Tag Archives: AGN Media

Feeling happy … and sad

A longtime colleague and friend has called it a career in print journalism and to be brutally honest, his announcement fills me with happiness for what awaits him but sadness over a revelation contained in his announcement.

Tom Taschinger served as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise from February 1995 until just the other day. That’s nearly 28 years in the saddle; his career spanned 40 years all told. Taschinger and I didn’t work together in Beaumont; he succeeded me after I departed the Gulf Coast in January 1995 for the Texas Panhandle. We knew each other well, though, as he served as editorial editor of the neighboring Port Arthur News during my time in Beaumont.

I wish him all the very best as he enters an exciting new phase of his life.

But he declared that he would be the “last full-time editorial page editor” of the Beaumont Enterprise. Thus, I feel a tinge of sadness.

You see, when I arrived in Beaumont in the spring of 1984, the then-executive editor, the late Ben Hansen, informed me that I would be sitting “in the catbird seat” writing editorials in a “great news town.” He was so right. Those were the days when communities, such as those served by the newspaper, depended on the opinion pages for leadership, for a touch of guidance … if only to remind readers that they should take the “opposite approach” to whatever solutions the paper sought to offer.

We offered those opinions. We sought to guide the community. We sought to provide a forum for debate and discussion. Now, to hear that my old buddy is leaving a post that will be filled with part-time help leaves me with a sense that he and I are part of a sub-species of journalist that has entered the “endangered” list of professions.

I left Beaumont for Amarillo and worked at my craft for nearly 18 more years. The newspaper where I served as opinion editor until August 2012 no longer publishes a daily opinion page. It has no opinion editor. I don’t even know who writes editorials for that once-vibrant newspaper.

I know it’s a sign of a changing media era. The Internet has consumed much of what Tom Taschinger and I used to pursue with great joy.

I am left, therefore, to shrug and wish my old pal safe travels as he continues his journey toward parts unknown.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Recalling an astonishing first meeting

(By Michael Schumacher)

Readers of High Plains Blogger might recall a statement made on it that I am writing a memoir for members of my family.

The memoir is about two-thirds finished. It contains personal reminiscences of people I met during my career as a print journalist and recalls the more fascinating sights I saw and experiences that came my way.

I want to reveal one of the people I cite in this memoir. I won’t spill all the beans, but I do want to share one element of this individual’s character that I found most appealing.

***

The late Teel Bivins served as a Republican state senator from the Texas Panhandle from 1989 until 2004. I arrived at the Amarillo Globe-News in January 1995 to stand post as editorial page editor of the daily newspapers we published in Amarillo.

I knew a little bit about Bivins when I arrived, given that I had spent nearly 11 years at the Beaumont Enterprise. I had been watching the Legislature during my decade on the Gulf Coast.

My phone rang a few days after I arrived in Amarillo. It was Bivins’ office in downtown Amarillo. He wanted to meet with me. Good deal, I said. I’ll be right over.

I walked into Bivins’ office. Then he welcomed me to his desk. We shook hands, I sat down, exchanged a bit of small talk about this and that politician we both knew. He asked me about my family. I told him of my marital bliss and the pride we share in our sons who at the time were just completing their college studies.

Then it came.

Bivins at that point proceeded to tell me a tale of woe and a bit of horror at the condition of his wife. She suffered from alcohol and drug abuse, he said. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know whether he could stay married to her. Bivins said he was at the end of his tolerance with her. “I don’t think I can keep this up,” he said.

I mention this because in that moment, a politician I had known for, oh, about 30 minutes took the time to expose a part of his life that obviously caused him great pain.

I shall admit that in that moment, I didn’t realize what became clear to me a few days later. A legislative aide to Bivins informed that the reason Bivins wanted to tell that story about his wife was that he wanted to get ahead of a story I likely would hear … from someone else.

Do you get it? The man wanted to tell me his version of events before I heard someone else’s version.

It truly was an astonishing thing to reveal to a total stranger, let alone to someone — such as me — who was in a position to offer commentary on politicians’ personal lives.

I have retained a vivid memory of that first meeting with a prominent Texas politician. I do so on purpose, as it reminds me that politicians — of all people — indeed, can achieve a form of nobility.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Change is inexorable

The more I lament the changes occurring in the world of media and in the delivery of news and commentary, the more I realize that I likely am seeking to do the impossible.

