Tag Archives: journalism

Time of My Life, Part 47: 9/11 changed the dynamic

Events can shape people’s lives and even influence the direction their careers take.

The terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 was a date that changed damn near everything in this country, not to mention the career I had chosen to follow.

I cannot prove this with actual, tangible evidence. It’s an anecdotal thing, to be truthful. But the 9/11 terror attack opened the floodgates for me as an opinion writer and editor.

I was working on 9/11 as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I got word of the attack from a colleague who stuck his head into my office to ask if I had heard about the plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center.

Well, the rest is history, right?

One element of that momentous day was the absolute flood of issues on which we could comment at the Globe-News. It never stopped after that terrible moment in our history.

There had been times in the years preceding 9/11 when I had to look for issues on which to offer editorial comment. As they say in the news business, “There are good news days and bad news days.” The good news days always gave opinion editors grist on which to comment; the bad days forced us to look for that grist.

The post-9/11 era — which lasted essentially for the duration of my career a dozen years later — often filled me with the greatest dilemma an opinion editor could face: too many topics on which to comment. 

There were a lot of days when I would go to work and have to face a decision. What issue can we set aside for another day? Think about that. I seemed to never face the problem of having to look for ways to fill that space on our opinion page with editorial commentary.

It was a curious phenomenon that I cannot quite explain even to this day. It just happened. The world was changing. The nation went to war against international terrorism. That era spawned issues that demanded leadership from newspapers that at that time were still considered beacons for their communities.

I hated the circumstance that caused that phenomenon to occur. However, I was oddly grateful that it did occur and gave me a treasure trove of topics on which to comment.

Those were the days, man.

Happy Trails, Part 173: Back in the game, kind of …

This retirement journey on which my wife and I have embarked has taken its share of peculiar and surprising twists and turns. They’ve all been good and have brought us joy.

This latest twist compels me to tell you that I am returning — in a manner of speaking — to where my print journalism career began 40 years ago.

I am back to reporting on community news. It’s not a full-time gig by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. It’s a free-lance affair. I get to choose the stories I want to cover for a group of community newspapers in Collin County, Texas. The publishers are giving me free rein.

I have informed them that my wife and I might not be available all the time. We plan to be on the road during RV traveling season — which is essentially every season except winter, during which time we’ll have our fifth wheel parked, winterized and in a state of hibernation.

But this new gig figures to be a great ride for as long as it lasts. I do not yet know when I’ll call a halt to it. Maybe I’ll check out of this world with my notebook and pen in hand.

I started my professional journey in late 1976 on the copy desk of the Oregon Journal, which was Portland’s evening newspaper. I gravitated in early 1977 to the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier, an after suburban daily newspaper about 15 miles south of Portland. I took a job as a temporary sports writer, replacing the sports editor who was on maternity leave after the birth of her first child.

I covered high school football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, track and field.

The editor who hired me said there was a chance I could stay on if an opening occurred. It was a gamble to leave a permanent full time job for one that might end in a few months. It worked out. An opening occurred. I got hired permanently.

I got to cover police news, the courts, city councils, school boards; I wrote feature stories and I developed pictures in a dark room.

I gravitated eventually to opinion journalism, working on editorial pages in Beaumont and Amarillo in Texas. However, reporting and writing news stories is like, well, riding a bicycle. You do not forget how to do it.

My task now will be more limited. For one thing, dark rooms no longer exist in newspaper buildings; it’s all done digitally. I’ll take pictures with my I-phone and send them in via e-mail.

But I get to cover community news in Princeton, where we now live and in neighboring Farmersville, a town of about 3,200 residents just east of us.

I will have to learn a bit more about these communities as I work my around them, learning the names of the movers and shakers, gadflies and assorted soreheads.

I am grateful to my new employers for this opportunity to (more or less) get back in the game.

Am I living the dream? You bet I am.

Happy Trails, Part 163: Not missing work … in the least

This ain’t exactly a flash, but I’ll offer this note nonetheless.

Retirement has proven to be everything it is cracked up to be — and then some!

