Frank K. Baker, 107th president, was a second-generation newspaperman and the second member of his family to serve as Texas Press Association president. His father, George Baker, served from 1962-63.
Born in San Angelo on May 12, 1934, Baker’s parents were in the transition from Sonora to Fort Stockton at the time. His father had published the Devil’s River News in Sonora from 1931 until 1934. He later purchased The Fort Stockton Pioneer on March 1, 1934.
He grew up in Fort Stockton, graduating from high school in 1952. Baker graduated from the University of Texas in May 1956 with a bachelor of journalism.
He married Mary Lea Castleberry on Aug. 27, 1955. The Bakers had three children.
Baker was editor and advertising manager of The Llano News in June 1956.
Five months later, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and served in Germany as a radio repairman and member of the Combat Command “B” military band as a trombone player.
Following his release from active duty in November 1958, Baker was employed as advertising manager of The Fort Stockton Pioneer. He later purchased a one-fourth interest in The Pioneer in 1961, increasing that interest to one-half the capital stock in 1965.
Baker’s father was later elected to the Texas Legislature, and he subsequently bought the remaining stock from his parents on Jan. 1, 1971.
Baker served as president of West Texas Press Association in 1971-72.
Listen to Frank Baker’s interview:
Read Frank’s interview:
I’m Frank Baker and I was born in San Angelo, Texas, on May 12, 1934. Today’s date is June 26, 2008.
I’m trying to define several things. One of them is how did I get into the newspaper work business and what drew me to it; what did you like best about it? That’s a question that Wanda Cash, who’s making these interviews, has asked. And that’s a good question.
When I first came to UT, like all students who come here, I took an aptitude test and I wanted to be a doctor. I was going to major in pre-med and did for a while. And of course the aptitude test said you’re lousy in science; don’t even think about it. And they also said be a newspaper man or a lawyer or a preacher. And I hadn’t felt the call from the Lord to be a preacher and I didn’t feel like being a lawyer particularly so that left newspaper. But I didn’t follow that advice, I went ahead and tried it and beat my head against the wall for a year as a pre-med. And then I decided that the aptitude tests were right because everything they had said was true. I was poor in science. The only science I was good at turned out to be physics and that turned out to be in the Army, later.
But I decided that because my father was a newspaper publisher and I had grown up in the newspaper business I decided I would major in journalism and just for something to get a degree in and then get out in the world and decide what I wanted to do.
So I entered journalism school as a sophomore and that was fine because most of the classes I wanted to take in journalism or everybody is required to, you can’t get them until you’re a sophomore; a lot of them. So that worked out all right.
And then what do I like best about journalism? Well what I liked best about it was advertising and that’s partly because I had, started out as a kid when I was just barely driving age, 14. At that time my dad had me sell Christmas ads because I had had a doughnut route that worked out pretty well and I had learned all the little stores around town and we lived near the border in Fort Stockton and as a result there were a lot of Hispanic folks and they had a lot of little in-the-home type stores and I sold doughnuts to all of them so Dad got the bright idea that he could arm me with a bunch of one by fours and two by fives at the very biggest and see what I could do with that and with those people. So I went around and sold a bunch of them. Came back in and I’d covered the territory so I asked him if he’d give me some bigger customers. And I had not really ever wanted to go to work for Dad. I had not enjoyed working for him as a kid and I didn’t think I’d enjoy working for him as a man; and I didn’t for a while, but anyhow I did work for him on that occasion because he said I’ll pay you— the rate, I think it was a flat rate, 50 cents an inch at that time and he told me he’d give me a commission on it and that— I forget how it was gonna be but he said you can make about $200 today if you sell enough advertising. So I went out and covered all the ground I could and then I told him I wanted to see some more customers with larger layouts so I went out; did that, came back and he said well did you get, did you make your $200? I said, “Mister you owe me $400.” And that started me in the newspaper business in the advertising portion thereof. And I really hadn’t decided whether I’d like being in the rest of it or not.
I know that a lot of little things happened. When I was growing up Dad took me with him sometimes and he let me— When I was a little kid, you know, six years old, he’d let me stand under the — He had a Speed Graphic and he had a hood that he’d put on and he’d let me stand underneath that and look through the ground glass; it was neat. You know that was this Speed Graphic where you had to move, move a whole great big plate, 4 x 5, 5 x 7?
And what did I like best about newspapering? Well, it still was advertising but I began to broaden a little and as I got into newspapering I found out I enjoyed writing all right. I liked sports best and column writing was okay if I had something to say. But when you get started with a regular column, every edition for every week, you live to regret it because a lot of weeks you just don’t have anything worth telling, and at least I found it to be that way. I’d borrow stuff from other people. There are all kinds of things you can do but still I never — I didn’t feel like I had just a whale of a lot of good columns and I never did win an award as a columnist. But that was neither here nor there.
