Tag Archives: Amarillo Globe-News

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.


A tragic metaphor

The picture attached to this blog post symbolizes something that is troubling to me on at least two levels: one of them is personal, the other speaks to a broader phenomenon.

It came to me today from a friend who is visiting Amarillo with her husband on a family matter. Hubby snapped the picture. I want to call your attention to the graffiti on the second floor of the structure.

The building used to house the Amarillo Globe-News, where I worked for nearly 18 years as editorial page editor. I left the business in late August 2012. The corporate ownership changed hands a few years later and then the new owners vacated the building. They moved what was left of the newspaper operation into an office suite in a downtown bank tower.

What you see here is the rotting hulk of what used to house a once-proud community institution.

The personal impact on me is obvious. I went to the Texas Panhandle in January 1995 full of pi** and vinegar and ready to slay some dragons in my new surroundings. The newspaper had a proud tradition. It won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service — which is journalism’s highest award. I was proud to be part of that legacy. We didn’t win any more Pulitzer prizes during my time there, but I developed a lot of close friendships with colleagues and managed to eke out a modestly successful tenure during my time there.

None of us got into the business of chronicling a community’s story to make lots of money. We did it because of our commitment to the craft we pursued.

I had a lot of fun there and managed to embark on many fascinating assignments during my time.

So when I see this picture, my heart breaks on a deeply personal level. The property is up for sale. It’s been on the block for quite some time. I do not know how you repurpose an office building that once served as a newspaper office; the building next to it on the same block once housed the paper’s presses and distribution complex. Good luck with peddling that structure, too.

The picture symbolizes what has become of print journalism in communities all across the nation. Once-vibrant community institutions are being relegated to empty shells. They become targets of graffiti “artists” intent on making some sort of statement about … whatever.

Newspaper staffs are slashed. The paper charges whoever is left to cover a community with virtually no one available to actually do the work of reporting on and then writing what they learn.

Those who once depended on newspapers are turning to other media. I cannot vouch for the veracity of what is being disseminated. Some of it is valid. Some of it, well, is just crap.

I am happy to report that I have moved on, as have so many of my former colleagues. I am in a much better place now. I hope they are, too. The remains of the Amarillo Globe-News? The future for the building and the medium it once housed — to my way of thinking — look decidedly less promising.

I am saddened beyond measure.

Boone Pickens, maximum polarizing figure, passes from the scene

If the Texas Panhandle ever produced a more polarizing figure than oil and natural gas tycoon T. Boone Pickens, I would be hard-pressed to identify that individual.

Pickens died today at age 91. He had suffered a series of strokes in 2017. His body finally gave out.

Where does one begin to examine the amazing, confounding, controversial life of this extraordinary human being? Be advised that I use the term “extraordinary” to encompass the bad along with the good. Boone Pickens was far from an ordinary business mogul.

He was born in Oklahoma, but gravitated to the Panhandle at an early age. He earned his fortune in Amarillo. Pickens became a towering figure in the region.

Boone Pickens loomed large

To be totally candid, Pickens didn’t always wear his noted standing with grace and dignity. The man could be vicious. He held grudges.

Yes, he had many friends who were loyal to him at all times, even as he declared proverbial war on his adversaries.

I arrived in Amarillo in early 1995 to take up my post as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I was acutely aware of the feud that Pickens launched against the newspaper. In the late 1980s he launched a boycott of the paper, objecting to the way it covered his business dealings and ostensibly at the way it covered the community.

He formed a group called People Committed to a Better Amarillo Newspaper, or PCBAN. He sought to persuade readers to stop subscribing to the paper; he bullied advertisers to stop buying space in the paper.

Pickens took personal umbrage at the then-publisher of the Globe-News, Jerry Huff, who eventually would be “reassigned” to another property owned by Morris Communications. As Huff exited Amarillo, Pickens displayed his crassness in full view by hanging a “Good bye, Jerry” banner from his office building a few blocks from the Globe-News.

That’s the bad Boone. I had three meetings with him during my time in Amarillo. I never met the man I have just described. Instead, I had the pleasure of meeting the good Boone, who was as charming, funny, erudite as anyone I’ve ever met.

