Tag Archives: Internet

Retirement journey takes me farther than I thought

I want to acknowledge something I realized during a recent foray across the western portion of North America.

It is that my retirement from a craft I pursued with great joy has taken me farther away from it than I could have imagined.

I worked in print journalism for nearly 37 years. My career ended in August 2012. I dabbled a bit here and there part time writing for other media outlets: public TV, commercial TV and editing a weekly newspaper. I kept my head in the game and my hand on the mechanics of the craft.

Then I entered full retirement mode.

In the old days, travels with my wife usually meant picking up newspapers in every community we would visit or pass through. I would bring home an armload of newspapers from which I might glean ideas about layout, or presentation.

This time, after spending more than a month on the road through the western United States and Canada? Nothin’. I didn’t bring home a single newspaper. Indeed, I read only one newspaper during our time on the road … and it was a freebie distributed to all the visitors of a Eugene, Ore., RV park. The newspaper was the Register-Guard of Eugene, which in the old days was considered one of the better newspapers in the Pacific Northwest. It was family owned and was considered a leader in graphic design and presentation of news and commentary.

The Baker family sold the R-G not long ago to GateHouse Media, the outfit that has purchased dozens of newspapers around the country, becoming a media titan in an age of dwindling newspaper influence and importance.

My wife and I spent several nights up the highway from Eugene in Portland, my hometown and where I first fell in love with newspapers. I never laid eyes on The Oregonian newspaper during our visit there.

Oh, the end of an era for me personally!

We visited many cities that used to boast solid newspaper tradition: Colorado Springs; Bend, Ore.; Wenatchee, Wash.; Calgary, Alberta; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Grand Forks, N.D.; Topeka, Kan.; Tulsa, Okla.

I didn’t read a single word printed in newspapers distributed in those communities.

What does this mean? Hmm. I’ll have to ponder it. I still cherish my memories of toiling at newspapers in Oregon and Texas. I continue to harbor many fond memories of those years. I recall them with glee. However, I no longer am wedded to newspapers as my primary information source … or so it has become obvious, given what I have just reported about our recent journey.

Gosh, am I now dependent on “The Internet” for all my information? To some extent, yes. Although I want to rely solely on “legitimate news sources” that are spread throughout cyberspace.

There remains a glimmer of hope that I haven’t gone totally to the dark side. I do subscribe to the Dallas Morning News. I restarted my subscription upon our return home. It arrived this Sunday morning. I will consume its contents with great gusto.

Technical issues create maximum frustration

There are times when I feel as if I’m speaking Martian, or times when the other person is speaking to me in Martian.

Technical difficulties occasionally get in the way of all the fun I have writing this blog.

They barreled into my fun time this morning. I don’t know if they’re fixed. At the moment the site that I use to write this blog is working. My most recent post has been distributed along the various social media I use to publicize these musings. Life is good … for the moment.

The frustration occurs when I call for technical support. I use an Internet hosting company. I’ll call them when things like this occur. I usually get a very young person on the other end of the line. I tell the youngster about the issue that’s plaguing me at the moment. He or she will respond with a rapid-fire sequence of sentences that usually involve lots of initials and acronyms.

I have more than once stopped the individual and reminded them that I am old man who isn’t fluent in the language they are speaking. I haven’t yet grasped all the nuances of Internet-speak.

Those who are kind will tell me that I have communicated my concern to them clearly. They say I can speak to them in their language better than I think I can. That’s all fine. I understand what customer service is all about: Their mission is to make me feel comfortable making a phone call.

Arguably the most astonishing aspect of this computer age is the vast array of entry points the “techs” can use to access this and/or that “tool” available to me. I don’t know where these access points can be found, so I rely on the experts to wander through the maze of options that only they know exist.

Blogging remains a lot of fun for me … when the computer system I use is working well. Which is most of the time.

When it’s not, well, I venture into a world with which I am totally unfamiliar. Maybe I will learn how to navigate through the darkness.

Or … maybe not.

Here’s what POTUS could have added about massacres

Donald Trump today laid the blame on the mass shootings at the feet of several institutions and cultural trends.

He blamed the Internet for promoting violence, the media for their “fake news” reporting, a lack of mental health awareness and care, the preponderance of violence-ridden video games.

I’ll accept that most of those causes as valid areas of concern; the media, though, have been singled out only because of the president’s hatred and mistrust of them.

What he didn’t do was take any personal responsibility for the coarseness of the political dialogue. Therefore, if I were writing his remarks, I would have added something like this:

Finally, and most significantly, I want to call attention to the coarse rhetoric that has infected our political discourse. I also want to express my personal regret for contributing to it.