But the career began after I got out of journalism school I checked with the Austin American-Statesman and they had one job in classified advertising; I didn’t think that would be much fun. And they weren’t paying very much for it. I think it was $40 a week.
Cash: What year was that?
Baker: That was in 1956. And I’d just finished UT and it was real funny about my grades, I didn’t make particularly good grades until I was a senior and had gotten married and then I felt like I owed my wife a good job and that was when I took most of my advanced advertising courses which I loved. And that was how that worked out. And so after having been on sco-pro at the end of the freshman year as a pre-med, I was cum laude one semester and summa cum laude the next.
And I also checked with the — A guy came to town who had thought about going to work on the Pioneer but he had come to Llano instead. His name was John Cardwell. And John came down and talked to Professor Sharpe, my advertising prof that I just idolized, and asked him if he had a couple of guys that could use some income doing layouts for a Centennial Edition he planned in the Llano News. And it was gonna be published later that summer. And he was down there in May before any of us graduated and he was — And so Mr. Sharpe said, “Well I’ve got a couple of married men that could use the income I’m sure. One of them is Frank Baker.” And he said, “Go no further; I know his dad and I’ll talk to him.” And so John came to see me and we made a deal after about 30 minutes that I’d do the layouts for him on the, for the Centennial Edition of the Llano paper and while I was at it I asked him if he needed anybody to work there on a regular basis. And he said yeah just so happens I need an editor there and he was working for the Scarbroughs in Georgetown, yeah. And I think that’s right—
BAKER: I forget Scarbrough’s first name. I used to know it as well as I knew my own. But anyway, he — John was working for him and I found out later, years later that Scarbrough had been the main owner of the Llano News. He was in the background and John was, John had a, had a hunk of it but he — I think Scarbrough had most of it and so I was really working for Scarbrough and didn’t know it. I was working for John and I remember while the Llano News was a real eye-opener about all the other different parts of journalism that I hadn’t really gotten into wholeheartedly, one of them being reporting, one of them being photography. I didn’t know anything about photography. John had a little Speed Graphic, much smaller size, I think it must have been 2 x 3 or something like that; maybe it was a little bigger. But it was smaller than the regular Speed Graphics and then I— also he had a Polaroid I could use but that was, that really wasn’t very good; didn’t work well. So I took most of the pictures and then I— and then John didn’t have a darkroom; we didn’t have anything. So I sent, had to make the pictures, give the pictures a pretty early deadline and send them to somewhere near Georgetown, probably was Georgetown— No, had to send them to Austin to be processed and then the pictures were sent to John at Georgetown and he decided what ones that he wanted and I think he had them, some of them were, I guess they were cuts— I don’t think there was any— It’s hard to remember all that stuff now that offset has been part of my life and then everybody else’s for so long. But John then would send me, send me the cuts and then we’d make up the front page and wherever else in the paper we needed a picture. And that was kinda, that made for a late night on Wednesday trying to make-up because we had to wait ‘til the bus came in during the early evening for those pictures with the cuts. He made Fairchilds I believe it was, Fairchild engravings— No, that was later on; forget that. It was cuts. And I don’t know where he got them etched; somewhere.
And then and it was strictly letterpress and John made the most of having me there. He had me switch it over to shell casting because I had done a little of that working one summer for Dad and had learned how to do it that way. And the different— I don’t know whether you know what shell casting is or not unless you’ve been in letterpress newspapering. But what that is they used to have type high and casting and you would have bars on a casting box and you’d have mats inside it and you’d pour the hot lead in there and then, well you’d have the cuts and have to saw them out, saw them out of that great big one piece of lead. And it was easy to get burned on that thing and very dangerous. But everybody, everybody did it. I know my Dad got burned on one of them. He was wearing perforated shoes, these shoes with holes in them and he happened to not get the bars tight enough or something and he had a, he looked down and all of a sudden his shoe was filling up with lead, molten hot lead. And he got a bad burn out of it; he couldn’t walk for a week. And it turned out to be not too deep and so he didn’t have to, it didn’t mess him up forever, but oh, I felt sorry for him; that hot metal had gotten him. And of course that happened to him when I was still a little kid, like about seven years old, so I wasn’t— I didn’t— I really, I was pretty careful when I started to learning to use a casting box and you got to get those bars together. There was a bar on the bottom and a bar on each side. And the top was left open so that you could pour the lead in.
