Tag Archives: Amarillo Globe-News

Another community icon about to vanish

I am heartbroken, but not entirely surprised to hear this bit of news: The Beaumont Enterprise’s parent company is planning to sell the structure and move the newspaper into a more, um, suitable location hits me straight in the gut.

I got word of this decision Thursday through — that is correct — social media, which I suppose tells the story of the Beaumont Enterprise’s decline as the newspaper of record for the Golden Triangle region of Texas.

It is where my Texas journalism career got its start in 1984. It’s where I made tons of friends, learned about Texas’s unique political culture, and learned also that gumbo was far more than what you bought in a can of Campbell’s Soup.

My heart hurts over this news.

Social media have played a part in the Enterprise’s diminishing presence in the community. The paper I joined in 1984 was selling about 75,000 copies daily; its Sunday distribution totaled more than 80,000 copies. We sent papers way up into Deep East Texas and into Southwest Louisiana.

Then came the Internet. I left the Golden Triangle in January 1995 for greater opportunities in the Texas Panhandle. As the Internet began exerting its chokehold on print journalism in Amarillo, it began taking its toll in Beaumont as well.

The Enterprise, which once employed more than 300 individuals has seen its payroll dwindle to fewer than 70 people. Hurricane wind and rain destroyed the newspaper’s presses, forcing the paper to print its editions at the Houston Chronicle, another property owned by the Hearst Corp. The Enterprise’s production department disappeared; its circulation department has been reduced to virtually nothing.

Most tragically (in my view) the news staff has been decimated. I don’t know the exact count of reporters and editors on staff at the Enterprise, but I do know it’s far fewer than it was during the heyday of print journalism.

Hearst Corp. execs say they need to move into a location that is more suited for the Enterprise to compete in the digital age. I totally understand the business aspect of the decision, just as I understand why the Amarillo Globe-News — where I worked for nearly 18 years — has vacated its historic location.

There’s a glimmer of good news, which is that Hearst plans to keep the newspaper in downtown Beaumont, given the Enterprise’s longtime presence there. Publisher Mark Adkins said, “We believe in the community here, and want to continue our long history as a part of downtown,. It is important for us to stay here for those reasons. But it is also important to be able to pass on this building to someone that could use it for further development of downtown.”

However, none of this assuages the grief I feel at this moment reading about the pending departure of the Beaumont Enterprise from a building where I practiced my craft for nearly 11 years.

There’s no nice way to say it. This news really sucks, man.

Time of My Life, Part 31: Y2K? The ‘worst’ never arrived

We all remember Y2K, right? That was when Earth was supposed to fly off its axis, the sun would rise in the west, hell would freeze over and the world we knew would come to an end.

It didn’t happen. Planet Earth is still spinning around the sun, which continues to rise in the east; hell is still hotter’n hell and the world — with all its troubles — continues to keep on.

I was on duty at the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas when we entered the 21st century, but in the run-up to that big event, I was afraid for the worst. What’s more, so was my boss, G-N Publisher Garet von Netzer.

Happily, the worst never happened. However, von Netzer — a cautious, deeply conservative and hard-driving man — wasn’t about to take any chances. Yes, he hoped for the best and prepared for the worst.

We weren’t the only business in the world to go through that kind of pre-Y2K preparation. Man, it was a hell of a ride.

Our day prior the dawn of The Year 2000 unfolded quite differently than other days. We started producing pages for print before we put the afternoon Globe-Times to bed around noon on Dec. 31, 1999.

Von Netzer feared that computer systems worldwide would lock up, they would vaporize, they wouldn’t know how to log the next day’s arrival. He was concerned about whether they would even recognize “2000” as a year.

So, he decided we would button up the next morning’s Daily News early that evening. There would be no breaking news in the first edition of the Daily News to mark the new century. There would be what we called “time copy,” feature stories with no time element attached to them.

Our sports pages would have no game-day coverage. They, too, would be full of feature material.

The editorial page, which I was in charge of publishing, wasn’t affected quite so dramatically. We had plenty of appropriate commentary that didn’t depend on any time element. Our editorial for the next morning’s newspaper heralded the arrival of the 21st century and gave appropriate recognition to its importance in the history of humankind.

