Tag Archives: newspapers

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.

Retirement journey takes me farther than I thought

I want to acknowledge something I realized during a recent foray across the western portion of North America.

It is that my retirement from a craft I pursued with great joy has taken me farther away from it than I could have imagined.

I worked in print journalism for nearly 37 years. My career ended in August 2012. I dabbled a bit here and there part time writing for other media outlets: public TV, commercial TV and editing a weekly newspaper. I kept my head in the game and my hand on the mechanics of the craft.

Then I entered full retirement mode.

In the old days, travels with my wife usually meant picking up newspapers in every community we would visit or pass through. I would bring home an armload of newspapers from which I might glean ideas about layout, or presentation.

This time, after spending more than a month on the road through the western United States and Canada? Nothin’. I didn’t bring home a single newspaper. Indeed, I read only one newspaper during our time on the road … and it was a freebie distributed to all the visitors of a Eugene, Ore., RV park. The newspaper was the Register-Guard of Eugene, which in the old days was considered one of the better newspapers in the Pacific Northwest. It was family owned and was considered a leader in graphic design and presentation of news and commentary.

The Baker family sold the R-G not long ago to GateHouse Media, the outfit that has purchased dozens of newspapers around the country, becoming a media titan in an age of dwindling newspaper influence and importance.

My wife and I spent several nights up the highway from Eugene in Portland, my hometown and where I first fell in love with newspapers. I never laid eyes on The Oregonian newspaper during our visit there.

Oh, the end of an era for me personally!

We visited many cities that used to boast solid newspaper tradition: Colorado Springs; Bend, Ore.; Wenatchee, Wash.; Calgary, Alberta; Winnipeg, Manitoba; Grand Forks, N.D.; Topeka, Kan.; Tulsa, Okla.

I didn’t read a single word printed in newspapers distributed in those communities.

What does this mean? Hmm. I’ll have to ponder it. I still cherish my memories of toiling at newspapers in Oregon and Texas. I continue to harbor many fond memories of those years. I recall them with glee. However, I no longer am wedded to newspapers as my primary information source … or so it has become obvious, given what I have just reported about our recent journey.

Gosh, am I now dependent on “The Internet” for all my information? To some extent, yes. Although I want to rely solely on “legitimate news sources” that are spread throughout cyberspace.

There remains a glimmer of hope that I haven’t gone totally to the dark side. I do subscribe to the Dallas Morning News. I restarted my subscription upon our return home. It arrived this Sunday morning. I will consume its contents with great gusto.

Happy to be relieved of this media stress

Those of us who studied journalism in college and prepared to take up that noble craft never saw it coming. None of us knew in the Olden Days what might lie ahead for media in all forms.

Thus, it is with great relief that I heard this week about another possible mega-media merger involving two significant newspaper groups: Gannett and Gatehouse Media.

I got a message from a good friend, a seasoned reporter in Corpus Christi, who told me about talks involving Gannett and Gatehouse. The Caller-Times’s parent company, Gannett, well might “merge” with Gatehouse, creating — to say the least — a highly uncertain climate among the professionals who work for both media companies.

It’s been an unsteady voyage over many years for media outlets all across the nation, indeed the world!

Merger on its way?

My friend believes he’ll survive the turmoil. He has plenty of skills that he thinks will transfer to whichever company takes the reins at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. But he says the uncertainty among staffers is causing plenty of heartburn, sleeplessness and worry.

I got out of the business in August 2012. The Amarillo Globe-News, the final stop on my 37-year journey in print journalism, was suffering from the consequences of competing in the new media age. The G-N corporate ownership at the time, Morris Communications, sought to make the transition from largely print to mostly digital presentation of news and commentary. It didn’t work out for Morris, which sold all 13 of its newspapers to Gatehouse, which has managed to decimate the G-N reporting and advertising staffs. That all happened, of course, after I bid farewell; I got chewed up in a company “reorganization” launched by Morris.

That was then. The here and now has put me — along with my wife — into a whole new environment. We are retired, enjoying life and watching with a fair amount of trepidation as the media waters continue to roil.

