Tag Archives: print journalism

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.

Communities still need newspapers of record

A friend and former colleague posted this picture on social media, noting that the building appears to be “crying.”

It sits at the corner of Ninth Avenue and Harrison Street in downtown Amarillo, Texas. It currently houses what is left of the Amarillo Globe-News, where my friend worked for more than 20 years and where I worked for nearly 18 years.

It symbolizes a once-proud community institution. The Globe-News once stood tall as a pillar of the community it served with distinction and pride. Indeed, back in the good old days, the evening edition of the Globe-News — the Globe-Times — earned print journalism’s highest honor: the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service.

The editor of the Globe-Times, Tommy Thompson, uncovered corruption in county government. He and his staff hammered at the issue. Their hard work brought about reforms and needed change. The Pulitzer board recognized that effort by bestowing the paper with its highest honor.

That was in 1960. It seems as though it happened even longer ago than that.

Print journalism is undergoing enormous change at this moment in history. Amarillo is enduring some serious pain and suffering. It now functions with a staff that is a fraction of its historic size. The corporate ownership changed in 2017. Morris Communications, which owned the paper since 1972, sold to GateHouse Media. Morris is no longer publishing daily newspapers. GateHouse’s goals for the G-N and for the Lubbock Avalance-Journal, which it purchased, are not entirely clear.

Amarillo no longer has a newspaper that stands tall as the publication of record. Neither does Lubbock. The G-N closed its printing presses a couple of years ago; it now prints its editions in Lubbock.

The papers now are being led by “regional” executives: a publisher who resides in Lubbock but spends part of his week in Amarillo; and an executive editor who lives in Amarillo but spends part of her week in Lubbock.

Two men with a combined 60-plus years of experience in Amarillo have left the business. The newspaper is going to feel their absence in ways they cannot yet measure or define. Take my word for it, the paper’s mission will suffer.

I regret to note, further, that none of this is unique to the Texas Panhandle or the South Plains. My most recent experience in print journalism, though, involves Amarillo, a community my wife and I grew to love when we moved there in 1995. My newspaper career delivered many more good times and enjoyment during the years I spent at the Globe-News.

Then a lot of things changed.

Now I am watching from some distance as the newspaper that drew many craftsmen and women together and delivered many shared experiences struggles to find a new identity.

I am having serious doubt that the Globe-News will find it.

Once-flourishing craft is in serious peril

I am saddened by what I see happening to the craft I pursued for 37 years.

It’s in trouble. Print journalism as I pursued it is being eaten alive by technology it never saw coming back in the 1970s when I entered that line of work.

I won’t buy into the nutty notion that newspapers are no longer viable purveyors of information. They continue to do great work covering the news of the day. They continue to keep the public informed on policy matters that have direct impact on citizens of this country.

Nor will I accept the “fake news” mantra that keeps pouring out of the pie holes of conservative politicians who seek to discredit the media that are merely doing their job.

What is happening to newspaper saddens me because it need not happen in the manner that is occurring.

I want to point to the last stop on my career, the Amarillo Globe-News, as an example of what I see transpiring. The newspaper that once won print journalism’s greatest honor is now a mere shadow of its former self.

In 1960, the Globe-News actually comprised two newspapers: The Daily News and the Globe-Times. The Globe-Times captured the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service by exposing county government corruption. The paper was led by the legendary editor Tommy Thompson. If you look at the G-N’s building on Van Buren Street, you’ll see a plaque commemorating that honor.

But …

The Van Buren Street building is vacant. The paper’s new corporate owners, GateHouse Media, decided to move what is left of the newsroom across the parking lot to the company’s other office building facing Harrison Street. That structure has an inscription over its front door: “A newspaper can forgiven for lack of wisdom, but never for lack of courage.” That quote came from another legendary figure, Globe-Times publisher Gene Howe.

I was proud to work for the Globe-News for nearly 18 years. My career ended on Aug. 31, 2012. I resigned after being phased out of my job in a corporate reorganization.

The paper has continued to wither since then. It’s not because of my absence, but rather because — as I have viewed it — the paper has not kept pace with the changing information trends sweeping the world.

