Tag Archives: newspapers

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.


‘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.


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.

Waiting, waiting, waiting …

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Back when I worked full time for newspapers, this was the night we all cherished and perhaps even dreaded.

Election Night would bring us into our newsroom; I would be stationed in the editorial page office. Our reporters were spread out, manning phones or in the field covering election returns from polling places, or from campaign headquarters.

I generally would await election results and then prepare a next-day editorial commenting on the news of the day, which dealt with who won or who lost. We would try to offer a modicum of perspective, even as events were unfolding in real time in front of us.

I no longer do that. I sit at home. My wife and I are watching news shows that are telling us all we need to know, and even all we might not want to hear.

However, nights like this remind me of the thrill that came with reporting and commenting on issues, seeking to put it into context and to ensure we deliver the next day as complete a package of news reports and commentary as we could to thousands of folks who actually — in the old days — used to depend on their daily newspaper to inform them.

The old days are gone forever. However, my interest in politics and policy remains quite strong. I no longer attend newspaper vigils awaiting election returns. I do retain a serious interest in what those returns mean to the community where I live and to the nation I love.

This year certainly has heightened that interest, elevating to a level I cannot recall since, oh, the first time I got to vote for president in 1972. I was a youngster then, full of pi** and vinegar. These days I am so much older and decidedly less, um, zealous.

The interest remains high. But I’ll leave the deadline pressure of getting the news out on time to the youngsters. Have at it, gang. I’ll pick my newspaper off the driveway in the morning.

Blogging expands one’s audience

By JOHN KANELIS / johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Every now and then someone asks me this question about High Plains Blogger: How can you put these views out there living as you do in the middle of Trump Country?

OK, the question is paraphrased, but the message I get is the same. Someone such as me who tilts to the left must be nuts writing while sitting in a home built in the middle of a neighborhood full of Donald Trump fans.

Well, that leads me to tell the questioner that my blog goes far beyond the folks who live on our Collin County, Texas, street.

I am able to check the worldwide reach of this blog. At last count, I has been read by folks in more than 100 nations around the world. I recently had a first-time reader look at the blog in Moldova. So, I hope the Moldovan reader shares the blog with his or her neighbors.

This is one of the cooler aspects of writing this blog. The vast majority of page views and visitors to the blog reside in the United States. Ireland provides the second-most number; it’s a distant second, to be sure, but those Irish are reading the blog.

The scope of cyberspace gives folks like me to express my views openly, candidly and freely. There once was a time when I worked full-time for newspapers when I had to dial back my own bias and write editorials that spoke for the newspaper. I worked for conservative publications in Oregon and in Texas. So, while I was able to express my own views somewhat freely in my signed columns, the editorials I wrote were another matter altogether.

Those days are behind me now. I am writing this blog totally unencumbered by corporate considerations. It’s all mine. It also enables me to speak far beyond my neighborhood or even far beyond the borders of the state where my family and I have lived for the past 36 years.

Our planet is big — and small — all at once.

Newspaper industry is changing even more rapidly

To those of you who either have worked in newspapers, known someone who has worked for them, or has had either a passing or passionate interest in the information that newspapers convey … you need to read the article I have attached to this blog post.

A former colleague of mine, a one-time production director for a Texas newspaper, brought it to my attention.

Read the article here.

It’s lengthy, but take my word for it: If you have any interest at any level in a changing — and likely dying — industry, it is worth your time.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I will offer this nugget of what the article tells us:

The coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered businesses around the world and probably changed our lives forever and ever has brought about a rapid acceleration in the changes that await the newspaper industry.

Ken Doctor, author of the essay, writes: Make no mistake, though: Many of the decisions being made right now and in the next few weeks will be permanent ones. No newspaper that drops print days of publication will ever add them back. Humpty Dumpty won’t put the 20th-century newspaper back together again. There can be no return to status quo ante; the ante was already vanishing.

The trends that were supposed to occur in, say, 2023 or 2025 are occurring right now.

It ain’t pretty, ladies and gentlemen.

I am a former newspaper guy. I spent nearly four decades practicing a craft that I loved. I am officially saddened by what I fear is coming at us much more rapidly than I ever envisioned.

What took so long to build has collapsed in virtually no time at all

It took print journalism, chiefly newspapers, nearly two centuries to attain what used to be a virtually exalted status among their consumers.

And yet, the craft has all but collapsed in virtually no time.

What took years to erect has all but vanished in the blink of an eye.

That observation came from a dear friend of mine with whom I used to have a professional relationship when I worked in Amarillo as editorial page editor of the Globe-News. My friend was a freelance columnist; he had a regular day job, but wrote for us because he was good at it. Our professional relationship ended when I left the newspaper in August 2012. Happily, our personal friendship remains intact.

We were visiting the other evening when he made that stunning observation. His point is that newspapers climbed for a long time up a proverbial mountain to attain an important status in people’s homes. Readers of newspapers depended on them for news of their community, of their state, nation and the world around them. If you wanted to know what was happening in the world, you collected your newspaper off the porch, opened it up and spent a good deal of time reading what it reported to you.

We believed what we read. I mean, if it’s in the daily newspaper then it had to be true. As my friend noted, it took a long time for newspapers to achieve that status.

Then it all changed. Rapidly! Dramatically! Newspapers fell with a loud thud!

The Internet arrived. I can’t remember when it happened, but suffice to say it was the equivalent to the “day before yesterday.” Cable TV exploded. Social media burst forth, too.

All of that media took huge bites out of newspapers’ influence in people’s lives. Has print journalism become less reliable, less believable, less credible than before? I do not believe that is the case. Americans are still reading some first-class reporting from major newspapers that remain important purveyors of vital information.

And yet, we hear the president of the United States refer to the media as “the enemy of the people.” Right-wingers blast what they call the “mainstream media.” They accuse newspapers and other legitimate media organizations of peddling “fake news.” The attacks have exacted a terrible toll on newspapers.

The smaller papers, those that tell us about our communities? They are struggling. Many of them — if not most of them — are losing the struggle. The Amarillo Globe-News, my final stop in a career that I loved pursuing, has been decimated by competing media forces and — in my view — by incompetence at the top of its management chain of command.

My friend’s analysis, though, rings so true. It saddens me beyond measure to realize that it has taken so little time for it all come crashing down.