Monday, December 19, 2005

Funeral for a Friend ...

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been three deaths of special note - to me, at least - among the ranks of journalists ... one hit very, very close to home.

That was the passing of Gayle Hill (Mary Gayle Hill Bowden) ... news writer/reporter/producer, director, volunteer and advocate, community leader, longtime West Texas resident ... and friend.

Gayle and I met about twenty years ago at KMID-TV. I was a recent hire there. With the oil bust of the 1980s, a lot of smaller, connected industries went bust, as well. One of those was the contract archaeology business ... surveying state and federal lands slated for well pad location, roads and pipelines. So, I dusted off my second major from college - English - and got a job as a writer for the station.

Gayle, on the other hand, was already a seasoned pro by the time she got to KMID-TV. She had had already established her credentials as a good investigative reporter over at KOSA-TV and, before that, in the Bryan-College Station market. Her move over to KMID from KOSA was one of a number of such moves, and one of many factors that made KMID-TV the dominant, #1 station that it was ... we were Big 2, with a proud emphasis on the BIG.

She did great work. I remember one series of reports she did from both sides of the Rio Grande, in the heart of the Big Bend country, following the flow of drugs over the border, noting the rush of sales at tiny Mexican markets that always followed a successful delivery, always keeping an eye on the men - sentinels? - who stood atop the cliffs overlooking the river, and followed her movements downstream.

She made a similar commitment - as we all did - during the rescue of Jessica McClure in Midland. Most of us put in a solid 72 hours, or so, on that story ... and some did more.

In a way, she started all over again, as many of us did when the new corporate structure, of which KMID became a part, decided that some changes needed to be made. Soon, a lot of us were out the door (I have often joked that one of the largest media groups in the Permian Basin is the "Big 2 Alumni Association"). Gayle was one of many who made the move over to KTPX-TV, and began the work that eventually led to a new name (KWES-TV, NewsWest 9), a new look (the "Star of West Texas"), and a new challenge to the market ... one that was answered, successfully, when KWES took its place at the top of the local market ... and continues to hold to this day.

And it wasn't just news, either. She was also a strong promoter of locally-produced children's programming, took the lead in organizations that encouraged the growth and development of the media, and was an active volunteer (from the street level right up to the board of directors) with many, many non-profit organizations in Odessa-Midland

Of course, work like that came at a price. There were times when she might be down-and-out for days following such a project, resting, recovering ... and thinking of her next assignment. This, from someone whose health was never what you might call robust, and who ultimately passed away at 45 years of age.

But in those 45 short years were enough experiences and accomplishments to fill the life of someone twice that age, and more. And, through it all, she remained a friend, forgiving of my shortcomings, and encouraging of my ideas .. developing a rich life of her own while contributing so much to the lives of so many others.

Vaya con dios, mi amiga


William Powers begins
"The Collapse of Big Media: Seven Steps to Salvation," in Wilson Quarterly, with the following ... "Let’s assume that the news media, collectively, have a soul—that somewhere beneath their tawdry, moronic surface dwells a kind of pure being whose intentions are good. Let’s further posit that this soul is, at present, a lost soul. Once, long ago, it had high principles and a clear sense of purpose. Now it’s at sea, buffeted by one scandal after another—plagiarism, payola, bias, and garden-variety sloppy work."

Take some time, and read the rest. It makes for good reading for news producers and consumer alike, including bloggers ... on some points, especially bloggers. Hat tip to my friend, Frank, at


Pancho said...

Good to see you back "on the air". Hope you are rested.

I didn't know Gayle, but did note her Obit recently and sadly her age. I go to many funerals for friends of my folks....and a few too many for people of my age and younger.

Jeff said...

Wallace, thank you. I'm wondering if others will be getting 'back in the saddle' in the weeks ahead ... if "I resolve to blog more" is beginning to show up on people's lists of New Year's Resolutions ...

Eric said...

Jeff, welcome back (there's a more formal welcome over at the Gazette).

Thanks, too, for the link to "Seven Steps," although I found it to be a bit disappointing. Frankly, the author seemed to do exactly what he accuses "Big Media" of doing: dumbing down the content. "Relax"? "Enjoy yourselves"? "Be natural"? What do those things mean, in a practical sense?

I'm certainly no expert, but all media (not just "Big") needs to understand their niches, understand the fact -- if not the underlying reasons, although, obviously, that too would be helpful -- why they can't be all things to all people, and then create strategies for being effective within those niches. If the public now views media as a cafeteria line, what's wrong with having a goal of being the best vegetable in the line-up?

Jeff said...

Eric, thank you! And thanks for the write-up at the Gazette!

Your observations on the "Seven Steps" are absoluteley correct ... what I realy, really REALLY wish I could do - as a juxtaposition to Powers' piece - is present a transcript of the kind of discussion one hears about, going on in the board rooms of newspapers, television station, etc. in our major markets, as they discuss problems and solutions ... often in a panicked tone, and with a vocabulary that is 'esoteric consultant-speak' at its worst ...

Yet, there are some ways to addressing problems and solutions that are simple, fundamental ... ways that we in the media - or any business, for that matter - never should have forgotten, to begin with, and now must remember ... and they are simple, fundamental truths, ways of doing business, that don't change markedly with the passage of time and the development of technology ...