Fort Worth May Finally Have A Real Newspaper.

But it may be the Dallas News.

I ’guess I’m still publisher.” AmonCarter Jr. says uncertainly. “I imagine they kept me . on here because of my civic activities.” They” is Capital Cities Communications, the New York-based media barons who bought the Fort Worth Star-Telegram from the Carter family in 1974. Since then. “Little Amon,” whose legendary father made the newspaper the voice not only of Fort Worth hut of all West Texas, has done little but serve as the paper’s lightning rod, taking phone calls from angry Fort Worthians who want to sound off to a native son, instead of the paper’s Ohio-bred general manager, Phil Meek. One of the people who have reason to doubt that Amon Jr. is the Star-Telegram’s publisher is Congressman Dale Milford. This spring. Mil-ford came to the newspa-. per’s offices to be grilled by a board of editors who would decide to endorse either Milford, a three-term incumbent, or his opponent. Martin Frost. After the session with the editors. Mil-ford paid a courtesy call on Amon Carter Jr.

For Milford. the business of being interviewed by the editorial board was something new. Until very recently, management, directed by Amon Jr., picked the candidates for the paper’s endorsement, and incumbents like Milford usually received the Star-Telegram’s blessing. But on Sunday, April 16. Milford got a surprise: The Star-Telegram had endorsed Martin Frost, even though Amon Jr. had assured Milford of his personal support.

“I’ve taken a lot of flak over that one.” Amon Jr. says. “I’ve heard from businessmen, chamber of commerce types, and oilmen – the people I meet for lunch or see at parties. The editorial board put me in a tough spot. They knew I was unhappy, but we have an agreement: The editorial board rules. 1 wouldn’t even try to change their minds.”

The idea that “Little Amon” lacks power at the Slur-Telegram seems strange to those who remember Amon Carter Sr. “Big Amon” had plenty of” clout – he was the Star-Telegram. In fact, he was Fort Worth. Not only would Big Amon pick the endorsements, some say he would even decide who was going to run.

When Big Amon died in 1955, what dynamism the Star-Telegram had died with him. Not that it was a great newspaper – it wasn’t. Amon Sr. had used the Star-Telegram to build West Texas as a region and to promote Fort Worth as its capital. The paper rolled out across West Texas each night, carrying the news of the day to places like Stephenville. Abilene, and Amarillo – even to New Mexico. Kids who grew up out there could hardly wait for the day when they could move to Fort Worth and see Amon’s Mecca for themselves.

West Texas and the Star-Telegram were never the same after Amon died. Without Amon’s infatuation with West Texas, the Star-Telegram’s interest in the area began to dwindle. So too did West Texas” desire to he an audience for Fort Worth and the Star-Telegram, Newspapers were growing in Abilene. Amarillo and I.ubbock. Radio and television stations were bringing the day’s news much quicker than the Star-Telegram ever had. or could, with the disappearance of the trains and buses that carried the paper west.

What Carter influence remained began to disappear one day in l969 when Richard Nixon signed a tax reform act prohibiting foundations and their directors from owning more than 20 percent of a business. The Amon G. Carter Foundation owned nearly 25 percent of the Star-Telegram, WBAP radio, and Channel 5. Carter family members personally owned 55 percent more, bringing the total to 80 percent. There was no choice but to sell.

The Carters began looking into various offers; several years passed before they found one they liked. The buyer was Capital Cities Communications, one of the country’s biggest broadcasting companies. Capital Cities didn’t know much about newspapers, but it had reached the legal limit of broadcasting properties and had to find something else to do with its money. So Capital Cities made its jump into the big-time newspaper business by buying the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Amon Jr. stayed on, under an $85,000-a-year contract, to run through 1981. He is also receiving his share of Capital Cities’ purchase of Carter Publications, $ 14 million to be paid out to him by mid-1982.

Carter’s office is not in the newspaper’s executive suite. It is down the hall, with the Amon G. Carter Foundation, a $100-million foundation set up by Amon Jr.’s mother and father. Over the last 30 years, the foundation has given away $45 million, mostly to local causes chosen by the Carter family. Though the foundation and the newspaper are separate businesses now, the presence of the foundation offices in the Star-Telegram building serves to create good will for the paper. “When we give away money,” Amon Jr. says, “I usually remind the recipient that we’re giving for the newspaper too. That takes a little pressure off Capital Cities.”

