Tag Archives: journalism

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.

Giving thanks, even in this contentious time

I want to give thanks. We’re going to spend time on Thanksgiving Day with family and we’ll meet some new friends.

We’re all tempted at this time of year to offer a word of thanks and gratitude for our many blessings. We are Americans. We live in a great country that provides us with liberty that others around the world only can imagine.

I want to give particular thanks for being a citizen of this country and for being able to do what I do daily. I criticize my government. I criticize my president; yes, he is my president, even though I didn’t vote for him and I detest the notion of this man taking up residence in the White House, which is my house.

This blog gives me a tremendous release to vent my frustration and, yes, my anger. I make no apology for any of it.

I suppose I should give thanks for my grandparents, all four of them. They had the courage, the fortitude and the intrepidity to venture from Greece and Turkey in the early 20th century. They settled in United States of America and produced a man and a woman who themselves would marry and produce — that’s right! — yours truly.

Therein lies the source of my gratitude. I am grateful in the extreme that my grandparents sought to leave all that they knew and set out for a new frontier in a new world, an ocean away. They had deep faith in themselves, in each other and in God to guide their way.

Two generations later, my sisters and I came of age. We reached out to pursue our own lives. I found a young woman with whom I fell in love. We married 47 years ago and produced two sons, who have grown into successful men; more importantly, they are good men.

Through it all, I was able to pursue a career in journalism that enabled me to express myself, to tell others’ stories and to chronicle the lives in communities where my family and I lived.

My country allowed me to do all this. I am grateful for my country. I fairly routinely give thanks regularly for the opportunity I was given. I believe truly that I could not have experienced the professional joy that I did had my grandparents chosen to leave their homeland for some other place.

This great country of ours has allowed me to continue to bitch and moan about the direction our government is heading. I choose to keep yapping about it and I do so with full confidence that I will be allowed to express my displeasure without recrimination.

I’ll forgo that bitching at least for the next day. I likely will choose to comment on other matters while we focus our attention on the family with whom we will gather on Thanksgiving Day.

With that, I wish you all a happy day. Give thanks in your own way for the liberty we all enjoy.

Happy Trails, Part 131: Recalling the good times

I admitted something to friends that I want to share with you here.

The admission was that I tend to wallow too much with the negative aspects of my departure from a career I enjoyed and I devote too little conscious attention to all the good times, the fun and the rewards that the career bestowed on me … and my precious family.

I’ve share with you already on this blog about the sudden end of my career. I was a victim of the changes that are overtaking — and overwhelming, in some instances — print journalism. I was angry at the publisher to whom I reported and to the corporate execs who have bungled the transition from traditional print journalism to something called a “digital presence.”

I have tended to look too much at that sequence and looking too little at the preceding joy I had pursuing the craft of journalism.

I have counted my blessings to be sure. This career I pursued for 37 years sent me around the world: to Europe, Asia, Latin America. It allowed me to visit my ancestral homeland in southern Europe and enabled me to return to where I served in the Army in Vietnam.

My craft put me in front of some of the most interesting, compelling and powerful people on Earth. I got to interview Vice President Dan Quayle; a former U.S. president, George W. Bush; one of the country’s most dynamic business tycoons, H. Ross Perot; U.S. senators and members of the House of Representatives; two Texas governors; a sitting U.S. senator from Oregon.

My career allowed me to attend two presidential nominating conventions, giving me the chance to experience up close the unique and occasionally strange process of selecting individuals who would campaign for the world’s most significant and powerful public office.

I took an extraordinary plane ride over the summit of an erupting volcano, Mount St. Helens. I stood in the same room, about 50 feet away, with Nelson Mandela, one of history’s most dynamic individuals.

My career journey enabled me to chronicle the stories affecting communities in suburban Portland, Ore., along the Texas Gulf Coast and in the Texas Panhandle.

I learned how to work in a darkroom. I chased sheriff’s deputies on a high-speed response to a serious motor vehicle accident in Clackamas County, Ore. I reported on an Oregon judge whose judicial temperament came into question.

And all along the way, I made lasting friendships with dedicated professional photo and print journalists who taught me about life and offered lessons on how to do my job better. We shared laughs and sorrow together. I will never forget those with whom I had the honor of knowing.

My intent from this day forward is to think more of the ups and think far less of the downers. I want to share these blessings today on the week we prepare to give thanks for our blessings.

Man, I’ve got a lifetime of them.

They’ve made the move to the tower

I guess I was a day, maybe two, late in assessing the future of the Amarillo Globe-News.

I conjectured that a move was upcoming. Then I saw a story today on Page 1 of the Globe-News. They’ve made the move. It’s done.

The newspaper, a longstanding institution in Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle, now is tucked on an upper floor of the FirstBank Southwest Tower in downtown Amarillo.

It’s still a sad move. It saddens me terribly that the newspaper that once was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in journalism excellence will no longer be visible to onlookers.

I don’t know what the future holds for daily journalism in Amarillo. The trend doesn’t portend a bright future. The paper has slashed its staff; it has cut it resources; it has scaled back its presence; it prints the daily editions in Lubbock.

