Tag Archives: GateHouse Media

Perilous times get even more so for newspapers

You’ve known for a time about the state of print journalism around the United States and the world. It’s in peril, man.

The news this week about a mega-merger between two gigantic newspaper chains (they prefer to refer to themselves as “groups,” by the way) tells a grim tale about the state of print journalism.

Gatehouse Media has purchased Gannett Corp. They are merging into a the largest print media company in the country, owning roughly 250 daily newspapers from coast to coast. That’s about one-fifth of all the daily newspapers still functioning in the United States of America.

Gatehouse already has purchased the newspaper where I worked at my last stop, the Amarillo Globe-News way up yonder in the Texas Panhandle. Gatehouse also purchased the rest of Morris Communications’ newspapers as well, including the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. The result of that purchase seems to bode poorly for West Texas readers of both papers, as they appear to be morphing into a sort of regional publication.

If I understand this correctly, the combined media conglomerate will retain the Gannett name, even though the Gatehouse hierarchy will run it. That means the Globe-News and other Gatehouse properties will be known as Gannett papers … I suppose.

Just as in a democratic society, more voters at election time usually bodes well for the state of representative government. With more people casting ballots means elected officials can govern with a stronger mandate. The more the merrier in journalism, too.

There once was a time in this country when the landscape was populated by mom/pop newspaper shops, independent voices that were tied directly to the communities they served. The family-owned organizations were the heart and soul of journalism.

Sure, we had the titans of print journalism industry. The Hearst Corporation (for whom I also worked) was one of them; the New York Times had a group of newspapers, as did the Washington Post, Tribune Media, McClatchy, Cox, Knight-Ridder and Newhouse.

I always put my strongest faith in the community-based newspapers. They told the truth, even when the newspapers’ owners had to attend church, PTA meetings and athletic events with the same folks they might anger with their newspaper coverage. They stood their ground, for the most part, and reported the news truthfully, fairly and without outward bias.

Those organizations are vanishing before our eyes. They are being replaced by even bigger newspaper chains, such as Gannett and Gatehouse. Sure, the big chains purport to be dedicated to their communities … but are they really?

Gatehouse has decimated the staffs at both the Globe-News and the Avalanche-Journal. I understand the same thing has happened in other communities. They are centralizing many of their newsroom functions, such as copy editing and page design.

Does all of that serve each community well? Are they getting the TLC they believe they deserve? Nope!

The new day keeps dawning all over again in print media. The Gatehouse-Gannett merger is likely to take a once-proud industry down yet another road toward an uncertain destination.

I wish my former colleagues well.

Turning the corner away from an unhappy ending

I am happy to announce that I have turned the corner, put aside the wellspring of anger related to the end of my career in daily journalism.

Many of you know by now that my career came to a sudden halt in August 2012 when I got reorganized out of my job as editorial page editor of the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News. I thought I was doing a pretty good job there, spending nearly 18 years crafting an editorial policy at a newspaper committed to commenting on events of the city and the region that surrounds it.

Silly me. That’s what I get for thinking, I suppose.

I was hurt when it occurred. I was able to carry on, though, thanks to loads of support and love from my wife, my sons, my sisters and my friends.

Quite suddenly, though, I find myself no longer filled with anger or hurt feelings. It took a long while to get past it all. It has occurred.

I feel quite relieved that I am not packing that emotional baggage around any longer.

The company that owned the Globe-News, Morris Communications, sold its entire newspaper group to Gatehouse Media, which then brought in a new management team. The publisher who pushed me out the door “stepped down” from his job and is now pursuing “other interests.” He’s been replaced by someone I do not know.

The fellow who assumed my post at the G-N has left to work elsewhere. His successor and I have actually forged a bit of a relationship.

And you know what? I have actually wished the new “director of commentary,” Doug Hensley, well as he seeks to keep the Globe-News afloat in the roiling and changing media water. He pledges he will do his best. I hope he succeeds.

In the interest of full disclosure, Hensley was kind enough to publish an essay I had posted originally on High Plains Blogger, so that helped thaw the deep freeze I felt toward the newspaper.

However, it is true that I no longer harbor the anger that at times got the better of me over the nearly seven years since I departed the newspaper business.

I am enjoying retirement. I am enjoying writing this blog. I have relocated to a new community and my wife and I are enjoying our new home.

I don’t have time to be angry.

How cool is that?

Media morphing continues in the Panhandle

There might be something that I am unable to grasp. If so, then I’ll take ownership of my ignorance. Still, I have to wonder out loud what is happening to the editorial voice of a newspaper that once was a major part of my professional life.

