Tag Archives: Internet

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.

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.

Repeating the same cliche I’ve been hearing

Good grief. I am now repeating the cliché I keep hearing from family and friends when the discussion turns to the fate and cloudy future of print media.

I have talked about the slow and inexorable demise of quality journalism at one of the newspapers where I once worked, the Amarillo Globe-News.

Then I get the response: It’s happening everywhere!

I guess they intend to make me feel better. It has the opposite effect. That response seems to diminish the agony my former colleagues and I felt while we watched the newspaper decline ever so slowly and steadily.

Now comes news of the death of a community newspaper, the Hereford Brand. Wouldn’t you know it? I am now saying the very thing I’ve been hearing: What’s occurring in Hereford is happening in small towns all across the United States of America.

It sickens me, man.

The social media have helped render newspapers — the products of quality journalism — increasingly irrelevant in people’s daily lives.

Who needs a newspaper when people have those phones in their pockets, or hitched to their belt, or tucked in their purses? They have 24/7 access to cable news shows, Internet sources and any manner of other outlets. They are bombarded with opinion, much of it unqualified. They form their world view on the basis of what pours into those phones or into their laptop or desk top computers.

The Brand will close up officially on Wednesday. Its publisher said declining circulation and advertising revenues have brought about this inevitable outcome.

And by golly, it ain’t unique to Hereford or Deaf Smith County or the Texas Panhandle. It’s happening in communities all across the land.

What’s more, every single one of them is poorer because of this relentless trend.

I am saddened beyond measure and I hate with a passion that I am being forced to acknowledge the sad truth that it’s happening everywhere.

Embracing smart phone navigation … fully!

I have an announcement to make, so take your seats and get hold of yourselves.

As of this morning I have embraced fully the value of Internet navigation. I believe I can say I have arrived with both feet into the 21st century.

What prompted this revelation? My wife and I had to drive early today from our residence in Fairview, Texas to Dallas Love Field airport. It took about 40 minutes to drive nearly 30 miles. We had not made that drive — ever!

How did we find our way from Fairview to Love Field? I called up the Google application on my smart phone, punched in “Dallas Love Field” and then hit search. It prompted me to punch the “Get Directions” button. I did. The directions came up and a clearly speaking female-sounding voice guided my wife and me to our destination.

I know what you’re thinking. Big bleeping deal, dude. So what if you’ve finally hooked your wagon to technology that’s been around for years now?

Hey, man! It is a big deal to me!

Some years ago, a niece of ours was traveling from California to Washington, D.C. She and her husband were moving from one coast to the other. She was traveling alone in her car and she wanted to stop in Amarillo overnight to see her aunt and me. She called me on the phone. I then offered to e-mail her explicit directions on how to get from Interstate 40 to our home in southwest Amarillo.

Our niece chuckled and said, with just a hint of smugness, “That’s OK. I have my phone. I can find you.”

Now I, too, can be smug if I so choose to be if someone dares offer directions to me. That’s all right, I’ll tell them. I have my phone.

And it’s a hell of a lot smarter than I am.