It took a good while to persuade Pickens to come to Amarillo. He continued to harbor hard feelings toward the newspaper. He had departed Amarillo for Dallas years earlier. He kept his sprawling Mesa Vista Ranch in Roberts County and would return there regularly.

Our first meeting went far better than I could have hoped. The second meeting took place at the Civic Center a couple of years later. The third meeting occurred at his opulent ranch while I was on assignment for KFDA NewsChannel 10.

I enjoyed getting to know this individual, who was fond of dropping the names of the rich and powerful.

The last time I saw him, he told me he didn’t get back to Amarillo much, other than to attend funerals of high school classmates and assorted friends. Those visits now are over.

Was he always likable and charming? Oh, no. Someone who earned as many billions of dollars as Boone Pickens did was bound to pummel many adversaries along the way.

However, my limited exposure to this astonishing force of nature remains one of the highlights of my career.

Wishing I could vote in favor of this issue

I am left to endorse a project without having an actual voice in assuring its approval.

The project to which I refer involves an extreme makeover of the Amarillo Civic Center, the renovation of a historic railroad depot across the street from the center and the relocation Amarillo’s City Hall to a suitable existing structure downtown.

But … I cannot vote on it when it comes to a vote. My hope is that the city doesn’t back down from a proposal it will consider.

The bill will be hefty, more than $300 million. The Civic Center needs more convention space and the Cal Farley Coliseum needs a serious upgrade to accommodate more than truck/tractor pulls, hockey and arena football; OK, the coliseum occasionally hosts a concert … but those who’ve been inside understand the need for a serious upgrade.

As for the City Hall relocation, I am a bit torn on this one. One of my social media friends wondered the other day whether the recently vacated Amarillo Globe-News building at Ninth Avenue and Harrison Street might work. I answered him with a “Maybe.” I don’t know how the square footage in the G-N building compares with the current City Hall.

I also remember something that a former Amarillo mayor once said to me about the municipal headquarters. He called it the “ugliest City Hall complex in the United States.” I have to agree that the exterior of the building is pretty damn ugly.

Here’s another potential hiccup: The stone Earth on the municipal complex. How would the city relocate that, if it needed to be relocated? It was a gift to the city from the Globe-News as part of its Celebrate 2000 commemoration back at the turn of the 21st century.

Well, the city is considering a bond issue that I believe it should present to voters in a single package. All or nothing, man! It’s worth doing, in my humble view.

The city might schedule the bond election in May 2020. That would work, too. At least one chronic sorehead has pitched the idea of having it on Presidential Election Day, in November of next year. It shouldn’t matter.

If the city is going to bring maximum public attention to this needed project, residents ought to respond with a hefty vote total.

My only regret is that I cannot cast a vote in favor of this project.

Amarillo would be poised to reap the benefit of a shiny new Civic Center. Let the debate commence.

Another community icon about to vanish

I am heartbroken, but not entirely surprised to hear this bit of news: The Beaumont Enterprise’s parent company is planning to sell the structure and move the newspaper into a more, um, suitable location hits me straight in the gut.

I got word of this decision Thursday through — that is correct — social media, which I suppose tells the story of the Beaumont Enterprise’s decline as the newspaper of record for the Golden Triangle region of Texas.

It is where my Texas journalism career got its start in 1984. It’s where I made tons of friends, learned about Texas’s unique political culture, and learned also that gumbo was far more than what you bought in a can of Campbell’s Soup.

My heart hurts over this news.

Social media have played a part in the Enterprise’s diminishing presence in the community. The paper I joined in 1984 was selling about 75,000 copies daily; its Sunday distribution totaled more than 80,000 copies. We sent papers way up into Deep East Texas and into Southwest Louisiana.

Then came the Internet. I left the Golden Triangle in January 1995 for greater opportunities in the Texas Panhandle. As the Internet began exerting its chokehold on print journalism in Amarillo, it began taking its toll in Beaumont as well.

The Enterprise, which once employed more than 300 individuals has seen its payroll dwindle to fewer than 70 people. Hurricane wind and rain destroyed the newspaper’s presses, forcing the paper to print its editions at the Houston Chronicle, another property owned by the Hearst Corp. The Enterprise’s production department disappeared; its circulation department has been reduced to virtually nothing.