It sells far fewer copies each day than it did a decade ago. It publishes its daily editions with far fewer employees than it did even five years ago. The Globe-News no longer operates a printing press in Amarillo; its editions are printed in Lubbock and then shipped back to Amarillo for delivery to what remains of its subscriber list.

The newsroom used to operate in a different building from where the advertising department works. That was by design. When I arrived in January 1995 I was told that the newspaper wanted to keep the functions separate to protect the integrity of the news-gathering team. There would be no pressure to publish stories that advertisers might want.

Today? The depleted newsroom staff now sits side by side with an equally depleted advertising staff in the first-floor office space on Harrison Street.

My, how times have changed.

I am acutely aware that other media markets are undergoing tremendous pressures as well. Some major metro markets no longer even have newspapers delivered daily to subscribers’ homes.

They face pressure from the Internet, from cable TV news, from the plethora of outlets that provide information that could be legit — or it could be, um, fake.

Meanwhile, newspaper reporters and editors continue to do their jobs the way they were taught to do them. The problem, though, is that much of the public isn’t paying attention.

And a once-flourishing and proud craft is paying a grievous price.

I look at what is left of the place that served as my last stop on a career that gave me so much happiness and satisfaction — and I am saddened.

Events give media chance to shine brightly

I never got the chance to serve on a Pulitzer Prize jury, to select winners in print journalism’s top prizes.

This year is going to produce a Pulitzer juror’s “nightmare,” if you want to call it such. The media, namely the folks who work in the print end of it, have distinguished themselves grandly while covering compelling issues of the day.

Were it not for the media, we wouldn’t know about the various crises threatening to swallow the Donald J. Trump administration whole. Many of print journalism’s top guns — at the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Washington Post — have been distinguishing themselves with top-drawer reporting that would give Pulitzer jurors fits. It’s interesting in the extreme to me that so many of the cable news outlets keep referencing stories that have been broken first by print organizations.

Then something else happened this summer.

Two killer hurricanes boiled up out of the warm water offshore and delivered death and destruction, first to the Texas Gulf Coast and then to the Caribbean and to all of Florida.

Reporters, photographers and their editors all have worked very long days and nights trying to cover the story of human misery. Newspapers from the Coastal Bend, Houston and then to the Golden Triangle have answered the call. Indeed, one of my former employers — the Beaumont Enterprise — has called at least one of its veteran former reporters out of retirement to assist in telling the community’s story as it seeks to recover from Hurricane Harvey’s savage wrath.

The story of media intrepidity is being repeated now in Florida as that state struggles to regain its footing in the wake of Hurricane Irma’s own brand of immense savagery.

There you have it: severe political tumult and potential constitutional crises and Mother Nature’s unimaginable power have combined to create circumstances that make the media answer the call to duty.

To think, as well, that the president of the United States refers to these dedicated men and women as “the enemy of the American people.” Donald Trump knows nothing about the dedication to their craft — and in many instances the heroism — they exhibit in trying to report important issues to a public that wants to know what’s happening in their world.

Good luck, Pulitzer jury, as you seek to find winners in this most eventual period in history.

To my former colleagues, I am immensely proud of you.

Lesson learned about marketing a blog

I have just received a valuable lesson in marketing and (if you’ll pardon the expression) self-promotion.

It was delivered to me in the lobby of a movie theater by a woman who had a kind word about the work I used to do.

I purchased a ticket to a film I went to see with my son. When I stepped away from the ticket counter, a nice lady said, “I love your work at the paper, John.” I turned to see who made the remark.

The woman said she “I love what you write,” and gave me a thumbs-up. I thought for an instant: How do I handle this?

“Well, thank you, but I’ve been gone (from the Amarillo Globe-News) for five years now,” I said. The lady looked surprised. “You have?” she asked. “Yes, nearly five years now,” I said.

“Well, I’m embarrassed,” she said. “It’s OK, no worries,” I said.

Then she pivoted. “Well, I miss you.” I thanked her again and went on my way.

