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Tuesday, March 2, 2021

In Market: High-flying Frogs stir deadline memories

Don’t get the violins tuned up just yet, but it can be tough being a journalist these days.

Always the Rodney Dangerfield of any social institution, these days it’s particularly rough. Fake news, bias, errors and the fact that most people had rather play Pokémon Go than read a newspaper are but a few of the reasons journalism can be a tough slog.

And the number of us doing the work is decreasing as well. According to a 2015 survey by the American Society of News Editors, the workforce at daily newspapers in the United State was 32,900 in 2015, a 10 percent drop from 2014’s 36,700. Ten years ago (when I can remember colleagues of mine saying it couldn’t go any lower) it was 54,100 manning and womanning America’s newsrooms. That a 39 percent drop in a decade. Ouch. If Trump can bring back manufacturing, maybe he can work his magic on the Fourth Estate. I doubt it.

But those of us who do it must love it. I’ve had the love of it since being a young pup of a journalist at Texas Christian University. What can I say – I loved it when people read what I’d written.

And, I’ve got to say loyal readers, you read us. To paraphrase Sally Field, who played a journalist in Absence of Malice, “You really, really read us.”

I’m not much for cruising down Nostalgia Street. It’s a sure-fire dead end. As Ricky Nelson sang, “If memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.”

Still, it was more than fun last week to feel a bit like a young pup of a journalist again.

Let me set the scene. One of our freelancers, Brett Hoffman, is a longtime journalist who typically covers rodeos, etc. To cover rodeos around the country, Brett has built up a reputation as a person who can find himself a travel bargain.

When TCU got its shot at the NIT finals in New York, playing at the prestigious Madison Square Garden, Brett (like me a Frog) wanted to go. Covering a basketball game in the Garden was just too much of a temptation. “Just do it,” I said with managerial genius as I read a Nike T-shirt. Brett worked his airline fare magic.

My job then was to make sure I had art ready to go when Brett had the story following TCU’s game – the semifinal bout with University of Central Florida – on Tuesday night, March 28. Luck, my frequent – and most important – partner as a reporter and editor showed up. Our usual photographer, Glen E. Ellman, called and said he was headed to New York to cover the game and he would send photos. “Luck, be a lady tonight!”

The game was late, but we have our A.M. Newsletter to get out, the perfect spot to inform our readers – many, many of them rabid, ribbitting TCU fans – of the results.

The timing was perfect, too. As TCU’s plucky underdog of a basketball team was making its way in the NIT tournament, neighboring schools were also making hoop news. The University of Texas at Arlington came up just short in a bid for the NIT semifinals, while Texas Wesleyan University had just finished winning its second NAIA men’s basketball title. Basketball, in other words, was suddenly hot in Texas – the land of football, football and more football.

Before the game even began, TCU got the word out. Never shy, TCU took out space in Times Square to spread the word about Frog Nation. There was TCU, with shiny visual graphics next to those for national brands like Stella Artois, Budweiser, etc.

When I was interviewing for jobs in New York in the 1970s, no one knew who, what, where or why TCU was. So seeing TCU strut its amphibian stuff in Times Square – the center of Western Sometimes-Civilization – was pretty exciting. Take that, Newsweek editor.

Win or lose, TCU was making an impression on the tourists, financial wizards, townies, pimps, three-card monte gamblers and hucksters in Times Square. If TCU can make it there, it can make it anywhere. And who knows, someone who saw the ad there may send their kid to TCU?

The night of the game, the first half didn’t go well for the Frogs. They were having trouble – understandably – with Tacko Fall, the 7-foot, 6-inch center of UCF who has the wingspan of a 747. But the Frogs finally hopped over Fall and won, 68-53, sending the team to the finals.

I then began the wait for the story. Brett found his way to the post-game press conference, then began writing.

I wasn’t sure when the photos might come, but as I prepared Brett’s story to publish on the Web, Ellman sent several photos. Not just photos, but some stunning, world-class game photos that made the game look even more exciting that it looked on TV. I posted several with the story, set up the Newsletter for morning delivery and was done.

It looked great and it felt a bit – dare I say it – like the old days of chasing down a story and getting it done just in time for deadline. We hadn’t uncovered some government corruption, exposed a scam or found a kid who could sing like Elvis, but nevertheless there it was: That old, too-unfamiliar adrenaline rush. That smell of ink (or in this case electrons) in the morning.

The next morning, we got plenty of accolades too. “Great job.” “Terrific package.” “Love the photos.” “You’ve got an extra space between the first two sentences.”

Brett felt the adrenaline rush, too, texting me: “It’s a good thing I’m in the city that never sleeps because I’m pretty wired after watching TCU come back and win so dramatically!”

I wasn’t in the city that never sleeps, but I was glad to be in the city of journalism. I never want to sleep anywhere else.

Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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