And then about the time I went to work for the Llano News which was quite a few years later, they— Papers were adopting a process called shell casting which I had learned a little how to do in Fort Stockton. All you did was get a set of spinner bars, three of them, the bottom and two sides and then you made a center piece of molten lead. It was probably— I don’t know whether it was a good thing or not but they had some material, spacing material they put under the thing and you put the shell cast on top of it with double Scotch tape and anybody that was in the letterpress newspapering would know that. But, and the only reason I’ve gone into that with such detail is I know there are a lot of journalists out there that have never done any letterpress and it’s, and I’m so glad they’re not having to do it. Offset was the greatest that ever happened to all of us when it came along.
Well, we were in Llano for six wonderful months and learned a lot during that time and a lot of things happened but then the Army came along and said we’ve let you be deferred all the way through college, now it’s our turn to have your services, starting immediately. So that happened in November after I’d gone to work on the Llano News in June. And it was, I really enjoyed Llano because we, the newspaperman were, and I was the visible one there because John was over in Georgetown all time. In fact I made John real mad one time, I — They were still running these silly little things called “Personals” where somebody went to Austin shopping one day and that was horrible, I hated running those but when someone brought it in like one of the country correspondents we probably ran it but I had to hold my nose thinking about what the local merchants were gonna think about that, shopping in Austin. But anyway, they— This business of personals was still very much a part of the weekly newspaper business and that was whenever somebody’s momma came to see them from another town and stayed a week they published it, had it published in the paper and the paper was filled up that way. And my Dad and Mom had grown up in the years when that was strictly good stuff, you know, and they thought that was great deal because people would read it because their names were in it. And maybe that was true but I thought, found it, I was in a new generation from that and I thought personals are for the birds. So I never solicited any; I never asked for any. I tried not to let anybody tell me any. And of course other members of the staff— There was one lady that was kind of a, she was the Women’s Editor and she got most of those and so we had, we put them in, but I vowed if I ever was in charge of a newspaper, really in charge, I was gonna quite worrying with personals and just not run them and leave it all up to the people.
Mom and Dad used to call around and ask people what’s going on in their lives to get that information. And that’s real nice and it definitely befriends people for the newspaper but I just couldn’t abide it because it was such boring stuff, especially if you’re living in Llano and don’t know any of the people in it. [Laughter] So personals were something I learned to not like there, well learned to not like them in Fort Stockton for that matter. But Dad noticed that I didn’t have any personals in the Llano News to speak of, compared to what they had and I said yeah. There’s another verse; I’m not going to if I don’t have to. Oh, said he. Well maybe. But that wasn’t the first thing we’d ever disagreed on.
One of the things that I can’t get away from in talking about my career in the newspaper industry is the fact that I had a very interesting relationship with my father. He, he could be very supportive and very helpful and showed how much though he was in some other stuff I’ll discuss later. But he also was very, very hard on me. Because when I worked for him on the Fort Stockton paper and that was, that came after the Llano News part of it.
After the Army the Llano News had sold to another owner and so my job was pretty— it had sold out from under me and I don’t know whether they’d kept the job for me or not anyway. The Army claimed they were supposed to, but who knows. Anyhow, the only job that seemed to open up was my dad told me he was losing his advertising manager, actually he was letting him go because he wasn’t that great, and he wondered if I’d take that job because he’d seen what I was able to do in Llano. And he had a different attitude toward me after my Llano experience because I did it without him and in fact we had a football contest and Dad copied that; started his football contest after it. And then the Pioneer had the football contest a lot longer than the Llano News did, but that’s neither here nor there.
The Fort Stockton Pioneer was, seemed to be the job that I was destined to have for a while. So Dad and I agreed that we’d try it that one year and if we were both still of a like mind to stay with it, we would. So at the end of that year he didn’t say anything, you know. So I asked him, “Are you satisfied with my work?” He said, “If I wasn’t I would have told you.” And I thought well that’s typical you isn’t it, Dad? And I said well since you haven’t told me, I assume you are and I want a raise. I don’t remember now whether I got it or not. I think I did. But of course I was very poorly paid by Dad and everybody else in the newspaper business that was an employee was very poorly paid by whoever.
Oh, yeah. This is out of order, but I’ll whip back to the time that I had checked with the Statesman and they were gonna have, they were gonna pay $40 a week. Well the Llano News offered— No, let’s see— $50 maybe, no that was another. Another weekly added, a weekly in oh, gosh, another town around here, offered 50 but the Statesman 40 and I got a job for 70 bucks a week plus a commission plan in Llano and that’s why I went to Llano. And Llano was good and John Cardwell was all right, I thought a lot of John. John died young somehow and he’d been out of the newspaper business a good while. He became a bureaucrat and was working for some State agency, I don’t know what it was, but he died young. And Scarbrough’s still around. They one— Their daughter is publisher or co-publisher with her husband or something —
BAKER: – of the Georgetown paper which his real good; it’s a fine semi-weekly; maybe a daily now, is it a daily? No. Semi-weekly; okay. Anyhow, let’s see that— When I went to work for Dad I had— it was tough but I stuck with it for 12 and a half years and then and I was given an opportunity to buy into the paper and get an interest in it after a couple of years work or— yeah, about that long. Went to work for him in ’59 and started buying in in ’61, I think.