The Amarillo Globe-News — where I worked for nearly 18 years before I resigned in August 2012 — has published yet another editorial praising the exploits of a Lubbock-based institution, the Texas Tech University men’s track and field team.

This editorial, like so many other such commentaries published under the Amarillo Globe-News masthead, seems to affirm what I believe is happening to local journalism in Amarillo: It is melding into some form of regional editorial voice.

Check out the editorial here.

I don’t know exactly how this is going to play out, but the signs are pointing toward a continued diminution of local editorial clout within a news outlet — the Globe-News — that once prided itself on being the voice of Amarillo and surrounding communities.

The “regional publisher” resides in Lubbock, as does the “regional director of commentary.” The “regional executive editor” lives in Amarillo. But all three of these fine individuals seek to spend time in the “other” communities they serve. Still, the editorial page, where I was able to leave something of an imprint during my years in Amarillo, appears to be looking way past the needs of the community and is commenting — as it is doing today — on the exploits of young men associated with a top-tier university headquartered 120 miles south of the Panhandle’s unofficial “capital city.”

Is it because the director of commentary is a Tech grad? Or because he once worked at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, which is the other newspaper owned by Gatehouse Media?

I am a bit reluctant to be overly critical of this ongoing emphasis on Lubbock, given that I no longer live in Amarillo. Still, during the 20-plus years I lived in the Panhandle, I was able to discern a clear difference in concerns between the residents of both Amarillo and Lubbock. Each city has unique traits that define it. Their residents have unique concerns that have next to nothing to do with their regional neighbors.

I understand that Amarillo is chock full of Red Raider loyalists and, just maybe, they’re all worked up over the national championship won by Tech’s men’s track team. But … what percentage of them comprise what is left of the Globe-News readership?

OK. I’m done venting on this matter. Maybe I should just let it go. Maybe I should concern myself with what is happening closer to my new home. It’s just that after investing so much emotional capital commenting on the affairs of a community I grew to love, it is hard for me to watch the Globe-News’s editorial influence on its community continue to dwindle.

Happy to be relieved of this media stress

Those of us who studied journalism in college and prepared to take up that noble craft never saw it coming. None of us knew in the Olden Days what might lie ahead for media in all forms.

Thus, it is with great relief that I heard this week about another possible mega-media merger involving two significant newspaper groups: Gannett and Gatehouse Media.

I got a message from a good friend, a seasoned reporter in Corpus Christi, who told me about talks involving Gannett and Gatehouse. The Caller-Times’s parent company, Gannett, well might “merge” with Gatehouse, creating — to say the least — a highly uncertain climate among the professionals who work for both media companies.

It’s been an unsteady voyage over many years for media outlets all across the nation, indeed the world!

Merger on its way?

My friend believes he’ll survive the turmoil. He has plenty of skills that he thinks will transfer to whichever company takes the reins at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. But he says the uncertainty among staffers is causing plenty of heartburn, sleeplessness and worry.

I got out of the business in August 2012. The Amarillo Globe-News, the final stop on my 37-year journey in print journalism, was suffering from the consequences of competing in the new media age. The G-N corporate ownership at the time, Morris Communications, sought to make the transition from largely print to mostly digital presentation of news and commentary. It didn’t work out for Morris, which sold all 13 of its newspapers to Gatehouse, which has managed to decimate the G-N reporting and advertising staffs. That all happened, of course, after I bid farewell; I got chewed up in a company “reorganization” launched by Morris.

That was then. The here and now has put me — along with my wife — into a whole new environment. We are retired, enjoying life and watching with a fair amount of trepidation as the media waters continue to roil.

I pray for my former colleagues. I wish them well and hope they and their corporate gurus can look farther into the future than any of us ever did back when we were starting out.

Community icon up for sale . . . this is a shame

We have returned to the community we called “home” for more than two decades and I am saddened to know what I know about the place that provided me with a nice income — and untold joy — for most of that time here.

The Amarillo Globe-News building — indeed, the entire complex of buildings — is on the market. It’s being sold. To someone who will make use of the property on the black between Ninth and 10th avenues and Van Buren and Harrison streets.

The Globe-News has vacated the site, moving into an antiseptic suite of offices down the street and around the corner at the 31-story bank building that towers over downtown Amarillo, Texas.

I saw a social media post the other day that said McCartt and Associates, a big-time commercial real estate broker, has listed the G-N site.

