Tag Archives: newspapers

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.

Newspapers? No interest!

My adaptability chops were on full display as my pooch and I ventured out west for a month, returning home in the middle of April.

How is that? Well, there once was a time — when I was a full-time newspaper journalist — when I would scarf up local newspapers at every stop along the way. My wife and I would travel in our recreational vehicle; we would stop in this or that town and I would look for the newspaper, purchase it and go through it looking for ideas I could appropriate for the paper I was working for at the time.

The changing media climate, sad to say, has relegated newspapers — even the one-time award-winning local papers — to shadows of their former selves. Toby the Puppy and I stopped overnight in towns served by newspapers published in Flagstaff, Ariz., Sacramento, Calif., San Jose, Calif., Eugene, Ore., Portland, Ore., Seattle, Wash.

Did I pick up a single copy of those newspapers? Not a chance. I happen to know what has happened to many of those newspapers, as I have followed the media trends fairly carefully for the past several years. They all have been decimated. They have staffs that are a fraction of the size they used to be.

Many of them no longer publish daily editorial pages, which is where I spent the bulk of my nearly 37-year-long career.

So, with that knowledge, and more, I chose to pass on what had been a tradition in my life for seemingly forever.

The saddest part of all is something I am loath to admit … which is that I did not miss reading them. I have been away from the daily newspaper publishing grind for more than a decade.

Time has marched on. So have I.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.