And then I had — Dad decided he was— He didn’t decide it but it kinda came up for him, there was an opportunity to run for the Legislature because a fellow named Gene Hendricks from Alpine who had had that seat in the Legislature a good while decided he didn’t want to do that anymore; he was a radio man from Alpine. So he called Dad and asked him if he’d like to run and he said well, had never thought about it. So he thought about it; thought he might do it and he said I think you can handle the paper while I’m gone to Austin and I said yeah, I believe I can. And I did and things got better all the way around; still wasn’t making enough money, never do when you’re working for somebody else in the newspaper business. You have to love it to work in it more than anything else I think. And the only money that’s in the newspaper business is when you finally, when you buy a paper and get it paid off and then sell it later and make a mark-up. That’s the only money an individual really sees. He can make a living, but as far as— you can also be fortunate enough to be in an oil and gas town and have a paper that you’ve grown into a semi-weekly and that was another deal that came later. But Dad got in the Legislature and I handled the paper for him while he was gone there and he started working in Austin at different jobs. He worked for other members of the Legislature. He was only in office two terms, two two-year terms because he, he had a good friend that’d been there a lot longer named Dick Slack, Richard C. Slack from Pecos and they were good friends and worked together very harmoniously but then somebody did a redistricting job and put both of them in the same district. So Dad didn’t run because he figured Slack had been there a lot longer and would be hard to beat and they were friends, so he just didn’t run after that second term was over. And he worked for other members of the Legislature as assistant in different office capacities for a while and then he worked for the Railroad Commission and he was on this Tax Study Group that figured out the current system used by Texas which is, let’s see, I don’t recall what that it.
BAKER: And that may or may not be a good thing and in Dad’s defense, he had resigned from that particular organization before they actually got that bill through. So I don’t know that he had much to do with it. But I’d like to think he didn’t. In a way it was good because it put all counties under the gun to charge what the property was— To charge tax rates based on what the property was really worth. And you can talk about that a long time and I don’t know that much about it, but there was some that followed that law better than others. There were some that were very slow to do it but they finally all did it I guess.
That’s a long deal, newspaper careers. I guess you will find it’s long with everybody, Wanda, that you interview.
CASH: So did you stay in Fort Stockton then and—
BAKER: Let me think a minute when it was. Oh, in— we went offset in 1966 and then by ‘05— ’01, not ’01, ’71, January the 1st ’71 I bought the rest of the paper from Dad. The reason being he finally became willing to let me— get totally out and let me buy it. And by then I’d nearly paid for the first half and so he called up one night and said do you want to go over and see the Sul Ross football game in Alpine? I said sure. So we got in the car and went and he then said, about halfway over there, he said well I think we ought to— It’s time for you to buy the paper if you want to do it. And I said yeah, I do. And he said okay and then we had a deal made by the time we got to Alpine on how to do it, what to do and what to charge and all that. So it worked out fine. And then a year later I had a shopper invade Fort Stockton and Dad was still in the Legislature then but the Legislature wasn’t in session. So he came home and did the writing and let me get out and pound the pavements on the advertising to keep that shopper from getting very much business and we ran them out in six months. And didn’t have much problems with shoppers later.
There was one other shopper that came in run by a little old lady in tennis shoes kind of a deal and everybody liked her and so I just kinda let her alone and waited until she got tired and quit. But— And she wasn’t that big a problem for us.
All right. We began getting serious about growing and decided we’d like to take the paper semi-weekly, twice weekly. But anyhow when we started going to semi-weekly, it was real tough to get it started because we started a Sunday paper and most of the papers out in West Texas printed on Saturday — No printed on Friday— Friday night and Saturday and, or Saturday morning, and distributed on Saturday a paper dated Sunday. And that’s what we did and I couldn’t get people very excited about running advertising in the Sunday paper so we started doing a deal where if they ran the same ad in both editions, the second edition cost them only half as much and that began to get us a toe-hold in there but it was kinda tough. And people even, didn’t even want to put their news in the Sunday paper they wanted it in the Thursday paper because that’s the one we’ve always had. And I don’t know why, why was so sacred about that Thursday that it— while we had nothing but the Thursday paper I didn’t find any sacredness on the part of the readers. But it took quite a while. Anyhow, we started it in January and didn’t seem to have any circulation a-tall, hardly, on the Sunday paper but then we started covering football games, Friday night football games in that Saturday afternoon paper and Saturdays late in the morning sometimes, depending on how it was printed. We had to go to Pecos to print it because we were offset, all of us, and every paper in that area was, just about by then. We were ahead of some of them going offset but not as fast as some of the others. And those who bought presses, and this is still the case, those that own the press have other people coming to them to print and it helps everybody concerned. It keeps those who are taking their paper to somewhere to print, from having to buy a press. And it helps the people that buy that very expensive press in paying for it. So it works out, worked out real well for everybody. The only problem was trying to get it over there in time and that was always a problem.
