Tag Archives: journalism

Fifty years ago … everything changed!

I cannot believe it’s been 50 years — to the day — that a group of burglars broke into an office building, got caught rifling through files and then in the course of an investigation became part of a history-making constitutional crisis.

The term “Watergate” became part of our vernacular. Who would have thought it in real time?

On June 17, 1972, the dipsh**s hired by the Republican National Committee thought they would steal some files belonging to the Democratic National Committee. It was reported initially as a burglary; the Washington Post put the story deep inside its next-day edition.

Then a couple of reporters — Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein — began hearing whispers about who was behind the burglary. They told their editors that the story smelled fishy. They sought to get to the truth.

Oh, brother, did they ever find it!

They trooped down many blind alleys. That’s what happens to the most intrepid reporters. Bernstein and Woodward were two of the best. They persisted and eventually uncovered a coverup that would bring down a president, who resigned because he had abused the power of his office to prevent the truth from getting out.

Watergate has become almost a synonym for political misdeeds. How often do we see the “gate” suffix attached to scandals? To my mind, Watergate stands alone.

Woodward and Bernstein personified the very best of investigative journalism. They sought to hold those in power accountable for the mischief they committed. They succeeded famously.

***

When the break-in occurred, I was a freshly scrubbed college student. I was newly married. I had just returned from a tour of duty in the Army. I wanted to be a journalist.

Woodward and Bernstein taught us in real time the value they bring to their craft. They made a difference. I was among thousands of other journalism students who also wanted to make a difference.

These men personified the best of a noble craft.

Fifty years is a lifetime. My own career surely didn’t produce the notoriety that showered Woodward and Bernstein. They spurred me to stay the course over many years in print journalism.

For that I am eternally grateful.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Story breaks my heart many ways

The reporting from Ukraine is breaking my heart for many reasons, some of which I did not expect when it began flooding our homes with information in that faraway land.

One reason is so obvious I shouldn’t have to mention it. The destruction is beyond belief. The pain of the people who endure it also defies my ability to comprehend how they cope and how they can hope for a better future.

But then I watch the broadcast and cable TV journalists covering the event and I am filled with compassion for them as well. What are they feeling when they confront such misery? How do they possibly report the news dispassionately?

I did not have the honor — and that’s how I would describe it — of covering a war in real time back when I worked in the field full time. The closest I came occurred in 1989 when I visited the Killing Fields at Choeng Ek, Cambodia, where the survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide had erected temples containing the skulls of thousands of victims dug from mass graves.

I visited with those who lived through that horrifying episode. I can recall one comment from a woman with whom I was visiting. She told me, “If the Khmer Rouge come back, we all will become soldiers.”

I got on the bus that would take us back to Phnom Penh … and I sobbed.

Thus, I have difficulty imagining how the reporters covering the Ukraine War can avoid getting caught up in the raw emotion of seeing the destruction being inflicted on brave people in real time.

For all I know, they are sobbing, too. That doesn’t make them less professional. It just reveals their humanity.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Time of My Life, Part 59: Still in the game

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

I was an angry dude for some time after my daily journalism career ended abruptly in August 2012.

The anger has vanished. I decided some time ago to write a blog series highlighting all the good years I had reporting on and commenting on the communities where I lived and worked. I have done so.

This is the 59th edition in that series but I want to tell you briefly about why I am still having “the time of my life.” You see, I am a freelance reporter who gets to write news stories for two media outlets here in North Texas where my wife and I have lived for the past nearly three years.

I write for a weekly newspaper in Farmersville, a community about seven miles east of us in Princeton along U.S. Highway 380. My bosses at the Farmersville Times allow me to cover city council and school board meetings there. I also get to write occasional feature stories about the people who live in Farmersville.

This gig represents a return to where it all began for me. My first part-time reporting job was in Portland, Ore., working for the weekly Community Press. I covered sports events there. I don’t do any sports reporting these days, but my task is straightforward: attend the city council and school board meetings and report on the decisions that affect the community.

In short, I am having a blast.