I guess the powers that be didn’t take my advice. I sought in an earlier blog post to persuade Morris Communications Corp., which used to own the newspaper but which still owns the physical property, to donate the site to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, which could turn the property into — what else? — a museum honoring the rich tradition of print journalism in the Texas Panhandle.

I thought that Old Man Morris — William Morris III — could make good on his oft-stated pledge to support the community. Hey, here was his chance. He gave up on newspaper publishing, but he could have given the property to the PPHM to do something honorable and noble with a building that used to symbolize an honorable and noble craft.

Indeed, the Globe-News used to have a plaque on the side of one of its buildings honoring the work of the late Tommy Thompson, the iconic editor of the evening Globe-Times. All he did, of course, was win a Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, which is the top prize offered by the top print journalism organization in the country, if not the world.

The Pulitzer jury honored Thompson for his dogged reporting in rooting out county government corruption. So he received the 1961 Meritorious Public Service prize.

I was proud to be associated with an organization that could claim such an honor. My association with the Globe-News ended in 2012. I held out hope that he paper would survive and be reborn in this changing media climate. I am fearing far less hopeful today.

Morris sold the paper to Gatehouse Media. The Globe-News’s reporting and editing staff has been decimated. Morris started the gutting years ago; Gatehouse is finishing the job.

Now the paper that once stood proudly on that downtown block is being offered to someone who will do something with the vacant hulk of a structure.

At least, though, those of us who have moved on will have our memories of the pride we threw into our work on behalf of the community we served.

Worry about journalism future is intensifying

I hereby admit to being in a state of denial for many years about the fate of print journalism as I have known it and practiced it.

We all have watched daily newspapers downsize to the point of virtual disappearance. They have gone from daily distribution to twice- or thrice-weekly distribution. We’ve witnessed layoffs; indeed, I watched colleagues and friends get their pink slips and leave a craft that gave them untold satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.

All of this involved organizations that paid me to do what I did for so very long. In Beaumont and Amarillo, to cite two examples. I didn’t accept what was happening before my eyes, that the fates of two proud journalistic organizations might be in serious jeopardy.

I now have to throw off that denial and acknowledge what others have said for far longer than I have been willing to acknowledge: those community institutions might not be around past the foreseeable future.

The pending death of the Hereford Brand in Deaf Smith County, Texas, is just another example of what is occurring. A Texas Panhandle community no longer is going to have a way to read about its story. The Brand is folding up, going away. Gone forever!

So what happens to other such newspapers that used to serve that community as well? I have the Amarillo Globe-News in mind. The Globe-News, where I worked for nearly 18 years as opinion page editor, used to cover Deaf Smith County like a blanket. That is no longer the case. The Globe-News has been retrenching, pulling back for years.

Its former corporate owners, Augusta, Ga.-based Morris Communications, oversaw much of that retrenchment. Then the company sold the G-N to GateHouse Media, which also purchased the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal from Morris. GateHouse now appears to be finishing what Morris started. It is melding two news and opinion organizations into one.

What does that mean for Amarillo? Or for Lubbock? Or for the West Texas region that both papers serve? If I knew the answer I would still be a working stiff. I’m not. I am on the sidelines now watching from some distance with an increasing sense of dread of what the future holds for journalism as I once knew it.

I have plenty of friends, acquaintances and former professional “sources” who tell me they fear for the worst for Amarillo and the Panhandle. They tell me they believe the Globe-News’s days are “numbered.” I would dismiss those fears as overheated fearmongering.

Today, I am not nearly as serene about it. I am officially frightened for the future of journalism. The Internet Age has inflicted serious wounds on a proud craft. I fear they are mortal wounds.

I hope I am wrong, although my hope is unable to match my fear.

Regional commentary: it’s spreading!

I am so sorry to report that Amarillo and Lubbock aren’t the only two communities in America where newspaper editorial policy is suffering from the urge to combine resources under a combined “regional” approach to commentary.

A friend sent me a link telling me that Charlotte and Raleigh in North Carolina are combining their editorial pages, that they’ll be supervised by a regional editor who will oversee editorial policies in both communities.

Here is the link.

Oh, my goodness! The deterioration of editorial autonomy is deepening.

GateHouse Media, which owns the Amarillo Globe-News and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal recently announced hiring a guy who will serve as a “regional director of commentary.” He’ll live in Lubbock and then commute to Amarillo on occasion during the week, I suppose to try to read the pulse of the community.

The early returns aren’t too promising. The Texas Panhandle no longer has a newspaper that provides leadership on local issues; nor does the South Plains region.