When we finally got to get the semi-weekly was beginning to come into its own the minute we got that football coverage in there and that helped so much. And don’t let them tell you sports aren’t important, because they are, especially when you put it on the front page of a Sunday paper. And it worked out real well.
As the paper strengthened we began to get more advertising when we proved that the circulation was equal on both of them then we were beginning to get more advertising in both papers and the paper grew a good deal. It had been a good strong 16 to 20 page paper when it was a weekly and that stayed that way on the Thursday paper. And the Sunday paper started out as a weak six or eight and then finally got to the point where Sunday was running mostly 12 and 12 to 16. At the same time Thursday was still running the old 16 to 20 or 24, 22 sometimes. And we— then once that was pretty established we also were beginning to add a good staff. We had a real good editor and a real good reporter, a lady reporter who had a lot of talent and did a lot of good for the paper. And then we had a, I had a guy I had hired when he was fresh out of high school, nearly. He’d been out a few years, but not very many, named Phil Chamberlain and old Phil went to work on the Pioneer way back, ’72 I think. And he, he was my right-hand person always. He was good on the advertising and he was especially good on the picture, the darkroom work and all that sort of stuff, and make-up. He did it all. Phil was kinda the production director and one of the advertising manager people. I guess you’d call him manager of advertising too. And then I’d hire other people to help with the advertising and I never quite got all the way out of advertising; I liked it too much. But I had a lot; it was taking, began to take more of my time just to keep everybody else going and manage the place.
And one of these questions down here is how would you describe your style of leadership? Well, it was laid back is how I’d describe it. I really, I tried to be real easy-going about people and not demand too much of them but kinda give them their head and let them run. If they had initiative and wanted to do something I tried to let them do it instead of controlling their every move. And so that’s still what I think leadership ought to be and to be, and Dad wasn’t too different. He was kinda like that too. But there were, let’s see—
I guess I ought to finish up about Dad. He was a good Pop for a little kid and he was a good Pop, in a lot of ways. When I was a student in high school he stood up to a coach that was giving the team a hard time one time and I was kind of embarrassed by it in a way but I also was real tickled because he defended us and that’s one of my favorite memories of him. And he, he was overall a very, very good father. Then when I went to work for him he was kind of a tyrant as far as I was concerned. I said you ask so much more of me than you do of anybody else. And he said well that’s because I want you, I care more about how well you do than anybody else. And I said all right, that must be the deal. Then as he got into the Legislature and I got more and more of a foothold into the paper, we became real good friends and worked until he died in 1993. And he, I can truthfully say he was the best friend I ever had. Mary Lee is the best friend I ever had, but he’s close. And so I guess you’d have to say the biggest influence on my professional life was Dad. And closely followed by Dr. Ernest Sharp at UT and Dr. Paul J. Thompson at UT. Dr. Sharpe was my main ad prof, advertising prof and I took most of the advanced courses from him and then I took the reporting courses I need to take to have a journalism degree from, some of them from Dr. Thompson and some of them from others. Dr. Thompson was a great man; I just thought the world of him. I wasn’t all that carried away by the subject that he was teaching some of the time, reporting mainly. I guess, but I really thought a lot of him and I really was, did admire him. And Dr. Reddick was another real fine man. I only had one course from him one time since I was an ad major, but he and Dr. Thompson both were really fine folks.
The thing I was proudest of, and that’s one of the questions that Wanda asked of us who are being interviewed, was the fact that we won five Sweepstakes Award in a 7-year period. And I don’t know, there may be other papers that have done that many by now, but in that short, that condensed timeframe I don’t know if anybody has. And that really was neat. And of course being the TPA president was something everybody’s proud of who does it but I had an extra thing to be proud of and that was that I was the first son of a past president to be president.
CASH: And tell us your father’s name.
BAKER: George Baker of course was my father’s name. I don’t know if I ever told that to you. All right. But he was president of TPA in ’62-’63 I think it was. And then I was ’84 and ’85. So that, those are the two things I guess I’m proudest of.