I also have a second gig. I write a blog for KETR-FM, the public radio station at Texas A&M University/Commerce. That freelance gig is a freewheeling affair. My boss there allows me to write blogs in which I get to express my opinions on issues of the day. He also asks me to write what he calls an “original reporting” piece for the website, ketr.org.

The best part of all of this is that my wife and I get to take time off whenever we want. We recently returned from a nearly monthlong journey out west. My bosses at the Farmersville Times knew I would be gone. No problem, they said. We’ll cover the meeting in your absence, they assured me. And so it goes.

I have told folks many times in my retirement years that “separation anxiety from full-time work is greatly overrated.” I believe it now more than ever. I have been blessed to have been able to stay “in the game” with these part-time jobs.

Thus, I continue to have the “time of my life.”

Memoir in the works

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

The question comes with surprising frequency when I tell folks what I did for a living for nearly four decades.

It goes something like this: Are you going to write a book about it?

My answer is usually the same: Well … not exactly. However, I am renewing a commitment I made some years ago not long after my career in daily print journalism came to a sudden halt, which is that I am going to finish a memoir I intend to write for my sons and any other family members who are interested in reading it.

You see, my career enabled me as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers in Oregon and Texas to do many things not available to other human beings. It also allowed me to cross paths with people I admired and, yes, loathed from afar.

I was able to meet a future president of the United States, a former POTUS, someone who was running for the high office. I flew over an erupting volcano, I endured a landing and takeoff from a nuclear powered aircraft carrier. I stood in the presence of one of the 20th century’s most iconic political figure.

My wife has been nudging me to finish what I have started. Yes, I got started some time back on this memoir. I have let the effort lapse, much to my dismay.

Then we met recently with one of my oldest and dearest friends. He, too, likes to write and has paid marvelous tributes to his late wife. My friend encouraged me with affirmation that the highlights of my career are worth sharing with my sons.

It’s a project that needs finishing. My only “problem,” if you want to call it that, is that I am not sure I ever will be able to finish it, to tie a bow around it and present it. Why? I keep recalling individuals and occurrences that filled me with so much joy.

But … the work will commence.

Time of My Life, Part 58: It goes with territory

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

My morning started at the Sam Rayburn VA Medical Center in Bonham, Texas, where I went for a routine exam.

During the course of the examination, the radiology technician and I engaged in some light-hearted banter that wove its way eventually toward some of the complaints she gets from veterans such as me.

“If I say something that someone doesn’t like, they go to” speak to the personnel office, she said. “Then I hear from her” and have to explain, she added.

No one tells the personnel office about all “thousands of good things that go on here,” she said.

I laughed. Loudly, in fact. It reminded me of an aspect of my career that I shared with the radiology technician. I will share it with you.

I told her that “when I was a working guy, I wrote editorials for newspapers.” One of the aspects of the job was getting feedback from readers. It could be positive. It could be negative. I told her that “I lost count many years ago of the time someone would say, ‘Hey, I really liked that editorial you wrote.’ I would ask him or her ‘Which one?’ They couldn’t remember, but only told me they liked it,” I explained. Did it frustrate me? Of course it did! I wanted to know the particulars of what pleased this individual; I didn’t tell her that part.

Then I told her, “If they disagreed with an editorial I wrote or a position I laid out, why they were able to recite it back to me … word for word.” 

Such is the nature of that line of work and so it is with what my new friend at the Rayburn VA Center has chosen to do.

I ended up telling her, “I hope you know it just goes with the territory.”

She understands.

In defense of newspapers

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Every so often I find myself answering the same question and I have refined my answer to a level I can explain with relative ease.

It came to me again this morning right here in Princeton, Texas. A young dental hygienist asked me what I did for a living. I told her I am retired but was a journalist for nearly four decades. I reported for newspapers, I told her, and then gravitated to opinion writing and editing.

She gave me the obligatory “I like holding a newspaper in my hands” while reading it and then asked: Do you think the reporting is unbiased?

Hmm. It is, I told her. I mentioned that many newspapers around the world — large, small and all sizes in between — continue to do first-rate reporting. They get to the facts, report them fairly and accurately.

