Tag Archives: Morris Communications

West Texas journalism takes a jaw-dropping plunge

I am just now picking my jaw off the floor.

A friend of mine has just informed me of something that GateHouse Media, the new owners of the Amarillo Globe-News and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, have done. It has posted a job opening for a “regional associate editor” who will be in charge of the opinion pages of both newspapers.

Ponder that for a moment.

The G-N and the A-J already have a “regional” publisher and a “regional” executive editor. The publisher resides in Lubbock; the exec editor lives in Amarillo. They spend time in the “other” city, I guess to make sure they’re “in touch” with them.

Now we have this idiotic notion of hiring someone who will serve as a regional “director of commentary.”

GateHouse purchased the papers from Morris Communications while promising to maintain a local journalistic presence, committing itself to local news.

What absolute and utter crap!

This latest decision by GateHouse tells me something quite different. GateHouse is trying to run the papers on the cheap. Why hire two people for these executive posts when they get can away with hiring one individual to cover both of them?

Oh, but what’s the cost? It’s plenty! I’ll speak to the commentary that both papers will deliver to these respective communities.

GateHouse seems to presume that Amarillo and Lubbock are identical. That they have identical needs and concerns. That their local issues mirror each other.

Good grief! They do not! How in the world does a regional director of commentary acquaint himself or herself fully with each community by having to split the time between them? He or she cannot do the impossible! GateHouse, though, is asking whoever they hire to do precisely that.

I worked as editorial page editor of the Globe-News for nearly 18 years. It was all I could do to stay current with issues involving Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle. To ask the new person to develop cogent editorial policy for two disparate communities 120 miles apart is a prescription for the destruction of both communities’ editorial voice.

In the old days, that voice was a critical component of daily journalism’s relevance to the needs of a community.

I believe I am hearing the death knell of daily journalism as we’ve known it in a part of the state I grew to love.

A newspaper museum in our future … perhaps?

One of the many cool aspects of running a blog is that I get to toss ideas out there for discussion purposes.

With that, here’s one I hope sticks to the proverbial wall.

The Amarillo Globe-News has vacated its longstanding home at the corner of Ninth and Harrison in downtown Amarillo. It’s going to produce a newspaper in a sterile bank tower down the street and around the corner.

The Harrison Street building need not stay dark. Has anyone begun pondering the idea of turning that venerable structure into a museum honoring the accomplishments of a once-great community institution?

The Texas Panhandle already is home to one of the great historical museums in the state: the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, based at West Texas A&M University in Canyon.

I throw this idea out there not knowing a damn thing about the practicality of such a notion, or even if there is the slightest bit of community interest in it becoming a reality.

The PPHM would need to negotiate the transfer of the property from the former owners of the Globe-News, Morris Communications, which a few months ago got out of the newspaper publishing business. Yes, the company sold its newspapers to GateHouse Media, but it retains ownership — from what I understand — of the physical property.

The company chairman, William Morris III, always talked about giving back to the community when he owned the paper. Here’s a chance for Old Man Morris to deliver on that noble rhetoric.

How does one fill such a building with artifacts from the grand old days of newspaper publishing? Well, PPHM has a staff of well-educated folks who make a living looking for such memorabilia.

My suggestion? Turn ’em loose to find hot-lead presses, manual typewriters, typesetting devices used for offset presses, cameras that used actual film. Somewhere in the bowels of the darkened building are bound volumes of every edition ever published by the Daily News, the Globe-Times, the Sunday News-Globe — all of which were published under the name of Amarillo Globe-News.

The families of longtime Globe-News legends — the likes of Wes Izzard, Gene Howe, Tommy Thompson, Putt Powell, S.B. Whittenberg — undoubtedly have treasures they might be willing to put on display.

There. That’s my thought.

Oh, I also have a pica pole and a proportion wheel — the ink-stained wretches of the industry know what they are — that I would be happy to donate to a new museum.

Gratitude is replacing anger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What in the world was I thinking?

Conversation (continued) …

I’ve told you already about a fellow I met the other morning. We covered a lot of ground in the 10 or 12 minutes we chatted.

It centered mostly on the congressional hearing involving FBI agent Peter Strzok and his role in the Robert Mueller investigation into the “Russia thing.”

He mentioned he has been retired for 20 years. Then he asked me if I was retired. “Yes,” I said. “I’m a retired journalist. I was a member of the ‘Mainstream Media,'” I added.