And then another question is what was the biggest ethical dilemma I faced? Well, there were two of them. One of the banks in town had a president who tended to talk a little too much perhaps like I do and he told me there was an employee of the bank they were gonna have to file charges against because he had done some, he had violated some banking policies and some, or maybe even some legal matters. And had taken it too easy on somebody that owed a note to the bank and had left some of the things in his desk drawer that should have been sent to the guy, I don’t know. But anyway, the gentleman who was working for the bank and was in disfavor so to speak, the guy. They told it to me before they ever filed charges against him. So I knew about it. And then they did and of course we’d been watching over at the courthouse as to when those charges might be filed and when they got filed I wrote the story. And then the phone began to ring. I wrote the story and went ahead and put it in the paper, went ahead and pushed somebody out the door to go print it because I’d already had one phone call and I was getting phone calls ever five minutes from a fellow who was a friend of the bank and kinda their leg man who helped them with public relations matters without unofficially speaking, his wife worked at the bank and that was, and he may have been a stockholder, I don’t know. But he was, and he was a good man, a good man, but he. And then the chairman of the board was, started calling me. The president didn’t but the chairman of the board had called me and then this other guy had called me and so I just kinda let them have their piece and they kept saying “Oh please don’t run that story. Please don’t run that story, it’s such bad publicity for the bank.” I said, “Well, the president shouldn’t have told me so early in the game that it was gonna happen and I can’t ignore that story.” If somebody’d figure out I’d known about it a while or that the paper should have been checking. The paper checks the courthouse to see who’s being sued and who’s doing this and who’s doing that and who’s been charged with things. And to make an exception in the case of the bank would be wrong. Well, no you shouldn’t do that. “What can I tell you to talk you out of doing that, Frank?” I said, “Well, I don’t know,” and I’m thinking inside my head that press in Pecos is running tonight, fellows. You just don’t know it. And so they finally quit talking to me about 10 o’clock and by then the paper was being loaded into a van in Pecos and brought home.
And the bank quit advertising, completely, with the paper. And luckily we had another bank in town which seized that opportunity to run a little more advertising, but the main thing was they got some business from the other one.
In this ethical problem that I had about that, it wasn’t rally a problem for me, it was a problem for them. But I had a lot of pressure on me because that bank had a lot of power in the town and so it, it wasn’t an easy decision and it wasn’t an easy one to hang onto. But the thing that really made things better was that Dad was a director of that bank and they had made him an associate director or some kind of a lesser title than a director, advisory director is what it was. And I don’t think he had his vote any more necessarily, but he’d come home from Austin once a month for board meetings. And he was kinda their rep down there, I guess. But when he came home, I’d already told him that I was in trouble, I was in hot water with them. I didn’t know how he’d feel about it either since he was one of their directors. And I said, “Dad, I had to do it.” And he said, “Sure you did. Don’t forget, I was a journalist.” So he, when the bank directors met they wanted to know why he hadn’t been able to, why I had done that, what was the matter with me and blah, blah, blah. When they ran down, he said, “Well for what it’s worth, Frank’s right about this and I’ll back him all the way and I think you’re wrong and I’d like to have you get off his back.” So they stayed mad and didn’t advertise for a while, but that was about it. And then they finally realized they needed the advertising and started running again. End of story.
What have you done in journalism am I the most proud of? In journalism was that deal, standing up to that bank, I’ll tell you. Had to be done. Then there was another ethical problem, a big one. I don’t know how much of this to say anything about. One of my employees who was married to a politician and the politician got sued for something that was unrelated to the election, but again if we hadn’t run that little story about that person being sued, the other candidate would have felt like we were not being fair and we were not doing our job. And I wasn’t particularly, I wasn’t for the other candidate. I was for the person who had been running for the office and the spouse that was working for me was very angry about it but didn’t, didn’t try to stop it. And so her, he tried to stop it, tried to get me to stop it, but I wouldn’t. And then the politician never spoke to me again. But again that’s. You have to hold the line when you’re a journalist and there were times when I had to do that. I didn’t have too many of those things come up.
I had one thing I was kinda proud of and that was that I ran for the school board one time and I’d already announced my candidacy as had two other people, and the school board met and they were unhappy because we’d been losing, but heck in Fort Stockton that was the name of the game, losing in football. Never was a big football town but it has been lately and it did— had been from time-to-time but most of the time you can’t count on a very big record from Fort Stockton in football. So they, they decided to clean house and they fired a total of eight coaches. And one of them was a guy who had won state in basketball, a great basketball coach. He became a banker after that. And that second bank in Fort Stockton did very well, thank you very much. But anyhow, when they did that I covered that board meeting, I covered the school board and the lady reporter covered commissioner’s court and the editor covered the city because they all met right on top of each other. You know how they do that, they all want to meet at the same time so the paper can’t keep somebody on all of them unless you have enough staff. Luckily we did by then. And the— when the school board did that I didn’t know what to do. It was Tuesday night so I had Wednesday to figure out what to do and I woke up Wednesday morning and started shaving and I looked in the mirror and said, “Okay, Baker, are you a journalist or a politician?” Journalist won and so I wrote a blistering column criticizing the school board for firing those eight coaches, really worked them over. And so every member of the school board worked against me in the election and I didn’t win, lost by 30 votes in the runoff, but I never was sorry. And of course one of the advantages of all that was that the guy who won was a big advertiser and I had tried to be very, very supportive toward him throughout the whole thing. It was kinda nice I didn’t have to serve, either, on the board because I’d had conflicts from then on. So I decided it was probably a better idea not to be in politics and journalism at the same time.
