Tag Archives: media

Changing reading habits

Once upon a time, when I was a full-time journalist working to improve my performance at my craft, I would travel to here and there and pick up newspapers along the way.

My goal was to read them, to glean some ideas I could take back with me to the newspaper where I worked.

Man, those days have disappeared. So has the habit of reading newspapers around the country.

My wife and I just returned from a two-week journey to the Pacific Coast. I didn’t pick up a single newspaper. Heck, I barely saw a single newspaper.

We ventured through cities with strong newspaper traditions: Albuquerque, Phoenix, Bakersfield, Sacramento to name just four. We stayed for a few nights in Santa Cruz, Calif., which has a paper I would read when we visited my sister and her family; not this time! I had no interest in seeing the San Jose Mercury-News, or the San Francisco Chronicle.

I did pick up one newspaper along our nearly 3,800-mile trek. We stopped for a bite in Memphis, Texas on our way home. I saw a copy of the Red River Sun, which I believe has replaced the Childress Index as the paper of the region. It contained a lot of community news: reunions, award ceremonies, city and school news. Hey, it’s the kind of thing I am writing these days for the Princeton Herald!

But I am a freelance writer these days, which kind of frees me of the responsibility of looking for ways to improve the newspaper for which I write; that task belongs to my bosses.

It’s not that I miss the opportunity to see what other newspapers are doing to present their news and commentary. It’s just that I am still getting accustomed to the idea that I no longer have to worry about the hassles associated with persuading my bosses to implement the changes I pick up along the way.

Yep. Life continues to be very good.


Twists and turns on journey

This retirement journey I’ve been on for about the past decade keeps twisting and turning along a strange ride toward, well … I’m not entirely sure where it’ll end.

You might know that I have been working as a freelance reporter for the Farmersville Times for the past couple of years. The newspaper is part of a group of suburban weeklies owned by husband and wife who live in Collin County.

Well, beginning just the other day, my assignment changed. I am going to cover city government, school issues and writing features for Princeton, where my wife and I have lived for nearly four years.

Yes, the Princeton Herald is my new assignment headquarters. An opening occurred at the Herald, so I asked my bosses if I could be considered to fill the hole on the staff. They said yes. That was that.

This is an exciting new challenge for me, inasmuch as I do not yet know all that much about the politics that drive policy at Princeton City Hall. I now will get to learn about policymakers who determine the taxes I pay to live in my new hometown. I also will get to examine — and report on — the politics that drive public education policy in this rapidly growing community.

This is an exciting new venture for me. I have told my bosses how much I appreciate the faith they place in me. I won’t let them down. Furthermore, this post-full-time-journalism retirement will proceed along this course for as long as my bosses want me to keep reporting or — God forbid! — I am no longer able to do what I love to do.


Reporters mustn’t become ‘part of the story’

I am going to vent briefly about something that has annoyed me ever since I decided in the old days to study journalism in college.

It is the tendency of some reporters to become part of the story they are covering. Sigh …

I like to think of reporters the way I think of referees at sporting events. We shouldn’t talk about the officiating that’s taking place, but instead about what the athletes are doing.

But here we are. We get caught up in the reporters’ aggressive questioning of public officials. It’s made worse when the public official bristles at the reporter and then pulls the reporter straight into the issue being discussed.

Examples? Hmm. Sam Donaldson of ABC News frequently tussled with President Reagan at news conferences. Before that, we had Dan Rather of CBS News jousting with President Nixon. Then came Britt Hume of ABC News hassling President Clinton.

Some more? CNN’s Jim Acosta became a spoil sport at Donald Trump’s press events and now we have Fox News’ Peter Doocy rising to the challenge during White House press briefings conducted by Karine Jean-Pierre, press flack for the Biden administration.

I care next to nothing about which reporter is getting under a president’s skin. Nor do I give a damn about wondering whether they’re doing their job.

We ought to know when a reporter is doing his or her job simply by gauging the depth of the question and whether the subject is answering it fully.

A reporter shouldn’t ever become part of the story. Just let the story tell itself.


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.


Dealing with trolls

I have reached what I think is a reasonable conclusion about some readers of this blog and those who are generally critical of the media.