I pray for my former colleagues. I wish them well and hope they and their corporate gurus can look farther into the future than any of us ever did back when we were starting out.

Happy Trails, Part 149: ‘Smart home,’ is it?

It’s come down to this: No longer do we just move into a structure, call it “home” and then arrange some furniture to make it comfortable.

That’s only part of it these days. In the 21st century, we now have a home that is equipped with technology that enables it to do certain things for us, such as turn lights on and off, play music, adjust the furnace temperature; if we were so inclined we could acquire technology that irrigates the lawn . . . all on voice command.

I refer to “Alexa,” the technology of the space age.

Indeed, I cannot help but think of “HAL,” the machine that took over the space ship in “2001: A Space Odyssey.” You remember how that turned out. “HAL” became a monster.

Will this happen with “Alexa”? I’m sure it won’t.

However, I am utterly amazed, amused and astonished at how much “Alexa” can do for us.

That’s what we got when we purchased this home in Princeton, Texas. I have to say that this is all pretty darn slick.

This retired guy is learning a whole lot of new things about “smart home” living.

We can peek at those on the front porch and answer the doorbell without opening the door. We can listen to music of our choice: name the genre and the system will play it for us.

I never thought retirement would introduce us to this whole new world. Then again, back when I started working for a living in print journalism I never imagine the course that newspapers would take with the invention and development of the Internet (thanks a bunch, Al Gore). 

We’re continuing to settle into our new digs. It’s going to take some added adjustment. But . . . that’s OK. After all we’ve been through on this life journey my wife and I started more than 47 years ago, the rest of it will be an easy ride.

Journalism craft in serious trouble

This is not a scoop. Many of us have known this already: Journalism as we’ve known the craft is in serious trouble.

I noticed an article in The Nation that takes note of the recent sale of the New York Daily News, a newspaper that has won the Pulitzer Prize. It has just laid off roughly half of its newsroom staff.

The Daily News, though, is merely the latest in a long and growing line of once-great media organizations feeling the pinch, feeling the burn and feeling the pressure to find a business model to operate in a changing media climate.

It makes me grateful for my own departure from the craft I enjoyed and loved for so many years, even under the painful circumstances that brought it about. I resigned in August 2012 after being “reorganized” out of the job I did there for nearly 18 years. Yes, I’ve commented already on that. The truth is that in a perverse sort of way I am glad it happened, given the misery that has been inflicted on many of my former colleagues who have remained at their post.

John Nichols’s story in The Nation can be read here.

It’s a fascinating description of what has happened to a craft that brought many of us into it back in the day. Many of us answered some kind of call to make a difference. We wanted to help shape the world, to chronicle the news in our communities.

One of the dirty little secrets about newspapers is that they used to be a highly profitable business. Yes, they were labor-intensive. Newsrooms were full of reporters who covered various beats. They had editors who sought to improve the quality of the stories they would tell. There were photographers who provided visual images to to accompany the printed word.

With all that manpower on board, newspapers often operated at incredible profit margins, often exceeding 30, maybe 40 percent.

Those margins shrank in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. Newspapers then had to reduce the overhead to maintain their amazing profitability. Believe me, I had a front-row seat as this happened, not just in Amarillo, Texas, where my career ended, but in Beaumont, Texas, where I also worked for nearly 11 years.

I went to work at the Amarillo Globe-News (which also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1960 for Meritorious Public Service) in January 1995. When I got there, the paper published two editions daily — morning and evening. It had a combined daily circulation of more than 60,000 copies; its Sunday circulation hovered close to 80,000.

Those numbers have plummeted. So has the newspaper’s revenue and so has its labor force. It now publishes a morning newspaper with a staff that is a tiny fraction of the staff it used to employ. It has no staff photographers; its copy-editing functions have been centralized; it no longer prints the paper in Amarillo.

This circumstance is not unique to Amarillo, Texas. It has happened in communities across the land.

Am I sad? Of course I am. Am I glad to be gone from that madness? Boy, howdy!