We had an interesting situation one time in which I was — This is probably my favorite story about the newspaper business. There was a county judge who happened to be very much in favor of having Fort Stockton as a city to have a, what do you call that kind of government let’s see — Home rule charter. He wanted to have home rule charter so he appointed a committee of people to work on that and I thought it was a pretty good idea myself. So I was one of the people who was appointed to the committee by the judge and the judge, a fellow named Charley, and he was very determined to get that done and had a lot money and was real apprehensive about it all. And there were some landowners whose property came right up to the city almost, ranchers, and they didn’t want to see home rule charter because they could have been brought into the city without their willingness to be so, to do so. And they hired a real sharp lawyer who worked up the ads for them and they fought real hard with their advertising against home rule charter. Charley somehow managed to find a way to get city money to use on the city’s ads favoring home rule charter. Now how that was ethical or honest I don’t know, but anyway that happened and so we had a lot of advertising coming from both sides and I had done the advertising work in favor of the charter. And so but the lawyer’s ads were pretty doggone effective. Then the, I mentioned Phil Chamberlain my right-hand man before. Phil’s father turned out to be a great one too. He was our home throw guy, our newspaper — and distributor and he would take them around to the stores and then throw them at the homes too. And it was a Saturday afternoon a Sunday paper and it had the advertising for both sides in it and the home rule charter was gonna be voted on the following Tuesday so it was the last chance. And I got a call from Phil’s dad, whose name was Jim, and Jim said, “Frank, Charley keeps following me around and I don’t know what he’s doing but he’s buying all the Pioneers. He’s buying all the newspapers from every stop I’ve made so far.” And he was stopping at various drive-in groceries and stuff. So I went, I got in the car and went on over and found Jim and he said he’s still doing it. And then I saw Charley was waiting at the next place and then Charley’s wife was around and I saw her and she was helping him buy papers. So I said, “Well, what are you doing on this? Said well Charley wants to have everybody come to our headquarters, we got a headquarters, they leased, we rented a building downtown and we want people to come to the headquarters and read this thing that we’ve written which was kinda of a circular they were going to staple to all the copies of the paper that they bought. I said well that’s real fine but why aren’t you letting the people see the paper? Well, don’t know; just have to ask Charley about that. So I went and asked Charley about that, said, “Charley, what do you think you’re doing?” And he said, “Well, I’m buying newspapers.” And he told me what his plan was and I said, “Well, how in the hell do you think anybody’s gonna know that you have this headquarters?” He said, “Well, I’m gonna give out free newspapers at the headquarters.” I said, “Well, how they gonna know you’re gonna do that?” He said, “We are gonna run some radio spots.” I said, “Hell, you know nobody listens to that radio station, or very few and we have a lot of folks that are wanting to see this paper and this just isn’t gonna work, Charley.” He said, “Well, I thought you’d be pleased to have so many papers sold.” I said, “They sell anyway, Charley. And I really, I’ll put it this way, I’m not gonna— You’re not gonna get away with this, I can’t let you get away with it and so you stop right here and don’t do it any more or I’m gonna go back over to Pecos and start printing some more copies of the paper and we’ll just have a little contest between your billfold and that press over there and see if you can outrun that press or not with your purchases of newspapers. Then when, after you’ve finished all the money in your billfold we’ll bring them back and distribute them, a little belatedly but we’ll distribute them. We’ll do what we set out to do and get them to the people to read.” So he quit. But that was the doggonedest thing to have this screwball county judge buying up your newspapers and you fighting him trying to keep him from doing it. That’s the first time I ever heard of anybody having to fight to keep people from buying up all your newspapers. I felt like the paper had to reach the people and that’s really about it on that one.
And in the election that followed, the Home Rule Charter died; it did not go. It got thumped about two to one. And sorta made me about half mad when he said he was scared of what Paul’s dad was doing, gonna do, the lawyer’s ad. I said, “Well, you don’t appreciate my work, dang you.” That’s another reason I didn’t really want to cooperate with him. But the main thing was to let the people read the paper.
