Tag Archives: Texas Panhandle

Hold ’em accountable

The seemingly pending demise of local journalism in communities across the country has me dismayed almost beyond measure.

I have been sharing email messages with a longtime Texas Panhandle journalist who endorsed my concern over the slow, steady and agonizing degradation of the Amarillo Globe-News, the newspaper where I worked for nearly 18 years before my career came to a halt in August 2012.

What is happening in the Panhandle is a tragedy. There’s no other way to describe it. The Canadian Record, a weekly newspaper of longstanding fame and tradition, shut its doors earlier this year, leaving that portion of the Panhandle with no voice.

The Globe-News no longer publishes a daily editorial page and it has gone to mailing its editions to consumers, a decision that, in my view, makes delivery of timely news an absolute impossibility.

The biggest loser in all of this, according to my friend and former colleague, are those who demand that local politicians be held accountable. My friend wrote this:

“The worst part of all this is that for a democracy to survive at its best, there needs to be scrutiny of the decisions of public officials, otherwise it’ll be easier for more of them to succumb to temptation with impunity, with little to no oversight. The public gets the short straw and honest, efficient government at all levels suffers terribly. There goes democracy as it’s supposed to work.”

The media are supposed to function as the public’s eyes and ears. It reports on what government does, what those who run our government say and on the results of those decisions to those of us who rely on government.

The media also are charged with being the voice of the public that consumes what the media report and then speak out either in favor of or against what government is doing for — or to — them.

This is what we always tried to do at every stop I made along my way through a modestly successful — and wholly gratifying — career in print journalism. We occasionally reported and commented on matters the public didn’t want to hear; and they let us know when that occurred. We also received applause when we earned it from the public that thanked us for being there for them.

That element is being stripped away piece by piece by this new age of journalism that is taking on a totally different look from what I remember.

It’s about the accountability … stupid!


Traveling alone, as in … alone!

AMARILLO, Texas — It took me a few hours today to realize what was different about this brief excursion from my North Texas home to points northwest on the Texas Caprock.

I was alone in the pickup. By that I mean I was totally alone.

Now, you know that my dear bride, Kathy Anne, is gone. It’s obvious to you that she is unable to accompany me alongside in her customary place in the vehicle we own.

What isn’t obvious is that Toby the Puppy didn’t make this trip. He stayed home to keep my son and his two kitties, Macy and Marlowe, company.

I ventured back to the High Plains to see a few friends. Not many of them, mind you, because I’m here only for a couple of days before I head back to the house in Princeton.

But damn! Not having my puppy with me is seriously strange, man. I talk to him while we motor along the highway. He doesn’t talk back, obviously. He does respond with a tail wag and a lick. He will let me know if he has to relieve himself along the way; he gives me the doe-eyed stare and he might start to paw my arm, as if to say, “Dad, uhhh, it’s time to pull over.”

But for the first time in, oh, a very long time I have no traveling companion to share a laugh or to say, “I love you.” Yes, I tell Toby the Puppy that I love him all the time, just as I told Kathy Anne that very truth for more than 50 years.

She would say she loved me, too. Toby the Puppy? He expresses his love differently, but I know it when he tells me.

I’m glad I’ll be away only for two nights. Then I head home. The next sojourn commences in a couple of weeks; it will take me east to North Carolina and Virginia and points between here and there.

Toby the Puppy will be with me for every mile of that trek.


Any regrets on this choice?

This question has come to me more than once over the many years of my life in Texas.

It goes something like this: Do you regret moving from Oregon to Texas, given the strange political climate that has overtaken the Texas political leadership?

My answer: Not one bit. Not for a single moment.

My wife and I forged a fabulous life in Texas, living in three distinct communities. We moved to the Golden Triangle in 1984 with our two young sons. We then relocated in 1995 across this vast state to the Texas Panhandle after our boys had left home to attend college. Then came the final move to the Metroplex to be near our granddaughter, who came along in March 2013.

We came to Texas to move my career forward. We succeeded. It was a bit of a leap of faith, given that I had lived virtually my entire life in Portland, except for two years I spent in the Army. Kathy Anne had spent the bulk of her life there, too.

