Tag Archives: mainstream media

Freelance job adds joy to life

One of the purest joys of my gig as a freelance journalist in North Texas deals with the quality of people I get to meet along the way.

Such as what happened this morning when I ventured to a historic cemetery near Princeton, Texas.

They had a ceremony today to lay wreaths on the graves of veterans who are buried at Wilson Chapel Memorial Cemetery. The event is run essentially by the local Daughters of the American Revolution. I walked into the chapel today to introduce myself to some of the DAR members who were meeting in advance of the wreath-laying event. They greeted me warmly, thanked me for being there to cover it for the Princeton Herald, one of the newspapers for which I am writing these days.

I am doing what can best be described these days as “soft journalism.” I write human interest features and report on actions taken by local city councils and school boards. Almost to a person, I am accepted as media representative and no one hassles me, nags me, throws a dig at me or hangs a four-letter epithet on me.

Believe me when I say that back in the old days when I did this full time, earning a decent living for my family, I didn’t always walk into friendly zones. These days it’s vastly different … for the most part.

There was one notable difference, though, that I can relate to you.

I walked into a school board meeting room a couple of years ago for the first time to cover this local school board. I extended my hand to one of the trustees, who promptly pushed me away, muttering something about the nasty organization for which I am working. He said something about a story that was published that cast him in a negative light … and he didn’t like it one single bit.

He blamed me for it! I sought to tell him I didn’t know what he was talking about, that I just started working for the newspaper. That didn’t matter. I was still the bad guy.

Well, several weeks later, this individual approached me, extended his hand and apologized. He said he was sorry for the way he acted when we met the first time. He said there were some issues in his personal life that affected his behavior and said, in effect, that he was acting totally out of character.

Our relationship ever since has been delightful.

I enjoy this kind of relationship with sources in the community. My bosses don’t ask me to dig deeply into reports of corruption. I’m fine with it.

This is a part-time gig. I do it for fun and to earn a little walking-around money. I am not in it to make a name for myself. I had plenty of that in earlier posts back when I did this job for a living.

Therefore … I am living the dream. Truly. I am.

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.

‘Protecting’ Bidens? Seriously?

The conspiracy theorists who populate the MAGA crowd really and truly just crack me up!

They contend with a straight face that journalists are “protecting the Bidens” from exposure for the crimes they reportedly have committed. Bribery, extortion, money laundering. They say it all leads to the top of the family food chain, which in this instance means also to the top of the U.S. government.

Wow! I now want to explain a little something about journalism and those who practice an honorable craft.

I keep my hand in the career I pursued for nearly 37 years. My days as a full-time journalist are long gone, as I am now an old man who still reads the news daily and enjoys the rough and tumble of journalistic combat.

OK, what do I know about the craft? It is populated by highly competitive individuals. Newspapers compete against each other. So do TV networks, streaming services, digital outlets. Those who continue to work in journalism vie with each year for recognition among their peers for the good work they do.

I offer this as my way of telling you the conspiracy theorists ignore the competitive nature of journalism, even in the form it is taking these days. No journalist worth a damn is going to sit on a story involving a politician with whom he agrees politically because he doesn’t want to “embarrass” him or her.

A journalist is going to expose anything he or she believes is worth reporting to the public. That is part of the job they all sign on for when they hit the streets in search of the next big scoop.

I also must remind everyone who reads this blog that journalists are not bound by ideology. They do not just “seek out conservatives” because they work for the “liberal media.”

Let me toss out a few names for you: John Edwards, Anthony Weiner, Jim Wright. Oh, wait … Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton! These all are prominent politicians, all are Democrats, all are so-called members of the “liberal elite.” They all were targets of aggressive journalists looking for the truth behind the assorted allegations that rocked their respective careers.

You can spare me the bullsh** notion that the media are “protecting” President Joe Biden and his son because they want to protect the president. In the real world of gumshoe journalism, such an allegation is as phony as it gets.

Community journalism thrives

BLOGGER’S NOTE: I published a version of this essay a while ago. I submitted a longer version of it for publication in the Princeton Herald. The newspaper published it today, so I decided to send this repurposed and expanded version of the earlier post out for your enjoyment.

Not long ago, I received a heartwarming moment of affirmation. It came from a gentleman I encountered while shooting some pictures for the Princeton Herald.

I was taking some photos of a Habitat for Humanity house that was nearing completion on Harrelson Drive in Princeton. I introduced myself as a representative of the Princeton Herald and told the project managers I had written a story on this particular site about a year ago.

The gentleman to whom I referred earlier heard me greet the managers. He then told me something that thrills me to no end. “I read your earlier story and it motivated me to get involved with Habitat for Humanity,” he said.

My reaction in the moment as I recall it was muted. I thanked him for getting involved, but it didn’t really register to me what his underlying message was when he offered that statement.

