Mac McKinnon

mckinnonMac McKinnon is the publisher and editor of The Dublin Citizen in Dublin, Texas. After a year of college, he joined the military. After a brief stint overseas, he joined the Army’s information department writing military history.

Upon returning to civilian life, he enrolled at TCU and went to work for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram writing crime stories, managing to have a contract taken out on his life at one point. He turned down an offer from The New York Times but he didn’t want to do crime writing anymore. He began writing financial and political news, eventually becoming the paper’s state editor.

He has owned several small papers across the state as well as a brief stint  at a television station as news director. He finally wound up back in his hometown of Dublin.

Link to McKinnon’s newspaper:

Listen to Mac McKinnon’s interview:

McKinnon 1

Read the transcriot of Mac’s interview:



I’m Mac McKinnon, I’m the editor and publisher of the Dublin Citizen in Dublin, Texas, the home of Dublin Dr. Pepper.

I’ve been in this business I guess since 1964.  I was very fortunate like so many other people I was given an opportunity to learn a trade in the military.  Like so many young people I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got out of high school in Dublin, Texas, and went to school at John Tarleton Agriculture College at the time for the first year. It was a four-year college.

And I, the draft was breathing down my neck so I decided I’d go into the military and they sent me to school and I didn’t like that so I managed to…  I got real lucky.  I was able to, when I came back from overseas to Fort Worth, to Carswell Air Force Base. They had an opening in the Military Information Office.  I had some journalism in high school and I could type and they were desperate.  So I got lucky, I was able to cross-train which was very rare and they sent me to school in New York City to the Department of Defense Information School, which was a tremendous eye-opener to me.  They taught me all the isms and really introduced me to the world of history which is really my first love.  I worked at that time I was trained to be a writer and reporter for the Aerospace Sentinel at Carswell Air Force Base and had the great privilege of working for a black sergeant, Langston L. Latson, who was married to an Englishwoman and that man taught me to be a wordsmith.  He made sure I used the right word every time.  He was so articulate, it was just incredible.  And I learned so much from him.  Of course the rest of the staff in that information office was also good.

And I was able to write history from that point.  I had the top newspaper rating, they graded us, and he taught me to have the same thing when I took over from him when he transferred out.  And then later I went into writing history which is done out of the information office.  Wrote a history on the military being transferred from Carswell to bomb Vietnam, the B52s were stationed on Guam and the refueling planes were located on Okinawa.  And that was quite an experience because I’d already been to the Far East, I skipped that part.

I’d been to the Far East once before, in Korea during the Cuban Missile Crisis, so all this was quite a young thing from a farm boy from the peanut fields of Dublin, Texas, to do all this.

And got to meet a lot of people, Jimmy Doolittle Raiders have a convention in Fort Worth and got to meet all those people, wonderful people.

Also at that information office, I had the privilege of meeting some staffers from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram who would come out and I would give them information about what was going on at Carswell and as the PIO people are prone to do, that’s our job.  So, when I was about to get out I talked to them about a position at the Star-Telegram and they encouraged me to come down and apply.  And I went down and didn’t think I had a chance because I didn’t have a degree and although I was working on it at night school and everything at TCU.

Anyway I applied and they hired me.  That was, after two years, that was in January of 1966.  And it was a really interesting world, I mean I loved it, I mean I was working for the Evening Star-Telegram and they trained me of course as everybody does when they first go to a large daily, you go to the cop shop and that’s where I learned a lot about crime and the big city ways and they kinda liked the job I did and I was trained under my City Editor Frank Freeoff and Assistant City Editor Joe Titus and the editor of the Star-Telegram Jack Butler.

They liked this old country boy and they took a special liking to me I guess and sent me everywhere for training for every kind of expertise I could get.  Sent me to the University of Oklahoma for training in investigating organized crime.  That was at a time when it was all organized crime was coming into Texas big-time, especially North Texas.  And I did a series on that and theoretically I had a contract issued on me and that was kind of an interesting part of my life and thank goodness they never carried it out. The police told me there was a contract on me. I spent a lot of time looking under my hood of my car.

But it was an interesting time of life. I spent so much time on crime, every time they had a major crime they would put me on an airplane or send me in a car to go cover it.

Texas Tech, of course, was very near and dear to the Amon Carter and the Carter family and they helped start that institution in Lubbock.  So if anything happened out there crime wise, they sent me out there to cover it.  A tornado in Wichita Falls, anyway, it was an exciting life and later I got to where it got so hard on you I wanted out of the police beat and crime business and I even had an offer from the New York Times to come to New York to cover police.  I just, at that time I didn’t have children and I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t want to raise them in a big city so I declined the offer.  It was a good pay rate but it cost a lot more to live in New York of course.  I’d lived in New York a couple of months in the military so I loved the city and enjoyed it, but I just didn’t want to live there.

Anyway, they finally let me off police beat although they were very upset about it because they’d spent a lot of money on me. But I just had to for my own self-preservation, get off that beat because it was so morbid and tough, crimes were rampant, people talking about gang killings now in the 21st Century, they don’t know anything about gangs till you’ve been on the Jacksboro Highway in Fort Worth on a Saturday night in the 1960s.

It was a lot of tough, a lot of chain gangs and a lot of crime to cover and I went out to some of the bars and covered a lot of them; got to know a lot of the people.  They always treated me nicely, never felt threatened.  But, you know, it was a great time in my life.

I later went on to cover the SEC, the Security and Exchange Commission and federal court and got to know a lot of federal people, Leo Brewster the judge and Bill Black the marshal, this was the Northern District of Texas.  Got to cover a lot of politics, covered a lot of the politicians in the ’68 election, Muskie and Humphrey and so that was another eye-opener.

A lot of education went on and it continues up to this present day.