That would be to stop the inexorable, inevitable change that is occurring right in front of us in real time.

Now that I have recognized the obvious, I ought to declare my belief that there always will be a need for people who do what I did with great joy — and modest success — for nearly 37 years.

There just will be fewer of them and they will deliver the information — and, yes, the commentary — in different forms.

I have lamented the shocking (in my view) decline in newspapers’ standing in people’s lives and in the communities where they live. Two Texas newspapers where I worked — the Amarillo Globe-News and the Beaumont Enterprise — both have gone through grievous slashings of staff and resources in this changing media climate. The absence of reporters blanketing the communities served by these newspapers has taken some adjustment for many of us.

Then I have to remind myself that someone, somewhere, in some capacity is writing text that tells communities about what is happening there. They’re delivering that news via those “digital platforms,” which newspapers still are struggling to understand sufficiently to make enough money to keep going.

That brings me to one more point: There was a time as recently as the early 1990s when newspapers were highly profitable for their owners while at the same carrying huge payroll expenses. I heard of mid-sized daily newspapers operating at a 40% profit margin. I can tell you that there are more than a few Fortune 500 company executives who would kill for that kind of bottom line. It well might be that newspapers got lazy and didn’t think enough “outside the proverbial box” to prepare for the change that arrived suddenly in the early 2000s.

As sad as I get at times at the demise of the industry where I worked for so long and which gave me so much joy, my sadness is offset by the realization that I no longer must live in the middle of that turmoil every working day of my life.

I’ll leave that to the up-and-comers who are joining the fight.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Do endorsements matter?

(David Woo/The Dallas Morning News)

Rick Perry might have been a politician ahead of his time a dozen years ago as he sought re-election to his post as Texas governor.

Perry announced to the state’s editorial boards — and I was a member of one of them in 2010 — that he wouldn’t visit newspaper offices to seek editorial pages’ endorsement.

Why, he would just “talk directly to Texans” and not mess with newspapers’ editorial pages.

Well, you know what? Perry’s strategy worked. Virtually every newspaper in Texas endorsed the Democrat running against Perry that year, former Houston mayor Bill White. The Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked at the time, was among the papers that gave its “blessing” to White.

I will never forget the reaction we got from our readers. Many of them responded to us as if we had endorsed the Son of Satan himself.

What’s more, Perry was able to cruise to re-election, much as he had done in every year he ran for the office.

What’s the lesson here? It is that voters no longer rely on newspaper editors’ “wisdom” in helping them decide how to cast their ballots. In many cases, readers’ minds are made up. They have heard all they need to hear about candidates and their views on pressing issues of the day.

This trend saddens me. I edited opinion pages in Amarillo for nearly 18 years, for nearly 11 years in Beaumont and for a half-dozen years in Oregon, City, Ore., before my career ended in August 2012. I was proud of virtually all the endorsements we made during those years. Moreover, I took pride in the respectful reaction we received — even from readers who disagreed with what we offered.

Newspapers aren’t as “respected” these days as they used to be. That, too, saddens me greatly. Those of us who write for newspapers, be they major metro dailies or community papers, aren’t “the enemy of the people.” We seek to do our job with fairness and accuracy. When we offer commentary, we do so with the same noble motives.

Rick Perry didn’t see it that way when he stiffed editorial boards’ desire to visit with him on why he sought to return to public office.

He was ahead of his time.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Media knife plunges deeply

The media butchers who now run more newspapers than any other single group in America has done it again, cutting even more deeply into a newspaper that, for my money, had been decimated already to the point of no return.

I have just learned that the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas, where I spent nearly 18 (mostly) glorious years writing opinions and managing opinion pages for the publication of record for the Texas Panhandle, has terminated the fellow who was managing those pages.

Doug Hensley, a fellow I do not know, was cut by GateHouse Media. Hensley was among the 400 or so employees cut by GateHouse in the latest round of staff butchery. He held the title of associate regional editor and director of commentary for the Globe-News.

The corporate owners have reduced the opinion pages to one per week. I don’t know who’s tasked with writing editorials, or even if the company publishes editorials on local issues any longer. We used to publish two full pages of commentary daily. Occasionally we would collect so many letters to the editor from readers that we would clear the decks of all the syndicated commentary just to give the locals a chance to sound off on the pages of their newspaper.