It was that community journalism, the kind of craft I am practicing now as a semi-retired journalist, presents these kinds of triumphs all the time. People occasionally are inspired to get involved, to pay back to their communities, based on what they read in the local newspaper. How cool is that?

The name of the gentleman isn’t important. What he said to me is what counts.

I am heartened that the work we do in reporting on our communities can have this kind of impact.

I want to stress something else about those of us who have worked in the media and who do so going forward. Media representatives – even semi-retired folks like me – are operating in a hostile environment. The hostility comes from politicians and their followers – I feel no need to tell you who, as you probably know – contend that the media are the “enemy” of Americans.

Not true!

Not only do they disparage the work, they denigrate the individuals who do their jobs with honor and honesty. We all have heard the language that pours out of some politicians’ mouths.

Community journalism, as I understand the definition of the term, intends to report to those who consume community news on the status of the cities and towns where they live. Those of us who write for community news organizations seek only to hold officials accountable for decisions they make. They make decisions that determine how much we pay in taxes to fund our government; they determine the level of police and fire protection we receive for the money we pay; they decide when to pick up the trash we produce in our homes. These officials also provide clean water we use to bathe and drink; they repair our streets, making them safe for us travel.

Indeed, Princeton is in the midst of a major street renovation program at this very moment.

Community journalism also tells stories such as the one to which I referred at the start of this essay.

How can any of this be seen and described as the work of an “enemy”?

The gentleman I met that day in front of the Habitat for Humanity house on Harrelson Drive likely didn’t intend for me to accept his statement as an affirmation of the work I do for the Princeton Herald.

But I surely did.

He provided hope that all is not lost even in this toxic environment that occasionally causes people in power to disparage the work done all across this great land by media representatives whose only mission is to tell their communities’ stories.

I do so in my community with great pride.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Free press is ‘essential’

President Joe Biden stood at the podium this weekend at the White House Correspondents Dinner and made a stern and steadfast declaration about the value of a free press.

“A free press is essential to a democratic society,” he said, “and it is not the enemy.”

I want to offer a brief endorsement of the president’s statement, as it reflects the kind of understanding that a free, aggressive and unfettered press brings to those in power and to those who make decisions that affect our lives each day.

I feel the need to offer this endorsement because of the pummeling the press has been taking during the past, oh, six or seven years. As a member of what the right wingers and the MAGA crowd calls the “mainstream media,” I have taken great personal offense at the epithets being hurled at hardworking, dedicated reporters who signed on to report truthfully and fairly.

Presidents of both political parties, with one notable exception, have understood the role that a free press plays in holding government officials accountable. Does anyone in power like negative reporting on his or her activities? Of course not! However, to a person — again, except one — acknowledge that criticism simply goes with the territory.

Donald J. Trump launched the war against the media with his proclamation that the media are “the enemy of the people.” He turned “fake news” into a cliche that his followers picked up. I won’t belabor the obvious hypocrisy in that label coming from the godfather of fake news and outright lies. I do, though, want to suggest that news that runs counter to officials’ point of view isn’t “fake”; it is the truth that officials just don’t always want to hear.

President Biden’s inherent understanding of the media’s role in keeping him and the government he inherited accountable for their actions is a welcome return to what has been the standard since the beginning of the Republic.

May the press always remain free of government interference … and able to keep our government’s feet to the fire.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Battles waged over time

I fought many battles with readers of publications where I worked during my nearly 37 years as a full-time print journalist.

One kind of fight is what I want to highlight with this blog post.

Occasionally I would get caught between two extremists — one on the far right and the other on the far left. They would accuse me of being in cahoots with those on the “Other Side.”

It was a fight I was destined to lose every … single … time.

There was a physician in Beaumont who was an avid anti-abortionist. He thought — incorrectly, I must add — that because I was pro-choice on the issue that I was “pro-abortion.” Indeed, I have that squabble these days with some readers of this blog.

But back to my point … which is that the physician, who happened to be a pretty good writer, would submit articles for my consideration to appear on our opinion pages. I would submit them and would draw fire from pro-choice readers asking, “Why do you let that crackpot have any space on your page?” 

I would answer that his opinions are his alone and he is entitled to express them, as long as he doesn’t tell outright falsehoods. The doctor didn’t do that. Therefore, I would consider each piece on its merits and would determine whether they saw print.

I moved from Beaumont to Amarillo in January 1995 and found myself caught in the middle of a spat between two men, one of whom was a staunch Democratic Party activist, the other was an equally staunch religious leader who adhered to, um, a more conservative world view.

They both considered me to be the Spawn of Satan, for vastly different reasons. I was destined to be vilified by both of them. Get this, though: I actually was more dialed in to the lefty’s world view than the other gentleman. It’s just that my giving the righty any space in the paper was tantamount, in the lefty’s mind, to knuckling under to the other side.