He nodded. “Ahhh, that explains why you’re a liberal,” he said.

I stopped him. “No, sir. My job didn’t define me. My inherent bias is what informs my world view,” I told him.

He had described himself as a “libertarian,” who wasn’t aligned with Democrats or Republicans.

It dawned on me a long time ago, but his assumption that my more progressive/liberal tendencies are a result of my occupation drives home a key point.

Conservatives are winning the war of ideologies. They have succeeded in tarring media representatives and outlets as inherently “liberal.” The “liberal media” get blamed for all that is wrong with journalism.

My own view of the term “mainstream media,” though takes a different approach. I long have considered the “mainstream media” to be a much more diverse bunch than the way conservatives label them. I include many conservative-leaning outlets among members of the “mainstream media”: Fox News, The Weekly Standard, The National Review all belong to the MSM; I also might throw in Breitbart News just to get folks’ pulse to race a bit.

Indeed, I worked for three newspaper groups with ownership that was decidedly not liberal in its outlook. Scripps League Newspapers was run by an elderly scion from the E.W. Scripps newspaper empire; then I went to work for the Hearst Corp., another right-leaning outfit; my career ended while working for Morris Communications, which was a far-right-leaning organization led by a man who is the product of the “old South,” if you get my drift.

The media are as diverse as any other craft.

The gentleman with whom I had this exchange over the weekend likely didn’t intend to paint us all with such a broad brush … but he did.

I don’t yet know if I’ll see him again. If I do, I might take the time to inform him of my own view of what comprises the “mainstream media.”

I suppose I could ask him: If the “liberal mainstream media” are so powerful and pervasive, how do all those conservatives keep getting elected to public office?

What will become of ‘newspapers’?

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

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

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

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

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

So many others have gone through it.

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

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

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

I will mourn the day they disappear.

The media ‘regression’ continues

I’ve been trying to process the news I read over the weekend about the newspaper that employed me for nearly 18 years.

I haven’t yet come to grips with all of it and its implications, but what I see does give me some concern about the future of print journalism in two West Texas communities.

GateHouse Media, the company that now owns the Amarillo Globe-News and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal has hired someone who serves as “regional executive editor” of both papers. Her name is Jill Nevels-Haun.

As I read the story announcing her hiring, I read that she will split her duties between Amarillo and Lubbock. She presumably will commute between the cities, which are 120 miles apart; it’s not a long drive, given that you can drive 75 mph along Interstate 27 but the distance is substantial.

What’s more, the communities’ issues are unique. They both have different concerns that weigh on the minds and hearts of residents and officials. Nevels-Haun speaks of her intent to develop new lines of communication between readers and, I presume, both newspapers.

GateHouse purchased the papers in October from Morris Communications Corp., which had owned the G-N and the A-J since 1972. The publishers of the papers, both were Morris holdovers — Lester Simpson in Amarillo and Brandon Hughes in Lubbock — resigned more than a week ago.

I have been informed that GateHouse plans to hire someone to replace the publishers who resigned.

OK, so what’s the concern?

This has the appearance of an inexorable step toward some form of consolidation of both newspapers into a single operation that would seek to cover the entire West Texas region from Amarillo to Lubbock.

Morris already ditched its printing presses at the Globe-News and gave the print job to the Lubbock A-J. Since the GateHouse sale, the Globe-News has abandoned its office structure on Van Buren Street and moved what is left of the newsroom staff into its building on Harrison Street.

The Globe-News is circulating far fewer copies daily than it did just a half-dozen years ago; I will presume the Avalanche-Journal is going through the same precipitous decline. The decline in circulation, by the way, is far from unique to this part of the world; it’s happening all over the country!

I’ve been away from daily journalism now for more than five years. These comments are coming from the proverbial peanut gallery, which prohibits me from commenting in any detail about what I perceive is occurring.

I do sense an inertia that is depriving both communities of the strongest voice possible from newspapers that have been charged with telling those communities’ stories for many decades.

Nevels-Haun offers assurances that she and her employers are committed to strong community journalism. I don’t doubt her sincerity.

It’s just that a single newspaper executive stretching her time — and her attention — between disparate communities is facing an enormous challenge. I cannot overstate the difficulty that awaits.