The sad truth is that the longer I am away from the full-time career I pursued with great glee the less aware I am of what is happening at the place where I spent my longest single tenure. I am left only to watch my heart fill with sadness over what I know has occurred.

The newspaper that I once knew no longer is as relevant to people’s lives as it once was. I get it. You may spare me the explanation of what has become of community newspaper journalism. I know what has happened.

I also know that young journalists are still entering the field and are doing some version of what I did for nearly 37 years. There’s just so damn fewer of them now than before and that their work is appearing on computer screens rather than on newsprint.

It’s just a sad story to report that the media butchers keep cleaving off huge chunks of what made our craft so special.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Media relevance vanishes

A quick return to a community where my wife and I lived for nearly half of our married life together has produced a series of bittersweet memories.

We came back to Amarillo, Texas, for a quick visit with our son and to acquaint our new Ford pickup with our new travel trailer. We didn’t get out too much to mingle with friends, but we see did a number of them at a Rotary Club luncheon.

I must have heard a dozen references to the job I used to do in Amarillo, which was to edit the opinion pages of a once-vibrant newspaper, the Amarillo Globe-News.

That paper, or what’s left of it, has become a non-presence in the community that once relied on it to tell the Texas Panhandle story, the good and the bad, the joys and the sorrows.

“Man, we sure miss you,” came one greeting. “Why don’t you move back?” another friend said. “I once read the newspaper to know about the community, but I can’t find anything in it that tells me what I want or need to know,” yet another friend said.

Hey, I don’t say this to shore up my own ego. I want to relate to you what I sense is missing in a city of 200,000 residents that once turned to its newspaper of record to report on what is happening around the corner, or at city hall, or at the county courthouse.

I went shopping for a copy of the Globe-News. I couldn’t find one anywhere on sale. Surely, they still peddle the newspaper … somewhere! Don’t they?

It’s always good to see good friends and to catch on their lives. The good feelings are diluted by the bitter feeling that boils up when I realize that such a big part of my professional life no longer matters to the people I enjoyed serving.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I saw ‘woke’ before I ever heard the word

Hey, something just occurred to me that I want to share with this post. It made me chuckle when the thought entered my pointed head.

You’ve heard the term “woke,” right. I take it to be a sort of put-down on those with progressive/liberal leanings. Here’s a quick story that I want to share.

I was working at the Amarillo Globe-News in the early 2000s when the publisher decided to move our opinion page operation into the newsroom; it had been next to the publisher’s office in an adjacent building.

So, we made the move. My two staffers and I set up shop in a corner of the AGN newsroom. I dug into my box of mementos and found a bumper sticker that one of my sons’ high school teachers had given him … to give to me! It said: I don’t believe the liberal media.

Maybe you’ve seen stickers like it. I taped it to a window on my new office.

It didn’t take 24 hours for a colleague at the newspaper to tell me how she was “offended” by it and that others in the newsroom were offended, too. She told me to take it down or else she would take it up with the management of the newspaper.

Like the dumbass I was in the moment, I reacted two ways. My jaw dropped because I couldn’t believe I was hearing such nonsense. I told my colleague that the sign is a “joke on me. It is intended as a barb that someone was leveling at me because of my political leanings.” She wasn’t convinced.

Well, I took the sign down. I put it away. I kept it hidden from view during the time we were stationed in the AGN newsroom. We didn’t want to offend anyone … you know?

Talk about an “I wish I woulda said this” moment. I should have dared her to take it up with human resources, or even the publisher. I should have shooed her away and told her to take it up with the executive editor at the time. But … I didn’t.

Now I understand better what “woke” means. It reared its ugliness in front of me before I knew what “woke” meant.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Milestone ahead!

I am approaching a milestone date and I want to forewarn you of the event. I have written about it before, starting with some bitter feelings toward my former employer and the circumstances leading up to my departure from a career that brought me great joy, a bit of success and a whole lot of fun.

It was Aug. 30, 2012 when I got called into the office of a new hire at the Amarillo Globe-News. The newly installed “vice president for audience” told me, “There is no easy way to say this, but we have decided to offer your job to someone else, and he accepted.”

Hmm. I knew who the “someone else” was, but I asked if it was him. My colleague said yes.