But by golly, we shut it all down early. I cannot recall the precise time, but I believe it was around 8 p.m.

After producing our final pages for the next day, von Netzer ordered all the computers shut down, powered off, unplugged from the wall sockets. Every computer terminal in our business went dark.

What happened when the clock struck midnight was, well, a serious non-event. Electronic calendars logged the correct year. Time didn’t stand still. The sun rose the next morning.

We went to work. Flipped the switches back to the “on” position. We were in business once again, per usual.

The frenetic pace of the previous day proved to be all for naught. Then again, what if the worst had happened?

Time of My Life, Part 20: Going local

The final three years or so of my journalism career were fraught with challenges as the shape and substance of media were undergoing significant change.

The Amarillo Globe-News and its parent company were seeking ways to cope with those changes, with limited success . . . or so it appeared to me.

One of the ways I sought to cope with those changes was to redirect the emphasis of commentary on our opinion pages. I obtained buy-in from the publisher of the paper, which as I look back on it now was peculiar, given that our relationship was deteriorating at the time.

I proceeded with the change. It was to place much greater emphasis on local issues, while forgoing comment on national or international issues. By “local,” that included editorial comment on matters of regional concern throughout the High Plains region we sought to cover. I sought to make daily comment on issues pertaining to our core circulation areas covering Randall, Potter, Moore, Deaf Smith and Armstrong counties. Amarillo and Canyon remained central to our concern as well.

Then there were state issues that spilled over into our part of Texas. Those issues got our attention as well.

I would keep a daily log of those editorials. I categorized them: local/regional, state, national and international. My goal always was to focus on local/regional issues first.

Why the change? Well, it became obvious to me that national media — cable TV and the Internet — were absorbed with national and international matters. Our readers had access to that information and to those opinions. Their own opinions were cast in stone. We would be wasting our energy trying to guide them into accepting whatever we thought about those matters.

So we turned our attention to City Hall, the county courthouse, the State Capitol.

There were a couple of months when we were able to devote every day of editorial commentary on local/regional or state matters. Those days gladdened me and made me more determined to continue on that course.

I believe it produced a positive result. We had tremendous traffic in letters to the editor and unsolicited essay submissions from readers. They wanted to weigh in on some of the local issues of the day and, yes, to speak out on the national and international issues we were setting aside.

The Globe-News tossed those changes aside after I resigned in August 2012 and returned to commenting on national and international matters. That was their call. I am just proud to have concocted a strategy I thought was a reasonable response to the change that is continuing to upend print media.

Time of My Life, Part 16: This was a ‘good get’

I once had to chase down individuals to interview. There were times I had to work exceptionally hard to persuade someone to talk to me while I worked in daily journalism. I always welcomed the challenge.

T. Boone Pickens — the legendary oil and gas tycoon — presented both sides of that coin. He was the toughest interview to nail down, but then he was what they call in the business a “good get” when he consented finally to talk to me.

A little history is in order.

I worked for the Amarillo Globe-News for nearly 18 years. I arrived in Amarillo after Pickens had departed Amarillo for Dallas. He left the city where he lived and did business in a huff. He was angry and decided to take his business to Big D.

He also was angry with the Globe-News. In the late 1980s, he began a campaign designed to inflict damage on the paper because he didn’t like the way it reported on him and on the community. He formed a group called People Committed for a Better Amarillo Newspaper — or PCBAN. He ran off the publisher of the paper and hung a banner off his Mesa Petroleum building saying “Goodbye Jerry” Huff.

I arrived in January 1995. Pickens was still mad at the paper. Not long after I arrived in Amarillo, Pickens announced an effort to create a wind farm complex. He also wanted to transport Texas Panhandle water to places downstate. I wanted to talk to him about it all. I called his public relations guy.

The PR guy resisted granted me any time with Pickens. I argued, dickered, bargained; I offered to meet Pickens at a diner in Pampa near his ranch and said I would “buy him a burger.” Pickens wouldn’t budge. The PR guy asked me if I was aware of the bad blood between Pickens and the G-N. Of course I knew about it. That was then. Those players all are gone, I told him.

