Tag Archives: GateHouse Media

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.

Newspaper surrendering its local franchise

I am not the least bit crazy about critiquing the newspaper where my career ended.

However, I’m going to bite down hard and offer this brief observation about how the newspaper is surrendering its relevance to local readers.

The Amarillo Globe-News is going through a transition at this moment. It has turned the lights out at the building where it was headquartered for decades and has moved into the 31-story bank tower that dominates the downtown Amarillo, Texas, skyline.

The Globe-News physical presence has been absorbed into another corporate entity.

But it’s also doing something else I find totally repugnant. Its editorial page has been co-opted by “canned editorials” that the paper’s publishers are printing in the space that used to be the domain of the newspaper’s locally driven editorial policy.

The paper’s director of commentary, David R. Henry, has left the paper to work for Amarillo City Hall. The newspaper had ceased commenting on exclusively local issues for some time prior to the director of commentary’s departure. Now, though, it is running editorials that (a) reflect the corporate ownership’s conservative editorial philosophy and (b) have not a damn thing to do with issues relevant to Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle.

My hope is that GateHouse Media, the paper’s new owners, wise up to the need to restore the paper’s local relevance on its editorial page. Given that I know not a thing about GateHouse, my hope must stand on its own.

A couple of years before I left the paper, I embarked on a policy to localize the paper’s editorial policy. I actually kept a log of editorial topics published daily. My goal was to concentrate on local/regional issues; state issues became No. 2 on our priority list. My thought, which I shared with the publisher (when we still had a relationship), was that readers didn’t really care what we thought about national or international issues. They were getting their fill of others’ perspective on Obamacare, taxes, world peace and climate change. They could turn only to the Globe-News for commentary on issues close to home.

We sought to deliver that message to them. We were successful in that effort.

I recall a couple of months when we published only local/regional editorials for the entire month. The publisher said he was pleased with that result.

Then I got “reorganized” out of my job. I resigned from the Globe-News and the editorial policy we had pursued gave way to another editorial strategy. Fine. That was their call.

Now, though, the Globe-News’s editorial policy reflects, well, no interest in what’s happening locally.

It’s a shame. However, it can be corrected. I hope the correction occurs soon.

Gratitude is replacing anger

They say “time heals all wounds.” I don’t necessarily believe it, but time does have a way of lessening some of those wounds’ pain.

Six years have passed since my journalism career came to a screeching halt. It wasn’t of my choosing. It came because my boss, the publisher of the Amarillo Globe-News, decided to reorganize the operation.

He told us to apply for any job we wanted. I chose to apply for the job I had been doing there for nearly 18 years. I thought I was doing a good enough job to keep it. Silly me.

They hired someone else to do the job. They changed the title of the position from “editorial page editor” to “director of commentary.” That post used to report directly to the publisher; the new scheme has that position reporting to the executive editor.

I walked away. I was angry, hurt and I bordered on despondent — but only for a brief period of time.

Eventually, my despondence gave way to a different feeling. It was the first emotion to dissipate. The hurt was next. The anger remained longer.

I want to declare, though, that today my anger has been all but replaced by gratitude. I am grateful these days to my former boss — who’s now the former publisher of the AGN — for protecting me from the chaos that has ensued since my departure from daily print journalism.

He spared me from the madness of watching from the front row a media company — Morris Communications, the former owners of the AGN — trying to navigate its way into a new media world. It has been mostly an exercise in failure, fecklessness and futility.

The Globe-News’s circulation has plummeted. Its revenue has done the same. It has slashed its staff levels. It has vacated one of the buildings it ran, and moved what’s left of its newsroom operation into an office it shares with what is left of its advertising sales department.

I got to watch all of this from some distance. I was spared the chaos and confusion.

Then came the clincher: Morris Communications sold its entire group of newspapers to GateHouse Media. Morris won’t call it this, but the company essentially surrendered, threw in the towel, walked away from a fight it couldn’t win. It realized it was unable to compete in this new “digital age” of news presentation.

And what about the publisher who showed me the door six years ago? He “stepped down” a few weeks ago as AGN publisher when GateHouse decided it wanted to bring in its own guy to oversee the continuing deterioration of a once-proud community institution.

To think I was saddened and angry in the moment — on my final day as a full-time journalist — that I would miss all of this.

What in the world was I thinking?

What will become of ‘newspapers’?

I feel the need to put the word “newspapers” in quote marks because of a trend I am sensing.

It is that “newspapers” as we have known them — and some of us have revered them — are on their last legs. At least that is my sense.

Friends ask me all the time, even though I’ve been out of the full-time newspaper game for nearly six years, what I project for the craft I pursued for nearly four decades.

The term “newspaper” will become obsolete. Media organizations are going to have to come up with a new name for their method of distributing information and reporting on the news of the day. As a matter of fact, many newspapers no longer refer to the place where reporters and editors work as “newsrooms”; they call them “information centers,” or terms such as that. News “copy” is now called “content,” and newspapers themselves are now referred to as “the product.”

When will this occur? I don’t know. I fear the pace of that day’s arrival might be accelerating. The Salt Lake Tribune recently announced widespread layoffs; it is just the latest major metropolitan daily newspaper to scale back its work force in the face of plummeting circulation and advertising revenue.

So many others have gone through it.

The Amarillo Globe-News is one of them. I worked there for nearly 18 years. Then I quit in August 2012 in the midst of a company “reorganization.” Just this past year, the paper quit printing its daily editions in Amarillo; it’s being done in Lubbock, at the presses of another newspaper under the same corporate ownership.

Then in October of this past year, Morris Communications sold its entire chain of newspapers to GateHouse Media. The consolidation has continued, with the Lubbock and Amarillo newspapers operating under a single senior management team: a regional publisher and editor, both of who split their time between Amarillo and Lubbock.

Do you see a trend here? I don’t know where this will all end. I probably shouldn’t even care — but I do, having devoted my entire professional career to newspapers as we all knew them, grew up with them, loved them and hated them.

I will mourn the day they disappear.

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.