We exchanged a few words, I rose from my chair, went to my office, called my wife and said, “I’m out.” I called my sons to tell them the same thing. I collected my thoughts and went home, but not before visiting with the publisher of the newspaper on my way to the car. We had a tense conversation. He asked me to come back the next day to “think about” my next move. I didn’t need to think about it. I quit.

I came back the next morning, cleared out my office … and was gone.

The publisher had implemented a strategy that sought to reorganize the newsroom at the AGN. He told us all our job descriptions had been rewritten. We could apply for any job we wanted. I chose to seek the one I had done there for nearly 18 years. He had something — and someone — else in mind for me and my AGN career. So, he acted.

The years since my departure from full-time print journalism have been a joyous ride. Some of it has been a bit uncertain. However, I have not only survived, I consider myself fortunate to have been spared the misery that has befallen daily newspapers in the decade since and the unique misery that afflicted the Texas Panhandle’s premier newspaper.

This blog has been a lifesaver for me. I get to keep pontificating about issues of the day. As I have told you already, I have a couple of fun freelance gigs that keep me busy near the North Texas home my wife and I purchased a few years ago.

As they say, time flies when you’re having fun. Thus, it has been a rapid 10 years since my life changed.

***

A couple of quick post-scripts …

The VP for audience and I have become friends and we stay in touch. He moved on not long after he gave me the news I didn’t want to hear. I reached out to him not long ago to reconcile and to inform him I harbored no hard feelings toward him.

The publisher? He “stepped down” from his post a while ago after the paper was purchased by another company. He and I never forged any kind of relationship during the years we worked together. We don’t speak now. That’s fine with me, too.

Life is so good.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Saddened by newspaper images

The images I keep seeing of the place where I spent the longest stint of my newspaper career keep tugging at my heart.

The Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News buildings have been vacant for some time. What’s left of the newspaper staff moved into a suite of offices in a downtown bank tower. Someone reportedly has purchased the G-N site, which will become a place that manufactures lubricants.

The images just tear my guts out.

The press room still has paper in the presses. I saw one picture of encyclopedias piled up. Another one had bound volumes of old editions. The newsroom looks like the staff fled the building in haste, leaving paper and assorted trash strewn across the floor.

I would pay real American money to know what the G-N’s final days were like as the company that purchased it from the owners for whom I worked got ready to vacate the site.

Next month marks a decade since I walked off my job after nearly 18 years as an editor of the opinion pages. I don’t miss it these days. I got over the pain — and the embarrassment — associated with my sudden departure from a career I pursued with great joy for nearly 37 years.

To be candid, seeing the images of what is left of the Globe-News only heightens my relief and happiness at being away when the end arrived.

Life goes on.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Stop the presses … no, wait!

This bit of news from the Texas Panhandle hit me like a punch in the gut. It comes from the company that owns the newspaper where my daily journalism career came to a screeching halt nearly a decade ago.

The Amarillo Globe-News is ending its daily page of opinion. It will run that form of community journalism one day each week: Sunday only, man! I want to emphasize the term “community journalism” for a reason you’ll notice in just a moment as you finish reading this post.

The newspaper announced it today. The statement includes this item: This comes as we make a more concerted effort to re-invest in local journalism, with the recent addition of a reporter dedicated to covering breaking news and trends along with agriculture and West Texas environmental issues.

It wants to “re-invest in local journalism.” What that statement tells me is that dodo birds who run the newspaper place little “local journalism” value one editorials. That is a terrible shame.

You see, there once was a time when communities relied on opinion pages to lead them, to provide some form of wisdom, to offer talking points, if not outright ideas for solving community issues.

Those days appear to have been cast aside.

Read the entire statement here: Amarillo Globe-News shifts to Sunday-only opinion section, re-invests in local news – Amarillo Globe-News (newsmemory.com)

I wrote opinion pieces and edited opinion pages for the bulk of my 30-plus-year career in daily journalism. That is why this news hurts, why it cuts me to the quick.

You can spare me the lecture about how “this is the national trend” and that “the Internet has changed everything.” Man, I know all that.

There once was a time, not many years before I got reorganized out of my job as opinion page editor at the Globe-News, when I made a concerted effort to limit all of our editorial commentary to local and state affairs. That was our contribution to furthering the cause of community journalism to a region that still sought leadership from the newspaper.

It now appears that people who did that job for the communities they served — as I did with great joy and commitment — have been placed on an endangered species list.

Wow!

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com