Carter’s other main interest seems to be the Texas Rangers, of which he is part owner. At 58, he admits that he isn’t much involved with the newspaper now. And he adds a bit wistfully, “I don’t think we are putting out as good a paper as when the family owned it. There are some things we just don’t do as well anymore. But when I go to ask why, there’s always some reason. Times have changed in the newspaper business. You can’t sell the paper, solving all of your family headaches, and still retain control over it.”

When Capital Cities Communications took over the Star-Telegram in 1974, it found a newspaper with dwindling influence in West Texas and a staff burdened with all sorts of restrictions, taboos and sacred cows. In 1957 the morning Star-Telegram’s West Texas circulation totalled nearly 67,000 copies, far greater than its circulation in Tarrant County. By 1972 its West Texas circulation dropped to 31,000 and would fall to less than 16,000 by 1977.

As for the taboos, the silliest may have been caused by editor Jack Butler-’s distaste for snakes. Butler made it clear that pictures of any other creature on the pages of the Star-Telegram were fine, but no snakes. Several years ago, the paper ran a feature story about a stripper named Shanda Leer, whose professional companion, a boa constrictor, had been missing. The Star’s touching story was about Shanda’s reunion with her pet snake. But the accompanying photo showed Shanda with her dog.

The sacred cows were created largely by sycophant editors who spent much of their time second-guessing what Amon Jr. and the management wanted to see in the paper. Some of them were public institutions connected with the dreams of Amon Sr. One was the Fat Stock Show, an annual event embodying Amon Sr.’s belief that Fort Worth was headquarters for West Texas’ cowboy culture.

The Fat Stock Show was guaranteed daily front page coverage during its annual winter run. A bureau staffed by reporters and a photographer ground out reams of copy, line after line of rodeo results and winners of the livestock competition. One editor says, “I swear peace could have been declared in the Middle East, and if it happened during the Fat Stock Show, peace would have run on page two.”

Another holy cause was the Goodfel-lows, a Christmas charity founded by the Star-Telegram. During December the Goodfellows list covered most of the front page with items like “In memory of Auntie, Miss Annie D. Rasbury, from Lucy and Mike Bartell, $5.00.” Other sacred cows included companies in which the Carters held ownership – banks, insurance companies and even the local cab company. Editors carefully downplayed stories about cab drivers being shot, for fear that the Carters might have difficulty hiring cab drivers.

Capital Cities spent a year assessing the situation at the Star-Telegram before it took action. First it nudged aside the old Star-Telegram hierarchy; then it began “re-educating” its employees. Leading the wave of newcomers was Jim Hale, installed by Capital Cities as general manager. Amon Carter Jr. retained the title of president and publisher. Editor Jack Butler was given the title of executive vice president-editor, and kept his spacious office, but had little responsibility beyond being a civic good will ambassador. (More recently Capital Cities has funded a chair of journalism at TCU, which Butler will fill, further diminishing his role at the paper.) The Star’s managing editors were nudged aside – one left the paper and the other remains an associate editor with nebulous duties. The changes were widely applauded by the Star-Telegram staff, which for years had felt that some of the paper’s executive deadwood needed trimming.

But the single event that signaled the beginning of Capital Cities’ command was the firing of Abe Herman, long-time attorney for the paper and the Carter family.

Herman was shown a wire story about a California congressman accused of taking a bribe from a Tandy Corporation employee. Herman said the story shouldn’t run. Before the sale to Capital Cities, a Star-Telegram writer or editor wouldn’t have bothered to fight his decision. This time, instead of knuckling under, a business writer took the story directly to general manager Hale. Hale listened to the complaint, then walked out into the hall, where he accidentally bumped into Herman.

“I asked Abe if he killed the Tandy story,” Hale says. “He told me he had. I asked why. Abe said the story ’wasn’t good for Fort Worth.” I asked him if it was libelous, and he told me no.” Hale told Herman that he wasn’t at the Star-Telegram to be editor, and from that moment on barred Herman from the building. (Later the restriction was reduced to the third-floor editorial area only.) Herman hasn’t been seen on the third floor since.

Soon thereafter, the Fat Stock Show was moved off page one during most of its annual run. The Goodfellows list was tucked inside the paper. And one day last summer the staff managed to slip a picture of a snake into a layout about the Fort Worth Nature Center. Seeing the page, a horrified editor asked, “What will Jack Butler think?” A reporter shot back, “Who cares? Jack Butler doesn’t count anymore.”

