Tag Archives: Morris Communications

Happy Trails, Part 179: The past is vanishing

There once was a time not long after my wife and I embarked on our retirement journey that I would want to cling to the career I left behind. I would want to keep looking back on the fun I had pursuing a craft I loved and remembering the people with whom I worked and laughed.

That was then.

Now, let me be clear about something. I enjoyed many, many wonderful relationships during my 37 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and opinion writer. I have maintained many of those relationships over that span of time. These are wonderful people and I count some of them as my dearest friends on Earth.

But my last stop on my professional journey has left me with terribly mixed feelings. Not about the people with whom I worked, but about the organization I departed.

My departure from journalism was an unhappy one. You know about that already. The Amarillo Globe-News was my employer for far longer than any other newspaper during my career. I worked there for nearly 18 years.

I walked away from that job on Aug. 31, 2012. My wife and I got into our car and drove east on vacation. We spent a couple of weeks seeing dear friends and enjoying the sights of the Shenandoah Valley and all the landscape between the Texas Panhandle and our destination.

I clung for a good while to my relationships at the Globe-News. Then it all started to disappear before my eyes. Longtime colleagues left. They retired, or were “bought out,” or they moved on. The newspaper instituted a no-hire policy. The ranks of the Globe-News dwindled … and dwindled some more.

It wasn’t too many years after my own unceremonious departure that nearly the last of my colleagues had departed. The news staff had been reduced to a tiny fraction of its former size.

The company that owned the Globe-News, Morris Communications, sold its entire group of newspapers to GateHouse Media. Strange, given that Morris used to boast about its longstanding “newspaper tradition” and the “love” it had for the communities it served.

Today, the Globe-News operates out of an office in a bank tower. The building that housed the Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper is vacant. One former colleague remains on staff there; he is a sports reporter/editor, the only person covering sports in a region the newspaper used to blanket with coverage.

The executive editor splits her time between Amarillo and Lubbock, as does the director of commentary. There are two general assignment reporters, down from more than 40 individuals who used to work there.

I have moved away. I have moved on. I no longer miss the newspaper, because the organization that used to pay me no longer exists.

It’s a weird sort of out-of-body experience I am feeling these days. I am now totally disconnected from the company that once filled me with pride.

However, I have never been happier than I am at this very moment.

Temporary pay cut? Are they serious?

The Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times has made an announcement likely prompted many of us who toiled in the craft of daily journalism to laugh out loud.

The Times announced a “temporary” pay cut of 10 percent. Temporary? Yes. The times management vows to restore everyone’s pay in June.

Sigh.

Look, I have been through a couple of these pay cuts. They weren’t announced as temporary by Morris Communications, the corporate owner of the paper where I worked at the time. I went through this agony twice, in addition to watching the company cease its corporate match of our retirement fund. Morris’ high command made some bad business decisions and dished out punishment to those of us who had to live with the consequences.

The Tampa Bay Times brass says revenues are down. The newspaper intends to right the ship over the next few months.

Good luck with that. The media climate is changing under their feet. I wish them well. I want my former colleagues to be made whole.

I just fear that the “temporary” pay cut will be nothing of the sort … unless “temporary” morphs into layoffs.

Place that drew me there has vanished

The image you see with this blog illustrates what I did for a living for nearly 37 years. I took notebooks such as this with me to jobs in Oregon and then to Texas.

I mention this notebook today because we have returned from visiting the last stop on my professional journey. I came away with a huge trove of good feelings, seeing old friends, celebrating my son’s birthday and enjoying the unseasonably warm weather under a bright Texas Panhandle sun.

However, I also came away with a feeling of sadness. You see, the newspaper that summoned my wife and me there 25 years ago has all but vanished. The Amarillo Globe-News used to be a towering presence in the community. It has been decimated, reduced to a tiny fraction of its former self.

The Globe-News’s building — at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Harrison Street — is empty. Its signage has been stripped off the exterior wall. There’s an “AVAILABLE” sign on the property.  What’s left of the operation has moved into Suite 103 inside the tallest building in Amarillo, a 31-story bank tower down the street and around the corner.

News racks? Where they sell single copies of the Globe-News? I didn’t see a single one anywhere. I was told that convenient stores still sell the paper. I had a thought about buying the paper, but then I realized I would shell out more than $3 for a journal that would have little news of interest to me. I took a pass.

I guess it’s a sign of the times and the changing media era into which we are still plunging. My previous professional stop, in Beaumont, way down yonder on the Gulf Coast, is undergoing similar retrenchment. It, too, has all but vanished. The newspaper still operates out of its historic structure at 380 Walnut Street, but the corporate owners are looking for a smaller site to house its diminished staff. The Enterprise will vacate that site eventually, although the Hearst Corp., which owns the newspaper, is a proven media company with much greater newspaper chops that Morris Communications, which sold all its properties — including the Globe-News — and then closed its newspaper operation.

That ain’t all, man. My first professional stop, the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier has vanished. It closed completely in the late 1980s. Its parent company — Scripps League Newspaper — sold all its remaining properties and then ceased functioning altogether.