OK, where’s the lesson? I should’ve been carrying my business-card wallet with cards identifying me as the author of High Plains Blogger. You see, that way I could have just handed her a card and said, “I’m still writing. This is what I’m doing now.”

Simple, yes? Of course it is! That’s going to be my standard operating procedure from this day forward.

To be candid, I’m kicking myself in the backside as I write this brief blog post.

Five years after quitting my job I’m still getting these kinds of greetings from strangers. To be totally honest, I find it gratifying, even when I meet folks who might have disagreed with what I wrote for the Globe-News back in The Day.

***

Spoiler alert: I’m planning to post a blog entry in a few days commemorating the five-year anniversary of my departure from daily print journalism. That event hit me hard in the moment … but life has turned out to be far better than I ever imagined.

Opinion pages heading for oblivion — maybe

I am a dinosaur. I believe in what we know to be “traditional journalism.”

It includes newspapers — although not exclusively, to be sure — with pages that contain straight news; some pages contain entertainment; they all have advertising, which businesses purchase and which gives newspapers their profitability.

They also include pages of opinion. They are editorial pages and related pages with other commentary submitted by, oh, syndicated columnists and local contributors; these pages also include letters from readers who want to express themselves on the issues of the day.

Well, it now appears that traditional newspapers are receding into our memory.

The Poynter Institute is telling us that newspapers — a little at a time — are ceasing to publish daily opinion pages. They are reverting to a “digital first” model. They need to save money, given that advertisers aren’t spending as much money on print publications these days. Newspapers need to keep pace with the change in the industry, so they’re going to this digital model.

It saddens this dinosaur.

I became a reporter in the mid-1970s aiming to chronicle events in my community and report them to people who had an interest in being informed.

My career gravitated over time to the opinion pages.

I would assume the role of editor of a small suburban daily in Oregon City, Ore. Then I would move to Beaumont, Texas, to write editorials for a larger newspaper; I eventually became editor of that page. After a period of time, I would move to Amarillo to become editor of two papers’ editorial pages.

I saw my role in opinion journalism as a complement to what those publications did on their news pages. It was to provide perspective, context and, yes, opinion about the issues on which the papers were reporting.

It was a valuable task. I was proud of my craft.

So, it saddens me terribly to read about newspapers forgoing daily print opinion pages in favor of this digital “product.”

The Poynter article discusses big changes underway at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which has scrapped a daily print opinion page in favor of a digital presentation, “We have decided that our highest engagement comes from enterprising, in-depth, explanatory reporting,” editor George Stanley said in a phone interview. “So we are keeping that intact.”

The editor of the paper makes no apologies for it. Nor should he, I guess, given that he still works for an employer who made this decision.

I came of age in journalism during its heyday. A couple of young reporters for the Washington Post were digging for information about what a president of the United States was doing to subvert — allegedly — the U.S. Constitution. I wanted to take part in that craft, even if I couldn’t do it at Ground Zero of what was an exciting time to practice it.

I have never lost my love of that work and what it represents. However, I sure understand that it is a new day in journalism, the craft I practiced for nearly 37 years.

Perhaps it’s time to admit that I am glad to be gone from it and that it’s a better fit for youngsters.

‘Do you miss what you did?’ Yes … and no!

People who know me through the work I did for nearly four decades ask me the same question, albeit a bit differently, all the time.

“Do you miss it?” they ask. “It” is my career in print journalism. It was my craft for nearly 37 years. It was my identity in three communities where I worked: first in Oregon City, Ore., and then in Beaumont and Amarillo, both in Texas. People who said they “knew” me actually only knew my work. My picture appeared in newspapers alongside my columns; my name appeared on editorial page mastheads.

Did they “know” me? Not really.

But the craft I enjoyed so much is changing rapidly. Newspapers no longer distribute as many copies each day. Publishers say they’re committed to what they call “the print product,” but many of us believe differently.

The changing times have claimed many talented print journalists. One of them recently called it a career. He walked away from a job at a major metro daily newspaper to take a job with a public television station.

The bad news is that the newspaper has lost an astonishing talent. The good news is that this young man is going to continue a new form of journalism, which he will meld into TV production.