No can do, I was told.

I called him again years later. I asked for an audience with Pickens. Two days later, Pickens agreed to meet with me. Just like that! He would come to the Globe-News. He would talk about anything I wanted to talk about. I thought: What the hell?

I knew about this guy. He was a ferocious competitor; a wildcatter who made a fortune exploring for oil and natural gas; he harbored grudges; he made lots of enemies as well as friends; he was a tough SOB.

I also had heard about his charm, his intelligence and his generosity.

The Boone Pickens who darkened our door at the G-N was what I have called “The Good Boone.” He was charming to the max. He was talkative. He dropped names like crazy: Barack Obama, George W. Bush, the King of Saudi Arabia, this and that potentate.

Pickens told me he read the paper daily. He said he took note of the columns I would write, or the editorials that appeared in the paper. I don’t know if he actually did all that or if he was just offering a form of false flattery.

Whatever it was, we got along well during the two hours we met.

Our paths would cross a couple more times. I saw him a second time while he was in Amarillo attending an oil/natural gas meeting at the Civic Center. Then, while working as a feature writer for KFDA NewsChannel 10, he welcomed a TV reporter, cameraman and me to his magnificent Mesa Vista ranch in rural Roberts County.

I hear that Boone Pickens has been in ill health. He’s in his 90s now and is divesting himself of his myriad and massive business interests.

I wish him well. Yep, he was a real “good get.”

Local media ‘voice’ is being stilled

My concern about the future of local print journalism in the community where I lived and worked for 23 years appears to be bearing fruit — and it saddens me.

The Amarillo Globe-News, where I served as editorial page editor for more than two decades, looks for all the world as if it is morphing into something I don’t recognize. Its editorial page isn’t examining local issues, isn’t looking critically at local concerns and those who shape policy. It has become part of a “regional voice” that speaks in unison with another newspaper ensconced 120 miles straight south, in Lubbock.

Today’s editorial — in both papers — tells me this. They are the same. The Globe-News and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, both owned by the same company, have expressed identical opinions on what they hope for the “community” looking toward 2019.

That’s right. GateHouse Media, which owns the papers, believes (apparently) that Amarillo and Lubbock have identical concerns. The regions have matching issues they need to confront.

Hmm. Well . . .  they don’t. They are different communities. They used to have newspapers that addressed their unique circumstances through their opinion pages. Residents of those communities used to look to their newspapers for leadership, possibly some guidance — or maybe just as places to hurl their gripes over editorials with which they disagreed.

The media are changing before our eyes, folks. We’re all seeing it. It ain’t pretty, at least not to me, a retired ink-stained wretch.

I was on duty at the Globe-News when the media climate began changing. The company that formerly owned the newspaper, Morris Communications, sought to deal with the changes. It reduced staff, tried to redirect its emphasis to a more “digital presence.”

On the editorial page, I tried to employ a new strategy. I discussed with my publisher at the time an idea to focus our editorial page on local, regional and state matters. My thought was that our readers didn’t care what we thought about national or international issues; their minds were made up and they were getting their “editorial guidance” from other media sources. Given that we served a politically conservative region, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that our readers were dialed in to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and other assorted conservative voices.

So we sought to write about local matters. The right-wing media geniuses weren’t going to discuss City Council votes, or local public education matters, or whether their county commissioners courts were spending their money wisely; we would fill that void.

We had some success in keeping our voice relevant to the community mood.

I left the Globe-News in August 2012 and went on to “pursue other interests.” The newspaper abandoned the local-only strategy I had developed. Morris sold the Globe-News and the A-J — along with all its newspaper properties — to GateHouse. The new owners changed publishers and brought in a guy to run both papers, an executive editor to oversee both newsrooms and a “director of commentary” to write editorials for both communities.

Therefore, the local voice in each community has been muffled.

I quit relying on my ol’ trick knee to make political predictions, but the knee is throbbing again. It’s telling me the West Texas media landscape — from the Panhandle to the South Plains — is going to have a single voice speaking for the entire region.

Welcome to the new world. Wow!