I say this as someone who for 37 or so years relished my craft as few others have done. It’s not that I was a brilliant print journalist; I didn’t win a lot of prizes or receive tons of professional acclaim. I did enjoy modest success and I am proud of whatever contributions I was able to make in pursuit of the career I chose.

To that end, I half-expected to suffer some form of separation anxiety from work when my career ended in late August 2012. It wasn’t an entirely unexpected end, but it came a bit earlier than my wife and I had anticipated.

Still, when it happened I went on down the proverbial road and have looked back with decreasing frequency as time has marched on.

Why tell you the obvious? Why say it here?

It’s just that I keep hearing news reports about the state of print media and how vastly different a form it is taking than what I encountered when I walked into my first newsroom in the early 1970s.

A friend told me recently that the last newspaper on my journey through print journalism is suffering plummeting circulation numbers. The Amarillo Globe-News is printing about 20 percent of the total daily copies it was printing when I joined the staff in early 1995. For dinosaurs such as me, that is, um, hard to swallow.

However, I no longer have to worry about my professional future. I am done working for a living. I am free of the hassles, the deadlines, the whims and preferences of my bosses (except, of course, for my wife). I still write, but I write for myself. I can say whatever I feel like saying, within reason, quite obviously.

I don’t know when this event might occur, but if the opportunity ever presents itself, I might decide — if our paths ever cross — to thank the fellow who reorganized me out of a job in 2012. He spared me the misery he and his corporate partners inflicted on so many of the colleagues I left behind.

I know it’s a form of damnation with faint praise. However, it is sincere. Retirement has made me a happier man.

Happy Trails, Part 157: oh, the joy of anonymity

It takes me a while at times to recognize blessings when they present themselves, but I surely have found one related to our move from the Texas Panhandle to a small — but rapidly growing — community northeast of Dallas.

Forgive me if I sound a bit high-falutin’. It is not my intention, but please bear with me.

The blessing is in the anonymity I am enjoying in Princeton.

I spent many years in two Texas cities — Beaumont and then Amarillo — working in jobs that elevated my visibility. I wrote for newspapers that were essential to the communities they served. My face was in each publication fairly regularly; my name appeared on the pages’ editorial page mastheads daily. Those who read the papers — and they numbered in the tens of thousands in each region — got to know my name; many of them recognized my mug.

Even after I left daily journalism in August 2012 in Amarillo, I would hear from those who would ask, “Hey, aren’t you the guy from the newspaper?” Yes, I would say, although I might say that “the guy in the paper is my evil twin.”

Indeed, when my wife and I were preparing to sell our house in Amarillo, we moved into our fifth wheel, found an RV park on the east side of town. We checked in and the lady who worked the counter that day recognized my name and chortled, “Oh my! You’re famous!” It turned out she is related to a former neighbor of ours . . . but, I digress.

I no longer have those encounters in Princeton. I blend in. My wife and I are just two new folks strolling around our neighborhood with Toby the Puppy.

We go to the grocery store, we make our purchase, we leave. We’re just two folks doing whatever it is we want to do.

And so . . . I welcome this newfound status of being just another face in the crowd. Don’t misunderstand, I occasionally would get a rush over being recognized, especially when someone had a good word to say about the work I did at those earlier stops on our life’s journey. To be sure, not everyone I met in that fashion was complimentary, but that goes with the territory, too.

That was then. Those days are long gone. My life these days is so much better.

Beginning a new gig

I am proud to announce that I am starting with yet another blank slate. So . . . I believe I will announce it.

Beginning next week I will be given the opportunity to share some thoughts, musings (some might call it spewage) with readers of a website associated with a university in Commerce, Texas.

Texas A&M University/Commerce operates a public radio station on its campus. KETR-FM is its call sign. The station’s website is going to include an essay from yours truly. It will be the first of what I hope is many such essays.

KETR news director Mark Haslett, a friend of mine from Amarillo who moved to Commerce some years ago, is giving me considerable latitude to write about whatever moves me in the moment.