I don’t really miss that kind of fight, now that I have stepped away from the daily grind. These days I am content to be a semi-retired blogger who dabbles now and then with covering community news for a group of weekly newspapers and for a public radio station.

I like it this way.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

News? What news?

So … I am sitting on the back patio in Princeton, Texas, with my sister and we’re chatting about the loss we have suffered and how our minds have been taken away from our usual “routine.”

“I realize I don’t miss the news,” Liz said. Which made me nod in agreement. We fancy ourselves as news junkies. Hey, I spent a career seeking to keep pace with breaking news. My sis has pursued other career paths, but her interest is deep as well.

I usually spend a good bit of time watching TV news channels and scouring various Internet sites for the news of the day.

However, our minds and hearts have been pulled away by grief over the passing of my bride, Kathy Anne.

But as I ponder the observation about “not missing the news,” I am struck by how little all these national and world events mean to me. Indeed, at this moment, they mean nothing at all.

The developing presidential campaign in 2024? The Ukraine War? Congress’s efforts to get organized? Debt ceiling?

Pffftt!

Honest to goodness, I truly don’t care — at this moment — about any damn bit of it!

Will it change? Yeah. Sure it will. It’s just going to take some time.

For now, I’ve got more important — and deeply personal — matters filling my noggin and my heart. And none of it has a thing to do with that thing called “the news.”

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

How does MTG get away with this?

Marjorie Taylor Greene is one of the MAGA cultists who routinely blasts what she refers to as the “mainstream media.”

That is so rich it defies any rational response. Why? Because the second-term Georgia congresswoman — and reigning QAnon queen of the House — somehow manages to get the very same media to cover the nonsense that flies out of her pie hole.

The idiot Republican has pitched some notion of a “national divorce,” with conservative Americans separating from liberal Americans. Hmm. Ponder that one. She wants a civil war? Is that what this moron suggests?

The media cover her rubbish. Bloggers such as me comment on it, too. Therefore, I will assume responsibility for giving this nimrod far more coverage that in a perfect political world wouldn’t get it. But … she does receive it!

She has proclaimed her belief that the U.S. is a “Christian nation.” It isn’t! She derides President Biden for visiting Ukraine to proclaim the nation’s support for that nation’s war against Russian invaders.

Seemingly every utterance she makes become punch lines.

I would pledge at this moment to never cover another statement she makes, except for this bit of wisdom. Which is that it is better to keep your adversaries out front in plain sight, lest they be allowed to hide in the shadows where they could do even more harm.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Enjoying the after life

No, I am not dead. Not by the longest shot imaginable. I am delighted to report that there once was a time — long ago — that I wondered whether I would enjoy my life once I quit working full time.

I am even more delighted to tell you that the answer is yes. Not just yes, but hell yes. I am enjoying myself more than I could have imagined when I was full of piss and vinegar.

Time has this way of tempering one’s passions. It tempered mine, to a degree, particularly the passion I had every day as I prepared to go to work as a newspaper journalist. It did temper my passion, though, for commenting on issues of the day. I remain dedicated to that proposition more than ever … or so it seems. The difference now is that my commentaries are solely my own and I do not answer to an editor of a publisher.

That is not to say that I am free of restraints. Good taste and societal norms do keep me reined in a bit … but it’s only just a bit.

I remain delighted and full of energy to keep writing this blog and keep my head in the game.

One of the things I learned a decade ago when my career ended that there surely is a post-journalism after life. I am living proof that it exists. Unlike the big after life, I am still around to tell you about it.

I just wanted to share the good news with you.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Hey, media! Where’s the outrage?

Well now, it appears we have a fascinating discussion brewing about the way the media treat athletes caught doing illegal acts or making public demonstrations about serious policy matters.

If you’re Black, the media are going to climb all over you. If you’re white … not so much.

Consider the cases of two Black football players, Michael Vick and Colin Kaepernick. Vick was convicted of sending pit bulls to their death in dog fights. Kaepernick was vilified because he chose to take a knee during the National Anthem to protest police conduct against Black citizens. Vick and Kaepernick are Black.

You with me so far?

Now we have Brett Favre, another former pro football quarterback, who’s accused of stealing money intended to help poor Black residents of Alabama and Mississippi. Where’s the outcry? Where is the condemnation?

Oh, wait. Favre is white.

Brett Favre got caught red handed and nobody cares (deadspin.com)

I want to make another point. None of us wants to see dogs tortured, but … they aren’t human beings. No physical harm was done to anyone when Kaepernick launched his star-spangled protest.

In the case of Favre, people are suffering because someone — allegedly it’s Favre — stole money from accounts set aside to help those individuals.

Is that how you cover the news fairly? Hardly.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com