Thus, I am left to wonder: Will the papers’ corporate owners be willing to invest the capital it needs to deliver on the new editor’s grand promise?

We’ll see about that.

Do political endorsements still matter?

Not quite a year ago, I posted an item on this blog that wondered how my local newspaper would call its endorsement for president of the United States.

How would the Amarillo Globe-News endorse Donald J. Trump, which, to my mind seemed like a done deal, given the company’s corporate loathing of Hillary Rodham Clinton?

Here’s what I wrote a year ago:

Now … who will get my local paper’s endorsement?

The paper did endorse Trump, even though it appears to me to have been a sort of “canned” endorsement, written by someone in Augusta, Ga., headquarters of Morris Communications, the paper’s corporate owner.

It does beg the question: Do newspaper endorsements really matter in this day and age? I’m beginning to think they don’t, which I consider to be a shame.

I keep circling back to the 2010 campaign for Texas governor. The incumbent, Rick Perry, announced that he wouldn’t sit down with editorial boards to make his case for re-election. He wanted to speak “directly to Texans,” he said. Virtually every newspaper in Texas ended up that year endorsing the Democratic challenger, Bill White, the former Houston mayor.

We did at the Globe-News. We might as well have endorsed Satan himself, given the response from our readership.

Well, Perry won handily. He stuck in the eyes of newspaper editors and publishers.

Donald Trump had much the same hurdle to clear. A lot of formerly traditional Republican-leaning editorial pages endorsed Hillary Clinton. Did they sway anyone? Probably not.

Which brings me to a final point. One of the great lies that newspaper executives keep foisting on their readers is that they don’t intend to change people’s minds. Actually, though, they do.

A newspaper that expresses its opinions seeks to shape their communities. How else do they want communities to follow their lead if they don’t intend to persuade readers to think as they do?

Newspapers that backed Clinton wanted their readers to vote in a like manner, just as those that endorsed Trump. Given that the overwhelming majority of U.S. papers backed Clinton — and she still lost — I am left to wonder: Do these endorsements really matter?

I’m open for discussion on this one. Talk to me.

Masters exerts ‘prior restraint’?

The third round of the Masters Tournament is about to end and I want to comment on something that has stuck in my craw for the past several years.

CBS Sports has been broadcasting this professional golf “major” for as long as I can remember. Some years back, CBS hired a smart aleck announcer named Gary McCord to broadcast golf on the network.

McCord played on the PGA tour. He didn’t win any tournaments. But he fancies himself as a comedian. I don’t find him funny.

Neither do the snotty souls who belong to Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club, where they play the Masters every year.

What did these ultra-rich guys do some years back? They ordered CBS to pull McCord off its broadcast team for the Masters.

Why did this stick in my craw? It kind of smacks of a form of “prior restraint,” with an exclusive, private country club dictating to a major media outlet how it can do its job.

This brings to mind a question I wish I would have asked the corporate owner of the Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked for nearly 18 years until Aug. 31, 2012. William Morris III is chairman of Morris Communications, which owns the G-N. It is based in Augusta, Ga. Morris is a member of Augusta National, an outfit filled with members who are “invited” to join; one doesn’t apply for membership, mind you. The blue-noses at the country club have to ask you to join.

As near as I can tell, the predominant qualifier for membership has something to do with the size of one’s bank account.

The question I wish I would have asked Billy Morris? Why do you people at Augusta National take yourselves so damn seriously?

So much for ‘editorial autonomy’

newspapers

I worked for four newspaper “groups” during my nearly 37 years in daily journalism. They were, in order: Newhouse Publications, Scripps League, the Hearst Corp., and Morris Communications.

They all said publicly that they didn’t “dictate” from corporate HQ’s how their individual newspapers formulated their editorial policies.

It was a bit of a challenge to explain all of that to readers and officials, but I managed.

Well, today the Morris Communications company that runs the paper where my career ended has put to rest the quaint notion of editorial “autonomy.” It has declared that all of its editorial pages today have endorsed Donald J. Trump for election to the presidency of the United States.