My career enabled me to have a ringside seat to watch the Texas political climate change. My craft as an opinion writer and editor for two mid-sized — but solid — daily newspapers gave me an up-close look.

Now, to be sure I need to state that politics hasn’t swallowed me whole. I worked hard at my job at the Beaumont Enterprise and the Amarillo-Globe News. When I went home to my bride, I left the travails of the day behind.

I don’t object to the questions about the decision my wife and I made together to uproot ourselves from what we knew in Oregon to what we would discover in Texas. It’s understandable that some might wonder if I question the wisdom of that decision.

All told, our life in Texas has given us a great ride. Yes, I am still struggling to find my way along the rest of the journey alone, as my bride is now gone. I learned long ago that I am an adaptable creature who isn’t hidebound by old habits.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee, once said “There’s more to life than politics.” He was speaking to me at the time … and I nodded in agreement.


Trying to fathom the flood

Some things in our life simply defy our meager attempts to understand them … such as Mother Nature’s occasional lack of mercy.

I refer this time to the incessant rain that has inundated the Texas Panhandle, a place my wife and I called home for than two decades. We thought at the time we relocated there from the Gulf Coast that we were moving to a sort of desert.

In some years it fulfilled that fantasy.

Not this year. Not this month. The Panhandle is under water. Literally!

I have many friends there who I know are suffering from outright terror at what could happen to them or their property. Their fear in this moment is legit. It is real.

Years ago, I chatted with the late Rick Klein, a former Amarillo mayor, who recalled flooding that occurred there in the late 1970s. The city vowed to correct that issue, Klein said. So it built an artificial lake just south of Interstate 40. The basin is intended to catch surplus rainwater and keep it from pouring into people’s homes and businesses.

What’s happened lately? The basin is full. As in to its brim! The rainwater at this moment has nowhere to go but into people’s homes and businesses.

I cannot offer any suggestions to combat this horrible string of events. It’s out of anyone’s control. Mother Nature answers to no one.

You’ve heard it said in recent years after mass shootings that a nation’s “thoughts and prayers” are not enough. I am going to offer thoughts and prayers to my friends in the Texas Panhandle. Why? Because that’s truly all we can do to bring relief from Mother Nature’s cruel wrath.


Once-solid newspaper on its way out

Another newspaper that once boasted of winning journalism’s top prize is heading for the crapper.

How do I know that? Because the Amarillo Globe-News has informed its subscribers they no longer will have what is left of the newspaper tossed on their yards the day it is published — in Lubbock! Ohhh, no! It’s going to be mailed to subscribers via the Postal Service. The paper is terminating its carrier service.

Stick with me for a moment as I explain why this sounds like the death knell peeling across the Texas Panhandle.

A few years ago, the Globe-News shut down its presses and farmed the job of printing the paper to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, about 120 miles south of Amarillo on Interstate 27. That meant the deadlines for getting “late-breaking news” into the G-N would be pushed back. The paper needed time to get the pages assembled and then shipped to Lubbock, where it would end up on printing plates.

Bottom line? There would be no late-breaking news in the Globe-News.

Now they have added the mailing element to a newspaper that has been stripped of its viability because it cannot report news that happens at midnight.

I once worked for a newspaper in Oregon City, Ore., that around 1983 decided to start mailing its copies to subscribers. I left the paper in early 1984 headed for the Golden Triangle region of Texas. The experiment failed miserably. The paper folded in 1988 and vanished into the void.

A similar experiment is about to commence in Amarillo around the third week of July, as I understand it.

All I can do these days is sigh and bemoan what has happened to a news organization that once displayed a Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service it won in 1961 for exposing government corruption in the region. That, folks, is the highest honor a newspaper can earn. The Pulitzer Board is still making that award, but in Amarillo and in the Panhandle, it is a distant memory now.

The days of great daily community journalism are long gone.

What does mailing the paper mean to those who still read the Amarillo Globe-News? It means they now will get a sheet of newsprint that is worth even less than it was before.

I detest bringing bad news to my friends in the Panhandle, but the end is approaching … rapidly.


WT boss awaits no-confidence vote

Walter Wendler and I are strangers. We’ve never met. I mention that only because I worked for 18 years at a newspaper in the Texas Panhandle where West Texas A&M University is located, which means Wendler got there after I left my job.

