Monday, March 24, 2014

RAY SULLIVAN, NEWSPAPERING WILL MISS YOU

Ray Sullivan, a good friend of many years, retired last week after more than 13 years as publisher of the Clovis News Journal, Portales News-Tribune and Quay County Sun in New Mexico and a total of some four decades as a newspaperman at papers big and small.

Over the years Ray and I have had lots of fun and often highly contentious political -- well, let's say -- "discussions," with him coming from right of and me from left of center. Although neither of us has EVER let the other win one of those discussions, which always seem to taper off into an exhausted truce, I have always had the utmost respect for Ray not only as a person, but also as a publisher and a newspaperman -- two things at which he was/is very skilled.

Looking back -- and probably forward, too, since I seriously doubt our political wranglings will end merely because we are both now retired from newspapering -- I think maybe one of the few politically charged things we've ever been in pretty much complete agreement on is the need to not only honor those who protect us through their military service, but also the duty to see that our veterans and their sacrifices are properly remembered and adequately and appropriately rewarded. Granted, we share what probably can only be described as a bias in this regard because we are both veterans. Ray was a Marine and I was a sailor and this gives us an understanding and appreciation of what it means to serve in the military and the issues faced when that service ends.

This made us an increasingly rarer breed in today's media -- journalists with military service -- and that worries me, particularly at a time when when we have service men and women engaged in hot situations in various places in the world and the potential for involvement in yet another if issues between the United States and Russia over Ukraine can't be settled sanely.

These military involvements are keeping our Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force regularly in the news. And the fact that fewer and fewer members of the media -- particularly "local" media -- have a firsthand understanding of things military worries me because it opens up all sorts of avenues for potentially embarrassing mistakes.

Although some of those potential mistakes might seem "minor" to those print, electronic, visual and digital journalists who've not been in the military, rest assured they are not trivial to those who are or have been and their family members.

Like any mistakes the media makes, those that occur with regard to things military cast doubt on our credibility -- particularly among members of the public who may already be predisposed to distrust us and seek any opportunity to believe that there are times when we don't know our asses from third base.

In case you've not already learned it, let me tell you from personal experience that veterans can be a cantankerous lot. They have little tolerance for members of the media who, for instance, don't understand that while everyone who has been in the military technically can be considered a G.I. (Government Issue) it is a term most often applied to soldiers in the Army; or that Marines want to be referred to as Marines, not soldiers; etc. It's been my experience, for example, that far too many of today's young journalists don't understand the difference between an officer and a non-com and haven't a clue as to the hierarchy of rank within the individual branches of service.  Even those with some understanding of the order of military ranks are sometimes confused by seeming inconsistencies such as the fact that while in the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps a major outranks a lieutenant, a lieutenant general outranks a major general; that a captain in the Navy is a several steps higher in rank than a captain in the other services; and that the "captain" of a ship in the Navy may or may not carry the actual rank of "captain."

Without veterans like Ray and me around to catch these potential mistakes, many a cantankerous vet could grow to regard your newspaper as totally FUBAR (and if you don't know what they means, I suggest you look it up), so much so that it could cost you readers or damage your credibility in your community -- things we simply can't afford.

Fortunately, we do have a safeguard against these sorts of goof ups. The AP Stylebook lays out all of this pretty clearly and if you're an editor, I suggest you familiarize yourself and get your staffers -- particularly your copy editors who are your last line of defense -- to familiarize themselves with the Stylebook's military entries.

Honestly, this is important and because it's a journalistic issue. It's one of those things Ray and I have discussed on and off over the years and are in thorough agreement on. But, then, that's among the things that I like and respect about Ray Sullivan. Despite our frequent political sparring, I really can't recall us ever disagreeing over what it takes to make a good newspaper -- particularly a good community newspaper -- that has value, meaning and relevance to readers.