Does it cover the news with the depth and breadth it once did? No. Not by a long shot.

But now the Globe-News is ensconced in a skyscraper with a bank’s name on it! The paper’s long-standing office at Ninth and Harrison has gone dark.

Dammit!

The media hits just keep comin’

Happy Trails, Part 119: Smiles reveal relaxed attitude

A recently retired friend of mine posted a picture of himself on social media. My first thought when I saw the picture was: Man, he looks mighty relaxed.

I sent him a message that “retirement suits” him.

So it is with many of my friends who now are retired from varied careers. It seems to me that no matter what they did when they were working for a living, they all seem so much more “relaxed” now that they are free to come and go as they please.

I know that makes me sound like Captain Obvious. It might not seem that way to my younger friends who are still hard at it, still working for The Man, still waiting for the next paycheck.

So maybe this message is for them.

I “retired” from daily journalism on someone else’s terms. I wasn’t able to walk away on my own terms. Still, even though my career ended suddenly and quite unhappily in the manner that it did, I discovered something rapidly as I began transitioning into full-time retirement: I didn’t actually miss working nearly as much as I thought I would.

Indeed, I had many acquaintances tell me as we encountered each other that I was “looking really relaxed.” Some would comment that my face revealed a new outlook on life. They suggested I was smiling more broadly, that I actually had a bit of a spring in my step. My wife was one of those who said I became a different — and more pleasant — person once I stopped reporting for work.

I used to have this crease in the middle of my forehead that seemed almost permanent. When I was working full time, I found myself scowling even when I was relatively calm.

That forehead crease has all but disappeared.

It’s been nearly six years since I walked away from my last full-time job. I’ll admit there were times, especially in the months immediately after it came to a close, that I did look back. I would wonder: What the hell happened back there?

Those days are long gone. I, too, am relaxed.

I feel as relaxed as my newly retired friend who seems to have adjusted immediately to the good life.

Happy Trails, Part 69

Blog-writing remains one of my current passions.

It gives me immense satisfaction in this era of retirement. I wrote opinion articles for many years as a print journalist. Then I stopped being a print journalist.

But I didn’t stop writing opinion pieces. I just post them now online. They get distributed via this blog platform. I have my share of subscribers to the blog and for that I am grateful. My aim is to grow that subscriber list.

I distribute the blog posts through various social media. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are my main vehicles of conveyance.

Here’s one aspect of that process that I want to discuss briefly: Facebook prompts some serious arguments among those who read these posts on that medium.

To be candid, I have a sort of out-of-body experience as I watch these folks argue among themselves.

Someone might comment on a blog post; someone else then might respond Person No. 1’s comment; Person No. 1 then might respond to the response.

And … off they go.

They’re snarling and growling at each other. Occasionally, these exchanges get intensely personal. I have read actual name-calling, although those instances are rare. What happens is that someone might insult some else’s intelligence. In one recent exchange, one of the quarrelers accused  another one of being unable to understand what he reads; thus, one guy accused the other one of being a dim bulb.

I have no particular desire to stop these exchanges. I just choose to stay away from them. No, I don’t mean to suggest that I “stay above” these arguments. I just don’t have the stomach, let alone the time, to engage in continual back-and-forth arguments that at times seem as though they have no end.

One of the lessons I carried with me from print opinion journalism to full-time blogging is that nothing I write is going to change anyone’s mind. We all have our biases. We have our own set of values, most of which were formed when we were, oh, much younger … if not when when we were children.

I prefer to state my case on this blog. And then walk away to the next topic. Oh, I might quibble and quarrel with someone, but I’m only good for about three or maybe four responses; and, yes, I’ve gone beyond that a time or three. Then I’ve had enough.

The way I see it, my relative lack of fighting spirit preserves the love I have for this new retirement adventure.

Oh, how I love blogging.

Students kick new life into gumshoe journalism

Pittsburg, Kan., has become the print journalism capital of America.

It’s because a group of high school students demonstrated to a local school board and the school system’s superintendent that they didn’t do their due diligence in hiring a school administrator.

Man, I love this story.

Six students at Pittsburg High School, who happen to serve on the staff of The Booster Redux — the school newspaper — managed to dig out the truth about the resume presented by the school’s new principal.

Amy Robertson was hired as the principal. Then the students begin sniffing around about the school Robertson had listed on her credentials. It turns out that Corllins University — which Robertson listed as where she earned her masters and doctoral degrees — is nothing more than a degree mill. It ain’t accredited, or legit, the students learned.

Students show up their elders

The students, though some vigorous gumshoe reporting — and the help of the Internet doing basic Google searches — managed to show up the school board and the superintendent, who should have vetted the principal properly before hiring her.

And what, in this instance, constitutes proper vetting? Nothing more than checking to determine the quality of the school that Robertson had listed as providing her education.

The students did the school board’s and superintendent’s job for them.