Last year Jim Hale moved on to be publisher of another Capital Cities paper, the Kansas City Star. Today the Star-Telegram is run by Phil Meek, 40, who holds a Harvard MBA, a fact which he plays down, for fear he will be stereotyped as some Harvard whiz kid who knows nothing about Fort Worth or journalism. Meek is one of the new breed of publishers – not the home town boys, who grew up to take over the family’s newspaper, but the professional managers, working for large corporations that shift them from job to job.

Meek was raised in the Midwest and after Harvard joined Ford Motor Company as a marketing specialist. He spent seven years at Ford, then became president of a minority business development company. From there Meek was recruited in 1970 by Capital Cities, to serve as publisher of its major newspaper at the time, the Pontiac, Michigan, Press.

There is little doubt that Meek runs the Star-Telegram, though his title of executive vice president and general manager suggests that he shares the power. And if a visitor accidentally calls him “publisher,” Meek quickly points out that Amon Carter Jr. is the publisher and president of the Star-Telegram, perhaps in response to those who refer to the paper as the New York Star-Telegram.

Meek receives high marks from his staff for being innovative and open-minded, and many veteran Star Telegram staffers, who have been so starved for fresh approaches that they are grateful for anything, no matter how wacky, even defend his mistakes.

Last year Meek decided the Star’s management and reporters ought to go out and get in touch with their prospective readership. So Meek led a management team into an Arlington neighborhood one night and began knocking on doors, Star-Telegram subscription blanks in hand. Some Arlington residents were surprised to find the general manager of the Star-Telegram on their doorsteps peddling subscriptions. On the other hand, Meek sold only two full subscriptions, losing out to the paper’s executive editor Jack Tinsley, who sold three. Later teams of “volunteer” reporters did the same thing, with not much more success.

Meek’s imagination seems limitless, and at times, tasteless. After Elvis Presley’s death, when newspapers were hustling out profitable”memorial” issues. Meek suggested that a Star-Telegram reporter ought to call ten mediums around the country to see if any of them could get in touch with Elvis in the Hereafter. A reporter dutifully telephoned the mediums. Most laughed at her; others cautioned that it would be too dangerous to attempt to contact Elvis so soon after his death. The story never ran.

Like Meek, executive editor Jack Tinsley, 38, will go to great lengths to get the most out of a story. Tinsley’s boldest move to date was a stunning two-and-one-half-inch-tall red headline shouting STING! The headline may be the largest in the Star-Telegram since the end of World War II; it topped a story last February about a police-operated fencing racket. ’”You have to capitalize on a story like that,” Tinsley says. His staff was so disturbed by the sensational headline that reporters asked Tinsley to come out into the newsroom to explain why he ordered it. Tinsley refused. “I wasn’t about to go out and explain myself,” he says. “It would look like my own staff was summoning me.” Tinsley is defensive even today about the headline, and adamantly maintains that it was good journalism, pointing out that the headline sold 3,000 extra copies of the paper.

Tinsley also likes to use reader polls to draw attention. After the Cullen Davis acquittal, the Star-Telegram announced a call-in poll for readers who wanted to say whether they thought Davis was indeed innocent. The paper hired extra telephone operators to handle the avalanche of calls. (Davis was acquitted by the readers 4,521 to 1,587.) More recently the Star ran a “What’s Wrong with The Rangers?” poll, in which readers offered their analyses of why the baseball team got off to such a miserable start during April. The paper published 90 replies.

The paper now also plays up feature stories instead of hard news on the front page. Recently, when the Dallas News’ and the Times Herald’s front pages were covered with news stories, the Star-Telegram filled the bottom of its front page with an article about a 23-year-old Arab who bought a Beverly Hills mansion, painted it lime green and painted the genitalia of the estate’s statues red.

At least the paper is showing its independence. Last summer, after a series of bumbling moves by the Texas Rangers management, the Star-Telegram ran an editorial blasting Fort Worth’s Brad Corbett, the team’s principal owner. The editorial said the Rangers looked like “a circus run amok” and that the team had become “the laughing stock of the nation.” The editorial, approved by Tinsley, so humiliated Corbett that he offered to sell the team. Carter, who owns part of the Rangers, was not shown the editorial before it was published. He commented only that he thought Corbett “took it too seriously. I didn’t read it the way he did.”

If the new management’s greatest challenge is to instill a sense of pride in a dispirited staff. Meek recently blundered in that effort by breaking his own newspaper’s ethics code. The code, a source of pride to reporters, had been drawn up in an attempt to stop the freebie trips that had made junketing Star-Telegram reporters look like they were for sale. When Braniff offered Meek and his wife a free trip to London, plus lodging. Meek said “it took only about five minutes to decide” to go. Reporters seethed.