Yes, I declared my presidential candidacy in 2015 with a direct assault on Latin American immigrants who were — and still are — crossing our border illegally. However, I went too far in ascribing criminal intent to too many of them. For that I apologize.

Furthermore, from this day forward I am going to dial back my own hard-bitten rhetoric. I will pledge to work openly toward developing a more civil political climate. 

My regret runs deep and I am sorry for whatever I have done to inflame the deeply held passions to which I have referred already in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton massacres.

Why didn’t he say that? It’s simple. Donald Trump does not possess the gene that allows him to express regret for any mistake he commits. So he shrouds institutions and people all around him with blame and responsibility for matters that he –as the president of the United States — has the power to control all by himself.

He once said that “I, alone” can fix what ails the country. He ought to say that “I, alone” will demand an end to the hate-filled rhetoric that has poisoned our political atmosphere.

Redefining the term ‘cutthroat’

John and Dathel Georges are trying to redefine the term “cutthroat” as it applies to describing media purchases.

The couple that owns the New Orleans Advocate has just purchased the once-might New Orleans Times-Picayune — and has laid off the entire Times-Picayune staff! All of ’em are gone, or will be gone soon.

This is the way it has become, it seems, in the world of print media.

The Times-Picayune once was the newspaper of record for The Big Easy. It became a media powerhouse, reporting on the ravages brought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Then social media, the Internet and cable news began taking its toll. The T-P reduced its publication schedule to three days a week. Its circulation plummeted. As did its ad revenue.

The Advocate continued on. It became the scrappy alternative the Newhouse family’s once-formidable media presence.

Now the Advocate — owned by Mr. and Mrs. Georges — has taken over the T-P. It will restore its seven-day-a-week publishing schedule.

The T-P staff, though, won’t be part of the story.

Oh, my, this story hurts.

Sadly, though, it is just yet another example of how media companies operate. I once worked for a company, Morris Communications, that made a ton of bad business decisions at the top of the chain of command. When the company’s initiatives failed to bear sufficient fruit, the execs at the top decided to “punish” the staff by invoking pay cuts across the board and eliminating the company match toward staffers’ retirement accounts.

I also worked for another media group, the Hearst Corporation, that around 1988 decided to settle a major newspaper war in San Antonio. Hearst owned the San Antonio Light, which was battling with the Rupert Murdoch-owned Express-News. Hearst then purchased the Express-News.

However, Hearst then extended its “thanks” and expressions of gratitude for the battle fought by its Light staff by closing the Light and laying off its employees.

What’s about to happen in New Orleans, therefore, is not a newly contrived event. It’s happened many times before in the media business. It doesn’t make it any less disgraceful or dispiriting.

Working in the media world these days is tough, man!

I am so glad, delighted and relieved, to be free of that pressure.

Customer service must be Priority No. 1

It’s no secret that American newspapers are in trouble. They are struggling to remain competitive in the ever-changing mass media market.

They need advertisers to spend money to keep the newspapers afloat. Ad representatives work hard — or at least they should be doing so — to keep their clients happy.

Newspapers also need subscribers to buy their publications. How do they gain subscribers to read their content and then keep them well into the future? Customer service, man. They need to put customer service at the very top of their standard operating procedure.

The Internet is inflicting serious damage on newspapers. Cable TV is now full of commentators, pundits, news anchors, “contributors” and experts on every field imaginable telling viewers about the news as well as what all those individuals believe about the news that is occurring.

Newspaper circulation is dropping. So is advertising revenue.

Thus, newspapers are in trouble.

OK, now that I’ve laid all that out, I want to share how one major American newspaper is squandering its standing in one American household . . . mine!

My wife and I recently moved from one Dallas suburb to another one — from Fairview to Princeton.

Before we made the move, we took out a subscription to the Dallas Morning News; our subscription was for the Wednesday and Sunday editions only. It arrived at our Fairview residence just fine.

Then we moved. I called the Morning News circulation line and provided a change of address. The DMN delivers to Princeton, so we didn’t figure that would be a problem.

Wrong! I guess it is a problem. We have lived in our new home for two weeks and we haven’t seen a newspaper yet. It’s not in our front porch, or on the front lawn, or the driveway or even in the street next to the curb. Nothing!

We have called every day since we missed our first DMN. Nothing has happened. I get excuses about the paper’s inability to hire competent delivery personnel as well as promises that it would come in the next day . . . or two. Again, nothing.

I offer this as an example of how one major publication is pis**** away a chance to lure and keep a subscriber. That would be me.

Hey, I am a newspaper reader of long standing. If only the newspaper I want to read could make good on its pledge to deliver it to my home.