Most tragically (in my view) the news staff has been decimated. I don’t know the exact count of reporters and editors on staff at the Enterprise, but I do know it’s far fewer than it was during the heyday of print journalism.

Hearst Corp. execs say they need to move into a location that is more suited for the Enterprise to compete in the digital age. I totally understand the business aspect of the decision, just as I understand why the Amarillo Globe-News — where I worked for nearly 18 years — has vacated its historic location.

There’s a glimmer of good news, which is that Hearst plans to keep the newspaper in downtown Beaumont, given the Enterprise’s longtime presence there. Publisher Mark Adkins said, “We believe in the community here, and want to continue our long history as a part of downtown,. It is important for us to stay here for those reasons. But it is also important to be able to pass on this building to someone that could use it for further development of downtown.”

However, none of this assuages the grief I feel at this moment reading about the pending departure of the Beaumont Enterprise from a building where I practiced my craft for nearly 11 years.

There’s no nice way to say it. This news really sucks, man.

Time of My Life, Part 31: Y2K? The ‘worst’ never arrived

We all remember Y2K, right? That was when Earth was supposed to fly off its axis, the sun would rise in the west, hell would freeze over and the world we knew would come to an end.

It didn’t happen. Planet Earth is still spinning around the sun, which continues to rise in the east; hell is still hotter’n hell and the world — with all its troubles — continues to keep on.

I was on duty at the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas when we entered the 21st century, but in the run-up to that big event, I was afraid for the worst. What’s more, so was my boss, G-N Publisher Garet von Netzer.

Happily, the worst never happened. However, von Netzer — a cautious, deeply conservative and hard-driving man — wasn’t about to take any chances. Yes, he hoped for the best and prepared for the worst.

We weren’t the only business in the world to go through that kind of pre-Y2K preparation. Man, it was a hell of a ride.

Our day prior the dawn of The Year 2000 unfolded quite differently than other days. We started producing pages for print before we put the afternoon Globe-Times to bed around noon on Dec. 31, 1999.

Von Netzer feared that computer systems worldwide would lock up, they would vaporize, they wouldn’t know how to log the next day’s arrival. He was concerned about whether they would even recognize “2000” as a year.

So, he decided we would button up the next morning’s Daily News early that evening. There would be no breaking news in the first edition of the Daily News to mark the new century. There would be what we called “time copy,” feature stories with no time element attached to them.

Our sports pages would have no game-day coverage. They, too, would be full of feature material.

The editorial page, which I was in charge of publishing, wasn’t affected quite so dramatically. We had plenty of appropriate commentary that didn’t depend on any time element. Our editorial for the next morning’s newspaper heralded the arrival of the 21st century and gave appropriate recognition to its importance in the history of humankind.

But by golly, we shut it all down early. I cannot recall the precise time, but I believe it was around 8 p.m.

After producing our final pages for the next day, von Netzer ordered all the computers shut down, powered off, unplugged from the wall sockets. Every computer terminal in our business went dark.

What happened when the clock struck midnight was, well, a serious non-event. Electronic calendars logged the correct year. Time didn’t stand still. The sun rose the next morning.

We went to work. Flipped the switches back to the “on” position. We were in business once again, per usual.

The frenetic pace of the previous day proved to be all for naught. Then again, what if the worst had happened?

Time of My Life, Part 20: Going local

The final three years or so of my journalism career were fraught with challenges as the shape and substance of media were undergoing significant change.

The Amarillo Globe-News and its parent company were seeking ways to cope with those changes, with limited success . . . or so it appeared to me.

One of the ways I sought to cope with those changes was to redirect the emphasis of commentary on our opinion pages. I obtained buy-in from the publisher of the paper, which as I look back on it now was peculiar, given that our relationship was deteriorating at the time.

I proceeded with the change. It was to place much greater emphasis on local issues, while forgoing comment on national or international issues. By “local,” that included editorial comment on matters of regional concern throughout the High Plains region we sought to cover. I sought to make daily comment on issues pertaining to our core circulation areas covering Randall, Potter, Moore, Deaf Smith and Armstrong counties. Amarillo and Canyon remained central to our concern as well.

Then there were state issues that spilled over into our part of Texas. Those issues got our attention as well.

I would keep a daily log of those editorials. I categorized them: local/regional, state, national and international. My goal always was to focus on local/regional issues first.