This is an exciting new opportunity for me. You see, even though I have retired from full-time journalism, I continue to have this itch to string sentences together. I cannot stop commenting on issues of the day and the individuals who give them life.

So that’s what I will do for KETR-FM.

This isn’t my first post-newspaper gig. I wrote for a time for Panhandle PBS, contributing features for its website; Panhandle PBS is associated with Amarillo College and is the public TV station that serves the Texas Panhandle. Then along came KFDA NewsChannel 10 in Amarillo, which offered me an opportunity initially to write features about issues that had been previously reported; they called it “Whatever Happened To . . . ”

Both of those gigs ended after a time, giving more opportunities to concentrate on this blog, which I have enjoyed writing for about a decade.

Now comes this latest venture.

Given that my wife and I have now settled in Princeton, we live in an area covered by KETR-FM. My goal over time is to learn enough about this part of Collin County to contribute essays on local happenings, growth trends, possible problem areas associated with the growth that is accelerating rapidly in this part of the Metroplex.

Until then I have been given plenty of room to roam. So, I’ll take my friend Mark Haslett up on his offer.

Here we go.

Time of My Life, Part 22: Career ruined penmanship

These were the tools of my craft. They allowed me to chronicle the events and examine the people who made our communities tick.

They also contributed to the destruction of something that once gave me a source of pride: my penmanship.

My wife and I signed a whole lot of documents today while closing on the purchase of our new home in Princeton, Texas. Our daughter-in-law was there, too, and the title officer complimented her on her penmanship.

That was when I piped up and told her how my career ruined my own handwriting. “What did you do?” the title officer asked. I told her I was a journalist for nearly four decades.

You see, one of the challenges of doing what I did was to write fast and furious to make sure I got everything that was said or that I was able to record all the events I witnessed. Those events at times come and go quickly and you need to be alert to capture all the salient points that you might want to record as you report on them.

I interviewed plenty of men and women who were equipped with machine-gun mouths. They fired facts, figures, assorted data, cracked quips, made critical points in rapid-fire fashion. I had to capture them all.

So when you have to write quickly, well, you get my drift. One has no time to make sure you write capital letters as you were taught how to write them in the third and fourth grade. Yep, they used to teach that stuff in the old days. No longer.

I usually fared pretty well at report-card time. The teachers graded me highly on my penmanship.

Then I enrolled in college, studied journalism, embarked on my career and, as they say, the rest is history. My once-neat penmanship became history in the process.

I got into my share of beefs over the course of 37 years with the subjects of some of the reporting I did, and the commentary I offered. We’ve all heard about reporters’ notes being subpoenaed by courts when someone wanted to challenge the accuracy of what was reported. I never had my notes summoned.

Damn, I wish I could have had the pleasure of giving up my notes and then daring the lawyers and the judge to try to discern what I wrote.

Only I knew.

All that said, it certainly was a hoot trying to keep up with those events as they unfolded.

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.

Time of My Life, Part 17: Revealing a little secret

I want to reveal a little secret about newspaper editorials, particularly those that “endorse” political candidates or issues.

I lost count a long time ago of the number of editorial endorsement interviews I conducted. Despite all the high-minded talk we used to offer about our motivations, our intent was to persuade readers to buy into whatever opinion we expressed.

I wrote editorials for three newspapers in my career that spanned more than 37 years. One in Oregon and two in Texas. I interviewed likely hundreds of candidates for public office. We always used to say on our opinion pages that our intent never was to persuade readers to adopt our view. To be candid, that was baloney!

Part of the fun I had writing editorials was helping lead the community we served. Whether Oregon City, Ore., or in Beaumont or Amarillo, Texas, we sought to provide a beacon for the community to follow. By definition, therefore, our intent was to persuade readers of our newspaper to accept that what we said was the truth as we saw it. If you did, then you would follow our lead.

Isn’t that a simple concept? Sure it is! It’s also one we avoided confronting head-on while we published editorials endorsing candidates or supporting issues that were placed on ballots.