When the furor broke. Meek explained that the paper had paid half of the expenses for one reporter who went along. “It was sort of a compromise,” Meek said. Now he admits, “If I had that decision to make again today, I’m not sure what I’d do. But 1 really don’t want to talk about it, because whatever I say about it will come out looking bad.”

The Star-Telegram could have paid for the London trip if it had wanted to. The old Star-Telegram was a substantial money maker, and there can be little doubt that the paper’s present owner. Capital Cities, is raking in the profits. Perhaps the best-managed media concern in America, Capital Cities netted $43 million in 1977, a return of more than 14 percent on its sales. For the last ten years Cap Cities has consistently outperformed every major media company in America, with a net return twice that of giants such as CBS and ABC.

If Capital Cities were willing to share some of those profits with the Star-Telegram staff, the paper’s talent could be upgraded. Under the Carter ownership, reporters were paid stingily, although if they ever got into a financial jam, a company fund stood by to help them out by paying uncovered hospital bills, funeral expenses, etc. The fund remains as one of the few vestiges of Carter paternalism, and still gives away about $80,000 a year to needy employees who were on the Carter payroll before the paper’s sale.

The Star-Telegram has been able to keep pay scales low simply because it hasn’t had a rival paper willing to offer more. The now-defunct Fort Worth Press paid its employees less than the Star-Telegram did, and today the Star has no direct local competition. Currently a Star-Telegram reporter with six or seven years experience is paid about $13,000 a year, several thousand less than a comparable reporter draws at the Dallas News and a good bit less than some of the newer Times Herald reporters. As a result, the paper’s management has been doing some compromising on its ethics. Some reporters make extra money doing public relations work. Several years ago one Star-Telegram reporter was retained by Oktoberfest to publicize the annual festival. He wrote publicity releases, gave them to himself, then published the information in the paper – a classic case of rent-a-reporter. Some reporters are still engaged in public relations work, even though the management must approve what they are doing. The new management is, however, installing a merit system with raises for those who do well; those who don”t are being urged to go elsewhere.

One of the reasons Capital Cities Broadcasting is able to do so well financially is that it manages to keep expenses, such as salaries, down. As the net income rises, so does the price of Capital Cities’ stock. Some poorly paid reporters are capitalizing on their own low salaries by purchasing Capital Cities stock. Last April Star-Telegram employees were able to use up to 15 percent of their salaries to buy Capital Cities stock at its year-earlier price of $44 a share. At the time the employees bought the stock, it was selling publicly for $61 a share – an instant 38 percent profit. “I’m glad I finally found a way to make some money out of this damned company,” says one investor-editor.

During the transition from Carter ownership to Capital Cities ownership, the Star-Telegram has enjoyed freedom from competition in Fort Worth. Although it’s unlikely Fort Worth will ever have a competing “home town” newspaper, the Dallas News is now launching a full-scale invasion of Tarrant County. Put simply, that means it’s time for Phil Meek, Jack Tinsley and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to get their act together. “You’ll be surprised at the changes which will occur at this newspaper in the next year,” Tinsley says. But the man to surprise is Dallas News president Joe Dealey.

When the Fort Worth Press collapsed in 1974, the Dallas News immediately began eyeing Fort Worth. If Fort Worth-ians had been willing to subscribe to the Fort Worth Press as well as direct near-charitable advertising toward it, obviously they wanted to read a second newspaper. So why not the Dallas News?

The News immediately assigned its youngest board member, Robert Decherd, to spend six weeks looking into the possibility of invading Fort Worth. Decherd’s study suggested that the News could do well there. The plans gathered dust until 1977, however, when the Times Herald came out with its morning “Texas edition.” The News decided it was time to move. First it strengthened its Tarrant County circulation system, and then last August opened up a full-fledged bureau. The final move came this spring when the News transferred four advertising salesmen to its Fort Worth office to begin selling ads for the News’ Sunday Tarrant County section, with more than 20 pages of Fort Worth news and advertising. The section is being distributed to 23,000 News subscribers in Tarrant County, and thrown for free to 17,000 more, including Amon Carter Jr. The News is concentrating on Fort Worth’s most affluent neighborhoods, such as Overton Park and West-over Hills, and selling its advertising based upon that potential readership.

