are committed to strong community journalism. I don’t doubt her sincerity.

It’s just that a single newspaper executive stretching her time — and her attention — between disparate communities is facing an enormous challenge. I cannot overstate the difficulty that awaits.

Thus, I am left to wonder: Will the papers’ corporate owners be willing to invest the capital it needs to deliver on the new editor’s grand promise?

We’ll see about that.

Happy Trails, Part 73

The question comes to me almost weekly.

I’ll run into longtime friends or acquaintances and they inevitably ask: How do you like retirement?

My answer is usually the same: If I were doing any better I’d be twins.

One former colleague who now lives in Houston asked me that very question about a year ago. I gave him the answer. His response? “I’ve never met a retired person who doesn’t love being retired.”

There you have it. My friend has said I fit the mold of your standard, run-of-the-mill retired guy.

What my friend also understands is that my journey toward retired contentment — and, yes, the joy it brings — didn’t start out that way. My retirement journey began unhappily. I wasn’t yet ready to call it quits when I did. I resigned my last newspaper job — at the Amarillo Globe-News — in a fit of emotional pain.

The truth is that it didn’t take me long to realize that my former employer actually did me a favor. I sent myself out to pasture. The pain that I felt on my last day of employment dissipated quickly.

I’ve known many people over the years who have gone through circumstances quite similar to what I encountered. They had been reorganized out of jobs, too.

Here is what I rediscovered about myself. I am a highly adaptable creature. I discovered by adaptability when my family and I moved from Oregon to Texas in the spring of 1984 and exposed ourselves to a serious culture shock. We adapted. My wife and I went through another form of culture shock when we moved from Beaumont to Amarillo in January 1995. We adapted to that change yet again.

My wife and I are going to embark on one more big challenge as we prepare to relocate once more, from the High Plains to North Texas.

My adaptability skills will come into play once again.

The only part of my new life that won’t change — ever! — is a return to the working world. I’ve done my time there.

Retirement really is so very good.

This contest doesn’t pass the smell test

I have watched political contests with keen interest for nearly four decades.

I’ve seen curious matchups to be sure. An upcoming Republican Party primary race in the Texas Panhandle, though, has me scratching my noggin. I’m seriously scratching it … hard!

State Rep. Four Price of Amarillo is facing a primary challenge from Panhandle resident Drew Brassfield. Who is the challenger? He’s a first-time political candidate who also happens to serve as the city manager of Fritch.

“I want the voters to have an option, and I think the voters around here want conservative leadership,” Brassfield told the Amarillo Globe-News. There you have it. Conservative leadership. Yeah.

Of all the political campaigns I witnessed up close during my years in journalism, this one features the first one involving a full-time municipal administrator seeking a partisan political office.

It’s not illegal for a city administrator to run for a public office. It somehow seems to stink just a little bit. It doesn’t pass the proverbial smell test.

Why is that? Well, suppose Brassfield were to be elected, which is highly unlikely, given my understanding of Price’s standing within Texas House District 87. How would be possibly be able to serve the residents of Fritch while serving in the Texas Legislature for a minimum of five months every odd-numbered year?

I don’t have a dog in this particular fight. I am registered to vote in Randall County, so I cannot cast a ballot for House District 87.

However, were I to get a chance to pose a single question to Drew Brassfield, I would ask him how he intends to hold two publicly funded jobs at the same time. And I would want to know how in the world he could continue to serve in his full-time day job while traveling throughout a multi-county legislative district searching for votes.

There’s just damn little about this fellow’s candidacy that feels good.

I believe there might be an ethics issue to resolve.

Blog continues to provide therapy

Readers of High Plains Blogger know that I have taken a dim view of Donald John “Braggart in Chief” Trump’s penchant for boasting.

Thus, I’m going to beg your forgiveness for a brief moment.

I want to boast a bit myself.

This blog set an annual record for page views and visitors in 2017. During the year the blog set a monthly record as well, while during month posting a best-ever daily average.

How, then, is High Plains Blogger doing as the first month of 2018 draws to a close? Pretty darn well.

There’s a chance the blog will finish the month with its second-best performance. I’ll take that as a victory.

High Plains Blogger will continue to offer its blend of commentary on public policy, current events and life experience — even after my wife, Toby the Puppy and I relocate to an undetermined place in North Texas.

I’m still wrestling with whether I should change the blog’s name. It no longer will originate from the High Plains of Texas. I am proud, though, that High Plains Blogger’s name has developed a recognizable brand.

If I change its name, you’ll be the first to know.

But writing this blog provides me with a sort of therapy. I spent an entire career stringing sentences together. Much of that time involved writing opinion pieces, whether editorials on behalf of the newspapers where I worked — in Oregon and Texas — or in columns that ran under my own name.

Thus, High Plains Blogger helps keep my head in the game.

Make no mistake, there remains plenty of issues on which to chew.

Life is just so good. As the saying goes: If I were doing any better … I’d be twins.

Big change is coming to local media outlet

I heard the news this morning via a text message from a former colleague.

The publisher of the Amarillo Globe-News — where I worked for nearly 18 years — is “stepping down.” Lester Simpson, who ran the paper for more than 15 years, is leaving to, um, pursue other interests. The announcement came today; Simpson’s last day on the job is Friday.

I will not comment in any detail on Simpson’s tenure at the Globe-News. I’ve already shared with you the circumstances of my departure from that organization in August 2012. It was an unhappy event that has led to a glorious post-journalism life for my wife and me.

