Tag Archives: newspapers

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.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Newspapers: Where are they?

NEEDLES, Calif. — My wife and have ventured through much of southern California and tonight I just thought of something I haven’t seen with my own eyes.

The sight of people reading newspapers.

Not at breakfast in a tiny diner in Keene, Calif. Not at any of the truck stops and travel centers we visited on our journey. Nowhere, man!

There was a time when we would travel to hither and yon and spot newspapers spread out on people’s tables at restaurants. I would spot a newspaper — sometimes crumpled up — on the floor of men’s restrooms. We would stop for gasoline along the way and would see news racks full of newspapers waiting to be purchased by those wishing to learn what was occurring in their community or their nation or around the world.

These days? Newspapers are MIA!

OK. It’s a sign of the times. Newspapers are becoming part of our history. I consider it a glorious part, too. They are fading faster than yesterday’s news.

It makes me sad.

However, they still have their place as a chronicler of a community’s life and its future. I am delighted to be a freelance writer for a company that owns a group of weekly community journals that do that for our communities in North Texas.

If only there were more of them out there.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

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.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Milestone ahead!

I am approaching a milestone date and I want to forewarn you of the event. I have written about it before, starting with some bitter feelings toward my former employer and the circumstances leading up to my departure from a career that brought me great joy, a bit of success and a whole lot of fun.

It was Aug. 30, 2012 when I got called into the office of a new hire at the Amarillo Globe-News. The newly installed “vice president for audience” told me, “There is no easy way to say this, but we have decided to offer your job to someone else, and he accepted.”

Hmm. I knew who the “someone else” was, but I asked if it was him. My colleague said yes.

We exchanged a few words, I rose from my chair, went to my office, called my wife and said, “I’m out.” I called my sons to tell them the same thing. I collected my thoughts and went home, but not before visiting with the publisher of the newspaper on my way to the car. We had a tense conversation. He asked me to come back the next day to “think about” my next move. I didn’t need to think about it. I quit.

I came back the next morning, cleared out my office … and was gone.

The publisher had implemented a strategy that sought to reorganize the newsroom at the AGN. He told us all our job descriptions had been rewritten. We could apply for any job we wanted. I chose to seek the one I had done there for nearly 18 years. He had something — and someone — else in mind for me and my AGN career. So, he acted.

The years since my departure from full-time print journalism have been a joyous ride. Some of it has been a bit uncertain. However, I have not only survived, I consider myself fortunate to have been spared the misery that has befallen daily newspapers in the decade since and the unique misery that afflicted the Texas Panhandle’s premier newspaper.

This blog has been a lifesaver for me. I get to keep pontificating about issues of the day. As I have told you already, I have a couple of fun freelance gigs that keep me busy near the North Texas home my wife and I purchased a few years ago.

As they say, time flies when you’re having fun. Thus, it has been a rapid 10 years since my life changed.

***

A couple of quick post-scripts …

The VP for audience and I have become friends and we stay in touch. He moved on not long after he gave me the news I didn’t want to hear. I reached out to him not long ago to reconcile and to inform him I harbored no hard feelings toward him.

The publisher? He “stepped down” from his post a while ago after the paper was purchased by another company. He and I never forged any kind of relationship during the years we worked together. We don’t speak now. That’s fine with me, too.

Life is so good.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Newspapers still provide value

I want to take a moment to sing the praises of newspapers, which to my way of thinking still provide enormous value to the communities they serve.

First, I need to provide full disclosure.

I once was a full-time print journalist; my full-time career ended in August 2012. I now am a part-timer, a freelance reporter for a weekly newspaper in Collin County, Texas.

OK, are we clear now about my bias in favor of newspapers? Good! I shall proceed.

Newspaper reporters have been called many names by politicians and other public officials over many centuries. They incur public figures’ wrath primarily for telling the public the truth about how those public figures are doing their jobs. Public officials, whether elected politicians or career bureaucrats, have been embarrassed because newspaper reporters have uncovered misbehavior or, at times, illegal behavior.

Many local newspapers are continuing on that mission to hold public officials accountable to, um, the public. I salute them always because I appreciate what they do. I also know the difficulty they face in pursuing the truth on behalf of the public.

Granted, there are fewer of them today doing that job than, say, 10 or 20 years ago. Newspapers are suffering from the changing media climate. Fewer people depend on newspapers to tell them what is happening in their community. They rely instead on social media and — gulp! — the Internet.

I subscribe to two weekly newspapers and a daily newspaper; although the daily paper, the Dallas Morning News, comes to my home only twice each week — on Wednesday and Sunday. My print subscription enables me to read the rest of the week’s editions online. The weekly papers are the Princeton Herald (in the city where I live) and the Farmersville Times (the paper for which I work).