There’s a lesson here. Newspapers are floundering. Many of them are failing. I want the Dallas Morning News to heed the warning sirens that are blaring all across the nation.

Happy Trails, Part 149: ‘Smart home,’ is it?

It’s come down to this: No longer do we just move into a structure, call it “home” and then arrange some furniture to make it comfortable.

That’s only part of it these days. In the 21st century, we now have a home that is equipped with technology that enables it to do certain things for us, such as turn lights on and off, play music, adjust the furnace temperature; if we were so inclined we could acquire technology that irrigates the lawn . . . all on voice command.

I refer to “Alexa,” the technology of the space age.

Indeed, I cannot help but think of “HAL,” the machine that took over the space ship in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” You remember how that turned out. “HAL” became a monster.

Will this happen with “Alexa”? I’m sure it won’t.

However, I am utterly amazed, amused and astonished at how much “Alexa” can do for us.

That’s what we got when we purchased this home in Princeton, Texas. I have to say that this is all pretty darn slick.

This retired guy is learning a whole lot of new things about “smart home” living.

We can peek at those on the front porch and answer the doorbell without opening the door. We can listen to music of our choice: name the genre and the system will play it for us.

I never thought retirement would introduce us to this whole new world. Then again, back when I started working for a living in print journalism I never imagine the course that newspapers would take with the invention and development of the Internet (thanks a bunch, Al Gore). 

We’re continuing to settle into our new digs. It’s going to take some added adjustment. But . . . that’s OK. After all we’ve been through on this life journey my wife and I started more than 47 years ago, the rest of it will be an easy ride.

Oh, how the nation’s attitudes toward vets have evolved

My retirement journey has produced a lot of revelations.

One of them involves the payback being offered to our nation’s military veterans. It’s still making my head spin, given how I have witnessed up close how our country’s feelings toward veterans have evolved over the past half-century.

Here’s an example . . .

I got off the phone this morning with the wireless telephone provider with which my wife and I are doing business. We’re about to terminate our TV/Internet service at one location and move it to another residence. The young woman on the phone informed me of additional discounts provided to military veterans. “Are you a vet?” she asked. I told her yes.

I called another number, got connected with another service representative, told her about my veteran status and then was told I could qualify for an additional discount on my phone service. It was simple, given that TV/Internet service comes from the same company that provides us with phone service.

We encounter this kind of “love” all the time. We walk into a restaurant and end up paying a little less for our meal because I am a veteran; we hired a moving company to haul our furniture to our new home and received a discount because of my veteran status; discounts pop up all over the place.

I understand this isn’t really a big deal to many younger Americans. The country has ratcheted up its appreciation for veterans since about the time of the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91.

Take my word for it, the nation didn’t express itself in this manner.

I served for two years in the U.S. Army. I entered military service in August 1968, one of the most tumultuous periods of the past half-century. I went to Vietnam, served some time there, came home and then in August 1970, I drove home to re-start my life as a civilian. The Vietnam War was raging when I went in, it was still raging when I got out. Americans were still angry over the conduct of the war and also at those of us who were following lawful orders.

Businesses weren’t offering veteran discounts for meals or for any other service provided to citizens. Those of us of a certain age know how our fellow Americans felt about veterans in those days. It wasn’t pretty.

I am grateful for the change that has occurred.

None of what we’re experiencing now is a surprise. It’s just that it continues to boggle my mind each time I encounter the rebirth of our nation’s generous spirit.

Happy Trails, Part 146: On the technology fast track

Someone once said you’re never too old to learn new tricks.

This old guy is learning ’em . . . in a hurry!

My wife and I are purchasing a home in Princeton, Texas. We signed a huge stack of papers this past week. Now comes the technological know-how I am being essentially forced to acquire as we finish the move.

We have a “smart home.” We have opened up an Internet service to the new place. Just today, the Internet provider installed the guts to our Internet wiring.

Then we have this “smart key” business. I’ll try to explain it.

The “master key” was activated to recognize my wife and me. The builder’s representative showed us how to use the front-door key, the back-door key, the garage-door key by using a tiny metal probe we poked into the “smart” portion of the master key.

One more “smart home” feature needs to be installed. It will come from Amazon. A tech will come to the house and will walk us through the setup of the “Alexa” feature that allows us to speak to the house to get it to do certain tasks we will ask of it; things like turning lights on and off.

I try to stay current, but I have to say that this technology is requiring me to learn a language I did not understand. I am happy to report that it is coming to me — a little bit at a time.

Hey, print journalists speak a language of their own to each other. It’s not quite jargon that doctors, lawyers, engineers or astronauts use when they talk among themselves. But, they do speak a unique language.