This ink-stained wretch is saddened by what is happening.

More pain gets inflicted in the media

Oh, the hits just keep coming.

The San Antonio Express-News — the newspaper of record for Texas’s second-largest city — has announced another round of layoffs. It doesn’t stop. The reductions are costing communities the services of valuable craftsmen and women with decades of experience reporting on the issues of the day.

When will it end? Ever? Well, it has to end, likely when the last reporter checks out for the final time. Will he or she please be sure to turn out the lights?

The Internet is the culprit. The villain. The bogeyman.

It has spawned a whole new array of “news and information” outlets. Cable news has joined the fray. Righties have their own view of the “truth,” as do the lefties. They hunker down and consume only the “information” that comports with their world view.

It sickens and saddens me at the same time.

I once was a victim of the changing climate. I was told during a company “reorganization” that I no longer would do what I had done at the Amarillo Globe-News for nearly 18 years. I wrote editorials and columns for the paper. The publisher at the time decided to reshuffle the deck. After interviewing for my own job, I got the news: We’ve offered it to someone else and he has accepted.

I quit on the spot.

Not long after I left the G-N in the summer of 2012, I scored an interview with the Express-News. The editorial page editor flew me to San Antonio, where I spent the day talking to him, the paper’s publisher and the EPE’s editorial page staff members.

The fellow with whom I interviewed made quite a point of telling me how the Hearst Corp. was reinvesting in the Express-News, restoring positions that had been cut. Times were good in the Alamo City, he said.

I didn’t get the gig. The paper was “going in another direction,” the e-mail message told me.

It’s all good now.

I want to re-share with you a quick story. I was at my post at the Amarillo newspaper. A gentleman called about a letter he had submitted. I chose not to publish it. Why? It was full of falsehoods.

His response was classic. “I know it’s true,” he said. I asked, “How do you know that?” He said, “Because I saw it on the Internet.”

I laughed out loud into the phone.

It’s a brand new, and damn scary, world out there.

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.

Once-flourishing craft is in serious peril

I am saddened by what I see happening to the craft I pursued for 37 years.

It’s in trouble. Print journalism as I pursued it is being eaten alive by technology it never saw coming back in the 1970s when I entered that line of work.

I won’t buy into the nutty notion that newspapers are no longer viable purveyors of information. They continue to do great work covering the news of the day. They continue to keep the public informed on policy matters that have direct impact on citizens of this country.

Nor will I accept the “fake news” mantra that keeps pouring out of the pie holes of conservative politicians who seek to discredit the media that are merely doing their job.

What is happening to newspaper saddens me because it need not happen in the manner that is occurring.

I want to point to the last stop on my career, the Amarillo Globe-News, as an example of what I see transpiring. The newspaper that once won print journalism’s greatest honor is now a mere shadow of its former self.

In 1960, the Globe-News actually comprised two newspapers: The Daily News and the Globe-Times. The Globe-Times captured the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service by exposing county government corruption. The paper was led by the legendary editor Tommy Thompson. If you look at the G-N’s building on Van Buren Street, you’ll see a plaque commemorating that honor.

But …

The Van Buren Street building is vacant. The paper’s new corporate owners, GateHouse Media, decided to move what is left of the newsroom across the parking lot to the company’s other office building facing Harrison Street. That structure has an inscription over its front door: “A newspaper can forgiven for lack of wisdom, but never for lack of courage.” That quote came from another legendary figure, Globe-Times publisher Gene Howe.

I was proud to work for the Globe-News for nearly 18 years. My career ended on Aug. 31, 2012. I resigned after being phased out of my job in a corporate reorganization.

The paper has continued to wither since then. It’s not because of my absence, but rather because — as I have viewed it — the paper has not kept pace with the changing information trends sweeping the world.

It sells far fewer copies each day than it did a decade ago. It publishes its daily editions with far fewer employees than it did even five years ago. The Globe-News no longer operates a printing press in Amarillo; its editions are printed in Lubbock and then shipped back to Amarillo for delivery to what remains of its subscriber list.