I will try to explain myself.

Critics of this blog base their criticism on their perception of my politics. I lean left. Critics generally lean right. I have been relentless in my criticism of Donald J. Trump. Critics seem willing to give him a pass on his hideous behavior.

My conclusion is that they only are interested in what I say about politics in general or about Trump in particular.

I have sought over several years writing on www.highplainsblogger.com to cover a wide range of issues. Some of them go beyond pure politics. Some posts deal with real life and the joys and sorrows that go with living a long time.

I want to single out one critic who, when I write about my experiences serving our great nation in uniform, often does offer a word of thanks and gratitude … and I always appreciate his saying so.

Generally, though, he and others save their most intense fire for when I pontificate about the many failings of our immediate past POTUS.

How do I deal with it? I let ’em have their say. I’ve already delivered my view. I rarely have a need or certainly a desire to engage in an argument with someone whose mind is as made up as mine.


Why are we talking about … Trump?

A TV talking head vented a good bit of frustration this morning and since I was awake early, I tuned in to listen to it.

The venting had to do with Donald Trump. The talking head was Mike Barnicle, a regular on an MSNBC talk show. He wants to know:

Why are we still talking about Donald Trump? Why is it that whenever the subject of the “Republican Party” comes up, the conversation turns to Trump, a guy who has delivered more damage to our democratic process than any politician alive today?

You know what? I share Barnicle’s frustration!

To be sure, I continue to devote a good bit of my energy to talking about Trump on this blog. I don’t apologize for that. After all, the dude is still making news. He gets in the way of every damn thing there is to discuss.

The only justification I can attach to this is that the individual is, after all, a former president of the United States. As much as it pains me to acknowledge that fact, his status as a one–time commander in chief does more or less require those of us out here to take notice when he pops off.

I do share Barnicle’s frustration, though, with the media’s fixation with Trump. If only we could rid ourselves of this toxic presence among us.


Blogging keeps me relevant

Blogging has produced many joys in my post-full-time-newspaper world.

One of them is that it allows me to keep doing what I did with modest success for nearly 37 years: offering opinions on issues of the day.

A corollary to that joy is the notion that it also allows me to cling just a bit to a career that gave me great satisfaction and it perhaps will allow young people coming of age in this era a chance to understand and perhaps even appreciate the craft I pursued.

Whether these young people will be reading blogs or writing them remains to be seen, of course. I hope they do both. I want to remain relevant, even in some small way, to how they search for news and information and, yes, even opinion on issues of importance.

To be crystal clear, I am not yet out of the newswriting game. My full-time career ended just a month short of a decade ago; wow, it seems like just yesterday when my boss told me my services would no longer be sought at what once was the leading newspaper in the Texas Panhandle and one of the leading media outlets in West Texas.

I walked away from that post on the spot and haven’t looked back — too often in the years since.

I took up blogging along with a few part-time, temporary gigs along the way. I have managed to stay fresh and alert writing blogs for Panhandle PBS, for KFDA NewsChannel 10 in Amarillo and now for KETR-FM radio at Texas A&M-Commerce and for the Farmersville Times near where my wife and I landed in late 2018.

I even had a month-long stint as an editorial writer for the Dallas Morning News! That gig ended at the end of 2021, but at least I can say I wrote for a major metropolitan daily newspaper … if only for a flash in time!

The one constant in all of that has been High Plains Blogger. I decided to keep the name even though I no longer reside on the High Plains of Texas. Hey, it developed a brand … you know? Why mess with it?

So, with that I will keep on blogging. My work might not always remind others of the once-glorious craft I pursued, it surely keeps me energized enough to keep going for as long as I am able.


The joy returns

Community journalism is where it’s at, man.

How do I know that? Because I am involved in it at its most basic level. You see, I once was a retired journalist. Not at the moment. I remain in what I prefer to call “semi-retired” mode.

But my task these days is to report on city council matters, on school board matters and to write occasional features in a lovely North Texas community just a few miles east of where I live with my wife and Toby the Puppy.