Why the change? Well, it became obvious to me that national media — cable TV and the Internet — were absorbed with national and international matters. Our readers had access to that information and to those opinions. Their own opinions were cast in stone. We would be wasting our energy trying to guide them into accepting whatever we thought about those matters.

So we turned our attention to City Hall, the county courthouse, the State Capitol.

There were a couple of months when we were able to devote every day of editorial commentary on local/regional or state matters. Those days gladdened me and made me more determined to continue on that course.

I believe it produced a positive result. We had tremendous traffic in letters to the editor and unsolicited essay submissions from readers. They wanted to weigh in on some of the local issues of the day and, yes, to speak out on the national and international issues we were setting aside.

The Globe-News tossed those changes aside after I resigned in August 2012 and returned to commenting on national and international matters. That was their call. I am just proud to have concocted a strategy I thought was a reasonable response to the change that is continuing to upend print media.

Time of My Life, Part 16: This was a ‘good get’

I once had to chase down individuals to interview. There were times I had to work exceptionally hard to persuade someone to talk to me while I worked in daily journalism. I always welcomed the challenge.

T. Boone Pickens — the legendary oil and gas tycoon — presented both sides of that coin. He was the toughest interview to nail down, but then he was what they call in the business a “good get” when he consented finally to talk to me.

A little history is in order.

I worked for the Amarillo Globe-News for nearly 18 years. I arrived in Amarillo after Pickens had departed Amarillo for Dallas. He left the city where he lived and did business in a huff. He was angry and decided to take his business to Big D.

He also was angry with the Globe-News. In the late 1980s, he began a campaign designed to inflict damage on the paper because he didn’t like the way it reported on him and on the community. He formed a group called People Committed for a Better Amarillo Newspaper — or PCBAN. He ran off the publisher of the paper and hung a banner off his Mesa Petroleum building saying “Goodbye Jerry” Huff.

I arrived in January 1995. Pickens was still mad at the paper. Not long after I arrived in Amarillo, Pickens announced an effort to create a wind farm complex. He also wanted to transport Texas Panhandle water to places downstate. I wanted to talk to him about it all. I called his public relations guy.

The PR guy resisted granted me any time with Pickens. I argued, dickered, bargained; I offered to meet Pickens at a diner in Pampa near his ranch and said I would “buy him a burger.” Pickens wouldn’t budge. The PR guy asked me if I was aware of the bad blood between Pickens and the G-N. Of course I knew about it. That was then. Those players all are gone, I told him.

No can do, I was told.

I called him again years later. I asked for an audience with Pickens. Two days later, Pickens agreed to meet with me. Just like that! He would come to the Globe-News. He would talk about anything I wanted to talk about. I thought: What the hell?

I knew about this guy. He was a ferocious competitor; a wildcatter who made a fortune exploring for oil and natural gas; he harbored grudges; he made lots of enemies as well as friends; he was a tough SOB.

I also had heard about his charm, his intelligence and his generosity.

The Boone Pickens who darkened our door at the G-N was what I have called “The Good Boone.” He was charming to the max. He was talkative. He dropped names like crazy: Barack Obama, George W. Bush, the King of Saudi Arabia, this and that potentate.

Pickens told me he read the paper daily. He said he took note of the columns I would write, or the editorials that appeared in the paper. I don’t know if he actually did all that or if he was just offering a form of false flattery.

Whatever it was, we got along well during the two hours we met.

Our paths would cross a couple more times. I saw him a second time while he was in Amarillo attending an oil/natural gas meeting at the Civic Center. Then, while working as a feature writer for KFDA NewsChannel 10, he welcomed a TV reporter, cameraman and me to his magnificent Mesa Vista ranch in rural Roberts County.

I hear that Boone Pickens has been in ill health. He’s in his 90s now and is divesting himself of his myriad and massive business interests.

I wish him well. Yep, he was a real “good get.”

Local media ‘voice’ is being stilled

My concern about the future of local print journalism in the community where I lived and worked for 23 years appears to be bearing fruit — and it saddens me.

The Amarillo Globe-News, where I served as editorial page editor for more than two decades, looks for all the world as if it is morphing into something I don’t recognize. Its editorial page isn’t examining local issues, isn’t looking critically at local concerns and those who shape policy. It has become part of a “regional voice” that speaks in unison with another newspaper ensconced 120 miles straight south, in Lubbock.