His story will end up well, no matter where his life’s journey takes him. He’s got a long way to go before it’s finished.

But as I grow older and am farther removed from the career I enjoyed for so many years, the less connected I feel toward those who still practice this noble craft. Sure, they remain friends. I have many of them scattered throughout the country.

However, as I count the number of people with whom I have shared this craft — and this includes men and women who are much younger than I am — the list of former print journalists is outpacing those who are still hard at it.

I remain proud of the career I pursued. I also am proud of those who continue to fight through the amazing change that is occurring within the craft.

They still are answering a noble calling, which is to report the news fairly and without bias. Whether they report for a newspaper, or for a public TV station, or for an online “publication,” they are performing a priceless public service to a public that still relies on them for information in its purest form.

Do I miss working in that environment? Yes — even though I spent the bulk of my career writing opinion. Do I miss the media tumult that broke out just a few years before my career came to its sudden end? Not in the least.

Those who are still hitting it hard have earned my respect and admiration.

Those who have gone on to — as they say on occasion — “pursue other interest” have my best wishes.

My own future lies with this blog.

Cell phone becomes an addiction

Someone help me! I need an intervention!

This morning I drove the store to pick up a few items, and while I was walking across the parking lot for the front door, I reached for the place where I keep my cell phone on my belt.

It wasn’t there!

I froze for an instant. Then I remembered: “D’oh! It’s on the charger at my desk at home.”

So help me, I breathed an ever-so-imperceptible sigh of relief realizing that I knew where the gadget was at that moment.

Does this mean I’m officially a 21st-century guy? Does this mean I’ve become officially addicted to the damn device that drives me insane, but which I might be unable to function without?

I’ve written of this device before. I won’t plow old ground here.

My sons needle me constantly about my aversion to this technology. One of them posted something on Facebook recently posing a rhetorical question about whether his mother and I use still use a VCR recorder at home; he knew the answer — which is “yes.”

I’m not totally frightened of technology. Indeed, I’ve been through a lot of technological changes throughout my professional life. I started writing for newspapers in the mid-1970s using a manual typewriter and marking up text with blue pencils and Scotch-taping pieces of paper together. It’s a whole lot different now, but I managed to learn to adapt along the way.

Cell phone technology also is growing rapidly.

My first such phone was a tiny flip-top thing that drove me nuts. My wife had the same issue. We cursed the things constantly.

We’ve “graduated” to smart phones. I’ll concede that I don’t use all the “apps” that come with it — but I’m getting a bit more acquainted with them a little at a time.

I still detest cell phones. However, I realized today I cannot live without it.

Heaven help me!

Media landscape changing all around us

No matter how you slice it, dice it, puree it — whatever — the media landscape is a-changin’.

Even here in the relatively staid Texas Panhandle, where the announcement came out today that the one-time newspaper of record for the region, the Amarillo Globe-News, no longer will print its editions here. It will outsource that task to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, another property owned by the parent company that owns both newspapers.

None of this is unique to the Panhandle. The question of the day is: What’s coming next?

I remain concerned about the deadlines for late-breaking news. The printed newspaper won’t contain news that breaks shortly after suppertime. But, hey, readers can catch up with the news on the paper’s online edition — if they subscribe to the printed newspaper.

Print journalism is trying to make the transition from its old form to something new. The Digital Age has arrived. Some papers are doing a better job of making that switch from one form of delivery to another. Others are struggling with it.

The biggest hang-up is making money on the digital edition. I’m not privy to ad sales techniques, so I cannot comment intelligently on how newspapers in general — and the Globe-News in particular — sell the online edition to advertisers.

I’ve heard some anecdotal evidence, though, that suggests the printed newspaper continues to outpace the digital version by a huge margin in terms of revenue generated.

So, good luck with the transition.

I don’t have any particular loyalty any longer to the people who run my local newspaper. I left daily print journalism under unhappy circumstances. My loyalty remains, though, with my friends who continue to work there.

I hope they’re strong and they can persevere through this trauma. Take my word for it, many of them are being traumatized by what they cannot predict will happen in the near or distant future.