But the WT president has stepped on some sensitive toes by canceling a drag show that had been planned at the campus. Faculty senate leaders are preparing a vote of no confidence against Wendler and plan to submit their results to Texas A&M System regents and Chancellor John Sharp, demanding they take action against Wendler.

I believe the WT boss made a mistake by injecting his personal religious beliefs into his decision to cancel the show. The Texas Tribune reports: In a letter to the campus community last month, Wendler canceled a student drag show fundraiser and drew criticism from students when he argued that the performances are “derisive, divisive and demoralizing misogyny.”

The “demoralizing misogyny” statement, to my eyes, is most troubling. Oh, brother.

Let’s just stipulate that WT is a public university. It is funded by the state, which is a secular government, no matter how hard those on the right wing seek to inject religion into government functions. Wendler, therefore, is an agent of the state. Thus, he should have exercised more discretion than to make such a bold declaration against an activity being conducted by students of the public institution.

West Texas A&M University president faces no-confidence vote after canceling drag show | The Texas Tribune

The Tribune reports further: “We do not take this step lightly,” Ashley Pinkham, faculty senate president, wrote in a letter to all professors Monday announcing the vote. “However, we believe that the mission to provide intellectually challenging, critically reflective, and inclusive academic programs at a well-respected, high-quality institution of higher education is at jeopardy. We believe we must act now to restore the reputation of West Texas A&M University.”

I hate seeing this fine university being dragged through the social commentary mud … only because its president has overstepped his boundaries as the leader of a publicly funded educational institution.


City’s face is changing

AMARILLO, Texas — Returning on occasion to a city my wife and I called home for 23 years always is a treat in one important regard.

Every time I come back to Amarillo, I see development that was non-existent on previous visits. My latest foray to the unofficial capital of the Texas Panhandle provided a glaring example of what I mean.

We lived in far southwest Amarillo, in a neighborhood that served the Canyon Independent School District. I ventured to the old ‘hood to look at the house we had built in late 1996. The new residents are taking good care of the place. I drove down Hillside Road and saw strip malls galore that weren’t there just a few years ago. I ventured along Loop 335 and saw more of the same. Coulter Street is bustling, man.

I noticed construction of the new “loop” is well underway. Crews have erected overpasses and are moving many tons of dirt around.

A movie theater that once entertained crowds north of Interstate 40 is closed; that’s a downer, but then again, it’s probably a sign of the new era of “streaming.”

My son and I went out to the Town Square development for a night cap the other evening and it, too, has come a long way.

The fire department has erected a new station next door to the hotel where I am staying on Paramount Boulevard. Therefore, I am confident that firefighters would respond rapidly in case of well … emergency.

I ventured downtown to take care of some personal business and noticed that the parking garage across the street from the ballpark where the Sod Poodles play hardball is still virtually empty. There has been next to zero retail occupancy declared along all those storefronts. That, too, is a drag.

But the downtown district looks alive and well. The Barfield Hotel looks like a gem of a restoration project.

And so … the once moribund burg where I worked and offered opinions on issues of the day for the newspaper, appears to be in good health. That makes me happy.

Oh, the newspaper? The Amarillo Globe-News? Well, that’s another story for another day. It is pitiful.


Cornyn a RINO? Hardly!

AMARILLO, Texas — A longtime friend of mine revealed something to me today I did not expect.

He called John Cornyn, the state’s senior U.S. senator, a Republican In Name Only. I could only respond with, “Cornyn a RINO? No, he isn’t.” My friend wasn’t to be deterred. Yes, he is, my friend said. So is George W. Bush and so, too, is the rest of the state “in danger” of becoming a “blue state.”

Ah, but then he laughed it all off. He said, “I guess it depends on your perspective.” Yep, boy howdy, dude!

My friend is a fellow I admire greatly, and I will continue to admire him and will call him my friend. I just am going to suppose that we won’t talk politics in the near — or likely distant — future.

I came back to where we lived for 23 years. I guess my discovery of my friend’s political outlook reminded me of just how “conservative” the right wing swings in this part of the world. It reminded me of how the Panhandle once served as a breeding ground for the John Birch Society, about how so many residents of this community adhered to the ultra right wing of the political spectrum.