I am believing now that the computer-wise among us surely speak to each other in a language only they understand.

I am looking at retirement in a whole new context these days. I am glad to be no longer working full time. I also am enjoying — as best I can — the fairly steep learning curve I am climbing while we finish the move into our modest, but so very modern, home.

If this old man can learn something new, then anything is possible!

Time of My Life, Part 21: What goes around, comes around

It’s no secret that newspapers are cutting staff to maintain their profitability in the face of the changing media climate that has produced declining circulation and advertising revenue.

The Amarillo Globe-News in Texas is no exception — quite obviously! — to that trend. The G-N, indeed, managed to eliminate its entire photo staff over time, instructing the reporters it has left on staff to shoot their own pictures while covering events.

Well, guess what! That isn’t a new notion for some of us who got their start in small-town newspapering back in the day.

My reporting career began full-time in the spring of 1977. I got hired at the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier as a temporary sports writer; the sports editor, one of the very few women in the business, had taken maternity leave to give birth to her daughter. The editor of the paper needed someone to fill in. I applied; he hired me; then a position opened up on the news staff and I was allowed to stay after the sports editor returned from her leave.

Part of my job was to take pictures along with reporting on events I was covering. Football games? Basketball games? Wrestling matches? I packed my notebook and pen — and a camera! Then I became a general assignment news reporter, so I took my camera to city council, school board and county commission meetings. I had to take what we called “wild art” photos we would publish without a story accompanying them.

I knew how to report on those events and how to write about them in cogent manner. Photography was a brand new concept. I had to learn about “photo composition” and how to eliminated “dead space” in pictures.

That was just part of it. I also had to learn how to develop those pictures. Yes, we had dark rooms back then. They had basins filled with smelly chemicals into which we had to dump our film. Then we had to dry the film on lines strung across the dark room. Once the negatives were dry, we then had to print what we called “contact sheets,” which were “positive” reproductions of the images on the “negatives.”

Yes, those were days when reporting and writing also include plenty of picture-taking. We were well-rounded back then, just as reporters today are being asked to become more well-rounded now.

I hope the kids today have as much fun as I did back in the journalism “stone age.”

Time of My Life, Part 19: Not totally right, or wrong

I learned a great deal during more than 37 years working in print journalism. I learned that criticism of my work usually kept me humble and that no one is totally right or totally wrong.

My interaction with readers was mostly invigorating and always instructive at some level. Readers would challenge our newspapers’ editorial policy or would take me personally to task for opinions I would express in my signed columns. Indeed, I get a good bit of that even now writing this blog and sharing my views with a worldwide audience.

A few callers stand out.

Once, at the Beaumont Enterprise, I wrote a column endorsing the idea of mandatory helmet laws for Texas motorcycle riders. A reader from Orange County called to challenge me on my view. He thought it was an invasion of his personal liberty. The state didn’t have the right, he said, to order him to wear a helmet if he didn’t want to do it.

I asked him what does the helmet deprive him. He answered with what I presume was a straight face: He didn’t want to be deprived of the wind blowing through his hair.

Suffice to say we didn’t change each other’s mind.

At the Amarillo Globe-News, the newspaper endorsed the notion of installing red-light cameras to catch those who ran through red lights. They are breaking the law. Police can’t be everywhere at once, so the city deployed the cameras to catch the offenders.

One fellow, a prominent lawyer in Amarillo, argued with me that the cameras deprived him of the right to “face my accuser.” We did argue over that idea. I reminded him that offenders have the right to appeal. They could argue their case in front of the municipal judge. If they’re effective defenders of themselves, the judge could overrule the citation that was issued. What’s wrong with that process? I asked him.

Again, we agreed to disagree on that one.

One of my all-time favorite calls came from a reader in Amarillo. She had submitted a letter to the editor. She wanted us to publish it. One of my jobs as editorial page editor was to screen letters; not all of them saw print, although most of them did.

This particular letter contained a false assertion. I decided the letter wouldn’t see print. The writer called to inquire about the letter. I informed her I wouldn’t publish it. She became indignant. She asked, “Why not?” I told her it contained a falsehood and that the newspaper would not foment misinformation.

“I know it’s all true,” she said. I asked her how she knew it. “Because I read it on the Internet.”

I laughed out loud.

My give-and-take with readers gave me a wonderful insight into our constituencies. I always tend to look for the good in people and I found that most of those who took the time to write to us and to discuss their submissions had noble intentions.

They also taught me about the world, and about the communities where we all lived and worked. It gave me great pleasure to interact with them.