I never was naïve to think that readers of our newspapers would be malleable creatures whose minds could be changed by what they read in the newspaper. But by golly, we never stopped trying to change minds.

We used to say publicly on our pages that we recognized and accepted that our readers were intelligent enough to make up their own mind and were able to cobble together rational reasons for the point of view they held. I’ll stand by that principle even though I no longer write for newspapers, but write only for myself.

I was having the time of my professional life interviewing those individuals, who came to us in search of our editorial endorsement or, if you’ll pardon the term, our blessing.

However, when you hear an opinion writer say with a straight face that he or she doesn’t intend to change anyone’s mind with an editorial, well . . . just try to stifle your laughter.

Does voting compromise one’s objectivity?

Every now and then you hear journalists say something like this: I don’t vote because doing so would compromise my ability to cover candidates fairly.

You even hear such things from public officials, namely those in the legal or law enforcement professions. They don’t vote because they want to be able to investigate wrongdoing without regard to whether they are investigating a politician they might have endorsed with their ballot.

I do not harbor such reticence. I have voted in every election since I became eligible to vote, which was, shall we say, a long time ago. I do so with pride. I take a great deal of interest in the political and electoral process.

I was a journalist for more than 37 years. I spent most of those years as an opinion writer and editor of opinion pages.

Not one time did I ever ponder whether my job interfered with my performing a basic act of good citizenship, which is voting for the candidates of my choice or deciding on the issues of the day.

During the years I wrote editorials for newspapers in Oregon and Texas, I authored endorsements for candidates who did not get my vote at the ballot box. I saw no conflict there.

Of course it helped that none of the newspapers where I wrote those editorials — one in Oregon and two in Texas — required me to put my name on the editorials. I wrote them on behalf of the newspaper and its editorial board, which usually comprised me, the publisher and at times the editorial page staff.

Did the issue of whether I should vote in elections ever come up? No. Publishers to whom I reported never raised the issue. Nor did the executive editor who was my supervisor in Beaumont, Texas. It was generally understood that we were free to exercise our right to vote.

Prior to becoming an opinion writer and editor, I did work as a general assignment reporter who covered city councils, school boards, county commissions as well as writing features — and the occasional investigative piece. The issue of who got my vote never came up. No sources ever asked it of me and I never brought it up to any of them; we do vote in secret, correct?

I view voting as a fundamental right. I exercised it with unbridled enthusiasm when I was working for a living.

Did it inhibit my ability to do my job? Not for a single instant!

They have become the face of persecuted journalists

Talk about an inspired choice.

Time magazine has unveiled its “Persons of the Year.” The lead “person of the year” is none other than Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the U.S. resident who was tortured and killed by his countrymen in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Because he gave his life reporting on and commenting on the issue of free political expression, Khashoggi has joined a group of other journalists to earn the honor bestowed by Time on those who had the most impact on the world — for better or worse.

Khashoggi, who’s been in the news quite a bit of late, has become the face and the voice of persecuted journalists around the world.

They are “The Guardians” saluted by Time. Oh, there are others worth recognizing, too.

Such as the five employees of The Capital in Annapolis, Md., who were gunned down by a madman. Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters also are the faces of persecuted journalists. The editor of the Capital made it clear that “We’re going to publish a newspaper” the next day. So they did. They carried on in memory of their slain colleagues.

Nguyen Ngoc Nhu Quyhn, a Vietnamese blogger, has been calling out her government’s repression of human rights. She goes by the pen name of Mother Mushroom. She was taken captive and sentenced to 10 years in prison. However, this brave woman of letters was released. She, too, is the face and the voice of persecuted journalists.

Time magazine has held up the cudgel for journalists who seek to report on the affairs of the world, their communities and to tell the truth. They aren’t enemies of any people, although it is clear that Jamal Khashoggi was the enemy of the autocratic government that had him tortured and murdered. The CIA has put the finger on Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who denies it. Donald Trump has sided with the prince and has disrespected the work of the CIA.

I am going to stand with Time magazine and with the men and women who have fought for — and died for — the cause of reporting the truth to their audience.