I am saddened by what has happened to print daily journalism. It was driven home to me this weekend on a return to Amarillo. The fellowship of friends was wonderful. The absence of any tangible evidence of the newspaper where I once practiced my craft with great joy and excitement, though, pains my heart.

But … retirement from all of that remains equally joyful and full of adventure.

Turning the corner away from an unhappy ending

I am happy to announce that I have turned the corner, put aside the wellspring of anger related to the end of my career in daily journalism.

Many of you know by now that my career came to a sudden halt in August 2012 when I got reorganized out of my job as editorial page editor of the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News. I thought I was doing a pretty good job there, spending nearly 18 years crafting an editorial policy at a newspaper committed to commenting on events of the city and the region that surrounds it.

Silly me. That’s what I get for thinking, I suppose.

I was hurt when it occurred. I was able to carry on, though, thanks to loads of support and love from my wife, my sons, my sisters and my friends.

Quite suddenly, though, I find myself no longer filled with anger or hurt feelings. It took a long while to get past it all. It has occurred.

I feel quite relieved that I am not packing that emotional baggage around any longer.

The company that owned the Globe-News, Morris Communications, sold its entire newspaper group to Gatehouse Media, which then brought in a new management team. The publisher who pushed me out the door “stepped down” from his job and is now pursuing “other interests.” He’s been replaced by someone I do not know.

The fellow who assumed my post at the G-N has left to work elsewhere. His successor and I have actually forged a bit of a relationship.

And you know what? I have actually wished the new “director of commentary,” Doug Hensley, well as he seeks to keep the Globe-News afloat in the roiling and changing media water. He pledges he will do his best. I hope he succeeds.

In the interest of full disclosure, Hensley was kind enough to publish an essay I had posted originally on High Plains Blogger, so that helped thaw the deep freeze I felt toward the newspaper.

However, it is true that I no longer harbor the anger that at times got the better of me over the nearly seven years since I departed the newspaper business.

I am enjoying retirement. I am enjoying writing this blog. I have relocated to a new community and my wife and I are enjoying our new home.

I don’t have time to be angry.

How cool is that?

Happy to be relieved of this media stress

Those of us who studied journalism in college and prepared to take up that noble craft never saw it coming. None of us knew in the Olden Days what might lie ahead for media in all forms.

Thus, it is with great relief that I heard this week about another possible mega-media merger involving two significant newspaper groups: Gannett and Gatehouse Media.

I got a message from a good friend, a seasoned reporter in Corpus Christi, who told me about talks involving Gannett and Gatehouse. The Caller-Times’s parent company, Gannett, well might “merge” with Gatehouse, creating — to say the least — a highly uncertain climate among the professionals who work for both media companies.

It’s been an unsteady voyage over many years for media outlets all across the nation, indeed the world!

Merger on its way?

My friend believes he’ll survive the turmoil. He has plenty of skills that he thinks will transfer to whichever company takes the reins at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. But he says the uncertainty among staffers is causing plenty of heartburn, sleeplessness and worry.

I got out of the business in August 2012. The Amarillo Globe-News, the final stop on my 37-year journey in print journalism, was suffering from the consequences of competing in the new media age. The G-N corporate ownership at the time, Morris Communications, sought to make the transition from largely print to mostly digital presentation of news and commentary. It didn’t work out for Morris, which sold all 13 of its newspapers to Gatehouse, which has managed to decimate the G-N reporting and advertising staffs. That all happened, of course, after I bid farewell; I got chewed up in a company “reorganization” launched by Morris.

That was then. The here and now has put me — along with my wife — into a whole new environment. We are retired, enjoying life and watching with a fair amount of trepidation as the media waters continue to roil.

I pray for my former colleagues. I wish them well and hope they and their corporate gurus can look farther into the future than any of us ever did back when we were starting out.

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.

Community icon up for sale . . . this is a shame

We have returned to the community we called “home” for more than two decades and I am saddened to know what I know about the place that provided me with a nice income — and untold joy — for most of that time here.

The Amarillo Globe-News building — indeed, the entire complex of buildings — is on the market. It’s being sold. To someone who will make use of the property on the black between Ninth and 10th avenues and Van Buren and Harrison streets.

The Globe-News has vacated the site, moving into an antiseptic suite of offices down the street and around the corner at the 31-story bank building that towers over downtown Amarillo, Texas.

I saw a social media post the other day that said McCartt and Associates, a big-time commercial real estate broker, has listed the G-N site.

I guess the powers that be didn’t take my advice. I sought in an earlier blog post to persuade Morris Communications Corp., which used to own the newspaper but which still owns the physical property, to donate the site to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, which could turn the property into — what else? — a museum honoring the rich tradition of print journalism in the Texas Panhandle.

I thought that Old Man Morris — William Morris III — could make good on his oft-stated pledge to support the community. Hey, here was his chance. He gave up on newspaper publishing, but he could have given the property to the PPHM to do something honorable and noble with a building that used to symbolize an honorable and noble craft.