I haven’t yet read the Amarillo Globe-News’s “endorsement,” given that it hasn’t been posted on its online edition; I just looked this morning and couldn’t find it. Here, though, is the Florida Times-Union’s statement about the campaign. I’m guessing it’s being repeated here in West Texas:

http://jacksonville.com/opinion/2016-11-04/editorial-trump-change-agent-america-needs

The CEO of the Morris company, William Morris IV, has written what he’s called an “explanation” of the endorsement. It really is nothing of the kind. It’s actually a vapid restatement of platitudes and clichés. I don’t know Morris well, but I’ve had enough exposure to him to expect nothing more from this individual. Take a look:

http://jacksonville.com/news/2016-11-04/will-morris-explains-times-union-s-trump-endorsement

My favorite cliché is this one: “While this endorsement reflects our opinion, we want readers to know that this does not influence our news coverage. Newsrooms run independently from our editorial pages.”

Well, no s***!

I won’t delve too deeply into this statement. It’s too shallow, frankly, for any serious examination.

***

But what fascinates me about it is its timing. Today is Sunday. The election occurs on Tuesday. That gives readers of Morris papers today and Monday to comment, to respond.

Hmmm …

One of my former editors — a mentor and a friend to this day — had a name for this kind of timing. He called it a “last-minute dump.” He disallowed letters to the editor that came in too close to the end of a political campaign. His belief was that readers deserved the opportunity to respond — either positively or negatively — to what was published.

That was a policy I sought to follow during my decades practicing that craft.

The advent of early voting usually meant that newspapers would get their editorial endorsements “on the record” at the start of the early voting period. In Texas, that window opened on Oct. 24 and it closed this past Friday. The idea would be to let voters know the paper’s view on campaigns, candidates and issues prior to readers voting on them; it would give readers the chance — if they desired — to use the paper’s perspective to help them make their own decision.

Texas Panhandle — and readers of all the papers served by Morris anywhere in the country — won’t get that chance today. They’ll open their newspaper and read an editorial endorsing Trump and will have virtually no chance to comment. No chance to condemn it or praise it. No opportunity to add some context.

Oh, they’ll get online and put some social media chatter out there. A letter to the editor? Something that would be published on the printed page after being examined by the folks who run the editorial pages? Forget about it!

That, folks, is a last-minute dump.

If only Will Morris would have explained that strategy to his company’s newspaper readers.

Journalist shows his chops … and quits

a-review%20_0

John L. Smith had a problem I never encountered in my 37 years as a print journalist.

He worked for a media mogul who is far more than just a mere newspaper titan. Smith was a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Then he quit when he was told his boss was off limits. He couldn’t comment on his doings.

Is that fair? I don’t believe so.

http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/media/2016/04/8597612/las-vegas-review-journal-columnist-resigns

And just who was this man’s boss? Sheldon Adelson bought the R-J in 2015. He’s also a big-time casino owner and a political money man for Republican politicians.

Smith thought that he could comment on Adelson’s casino business and his political activity.

No can do, came the directive.

At one level, I’m somewhat relieved I never encountered that problem while working as a reporter and editor for three corporate owners.

The first one was in Oregon City, Ore., where my corporate boss was Ed Scripps, owner of Scripps League Newspapers. Then I moved to Beaumont, where I worked for the Hearst Corporation, which bought the paper late in my first year on the Gulf Coast; the mogul then was William Randolph Hearst Jr. Then I went to work in Amarillo, where the Globe-News is owned by Morris Communications; the head man there is William Morris III.

They all had tremendous influence within their spheres. The issue never came up on whether I could comment on their outside activities.

Although …

The current Globe-News publisher’s involvement with certain civic activities has raised questions in some quarters about whether the paper could look critically at those activities. Yes, I worked there during some of that time, but the issue didn’t present itself so directly that I ever considered quitting over it.

John L. Smith’s dilemma is quite interesting, given Adelson’s huge impact outside of the business he owns. It’s his political influence that ought to make the R-J’s owner fair game.

It’s not to be.

The case isn’t entirely simple. Smith had written about Adelson before and the casino mogul sued Smith for libel. The suit was dismissed, but Smith went bankrupt defending himself. The two men had issues.

Smith wrote in a letter to his colleagues: “In Las Vegas, a quintessential company town, it’s the blowhard billionaires and their political toadies who are worth punching. And if you don’t have the freedom to call the community’s heavyweights to account, then that ‘commentary’ tag isn’t worth the paper on which it’s printed.”

My hope for Las Vegas is that other media organizations will fill the vacuum left by John Smith’s resignation.

I applaud the man’s guts in quitting over a journalistic principle.