Today’s editorial — in both papers — tells me this. They are the same. The Globe-News and the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, both owned by the same company, have expressed identical opinions on what they hope for the “community” looking toward 2019.

That’s right. GateHouse Media, which owns the papers, believes (apparently) that Amarillo and Lubbock have identical concerns. The regions have matching issues they need to confront.

Hmm. Well . . .  they don’t. They are different communities. They used to have newspapers that addressed their unique circumstances through their opinion pages. Residents of those communities used to look to their newspapers for leadership, possibly some guidance — or maybe just as places to hurl their gripes over editorials with which they disagreed.

The media are changing before our eyes, folks. We’re all seeing it. It ain’t pretty, at least not to me, a retired ink-stained wretch.

I was on duty at the Globe-News when the media climate began changing. The company that formerly owned the newspaper, Morris Communications, sought to deal with the changes. It reduced staff, tried to redirect its emphasis to a more “digital presence.”

On the editorial page, I tried to employ a new strategy. I discussed with my publisher at the time an idea to focus our editorial page on local, regional and state matters. My thought was that our readers didn’t care what we thought about national or international issues; their minds were made up and they were getting their “editorial guidance” from other media sources. Given that we served a politically conservative region, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that our readers were dialed in to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and other assorted conservative voices.

So we sought to write about local matters. The right-wing media geniuses weren’t going to discuss City Council votes, or local public education matters, or whether their county commissioners courts were spending their money wisely; we would fill that void.

We had some success in keeping our voice relevant to the community mood.

I left the Globe-News in August 2012 and went on to “pursue other interests.” The newspaper abandoned the local-only strategy I had developed. Morris sold the Globe-News and the A-J — along with all its newspaper properties — to GateHouse. The new owners changed publishers and brought in a guy to run both papers, an executive editor to oversee both newsrooms and a “director of commentary” to write editorials for both communities.

Therefore, the local voice in each community has been muffled.

I quit relying on my ol’ trick knee to make political predictions, but the knee is throbbing again. It’s telling me the West Texas media landscape — from the Panhandle to the South Plains — is going to have a single voice speaking for the entire region.

Welcome to the new world. Wow!

This ink-stained wretch is saddened by what is happening.

More pain gets inflicted in the media

Oh, the hits just keep coming.

The San Antonio Express-News — the newspaper of record for Texas’s second-largest city — has announced another round of layoffs. It doesn’t stop. The reductions are costing communities the services of valuable craftsmen and women with decades of experience reporting on the issues of the day.

When will it end? Ever? Well, it has to end, likely when the last reporter checks out for the final time. Will he or she please be sure to turn out the lights?

The Internet is the culprit. The villain. The bogeyman.

It has spawned a whole new array of “news and information” outlets. Cable news has joined the fray. Righties have their own view of the “truth,” as do the lefties. They hunker down and consume only the “information” that comports with their world view.

It sickens and saddens me at the same time.

I once was a victim of the changing climate. I was told during a company “reorganization” that I no longer would do what I had done at the Amarillo Globe-News for nearly 18 years. I wrote editorials and columns for the paper. The publisher at the time decided to reshuffle the deck. After interviewing for my own job, I got the news: We’ve offered it to someone else and he has accepted.

I quit on the spot.

Not long after I left the G-N in the summer of 2012, I scored an interview with the Express-News. The editorial page editor flew me to San Antonio, where I spent the day talking to him, the paper’s publisher and the EPE’s editorial page staff members.

The fellow with whom I interviewed made quite a point of telling me how the Hearst Corp. was reinvesting in the Express-News, restoring positions that had been cut. Times were good in the Alamo City, he said.

I didn’t get the gig. The paper was “going in another direction,” the e-mail message told me.

It’s all good now.

I want to re-share with you a quick story. I was at my post at the Amarillo newspaper. A gentleman called about a letter he had submitted. I chose not to publish it. Why? It was full of falsehoods.

His response was classic. “I know it’s true,” he said. I asked, “How do you know that?” He said, “Because I saw it on the Internet.”

I laughed out loud into the phone.

It’s a brand new, and damn scary, world out there.