The newsroom used to operate in a different building from where the advertising department works. That was by design. When I arrived in January 1995 I was told that the newspaper wanted to keep the functions separate to protect the integrity of the news-gathering team. There would be no pressure to publish stories that advertisers might want.

Today? The depleted newsroom staff now sits side by side with an equally depleted advertising staff in the first-floor office space on Harrison Street.

My, how times have changed.

I am acutely aware that other media markets are undergoing tremendous pressures as well. Some major metro markets no longer even have newspapers delivered daily to subscribers’ homes.

They face pressure from the Internet, from cable TV news, from the plethora of outlets that provide information that could be legit — or it could be, um, fake.

Meanwhile, newspaper reporters and editors continue to do their jobs the way they were taught to do them. The problem, though, is that much of the public isn’t paying attention.

And a once-flourishing and proud craft is paying a grievous price.

I look at what is left of the place that served as my last stop on a career that gave me so much happiness and satisfaction — and I am saddened.

Happy Trails, Part 16

I’m still trying to shake myself loose from my previous life as a working stiff, but a brief encounter today illustrated how difficult that task remains.

I walked into the polling place this morning to vote in the Amarillo municipal and Amarillo College election. I presented the voting judge my voting registration card and my driver’s license (with photo ID that’s now required).

He looked it over, signed me and said, “Oh, you’re with the newspaper.”

“Um, no. I used to be,” I answered. “I left the Globe-News nearly five years ago,” I explained. “I guess you haven’t missed me,” I joked. He chuckled and said, rather sheepishly, “I don’t read the paper.”

“Well,” I said, “neither do I.”

This is the kind of greeting I get from time to time as I conduct daily business here. My job as Opinion page editor of the Globe-News more or less defined me in the eyes of many folks who read the paper and saw my name on the Opinion page masthead.

That’s all great. At some level I do appreciate the recognition that comes my way. Everyone who brings up my recent past is gracious, kind, some are complimentary; others say something like, “Oh, I often disagreed with you, but I always read your stuff.”

My wife and I are still in the midst of this transition from full-time work to full-time retirement. The transition is progressing along many fronts. The most critical of them is our on-going effort to prepare to commence to get ready to relocate.

When that task is completed, hopefully sooner rather than later, we’ll be resettled in a new community where no one knows us from the past we have left behind. We’ll greet everyone for the first time and no one — except for family members who will live nearby — will know what either of us used to do for a living.

I look forward to completing that journey.

Happy Trails, Part 12

My mind has this habit of wandering backward.

Yes, it goes forward, too. It’s been moving ahead in this post-retirement phase to the next great adventure that awaits my wife and me. When it’s not thinking ahead, it occasionally drifts into the past.

My mind did so again today as I began thinking about two colleagues of mine who died within a week of each other under quite different circumstances.

Buddy Seewald died in an auto accident north of Amarillo. He wasn’t ready to leave this world. It happened. He was gone. Just like that.

Then came news of the death of Virgil Van Camp, a much older gentleman, who died of natural causes at the age of 87.

I wrote about them in September 2013. Here’s the link to that earlier piece.

http://highplainsblogger.com/2013/09/there-goes-another-good-man/

I tend to reminisce in my own mind about my past, about the career path I chose and the people I met along the way. Buddy and Virgil were two men who affected me greatly during the time we worked together. They were contributors to the Amarillo Globe-News opinion pages, which I had the high honor of editing for nearly 18 years.

My memory of them reminds me of how much tried-and-true fun I had pursuing this particular craft.

They enabled us to keep the newspaper more relevant in people’s lives. They would share their world view on particular issues. They would debate them between themselves and share their differing perspectives with Globe-News readers.

This was just on the eve of the Internet Invasion, before newspapers — the printed version that carriers would toss onto our porches — began losing their relevance.

I was proud to be a part of that era. It saddens me at some level to see all the changes that are occurring within the industry. Newspapers are printing fewer copies each day. They’re moving toward what publishers call the “digital product”; as an aside, I detest the word “product” to describe a printed newspaper.

While I am somewhat sad these days, I also look back with great fondness at the journey I was allowed to travel.

Friends and associates like Buddy and Virgil made it all the more fun.