Tag Archives: AGN Media

Do I miss the old days?

My friends pepper me with questions all the time about what I used to do for a living.

One question recurs more often than you might think: Do you miss the old days when you were under constant deadline pressure?

My answer might surprise you. At one level, I do miss the pressure; it was how I made my living, which turned out to provide a nice lifestyle for my wife, my sons and for me.

I miss the being asked to make a phone call or three to subjects of our newspaper reporting and commentary and to get a comment from them. Our sense of fairness in reporting required us to get the point of view of the individual being examined. So, we did … or, shall I say, I did.

That was then. The present day provides a whole new environment for newspaper reporters and editors. The pressure comes from media we don’t yet understand. At the end of my joyous ride as a full-time journalist, I was working for a company that owned that Amarillo Globe-News that did not grasp what it needed to compete in this new media age.

The result was chaos and confusion and we all had to deal with it in the trenches.

I do not miss that part of the craft I pursued with great joy and fulfillment. 

My life has taken on a different meaning in my semi-retirement phase. My blog keeps me busy commenting on issues of the day, on various slices of life and lately, of course, on a personal journey I am undertaking as I search for an end to the tragic darkness that has shrouded me since February.

While I surely miss many aspects of the life I once knew, other aspects of that life are better left for others to pursue.

I had one hell of a ride for much of the time on the front line of daily journalism. Now, though, the journey toward places unknown awaits. I intend to be ready for whatever the future brings.

Hold ’em accountable

The seemingly pending demise of local journalism in communities across the country has me dismayed almost beyond measure.

I have been sharing email messages with a longtime Texas Panhandle journalist who endorsed my concern over the slow, steady and agonizing degradation of the Amarillo Globe-News, the newspaper where I worked for nearly 18 years before my career came to a halt in August 2012.

What is happening in the Panhandle is a tragedy. There’s no other way to describe it. The Canadian Record, a weekly newspaper of longstanding fame and tradition, shut its doors earlier this year, leaving that portion of the Panhandle with no voice.

The Globe-News no longer publishes a daily editorial page and it has gone to mailing its editions to consumers, a decision that, in my view, makes delivery of timely news an absolute impossibility.

The biggest loser in all of this, according to my friend and former colleague, are those who demand that local politicians be held accountable. My friend wrote this:

“The worst part of all this is that for a democracy to survive at its best, there needs to be scrutiny of the decisions of public officials, otherwise it’ll be easier for more of them to succumb to temptation with impunity, with little to no oversight. The public gets the short straw and honest, efficient government at all levels suffers terribly. There goes democracy as it’s supposed to work.”

The media are supposed to function as the public’s eyes and ears. It reports on what government does, what those who run our government say and on the results of those decisions to those of us who rely on government.

The media also are charged with being the voice of the public that consumes what the media report and then speak out either in favor of or against what government is doing for — or to — them.

This is what we always tried to do at every stop I made along my way through a modestly successful — and wholly gratifying — career in print journalism. We occasionally reported and commented on matters the public didn’t want to hear; and they let us know when that occurred. We also received applause when we earned it from the public that thanked us for being there for them.

That element is being stripped away piece by piece by this new age of journalism that is taking on a totally different look from what I remember.

It’s about the accountability … stupid!


Reflections of good times

As I watch the media landscape buckle and change in real time before my aging eyes, I am thrown into wistful thoughts of how it used to be when I was a whole lot younger, full of piss and vinegar and wanting to make a difference in my world.

I don’t wake up a single day ever regretting the decision I made to pursue a career in print journalism.

The journey began with a conversation I had with my father at dinner shortly after I returned home from a tour in the Army. I was re-enrolling in school and Dad asked me about my major. He said I should pursue journalism because the letters I wrote home from overseas were so “descriptive” that he shared them with friends and family.

So … I marched down that road. I never looked back.

My career took me to four newspapers: two in Oregon and two in Texas. It enabled me to do things that not every human being can say they did. I met important people along the way. I sought to help bring policy changes in communities where I lived and worked. I had some modest success along the way.

These days, as politicians — particularly on the far right — declare the media to be the people’s enemy, I continue to look back with great pride at what I did, at who I angered (and the reasons for their anger) and whether I made a difference.

I made mistakes. No one’s perfect, as they say. I learned from each of them. I also learned about the communities I called home during my nearly 37 years pursuing a craft I loved with all the professional passion I could muster.

Two of the papers where I worked no longer exist; the Oregon Journal and the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier closed up in 1982 and 1988, respectively. The other two, the Beaumont Enterprise and the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas are mere ghosts of what they once were. I fear their presence in their respective communities might be ticking down rapidly.

It is not fun at all to watch this change chip away at formerly grand community institutions. It is inevitable nonetheless.

They took me on one hell of a great ride … and I will never, ever surrender the joy I had throughout that entire journey.


Once-solid newspaper on its way out

Another newspaper that once boasted of winning journalism’s top prize is heading for the crapper.

How do I know that? Because the Amarillo Globe-News has informed its subscribers they no longer will have what is left of the newspaper tossed on their yards the day it is published — in Lubbock! Ohhh, no! It’s going to be mailed to subscribers via the Postal Service. The paper is terminating its carrier service.

Stick with me for a moment as I explain why this sounds like the death knell peeling across the Texas Panhandle.