As to what is happening in North Carolina, I predict a similar fate befalling those Charlotte and Raleigh. McClatchy Newspapers runs the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News  & Observer. Those cities also are even more diverse and disparate than Amarillo and Lubbock. They both are cosmopolitan cities; they are highly sophisticated. Raleigh is part of that Research Triangle region that brims with high-tech expertise; Charlotte is the state’s largest city and is a bustling financial center.

The release I read about the N.C.-merger reads, in part: The move is the latest in a series of changes that combine McClatchy’s North Carolina operations. Presumably, this will mean the board will focus more on statewide news and less on local news specific to Charlotte or Raleigh.

There you have it . . . more than likely. Both communities’ newspaper editorial pages are likely going to look away from those issues of specific interest or concern to them individually.

Oh, the demise of newspaper editorial leadership continues. It is painful for this former opinion writer/editor to watch.

Community media presence still morphing

My concerns about the future of print journalism in the community I used to call “home” are mounting.

The Amarillo Globe-News just announced the hiring of a new “regional” distribution director. His name is David Morel. The Globe-News published a nice story today extolling his experience and all that kind of thing.

Then it quotes him expressing how he is “extremely grateful to be pat of the (Lubbock) Avalanche-Journal team. He spoke about his commitment to informing “the Lubbock community.”

I thought, “Hmm. No mention of Amarillo. What’s up with that?”

Upon reflection, I think I know. GateHouse media, the owners of the Globe-News and the Avalanche-Journal, seem to be moving toward some sort of media merger. The future of West Texas print journalism is going to be headquartered in Lubbock, it appears to me. The Globe-News, if it is going to exist in any form, is going to play second-fiddle to the A-J.

The recent hire of a regional director of commentary, who also is based in Lubbock, was enough of a signal of the future. Doug Hensley seems like a nice enough fellow, but I have yet to see an editorial posted in the G-N that even looks with a remotely critical eye at local issues, expressing local concerns, appealing directly to the local community.

The newspaper shrouds its editorial commentary in a more global context, talking about the joint concerns shared by folks on the High Plains and the South Plains. That’s when the paper decides to publish an editorial that speaks to anything that could be construed as being of local interest.

The papers have a regional publisher and a regional executive editor. Now they have a regional circulation director to go along with their regional director of commentary. Of the four regional execs, one of them — the executive editor — lives in Amarillo; the other three reside in Lubbock.

What does that tell you? It tells me where GateHouse is investing its resources in Lubbock. I now officially fear for the future of daily print journalism in the Texas Panhandle.

For those of us who invested time, energy and committed ourselves to the life of the community we loved, I believe this is a sad time.

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.

West Texas journalism takes a jaw-dropping plunge

I am just now picking my jaw off the floor.

A friend of mine has just informed me of something that GateHouse Media, the new owners of the Amarillo Globe-News and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, have done. It has posted a job opening for a “regional associate editor” who will be in charge of the opinion pages of both newspapers.

Ponder that for a moment.

The G-N and the A-J already have a “regional” publisher and a “regional” executive editor. The publisher resides in Lubbock; the exec editor lives in Amarillo. They spend time in the “other” city, I guess to make sure they’re “in touch” with them.

Now we have this idiotic notion of hiring someone who will serve as a regional “director of commentary.”

GateHouse purchased the papers from Morris Communications while promising to maintain a local journalistic presence, committing itself to local news.

What absolute and utter crap!

This latest decision by GateHouse tells me something quite different. GateHouse is trying to run the papers on the cheap. Why hire two people for these executive posts when they get can away with hiring one individual to cover both of them?

Oh, but what’s the cost? It’s plenty! I’ll speak to the commentary that both papers will deliver to these respective communities.

GateHouse seems to presume that Amarillo and Lubbock are identical. That they have identical needs and concerns. That their local issues mirror each other.

Good grief! They do not! How in the world does a regional director of commentary acquaint himself or herself fully with each community by having to split the time between them? He or she cannot do the impossible! GateHouse, though, is asking whoever they hire to do precisely that.

I worked as editorial page editor of the Globe-News for nearly 18 years. It was all I could do to stay current with issues involving Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. To ask the new person to develop cogent editorial policy for two disparate communities 120 miles apart is a prescription for the destruction of both communities’ editorial voice.

In the old days, that voice was a critical component of daily journalism’s relevance to the needs of a community.

I believe I am hearing the death knell of daily journalism as we’ve known it in a part of the state I grew to love.