I will read newspapers for as long as I am able to read, which I hope will be a good while longer while I still walk this good Earth.

The men and women who report the news do so without the kind of evil intent that too many politicians — and those who follow them — ascribe to them. They report the news clearly and they tell us our communities’ stories.

There is tremendous value in all of that. Even when it embarrasses those who get paid with money generated from my tax bill.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Lamenting newspapers’ demise

This is the Gospel truth, so help me: I detest writing critical items on this blog about newspapers that provided me with great joy and satisfaction as I pursued a craft I loved so very much.

Still, it pains me terribly to watch the demise of what used to be a mainstay in people’s homes. Daily newspapers everywhere in this great land are withering up and dying before our eyes.

It’s a slow and painful death to be sure.

I have commented on the end of Saturday publication of the Amarillo Globe-News, the last stop on my daily journalism career. The newspaper ceased the Saturday edition this weekend. Amarillo, Texas, is far from the only community watching this happen to their newspapers.

Cities far larger than Amarillo (population, 200,000) are seeing the same thing happen. The city of my birth, Portland, once was where The Oregonian published 400,000 copies every Sunday; daily circulation was around 250,000. Today? It’s a fraction of those amounts. The newspaper doesn’t even deliver to every subscriber seven days a week, although it does publish papers every day, but sells most of them from news racks.

Newspapers used to be what we called “cash cows” for their owners. They operated with enormous profit margins, exceeding 30 or 40%. They did so while paying huge amounts of overhead to salaries employees. Publishing a newspaper was labor-intensive to be sure, but the owners made tons of dough while publishing them.

Those days are long gone.

I am proud of the craft I pursued. I did so in good faith as a reporter and then as an editorial writer, and then as an editorial page editor. No one ever called me the “enemy of the American people.” Indeed, those with whom I toiled to publish newspapers all felt as I did, that we sought to tell our communities’ stories with honesty and fairness.

I believe we succeeded.

I remained saddened by the demise of daily print journalism as I remember it when I took up this craft.

I came of age in journalism about the time that Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward were telling the world about the 1972-74 Watergate scandal. Their reporting for the Washington Post sought to hold those in power accountable for their actions. They exposed some monumental corruption.

Sitting on my bookshelf at home is a first-edition copy of “All the President’s Men,” the story that the two journalists told of the scandal that brought down a U.S. president and sent many of his top aides to prison.

A publisher gave me this book as a Christmas gift and wrote on the first page of what he called his “favorite book.” He continued: “This is really where it all began for great journalism!” I aspired to make a difference in the world the way these men did. I didn’t get there, but I managed to carve out a modestly successful career that made me proud of the path I took.

I just am saddened to see newspapers dying before my eyes.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Newspapers dying, but not yet dead

A friend of mine sent me this snippet from a podcast given by acclaimed sportswriter Mike Greenberg.

He writes about the cultural value of reading an actual newspaper. Not something you see online. Greenberg said:

“I fervently believe people comprehend things better when they read them on paper than when they read them on their phone or on line. Your generation and all generations to come are missing out on one of life’s greatest pleasures, and that is a cup of coffee and a newspaper. It is a pleasure you’ll never know. It is one that I’ll never cease to enjoy. To my dying day, if they continue to print newspapers, I will continue to read them that way and there is something about a cup of coffee and a newspaper, not reading it on-line; there is an experience reading a newspaper. It is a loss for the culture.”

I am one of those, too. It’s not that I feel necessarily smarter or have greater comprehension skills than those who don’t read newspaper.

It is to say that I will go to my own grave being dedicated to the work that journalists do to inform me of the community where I live and of the world we all call home.

Thanks, Mike Greenberg.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

‘No one reads newspapers’

Every now and then, someone reminds me — even unwittingly — that the job I performed for nearly four decades is no longer relevant. It no longer matters to those who used to consume the thing that I delivered to them.

Newspapers, man! They have become, pardon the expression, yesterday’s news. 

We live in Princeton, Texas. We took our puppy to the veterinarian’s office not long ago. I waited for Toby in the waiting room and was reading some of the signs on the wall. One of them asked customers for newspapers for the vet’s staff to use as kennel liners for the dogs under the doctor’s care.

I told the front-office staff I would be glad to deliver them newspapers. The response from one of the staffers? “That would be great. We need the newspapers but we are having trouble getting enough of them. No one reads the newspaper any more.”

Ouch! Double ouch!

I get three newspapers delivered to my house. The Dallas Morning News comes every Wednesday and Sunday; I get the Farmersville Times and the Princeton Herald delivered weekly. We are a newspaper family. I still write on a freelance basis for the Farmersville Times.