Get this from the Kansas City Star: “On Wednesday, Destry Brown, the Pittsburg schools superintendent, said the district was reposting the job and from now on will be doing a background check and vetting credentials before any candidate is hired.”

Background check and vetting credentials? No spit, folks.

What gives this story its additional legs is that the student  reporters employed basic journalism principles in rooting out an important story. It gives some of us old-school journalism dinosaurs hope that the profession is about to jump off its death bed before it is overcome by “click-bait journalism” preferred by too many publishers these days as they stagger away from traditional print journalism to something called “the digital product.”

The students didn’t expect this kind of attention. The national media have jumped on this story, I believe, because it speaks to old-school journalism values exhibited by a group of young people who — one might surmise — are more attuned to social media and other 21st-century technology.

Nice going, students. You have made many of your journalism elders — including yours truly — quite proud of you.

Journalists enter increasingly hostile environment

Those of who toiled as journalists — whether print or broadcast — have been forced to cope with the perception that the public hasn’t thought too much of us and the work we do.

There was a longstanding joke in the old days that reporters and used-car sales reps battled it out for the bottom spot on the public opinion totem pole.

These days, we now have the president of the United States tossing dung on top of reporters, calling them the “enemy of the people,” accusing them of outright dishonesty, suggesting they conspire to make up “fake news” and peddle it as the real thing.

Man, it’s even tougher these days to do the job I did for nearly 37 years.

I recently made the acquaintance of two young reporters for the Amarillo Globe-News, my final stop along my lengthy journalism journey — which ended on Aug. 31, 2012. They are both earnest and eager young reporters. I don’t know this as fact, but my sense is that the AGN is their first job out of college.

It’s a different type of profession now than it was when I got pointed in that direction way back when, before The Flood, or so it seems.

I never considered myself to be anyone’s “enemy.” My desire was to make a difference in the world and to chronicle events in my community and report them to the public. I spent most of my career in opinion journalism, but many of the principles that apply to reporting — such as fairness and accuracy — surely applied.

That was in the early 1970s. I had just finished a two-year hitch in the U.S. Army. I came home in the late summer of 1970, settled in with Mom and Dad and prepared to re-enroll in college the following January.

One evening, at dinner with my parents, Dad asked me if I had considered what my college major should be. I said I hadn’t thought it through. He asked, “Have you considered journalism?” I asked him, “Why that?”

He complimented me on the letters I wrote from Virginia and Vietnam, where I had served during my time in the Army. He called them “descriptive” and said he would share them with family members and friends. He thought journalism would be a good fit, enabling me to put my writing ability to good use.

“Sure thing, Dad,” I said. “I’ll consider that.” I did. I enrolled. I signed up for some mass communications classes. The bug bit me in the rear and, by golly, I was hooked. Of course, I learned right away that journalism isn’t just about whether one can write clearly; one needs to be able to learn how to gather information and determine its importance to the public.

I wonder today how many parents are having that kind of discussion with their college-bound children. I wonder if moms and dads are telling their kids to pursue this craft. Or have they bought into the tripe being peddled by the president that to be a reporter is to declare war on “the people,” to be their “enemy.”

For that matter, did those two young reporters I met recently whether they got that kind of pep talk from Mom or Dad at the dinner table.

The craft is changing rapidly. Newspapers are emphasizing their “digital content.” They are becoming — to borrow a distasteful term — “click whores” that are more interested in how many people click on their websites than in the number of people purchasing a newspaper.

I do wish all young reporters the very best as they seek to make their own way in this changing — and increasingly hostile — climate.

Penmanship: It’s a goner

My day is almost over, but before “I lay me down to sleep,” I want to offer this minor regret about the craft I pursued for 37 years.

My handwriting has gone straight to hell.

I was blessed with good penmanship as a child. I got good grades from my elementary school teachers who used to actually grade students’ penmanship. My parents both had exquisite penmanship. I have in my possession a stack of letters Mom wrote to one of her brothers in the late 1940s. Her handwriting was impeccable.

I came of age with that kind of handwriting. I was inducted into the Army in 1968 and wrote letters home constantly. Dad would share them with friends and other family members.

I came home from the Army in the summer of 1970, re-enrolled in college in January 1971 and started taking mass communications classes.

I became a reporter, which required those of us in the profession at the time to learn how to write rapidly. I had to take copious notes from subjects I would interview. When one has to write like that so frequently, it stands to reason that one’s penmanship is going to suffer.

I finished school, got started in journalism. I kept writing quickly. My handwriting kept deteriorating.

Now? It’s shot all to hell. My wife needles me good-naturedly about it on occasion. She remembers my good penmanship.

Yes, I know that penmanship no longer is even taught in school these days. Children operate handheld “devices” to communicate. Many of them can’t tell time by looking at an old-fashioned clock dial.

My handwriting got so bad that I actually fantasized about some judge issuing a subpoena ordering me to turn over my notes. Hah! Go ahead and try to decipher this scribble, Your Honor!

But I do regret that I no longer can write with precision.

Mom and Dad no doubt would be unhappy with this admission.