A few years ago, the Globe-News shut down its presses and farmed the job of printing the paper to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, about 120 miles south of Amarillo on Interstate 27. That meant the deadlines for getting “late-breaking news” into the G-N would be pushed back. The paper needed time to get the pages assembled and then shipped to Lubbock, where it would end up on printing plates.

Bottom line? There would be no late-breaking news in the Globe-News.

Now they have added the mailing element to a newspaper that has been stripped of its viability because it cannot report news that happens at midnight.

I once worked for a newspaper in Oregon City, Ore., that around 1983 decided to start mailing its copies to subscribers. I left the paper in early 1984 headed for the Golden Triangle region of Texas. The experiment failed miserably. The paper folded in 1988 and vanished into the void.

A similar experiment is about to commence in Amarillo around the third week of July, as I understand it.

All I can do these days is sigh and bemoan what has happened to a news organization that once displayed a Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service it won in 1961 for exposing government corruption in the region. That, folks, is the highest honor a newspaper can earn. The Pulitzer Board is still making that award, but in Amarillo and in the Panhandle, it is a distant memory now.

The days of great daily community journalism are long gone.

What does mailing the paper mean to those who still read the Amarillo Globe-News? It means they now will get a sheet of newsprint that is worth even less than it was before.

I detest bringing bad news to my friends in the Panhandle, but the end is approaching … rapidly.


Great story on the fall of a media ‘giant’

The Texas Tribune has published a wonderful story about the pending demise of the Canadian Record, an award-winning weekly newspaper that has “suspended” its print editions … maybe only temporarily.

Nic Garcia wrote the piece.

Texas news desert expands after Canadian Record stops publishing | The Texas Tribune

The Record’s owner, Laurie Ezzell Brown, is trying to find a buyer. She admits to being weary of the grind and wants to spend time with her children and grandchildren.

Garcia alludes to the demise of many newspapers that serve rural communities. I would just add this mild critique, which is that he didn’t mention that the Texas Panhandle’s significant urban community — Amarillo — is suffering from the same lack of local news coverage as communities such as Canadian.

Same for Lubbock further down the highway from Amarillo. And other larger cities as well.

The era of printed newspapers is fading away … rapidly, it seems.

It saddens this old newspaper hand terribly.


Lamenting slow demise of proud craft

As I lament the agonizing, excruciating, painful demise of a once-proud craft — print journalism — I remind myself of this frightening fact.

I worked for four newspapers during my nearly 37 years as a print journalist and two of them are long gone, while the other two are mere shadows of their former selves.

In 1976, I landed a job on the copy desk of the Oregon Journal, the evening newspaper of record in my hometown of Portland. In 1982, the Journal folded. It was gone forever.

I had moved by that time to Oregon City, to work at a suburban newspaper just south of Portland. We published five days each week. I became editor of the paper in 1979, which probably was a serious career mistake, as I wasn’t prepared to take on that task. The Enterprise-Courier folded in 1988. It, too, was relegated to the dust bin.

I had moved on to Beaumont, Texas, in the spring of 1984 to become an editorial writer for the Enterprise. I was promoted to editor of the opinion pages later that year. I stayed until January 1995, when I moved to Amarillo to become editor of the opinion pages of the Globe-News.

What happened in Beaumont and Amarillo is nothing short of heartbreaking. Both papers are still around … so to speak. Their staffs have been obliterated. The Enterprise’s parent company is trying to sell the building where the newspaper once was a thriving presence. The Globe-News’s parent company sold to another media giant and it moved the paper out of its iconic structure and has sold that property to another business.

The Enterprise and the Globe-News once were pillars of their communities. Now they are battered hulks. They once covered vast distances. The Enterprise reached into Deep East Texas and as far east as Lake Charles, La. The Globe-News once had a bureau in Clovis, N.M. and covered everything in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and even reached into southwest Kansas.

The Globe-News once won a Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service for its work in revealing corruption in county government.

No more.

Maybe it’s me, that I jinxed all of ’em. Just kidding.

I simply am saddened at the pending demise of what used to be communities’ major source of information about themselves and told many thousands of readers the news of the state, nation and the world.

I am left just to sigh.


Another media icon closes

Word from the Texas Panhandle hit me like a punch in the puss: the Canadian Record is shutting down after 132 years providing top-notch community journalism to arguably one of the more fascinating communities in the region.

Laurie Ezzell Brown, publisher of the newspaper and daughter of a Panhandle journalism legend, Ben Ezzell, has surrendered to the forces of change in the media.

This saddens me terribly. It is one more iconic community institution to fall victim to what we call the “Digital Age” of what passes for journalism these days.

Jon Mark Beilue, a former columnist at the Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked for nearly 18 years, wrote a touching tribute to the work that Brown did as publisher of the Record.

Here is part of what Beilue wrote on his Facebook post:

Like her father, (Brown) didn’t shy from calling it how she saw it with the best interest of her hometown at heart …

But more than anything, Laurie and a revolving small staff covered the 2,300 people of Canadian. They were the town’s conscience, the stitches in the fabric that knitted the community together. Achievements, disappointments, the memorable, the mundane, the Record was there. They were there for every school board meeting, every city council and county commissioner meeting, every time the hospital district met.

Jon Mark Beilue | Facebook

Communities once relied on their newspapers to tell them what happened next door, or down the street, or around the block.

The Canadian Record is far from the first such iconic institution to close. It won’t be the final one, either. That doesn’t make this news any easier to swallow.

Well done, Laurie Ezzell Brown.


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.


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.


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.