And, yes, I deliver newspapers regularly for the vet’s office staff to use for their canine patients.

So it goes as I trek through my retired life. I keep getting reminders such as the one I have just described that my craft matters to a diminishing number of my fellow Americans.

Hey, I might be saddened at some level, but I am enough of a grownup to understand what has happened to the craft I pursued with unbounded joy for so very long.

It’s a different day and time.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Time of My Life, Part 56: Traffic controller

By John Kanelis / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

A long time acquaintance and social media friend reminds me of how times seemed to have changed regarding a critical aspect of managing the opinion pages of a newspaper.

He laments the frequency of some letter writers’ appearance on the pages of the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas, where I worked for nearly 18 years until August 2012. To be honest, I don’t know what the paper’s policy is these days. I don’t read the opinion pages much, as I have to subscribe to the AGN’s digital edition to obtain access to those pages. I, uh, have no particular interest in that.

Back in the day, we had a policy that we enacted not long after I arrived in January 1995 to run the opinion pages of the Globe-News, which at the time published morning and afternoon editions each day.

When I arrived I learned that the paper allowed letter writers to submit essays at will. The paper would publish virtually all of them. What I determined then was that only a few readers were taking part in offering commentary to the newspaper. One fellow would write damn near daily, man. He was an articulate fellow, but he could be harsh on those who disagreed with him; I figure he frightened away a lot of potential contributors.

So … I decided to impose a new rule: one letter every two weeks. Then I made another decision shortly after that: one letter per writer every calendar month.

We had an administrative assistant who then was tasked with keeping tabs on our letter writers. She did so with cool efficiency.

What happened almost immediately was quite stunning. We began getting letters from readers who rarely, if ever, submitted letters for us to consider publishing. Our pool of commentators grew exponentially over time.

It’s important to stipulate that the Globe-News circulated to many times more readers than it does today. The circulation of the paper is just a fraction of it was during the late 1990s and early 2000s. We had a sort of “luxury,” therefore, by being able to limit the frequency of writers, opening the door to many more contributors who wanted to weigh in with their thoughts on the issues of the day or on what we might have said about those issues in our editorial columns.

We took great pride in the wide range of opinions we invited onto our pages. Much of the criticism was constructive; much of it was, well … something else. That’s OK. We sought to exercise some discretion, some control over the quality of those points of view. Hey, we were entitled to do so!

How will they remember us?

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

As I communicate occasionally with former colleagues of mine around the country I am left with a stunning realization.

It is that the communities where I worked for 37 years in daily journalism are not alone as the newspapers that once served them with pride — and occasionally with tenacity — are dying before the communities’ eyes.

There was a time when I was feeling a bit of a complex about the communities where I worked. I started my career in Oregon City, Ore.; the newspaper that served that town is now gone, closed up, the building wiped off the slab on which it sat. I gravitated to Beaumont, Texas, where I worked for nearly 11 years; the company that owns that paper is now trying to sell the building and the news staff has been reduced to virtually zero. Then I moved to Amarillo and worked there for nearly 18 years; same song, different verse than what is playing out in Beaumont, except that Amarillo’s newspaper staff has vacated the building and is now housed in a downtown bank tower suite of offices.

Did I contribute to their death or terminal illness?

Then comes the other question: How will our descendants remember us?

I have a granddaughter who’s almost 8 years old. I actually wonder what she will say if someone were to ask her, “What did your grandpa do for a living?” Could she answer the question in a way that makes sense to her and to the person who asks it? I hope her mommy and daddy will help explain it to her. I will do my best to put it in perspective when the moment presents itself.

I am proud of the career I pursued. I did enjoy some modest success over the decades. My peers honored my work on occasion with awards. It’s not about that, of course. We did our jobs with a commitment to tell the truth and, in my case as an opinion writer and editor, to offer our perspectives fairly and honestly.

This transition is playing out everywhere in the land.

I spoke this week with a friend in Roanoke, Va., a fellow opinion journalist, who told me that paper also has suffered grievously in this new age of social media, live-streaming and cable TV news/commentary. I hear the same from others in the upper Midwest. I see circulation figures from major newspapers and cringe at the calamitous decline in paid readership.

For example, my hometown newspaper, the (Portland) Oregonian, once circulated more than 400,000 copies daily; the World Almanac and Book of Facts says the paper now sells 143,000 newspapers each day.

I feel like a dinosaur … and I take small comfort in knowing that there are many of us out there who lament the pending demise of a proud craft. I hope for all it’s worth that whatever emerges to take our place will continue to tell the truth and do so with fairness.