I guess I could go on longer and discuss my view of Ray's values as a publisher who came up through the news department ranks, but why should I, since he expressed them far better than I ever could in his swansong, published in the Clovis New Journal in the waning days before his retirement: 

"Telling Clovis’ stories had profound impact

By Ray Sullivan
Growing up in Pueblo, Colo., I’d come home from school in the 1950s and ’60s, I’d do my chores and homework, then read an escapism western or sports story in a library book I’d checked out the Saturday before.
Ray Sullivan
Ray Sullivan

I’d sprawl on the floor in front of the small black-and-white television and plug my ears with tucked up fingers to block out the sounds of my seven siblings. Then I would drown in the world of the images the words created in my mind’s eye.
Oh, I’d watch a bit of the hometown TV station’s kid show, but mostly I’d escape into the story at hand.
A book is where I first experienced the power of words strung together the right way. The comic strips of the Pueblo Star-Journal reinforced that belief. By seventh grade I knew I would be a storyteller.
I’ve had the good fortune and privilege to follow that meandering path through five states — Colorado and California, Idaho and Ohio, and now New Mexico. I quit twice, once for a brief Peace Corps stint and once from burnout — no balance between work and play and prayer. But the draw of ink rubbing off on my fingers was too powerful to ignore.
When I became an editor for the first time in Idaho in the late 1970s, my goal was the same as it is today: Produce a strong community news report. Be prepared to do it unflinchingly because newspapers that do things right are attacked when they don’t buckle under pressure to print only the truth as interpreted by one faction.
Some days we do that pretty well. Other days, well, not so much. Most importantly, we never give up. We strive always to produce the daily miracle of newspapers. Now we do so in print and online.
We’ve always been guided and supported by our readers. Recently, our latest report of the tumbleweed barrage was far better because of the public’s stories and photos, and they did so again last week with dozens of dust-storm photos we posted online.
Now that I’m 66 and a retiree of two days, I can say my career has been as rewarding here in what I call “The Flat Windy” as it was when words captured me back in junior high.
My wife of nearly 31 years, Bev, our cats and I drove here in late 2000 from Ohio, for my opportunity to become a publisher. Fulfilling that challenge has enriched and educated us far more than we expected.
This region grew on us quickly. Walking in the early mornings, my soul was filled with the breathtaking beauty of a full moon setting in the west as the bright sun peeked over the eastern horizon.
A trip to the Billy the Kid graveyard in Fort Sumner and its more somber partner, the Bosque Redondo Memorial, spoke volumes about our rich, sometimes shameful history in America’s hardscrabble west.
Tucumcari’s Route 66 remains remind us all that we had best find ways to strengthen our roots while seeking new opportunities. Portales’ vibrant town square and nearby university campus mirrors the success of that message.
In Clovis, our sounds started more than a century ago when the first shrill train whistle scared a plow horse. The notes soon were enriched by the roar of propeller-driven engines on those new-fangled aeroplanes landing and taking off at Portair Field. Today, of course, that’s Cannon Air Force Base, which keeps the sound of freedom alive with its fiercely dedicated special operations airmen and civilians.
Our love of music arose in our first schools and churches and that morphed into the Clovis Sound out on West Seventh in the 1950s. We celebrate that sound today at the annual Clovis Music Festival.
And don’t forget the musical sound of water. This life-giving, scarce commodity offers a healing sound as it nurtures our farm fields and parks. We can’t lose that sound, people. We are in the west so of course we fight over water. But we best not fight each other so hard our neighbors take our liquid gold.
My final sound, though, is heard throughout our Clovis Media buildings each day as our good people take care of your needs. They do it well and our business is as vibrant today as ever. We were blessed with new owners 25 months ago when Gary and Sue Stevenson and Garry Ellis bought the Clovis News Journal, Portales News-Tribune and Quay County Sun from Freedom Communications. They restored balance out of what had eroded into a corporate labyrinth that made good newspapering difficult. They let us do our jobs. It is a gift I will take to my grave.
In Clovis the music culminates six nights a week when we turn on our presses. I love the expanding reach of the Internet, but when the motors on the only newspaper presses within 90 miles rev up, I feel the goose bumps of freedom arising.
It is that sound I will miss as much as the tunes played by our eastern New Mexico winds."

In closing, I will only say that when a journalist-editor-publishers like Ray Sullivan retires, it leaves a hole in the fabric of American newspapering.

Thanks, Ray, for your service to the nation and, even more importantly, your service to the newspaper business.

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