If the News is able to reach its goal of 40,000 Tarrant County subscribers within a year, the Star-Telegram will have something to worry about, since its weekday circulation in Tarrant County is only 70,000.

Meek had been considering splitting the Star-Telegram’s morning and evening reportorial staffs, in hopes of stirring up some competition in a market which had none. Now he won’t have to worry about creating his own competition – as he found out one day last February. Fort Worthians reading the front page of their morning Star-Telegram found a collection of ordinary local stories and a picture of a pretty girl. Others, who read the Dallas News that day, found a major Fort Worth story: City attorney S. G. Johndroe, for years one of the city’s most important figures, had abruptly announced his retirement. Dallas News reporter Carl Freund had made a last-minute check of the city council’s message boxes, and found the Johndroe retirement letter. Shortly after the Johndroe story was published, the Star fired one of its city hall reporters.

Star-Telegram editors try to dismiss the incident as Johndroes last cheap shot at a publication he loathes. Editor Jack Tinsley says that Carl Freund has been sidling up to Johndroe for years, and that Johndroe merely steered the story his way. Nevertheless, the Star-Telegram has been working a little harder ever since.

The News doesn’t always scoop the Star-Telegram, but the fact that it can do so from time to time is impressive. The Star operates two full staffs, totalling 24 reporters, while until recently the News had only three reporters covering Fort Worth. (Now it has five.)

Although outwardly Meek is taking the News challenge with aplomb, there are indications that beneath his cool facade there is genuine concern. Last March, Meek bumped into Joe Dealey on an elevator as Dealey was headed up to a luncheon in the Fort Worth Club to explain the News’ plan for Fort Worth. Meek smiled and said “Welcome to Fort Worth.” Welcome to Fort Worth? Just a week earlier Meek had blasted Dealey in a memo to the staff of the Star-Telegram. Citing Dealey’s boast that the News would “emerge as the truly metropolitan newspaper” of Dallas and Fort Worth, an incensed Meek wrote that Dealey’s remark “is one of the most pompous statements I have ever heard anyone make.” Meek ripped away at Dealey, accusing the News of padding its circulation figures, claiming that the News was in trouble in the Dallas market and belittling the News’ influence in Fort Worth. “I was concerned about my staff,” Meek said recently. “Half of them seemed worried about the News, while the other half didn’t give a damn, so I thought I’d try to allay the fears in half of them and try to put some spirit in the other half.”

Meek ended his memo with “We all love a challenge. We have one! Just who do those people over in Dallas think they are?” The memo produced glee at the News. At the Star-Telegram someone wrote at the bottom of Meek’s memo, “Rah. Rah. Rah.”

The Star-Telegram has made a number of changes in response to the News’ interest in Fort Worth, changes which might have come eventually, but certainly not so soon. The Star-Telegram mounted a radio ad campaign debunking the News’ Tarrant County coverage. Then Meek ordered the Star-Telegram to stop swapping advertising material with the Fort Worth section of the News, halting a commonly accepted practice between two newspapers that run many of the same ads. (Meek won’t say why he did it.) The Star also has greatly improved its morning paper, which used to play second fiddle to the evening edition.

Meek, Tinsley and the Star-Telegram are at the same crossroads the Times Herald faced several years ago, after four years of Times-Mirror ownership. Many of the old faces had been shoved aside, traditions had been broken and the Herald was beginning to instill some pride in its staff. The Herald had committed blunders every bit as embarrassing as those the Star-Telegram has made, including a couple by Herald executive editor Tom Johnson. But there is a key difference between the Times-Mirror Corporation and Capital Cities Communications. Times-Mirror is deeply devoted to the newspaper business. Capital Cities has yet to prove that its interest runs much deeper than the very lucrative broadcasting business. Within the next year Fort Worth should know whether Capital Cities has the will and the talent to do what Times-Mirror has done at the Herald, that is, turn the Star-Telegram into a respectable newspaper.

Former Star-Telegram general manager Jim Hale says he thinks “Fort Worthshould consider itself lucky that CapitalCities bought the Star-Telegram.” DaleMilford doesn’t think so. “I’m worriedabout these big companies buying all ofthe newspapers in America,” Milfordsays. “It’s bad when we get too muchpower in a few people’s hands. I think weought to do something about that.” AmonJr. says he’s glad that since the Cartershad to sell their newspaper, they sold itto Capital Cities. “Capital Cities believesin local control for its newspapers, andthat’s good,” he says. “Take our neweditorial board. It’s free to do whatever itwants. I couldn’t influence the board if Itried to.”


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