Okay, where are we going next? The state of journalism today is that there’s more and more competition than there’s ever been. Newspapers were changed a good deal by the advent of television. Radio had been with them a long time and didn’t seem to bother them a whole lot. Television was beginning to eat them up, eat into the advertising dollar and so the newspapers began to change in a lot of different ways but they finally figured out the only thing left with radio and television out there was to do the best job with the story of anybody and hope that the papers would sell. And that’s still the way it is.
We’ve noticed, or I’ve noticed that the newspapers, the daily newspapers particularly, have become more and more political. They have, you can tell, you can tell without reading very long that the Odessa American is a Republican newspaper. And you definitely can tell that the Midland Reporter-Telegram is a Republican newspaper because that reflects the majority population in both towns. The Austin American-Statesman which has a lot of Democrats in town is very much a Democrat newspaper and I don’t know how I could prove that on either— any of those papers, but the San Angelo Standard-Times for a long time was a Democrat paper while the American was a Republican paper, the Odessa American, and those are two papers that reach, two dailies that reach Fort Stockton.
And one of the dirty tricks that was played on us was the radio station manager became the reporter for the San Angelo paper, a stringer, he was stringing for both of them and trying to scoop us so that we weren’t we apparently were beating him pretty good and that’s why he was trying to, trying to water-down our news coverage but he couldn’t because they, and we ran a little, we didn’t run personals anymore as I mentioned earlier, but we ran a little deal called, just little fillers, one-liners and it said get the real story, read the Pioneer. Get the full story, get the better story and we were pretty aggressive on that because the radio guy had been pretty aggressive in other ways. And that radio feller now is deceased and he was, before it was all over we were pretty good friends. That happened later in life but it did.
I don’t know what the vision for the future is but one of the things that’s happened that’s made things really tough for daily newspapers now is the Internet and the smart newspapers are using the Internet and putting their stuff in it and they’re having websites of their own and that’s positive. That’s a positive response to it because otherwise it’s gonna eat your lunch. And unfortunately more and more and more young men and women are getting the news off the net and not as much from TV or the newspapers. TV has been ruined in a lot of ways by all of those cable channels that have watered down the influence of the old networks so much that nobody’s really got a whole lot of control in television any more and of course the Internet is hurting television badly. So they— things are tough.
And Mary Lee and I are in an organization called LAMP, with is a UT deal that we go over to and for six weeks at a time three different times a year and you’ve probably heard about that one, it’s called, let’s see, Lifetime Activity for Mature Persons is what LAMP means. And what it is it’s hearing various speakers on many, many topics and we heard one guy who spoke, and he was the managing editor of the Austin American-Statesman and they are really working hard to try to figure out what to do about the Internet. The Internet’s really wrecking havoc with the daily newspapers and he was honest enough to admit it.
And the newspapers are losing circulation, especially the big dailies, they’re losing a lot of circulation as time goes by and weekly papers tend to be more static, they tend to follow what the population of their town is and Fort Stockton, when I sold the paper in 1989, the paper had close to 4,000 circulation. Now it’s got about 3,000 and that’s kinda the, one of the trends. Part of it is that the paper has a different way of operation now. We sold it to a chain and chains tend to be more interested in the profitability of the newspaper than anything else and not as interested in community service as papers in the little towns used to be. And I don’t mean to be disrespectful there, I’ll have to say the old boy paid me off, never missed a payment. He did fine, so you really can’t— And of course the unfortunate part of it is that most small town publishers that decide to sell out, sell to a chain because a chain is the ones that will pay the best price for the papers. And of course, the chain philosophy is different so the paper’s different and I think it’s cost them some circulation.
A new business model might be just what those dailies are doing, and the weeklies are doing it now, too. Is having a Web site and putting some of their best stories on it and try to, I would say when they do that they better give kind of a teaser part of the story and not really tell the whole thing so that it will make the people realize somehow that they need to read it in the paper to get the full story. And if they don’t they’ll just be giving away their news to the web. Right now the web’s a big threat. Years and years ago radio was a big threat and then years after that television; now it’s the net. And everybody’s scrambling.
What should journalism schools be teaching aspiring journalists? Teach them to be objective. If there’s one thing journalism schools ought to be teaching the aspiring journalists is objectivity. And there seems to be a whole lot less of objectivity in any newspaper that— of any size than there was, or in fact any newspaper, period. But the small town weeklies are doing the best job of that and that’s because in a small town you’ve got to try to get along with everybody and be fair to everybody. But it’s the only right way to do it is to give both sides of the story and so objectivity and fairness are the two main things journalism schools should be teaching today.
I don’t have any words of wisdom for future generations of journalists because I don’t know what life’s gonna be like for them. But I hope they’re still around in another hundred years.
- Transcribed by Shannon Barclay Morris
 Might be saying “thinner” “spanner”?
 Not verified