My friend took a moment to note during our visit that I am “exposed to all them liberals in Dallas.” Therefore, it doesn’t bother me, he conjectured.

I then informed him that because of recent events in my life I am divorcing myself from politics — at least from the extent I have been involved in them in recent years. Yeah, I know that this is a “political” blog post, but its intent is to illustrate one of the discoveries I have made on my westward journey from my home in North Texas.

And so … the journey continues in the morning to places far out west.

Pacific Ocean? Here I come!


Cadillac Ranch is alive and bustling!

AMARILLO, Texas — Wherever he is, Stanley Marsh 3 is smiling approvingly at what is happening to his roadside creation just west of this Texas Panhandle city.

My first stop on my westward journey was to a place with which I am familiar, as we lived in Amarillo for 23 years before relocating a few years ago to the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.

I use the word “familiar” with caution, because what I saw today bore little resemblance to what I have seen on countless visits to Cadillac Ranch, the attraction featuring 10 Caddies buried nose down in the dirt.

What is happening to Cadillac Ranch is that it is becoming the kind of “roadside attraction” that could translate to serious cash for the community.

The frontage road in front of the Ranch along Interstate 40 was packed with vehicles from many states. I saw license plates from Tennessee, Washington, California, Missouri, Oklahoma. That was just a fraction of the vehicles parked alongside the highway.

The wind was howling (of course!). A concession stand was peddling spray paint cannisters. One woman walking toward the Caddies reminded me that she needed to keep her back to the 50 mph gusts.

I purchased an overpriced ball cap inscribed with “Cadillac Ranch, Est. 1974, Amarillo, TX.” I told the kid hawking the caps that he was “quite proud of them,” to which he said he has told the owners they are overcharging for the merchandise.

I am not privy to what Stanley Marsh had in mind when he buried the Cadillacs nose-first in ’74. However, I cannot help but think he would be happy as the dickens at what has transpired since he came up with the kookie notion.

One of my sons believes that when Stanley was alive he was using Cadillacs as antennae to communicate with space aliens. You know what? Knowing the strange, rich guy as I did, I would put nothing past him. Nothing!

But … he’s no longer among us. We are left now to applaud the growing attraction of Cadillac Ranch to visitors from far away.

Stanley would be proud.


Lamenting slow demise of proud craft

As I lament the agonizing, excruciating, painful demise of a once-proud craft — print journalism — I remind myself of this frightening fact.

I worked for four newspapers during my nearly 37 years as a print journalist and two of them are long gone, while the other two are mere shadows of their former selves.

In 1976, I landed a job on the copy desk of the Oregon Journal, the evening newspaper of record in my hometown of Portland. In 1982, the Journal folded. It was gone forever.

I had moved by that time to Oregon City, to work at a suburban newspaper just south of Portland. We published five days each week. I became editor of the paper in 1979, which probably was a serious career mistake, as I wasn’t prepared to take on that task. The Enterprise-Courier folded in 1988. It, too, was relegated to the dust bin.

I had moved on to Beaumont, Texas, in the spring of 1984 to become an editorial writer for the Enterprise. I was promoted to editor of the opinion pages later that year. I stayed until January 1995, when I moved to Amarillo to become editor of the opinion pages of the Globe-News.

What happened in Beaumont and Amarillo is nothing short of heartbreaking. Both papers are still around … so to speak. Their staffs have been obliterated. The Enterprise’s parent company is trying to sell the building where the newspaper once was a thriving presence. The Globe-News’s parent company sold to another media giant and it moved the paper out of its iconic structure and has sold that property to another business.

The Enterprise and the Globe-News once were pillars of their communities. Now they are battered hulks. They once covered vast distances. The Enterprise reached into Deep East Texas and as far east as Lake Charles, La. The Globe-News once had a bureau in Clovis, N.M. and covered everything in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and even reached into southwest Kansas.

The Globe-News once won a Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service for its work in revealing corruption in county government.

No more.

Maybe it’s me, that I jinxed all of ’em. Just kidding.

I simply am saddened at the pending demise of what used to be communities’ major source of information about themselves and told many thousands of readers the news of the state, nation and the world.

I am left just to sigh.