President's Column May 2015

Miles and Miles of Texas

I have had the pleasure during my year as TPA president to attend the meetings of four of the state’s five regional press associations.

The West Texas Press Association met in Graham in July of last year where I had the opportunity to spend some time visiting with my old friend Mark Engebretson of the Lake Country Sun. I didn’t learn until several months later that Mark was suffering from terminal cancer. It claimed his life on March 22nd.

I wish now that I had spent more time with him then. If only my foresight could be half as keen as my hindsight...well, you know.

Kathy and I drove to Denton for the North & East Texas Press Association meeting on April 9-11. It was good to rub shoulders with other newspaper people. I especially enjoyed my visit with Rick Craig of the Hood County News.

Rick and I grew up just a few miles from one another in Jones County where his family owned and published the Hamlin Herald. He was a Pied Piper and I was an Anson Tiger back in the day when community pride and spirit revolved around the final score of a Friday night football game. That old rivalry seemed like ancient history as we swapped tales and reminisced about people and places we had known.

A week later, the South Texas Press Association met at the Port Royal Resort at Port Aransas. It was good to return to Mustang Island where my parents spent every winter for 20+ years after my father’s retirement.

Still, it was my first time to attend STPA and the meeting was great. Let me tell you, those South Texans know how to have fun! 

Russell Viers was on hand for the meeting and he spent a couple of hours updating the crowd on Adobe’s new suite of publishing and photo editing software.

Anyone who has ever seen one of Russell’s presentation knows that he is as much an entertainer as he is an educator and he was very entertaining in Port Aransas.

But, the highlight of the meeting had to be Marc Robertson’s rendition of “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” during karaoke night at the Black Marlin Bar & Grill. It was one for the ages.

The Panhandle Press Association met the following week in Amarillo and it was a bit of a homecoming for Kathy. She was born in Amarillo and spent the first 14 years of her life there where her father worked for the Department of Defense at Amarillo Air Force Base.

Once again, it was nice to meet with old friends and share stories of days gone by. Among those old friends is Roger Estlack of the Clarendon Enterprise.

Roger and I first met when he came to Kerrville for the West Texas Press Association meeting. It was there that we exchanged ideas on digital photography and shared our thoughts on the possibility of producing digital editions of our newspapers. Those thoughts soon led us each to produce PDF versions of our papers.

I also enjoyed seeing Laurie Ezzell Brown at the meeting in Amarillo. We first met many years ago at a regional track meet in Abilene as we sought refuge from a blistering hot day in a small patch of shade under the timers’ stand.

Roger and Laurie both publish outstanding newspapers and I have borrowed (Roger calls it stealing) ideas from them both.

Russell Viers was in Amarillo, too. I think he had spent a few days with Kinky Friedman before arriving in the Panhandle. I can’t imagine what a Russell-Kinky conversation might sound like, but I would like to hear it.

Panhandle Press got the full Russell Viers treatment as he spent a full day teaching. And, he gave the keynote speech during the Friday luncheon. 

TPA staff members attended each of the regional meetings I attended and were eager to help with advertising, postal and legislative concerns.

While on the subject of legislative concerns, let me take this opportunity to offer my thanks to everyone at TPA who has worked on behalf of Texas newspapers during the current legislative session. Their efforts on our behalf have furthered the cause of government transparency, reporters’ rights and the public’s oversight of our elected representatives.

As part of that process, Donnis Baggett, TPA’s executive vice president, traveled to each of the regional meetings to brief the members on the legislative session, even as he urged them to stay engaged with their State Representatives and State Senators.

Little did I know that serving as TPA president would require so much travel,  but it has been rewarding. And, when you live where I live, driving great distances becomes routine. Back in the 90s, the UIL placed Eldorado in the same district with Anthony. For those who aren’t familiar with the western tip of the state, Anthony lies north and west of El Paso, some 424 miles from Eldorado, which is a long, long way to travel for a basketball game.

By comparison, the trips to Graham, Denton, Port Aransas and Amarillo were a lot more fun.