What has changed, I told my new friend, is the audience. Consumers of news now seem to want more opinion, I said. I encourage her to look carefully at how large newspapers are covering events of the day.

I didn’t get a sense of her bias, although I reminded her that in my years working as a journalist I learned that “bias inherently is in the eyes of the consumer.” People ascribe bias to solid news reporting when it doesn’t comport with their own world view. Thus, the audience has changed its outlook.

Newspapers continue to do good work. The big folks — Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, you name ’em — keep churning out good work for readers to consume. Some newspaper publishers do look for ways to cover stories intending to embarrass certain people in high places. I have learned to look the other way when I see the names of certain news organizations plastered on stories that have that ring of sensationalism.

I admit freely — and I have done so repeatedly over the years — that I do not disguise my own bias. I have it. You have it. We all have our bias. However, I am able to disseminate hard, cold facts from what I call “advocacy journalism.”

Believe me, there remains plenty of great reporting of just the facts out there.

Happy Trails, Part 191: Easy transition

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

One of the many pleasant surprises I have found on my retirement journey has been the ease of adapting to this new way of living and thinking.

It’s been a few years now since I decided to quit working full time. I turned 66 years old and then filed for Social Security benefits. I had been collecting a small newspaper pension for about a year, along with a 10 percent Veterans Administration disability benefit, which I started collecting in 1970, the year I separated from the Army.

One of the truisms I have been telling retirees who have taken the leap is that “separation anxiety from work is vastly overrated.” I learned that right away.

After spending nearly four decades battling deadlines, writing breaking news stories, editorials and persona columns for newspapers in two states, I thought there might be some anxiety associated with no longer having to fight those battles. Oh, brother, was that ever a misfire.

I have found much to my liking that I prefer at this stage of my life the joy of rolling out of the rack when I damn well feel like it. I enjoy being able to go where my wife and I choose to go in the middle of the week. I get a kick out of those who wish us a “good weekend,” knowing in my heart that every day is a weekend.

We relocated about three years to Collin County, Texas, to sink our roots deeply into turf near our granddaughter, who lives about 20 minutes away. We found a home that is perfect for just my bride and me. I am not what you could call “fully retired” at this moment. I sought a chance to work on a freelance basis for a husband and wife who own a group of community weekly newspapers. They hired me with the understanding that we would load up our fifth wheel and take off to explore this marvelous continent. “No problem,” they said.

The daily grind? It’s a thing of the increasingly distant past.

Moreover, I do not miss a single, solitary moment of it.

Time of My Life, Part 47: 9/11 changed the dynamic

Events can shape people’s lives and even influence the direction their careers take.

The terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 was a date that changed damn near everything in this country, not to mention the career I had chosen to follow.

I cannot prove this with actual, tangible evidence. It’s an anecdotal thing, to be truthful. But the 9/11 terror attack opened the floodgates for me as an opinion writer and editor.

I was working on 9/11 as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News. I got word of the attack from a colleague who stuck his head into my office to ask if I had heard about the plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center.

Well, the rest is history, right?

One element of that momentous day was the absolute flood of issues on which we could comment at the Globe-News. It never stopped after that terrible moment in our history.

There had been times in the years preceding 9/11 when I had to look for issues on which to offer editorial comment. As they say in the news business, “There are good news days and bad news days.” The good news days always gave opinion editors grist on which to comment; the bad days forced us to look for that grist.

The post-9/11 era — which lasted essentially for the duration of my career a dozen years later — often filled me with the greatest dilemma an opinion editor could face: too many topics on which to comment. 

There were a lot of days when I would go to work and have to face a decision. What issue can we set aside for another day? Think about that. I seemed to never face the problem of having to look for ways to fill that space on our opinion page with editorial commentary.

It was a curious phenomenon that I cannot quite explain even to this day. It just happened. The world was changing. The nation went to war against international terrorism. That era spawned issues that demanded leadership from newspapers that at that time were still considered beacons for their communities.

I hated the circumstance that caused that phenomenon to occur. However, I was oddly grateful that it did occur and gave me a treasure trove of topics on which to comment.