Indeed, the Globe-News used to have a plaque on the side of one of its buildings honoring the work of the late Tommy Thompson, the iconic editor of the evening Globe-Times. All he did, of course, was win a Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, which is the top prize offered by the top print journalism organization in the country, if not the world.

The Pulitzer jury honored Thompson for his dogged reporting in rooting out county government corruption. So he received the 1961 Meritorious Public Service prize.

I was proud to be associated with an organization that could claim such an honor. My association with the Globe-News ended in 2012. I held out hope that he paper would survive and be reborn in this changing media climate. I am fearing far less hopeful today.

Morris sold the paper to Gatehouse Media. The Globe-News’s reporting and editing staff has been decimated. Morris started the gutting years ago; Gatehouse is finishing the job.

Now the paper that once stood proudly on that downtown block is being offered to someone who will do something with the vacant hulk of a structure.

At least, though, those of us who have moved on will have our memories of the pride we threw into our work on behalf of the community we served.

What’s happening to my former employer?

I don’t read the Amarillo Globe-News regularly these days. I see an online version of it on my fancy-schmancy smart phone. So I am able to catch glimpses of its editorials, commentary and news reports when I have the time or the inclination to look at them.

However, an editorial today caught my eye. It makes me wonder: Is the Globe-News morphing into a satellite publication of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal?

Why ask that? Well, the editorial was a lengthy piece praising the selection of new regents to the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents. It caused me a bit of head-scratching.

I worked as editorial page editor of the Globe-News for nearly 18 years when the paper was owned by Morris Communications Corp. I don’t remember writing a single editorial commenting on the quality of a governor’s appointments to the Tech Board of Regents. Why? Because the school is located in Lubbock; its primary concern is with its Lubbock campus. Yes, Tech has a medical school in Amarillo. However, we never saw the need to devote what looked like a lengthy editorial singing the praises of Tech regents, unless they had some connection to the Texas Panhandle; I didn’t detect any such connection in the piece I read today.

Indeed, the editorial noted the appointments include “a woman and two Lubbock businessmen.” That’s critical to the Panhandle? Really?

Morris has sold the Globe-News and the Avalanche-Journal to another company. The new owner has consolidated the papers’ news and editorial staffing. The executive editor lives in Amarillo, but has control of the A-J’s newsroom; the director of commentary lives in Lubbock, but has control of the G-N’s editorial page; the publisher also lives in Lubbock, but has control of the Globe-News overall operation; same for the company’s newly named circulation director.

I don’t like reading commentary about Lubbock-area issues in the Amarillo newspaper. It makes me wonder — and fills me with concern, if not dread — that the papers are morphing into some sort of regional publication.

The Texas Panhandle and the South Plains have issues that are unique to their respective regions. I do not want to see comments on them melded into a single publication.

I have concern that such a melding is occurring.

Time of My Life, Part 25: Trying to score a huge interview

News about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pending indictment on corruption charges brings to mind an interview that didn’t occur, but one that I worked real hard to get.

While I was working as editorial page editor of the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News, I received a life-changing opportunity: I would be allowed to lead a Rotary International Group Study Exchange team to Israel; we spent four weeks there, meeting with professional peers and living with host families who showed us one of the world’s most fascinating countries.

I went there as a member of Rotary, but I did not forsake my professional responsibility.

So, with that I sought to score an interview in May-June 2009 with Benjamin Netanyahu. How did I make the effort? I got in touch with the Israeli consulate in Houston and became acquainted with the consulate’s press officer.

I asked him if it was possible to meet with the prime minister. He wasn’t very receptive. I kept working on him.

I told the young man that since I was going to be in Israel for four weeks that I could take some time away from my schedule as a Rotary team leader to meet with the prime minister. I didn’t require a lot of time. Maybe a half hour would suffice. An hour would be better.

Indeed, in the weeks prior to our arrival in Israel, the Israelis were putting down an armed rebellion among Palestinians living in Gaza. There was some concern from our Rotary district that the State Department would disallow us to travel there. It’s too dangerous.

Well, the Israelis put down the rebellion. Gaza settled down.

I wanted to talk to Netanyahu about all that and wanted to discuss Middle East security in general. Who better to talk about that with an American journalist than the Israeli prime minister?

The consulate’s flack then asked me about the circulation of the newspaper that employed me. I told him that the G-N was part of a group of newspapers that circulated to many thousands more readers. The interview could get significant coverage in all the papers. Just allow me to speak to the prime minister and I would arrange to get the Morris Communications news bureau to distribute it among all the papers within our group.

I didn’t get the interview, which saddened me greatly. The Israeli flack said Netanyahu would be in-country while we were there. He just didn’t have the time to meet with me.

That all said, my position at the Globe-News allowed me to join a Rotary club in Amarillo, which led to my being allowed to lead this team of young professionals to the other side of the world. I’ll have more to say about that journey later on.

The Benjamin Netanyahu interview was a near miss, but I had a blast trying to secure it.

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.