Farmersville is home to about 5,000 individuals. It’s a growing community with plenty of issues relating to rapid growth. Streets need repairing. The city is embarking on a new fiber-powered Internet system. It has battled in recent years with a wastewater treatment plant. It is trying to find an individual to manage its Main Street program.

The community relies on the newspaper for which I write on a freelance basis. The Farmersville Times publishes once each week. It contains stories from yours truly and others who write for the group that owns the Times, C&S Media, based out of nearby Wylie.

I want to toot the horn of community journalism because it continues to thrive even though what the conservative talking heads refer to as “mainstream media” continue to struggle.

They struggle because of a perception – and I believe it is misplaced – that major media outlets no longer just “report the news.” They lace their reporting, the critics assert, with their own bias. I believe the bias lies in the minds of the consumer, not the messenger … but that’s another issue for another day.

I just want to declare that the joy has returned to the calling I received many decades ago to become a reporter. I so very much enjoy covering these city council, school board and feature-article issues because they deal with matters that affect citizens most directly.

It is my job – which I perform on a freelance basis – to report to the community about the decisions their elected representatives make on their behalf.

When I started this gig a couple of years ago, I came out of retirement from a career in which I was an advocate for opinion pages of two medium-sized Texas newspapers: one was in Amarillo, and one was in Beaumont. However, like virtually all print journalists, I got my start covering city councils and school boards and writing feature articles.

I learned something about myself when I started this new job: I didn’t forget what I had learned all those years ago.

I am having a lot of fun.



Quick to criticize, slow to offer praise

I had an interesting chat today with someone who publishes a group of weekly newspapers in North Texas, someone who told me about a reader who took a few minutes to spread the word about the good that comes from one of the weekly newspapers in this group.

Full disclosure: I work as a freelance reporter for this publisher, who runs the Farmersville Times.

A reader took time to post a social media message about all the information contained in a recent edition of the newspaper. My boss was so taken by that response, she reached out to the reader to thank her. “No one ever does that,” my boss told me; actually, someone just did, I said.

My conversation reminded me of what I knew to be true when I worked full time in print journalism. It is that human beings’ impulse to criticize what they read is far more sensitive than their impulse to offer a good word. How do I know that?

I know it because long ago I lost count of the times people would say: “Hey, I really liked what you wrote the other day.” To which I would say, “Oh, what was that?” The person would think for a moment, then shrug and say, “Oh, I can’t remember … but I liked it!”

Compare that with other, more critical, responses to whatever it was that captured readers’ attention. “Hey, that editorial you wrote? It was full of crap!” I would ask, “What was wrong with it?” They would recite it back to me word for word and parse every little point I sought to make and then they would say, “That’s just how I feel about it.”

I learned a long time ago that such responses come with the territory.

I was thrilled to learn, though, from my publisher about the positive feedback she received from a reader. May our weekly newspaper continue to provide information of value to the community. It’s the mission of journalism — and journalists — throughout this great land.


Journalists get some love … finally

You know how I feel about journalists and the craft they pursue with joy and passion; after all, I am one of them, even though I no longer do it “for a living.”

Watching the White House Correspondents’ Dinner last night, with all of its attendant silliness, insults, self-deprecation and happy talk leading up to the event, I was filled with pride to hear the president of the United States speak well of the work they do on our behalf.

President Biden understands — at least he says so publicly, which is enough for me — that the media deserve the constitutional protection granted them by the nation’s founders. Think of that. A “free press” is the only private enterprise guaranteed by the nation’s governing document.

The dinner took a few moments to salute those among the media who have died in service to the public. They have been taken by the war machines that grind on throughout the world.

The media have become the bogeymen and women of contemporary society. We have heard a former president label the press the “enemy of the people” and have witnessed the ex-POTUS’s followers threaten members of the media who are doing their job.

We didn’t hear that from the head table at the WH Correspondents’ Dinner. Instead, we heard the media receive the recognition they have deserved since the founding of our great nation.

I want to express my sincere thanks and gratitude for the praise that came into my living room. I never was a member of the White House press corps. I have plenty of colleagues, acquaintances and actual friends who have served near that nerve center. I stand with them with them in awe for the work they have done and continue to do.