I also have commented on this blog about the state of the Globe-News, how I perceive it to be in dire peril. Its decline occurred on Simpson’s watch as publisher. Enough said there.

What happens next is anyone’s guess.

The paper is owned by someone new. GateHouse Media purchased the entire Morris Communications group of newspapers this past fall. Morris had owned the Globe-News since 1972, when it purchased the paper from S.B. Whittenberg.

Print media all across the country have undergone immense change over the past decade. The Internet has taken huge bites out of print media’s income base; advertisers have bailed from newspapers, along with subscribers.

I have no clue on how GateHouse intends to wage that struggle. My hope for the community is that it does a better job in fighting that fight than Morris ever did.

The Texas Panhandle deserves to have a strong media voice chronicling events in its various communities. There once was a time when the Globe-News was a significance presence in communities ranging from Perryton to Plainview and from Farwell to Childress. That’s no longer the case.

Morris Communications sought to achieve greatness as a media company, but to my mind usually fell woefully short. It couldn’t execute a strategy. The Globe-News sought to cultivate a TV audience on its website; it hasn’t worked. On my last day on the job there, Aug. 31, 2012, Simpson told me “radical changes” were coming to the paper; the only radical change I’ve seen has been the precipitous decline in the paper’s ability to cover the life of the communities it used to serve.

So … the winds of change continue to sweep through what used to be the Texas Panhandle’s preeminent media organization.

I wish those who remain at the Globe-News well as they continue to fight under new leadership.

Pickens’s legacy is clearly, um, checkered

I just read a New York Times story on the retirement of a Texas Panhandle legend.

T. Boone Pickens is calling it quits. He is ending his direct involvement in BP Capital, a hedge fund he created.

The story is interesting insofar as it goes. However, it misses an essential part of the checkered legacy that Pickens, an outsized oil and natural gas wildcatter, leaves behind.

I’ve written a couple of blog posts about Pickens, who I don’t know well, but he is someone with whom I’ve had some professional contact over the years. We got along well, even though I worked for the Amarillo Globe-News.

I say “even though” because that’s a part of the Pickens legacy that the NYT article overlooks.

Read the article here.

The article mentions that Pickens made his “share of enemies” during his decades in the energy and land business. He made a lot of them right here in Amarillo, the unofficial “capital” of the Texas Panhandle.

It was the late 1980s and Pickens had been the subject of some extensive media coverage in the Panhandle. The Globe-News was covering a lot of Pickens’s business activities. The paper didn’t couch its coverage of the community in a way that Pickens desired.

So, what did the energy tycoon do? He launched a boycott of the newspaper. He called on advertisers to pull their ads from the Globe-News; he implored subscribers to cancel their subscriptions; he wanted to drive the Globe-News out of business. He and his friends formed an organization with the acronym PCBAN — which stood for Panhandle Citizens for a Better Amarillo Newspaper.

Clever, yes? Whatever.

I remember reading about the boycott in Beaumont, where I worked at the time. I also remember thinking: Who does this guy think he is?

Pickens in effect declared the Globe-News the “enemy” of the community it served. Hmm. He was sort of the precursor to Donald Trump’s declaration of the media in general as the “enemy of the American people.”

Pickens took his fight into the public arena. He had plenty of allies on his side in the fight. He also engendered plenty of enmity throughout the community.

It came to a head when the then-corporate owners of the Globe-News — Morris Communications Corp. — caved in to Pickens’s demands and shipped the publisher of the paper, Jerry Huff, to another location within the Morris group of newspapers.

And on the publisher’s last day on the job in Amarillo, Pickens’s staff at the Mesa Building a few blocks away in downtown Amarillo hung a banner from the roof. It read in big letters: Goodbye, Jerry.

Classy, yes? No need to answer.

I am not going to condemn Pickens over that episode. I just thought it was helpful to present a fuller picture of the man’s legacy.

Pickens had many ups during his lengthy and highly successful business career. However, no one is perfect. Someone who made as much money as Pickens did is sure to step on his share of toes along the way.

Boone Pickens’s big footprint clearly inflicted its share of public relations damage.

Missing the ‘Praise and Damnation’ of old

I dug up an old blog post that I thought I’d share once again.

It speaks to some of the give and take I used to engage in while working as editor of editorial pages in three locations: one in Oregon and two in Texas.

I carried a file around with me for more than three decades. I called it my “Praise and Damnation” file. It contained feedback from readers who either agreed or disagreed with what I wrote, either under my own name or on behalf of the editorial board of which I was a member.

This particular blog post from the past highlights a response to an editorial I wrote about Haiti, a country that’s been in news of late, courtesy of the president’s description of the island nation as a “sh**hole country.”

Damnation to the max

I discarded the file not too many years ago. I don’t regret doing so. The file took up space in my filing cabinet at home and, quite frankly, it reminded me of the unpleasantness associated with the end of my print journalism career.

This blog post from 2010, though, does remind me of how readers managed to keep me humble. I rarely took personal offense at those who disagreed with whatever I wrote. Yes, there were exceptions. Occasionally someone would question my patriotism, my parentage or even my religious faith. As a God-fearing U.S. Army veteran born to parents who were married legally to each other, well, I kind of took offense to some people’s more personal attacks.

But what the heck. It all went with the territory.

I am still able to maintain a sense of humility through this blog. I get my share of criticism to go along with the affirmation.

Believe it or not, I do appreciate thoughtful critics nearly as much as I appreciate those who cheer me on.