Those were the days, man.

Happy Trails, Part 173: Back in the game, kind of …

This retirement journey on which my wife and I have embarked has taken its share of peculiar and surprising twists and turns. They’ve all been good and have brought us joy.

This latest twist compels me to tell you that I am returning — in a manner of speaking — to where my print journalism career began 40 years ago.

I am back to reporting on community news. It’s not a full-time gig by any stretch of anyone’s imagination. It’s a free-lance affair. I get to choose the stories I want to cover for a group of community newspapers in Collin County, Texas. The publishers are giving me free rein.

I have informed them that my wife and I might not be available all the time. We plan to be on the road during RV traveling season — which is essentially every season except winter, during which time we’ll have our fifth wheel parked, winterized and in a state of hibernation.

But this new gig figures to be a great ride for as long as it lasts. I do not yet know when I’ll call a halt to it. Maybe I’ll check out of this world with my notebook and pen in hand.

I started my professional journey in late 1976 on the copy desk of the Oregon Journal, which was Portland’s evening newspaper. I gravitated in early 1977 to the Oregon City Enterprise-Courier, an after suburban daily newspaper about 15 miles south of Portland. I took a job as a temporary sports writer, replacing the sports editor who was on maternity leave after the birth of her first child.

I covered high school football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, track and field.

The editor who hired me said there was a chance I could stay on if an opening occurred. It was a gamble to leave a permanent full time job for one that might end in a few months. It worked out. An opening occurred. I got hired permanently.

I got to cover police news, the courts, city councils, school boards; I wrote feature stories and I developed pictures in a dark room.

I gravitated eventually to opinion journalism, working on editorial pages in Beaumont and Amarillo in Texas. However, reporting and writing news stories is like, well, riding a bicycle. You do not forget how to do it.

My task now will be more limited. For one thing, dark rooms no longer exist in newspaper buildings; it’s all done digitally. I’ll take pictures with my I-phone and send them in via e-mail.

But I get to cover community news in Princeton, where we now live and in neighboring Farmersville, a town of about 3,200 residents just east of us.

I will have to learn a bit more about these communities as I work my around them, learning the names of the movers and shakers, gadflies and assorted soreheads.

I am grateful to my new employers for this opportunity to (more or less) get back in the game.

Am I living the dream? You bet I am.

Happy Trails, Part 163: Not missing work … in the least

This ain’t exactly a flash, but I’ll offer this note nonetheless.

Retirement has proven to be everything it is cracked up to be — and then some!

I say this as someone who for 37 or so years relished my craft as few others have done. It’s not that I was a brilliant print journalist; I didn’t win a lot of prizes or receive tons of professional acclaim. I did enjoy modest success and I am proud of whatever contributions I was able to make in pursuit of the career I chose.

To that end, I half-expected to suffer some form of separation anxiety from work when my career ended in late August 2012. It wasn’t an entirely unexpected end, but it came a bit earlier than my wife and I had anticipated.

Still, when it happened I went on down the proverbial road and have looked back with decreasing frequency as time has marched on.

Why tell you the obvious? Why say it here?

It’s just that I keep hearing news reports about the state of print media and how vastly different a form it is taking than what I encountered when I walked into my first newsroom in the early 1970s.

A friend told me recently that the last newspaper on my journey through print journalism is suffering plummeting circulation numbers. The Amarillo Globe-News is printing about 20 percent of the total daily copies it was printing when I joined the staff in early 1995. For dinosaurs such as me, that is, um, hard to swallow.

However, I no longer have to worry about my professional future. I am done working for a living. I am free of the hassles, the deadlines, the whims and preferences of my bosses (except, of course, for my wife). I still write, but I write for myself. I can say whatever I feel like saying, within reason, quite obviously.

I don’t know when this event might occur, but if the opportunity ever presents itself, I might decide — if our paths ever cross — to thank the fellow who reorganized me out of a job in 2012. He spared me the misery he and his corporate partners inflicted on so many of the colleagues I left behind.

I know it’s a form of damnation with faint praise. However, it is sincere. Retirement has made me a happier man.