Later they had an opening for State Editor. Well, being a small-town boy, I kinda liked that idea of going out to the small towns and writing it up and doing things and at that time the Star-Telegram previously had been known as “The State’s Newspaper.” But that reputation had waned because of lack of emphasis and they wanted it back, Amon Carter, Jr. talked to me and James Record, all the people that talked to me they wanted to get it back and they made a commitment to me to do whatever it needed to get that reputation.

Of course, West Texas built Fort Worth.  So anyway, I took it over and I worked there on that for about two years and traveled extensively, had 300 correspondents and I think built up a reputation once again for the Star-Telegram. I would travel sometimes as much as 500 or 600 miles a day. I worked long hours.  They wanted me to stay within my 40 hours a week. You can’t do a job and be a professional in 40 hours a week.  I’ve always maintained that.  Didn’t care about the pay, they were paying me good and treating me right and I would work anywhere from 20 to 22 hours a day, sometimes around the clock.  Because I enjoyed it and I enjoyed the people I met.  I made a lot of friends all over the state.

It was during that time that I happened to run across a newspaper that was for sale. I had never thought about owning my own newspaper, unlike a lot of journalists. I was happy as a bug in a rug and doing what I liked, but the man down in Goldthwaite had talked to me about he wanted to sell his paper and before I left there – I was down there covering a hail storm – before I left there he had me convinced to buy his paper and showed me the financials.

I didn’t know much about financials, I’d been taking an advertising writing course. I had been going to school at night at the University of Texas at Arlington and trying to further my education and I really was ready to go back to a small town, I guess.  And so I came back and made arrangements to sell my house and get financing for the paper, but before I get any papers signed, he sold the paper out from under me.  Well, that kind of upset me but I said, “Well that’s okay. I’m okay.”

A few months later, I went out to West Texas and ran into a person that was well-known by people in the newspaper circles, Joe Bell, famous for his work at the Star-Telegram as well as a weekly, semi-weekly paper in Colorado City. He was a real trendsetter in journalism, tremendous writer. I was doing a story on the restoration of opera houses in Colorado City and I went to dinner with him that night and I told him about my frustration and he said, “Well, we need to talk, I’m wanting to retire and go back to the big city.”  And so we talked and while I, I even bought the deal and went out to work for him a year because I didn’t have any money, went out to work for him for a year for my down payment and I took over that paper, it was a twice a week paper.  And I did that in 1971 and I stayed there until 1981 when some people came along and wanted to buy the paper real bad, I sold it.

By that time I’d burned out. A twice a week paper, I’ve always said, is the hardest job you can have. I’ve done dailies, small, medium and large and large, small medium weeklies, but that semi-weekly is just a killer.  It’s two weeks in every one, usually not enough staff to handle it.  But it was tough and we had home delivery and Colorado City is still, I’m very fond of that town and have a lot of friends there in news media here in 2008.

But I burned myself out because I did everything in the community you can do, as most newspaper people do.  I was president of the chamber, president of the Lion’s, I was president of…  I was on the City Council, president of the Boy’s Club and they said I had held every office but president of the BMPW and they would have give me that if I’d wanted it, I guess.

But anyway, I enjoyed it.  The town was really good to me, I learned a lot more about, as you go through life you meet friends and mentors that help you through life and train you and you feel like you’ve helped the community through various actions and helped good staff members.  That’s one of the real great things in my life, I think I’ve helped a lot of people in this profession by training, usually small papers are training grounds.  I feel like I’ve trained a lot of people and sent them on into professions.

Anyway, I sold out, like I said. I was burned out by 1981 when I sold the paper and didn’t know what I wanted to do but I wanted to try something different maybe.

At the military school, I may have mentioned to you, in New York I’d been trained in other areas, television, radio, magazines.  I’ve done a lot of stuff on the side as far as writing for magazines.  And so I decided I’d try television and so I applied around and everybody said I had too much experience.

I really wanted on the ground floor because I had sold the paper so I had a little money, I wasn’t rich, but I could survive on entry level wages for a few years if I had to. But finally they hired me at what they call Big Two, KMIDTV in Midland as a news director, I mean the head man.  I didn’t know what I was doing, but they hired a consultant; said they’d help me and they wanted me to bring the ratings up.  They were really bad at that time for that TV station and I made a commitment to them: I would work and get the ratings up, and I did.

In 18 months, I brought it to number one in the market, it’s an entry level market, small market, but by hiring the right people and doing the right kind of programming. But I didn’t like it. I still stayed my 18 months and I told them I was, I wanted to go back into newspapers somehow, I just… Television to me was much too artificial.  So I resigned there and did a little traveling with my family.

And then I looked at several newspapers to buy and finally went down to Burnet, Texas, bought the Burnet Bulletin which is part of the Hill Country and really nice.  Another great opportunity was just kinda dropped in my lap.  You know blind luck will do for brains any day and I’ve had plenty of the luck.

A lot of people guided me along, people in the business like Bill Berger and Frank Baker helped guide me to those, in those directions.  They’re both in there.  Anyway they helped me and guided me there.  So anyway, I bought that paper and kept it for five and a half years.  Another great education met a lot of great people and learned a lot.

One of the things that’s a great thing about Burnet is it’s close to the University of Texas. And so I had a built-in resource for people for my staff.  And I had put together probably one of the finest staffs I’ve ever had, in Burnet, because I had a couple of people with master’s, couple of people with cachelor’s degrees, really sharp individuals and they came up and worked and we put out a real good newspaper, very large weekly.

At that time we were the second largest weekly paper in Texas and the largest weekly was also in our county, the Burnet-Marble Falls Highlander. So we had tough competition but we put out a good newspaper. And anyway, I ended up selling it in 1988.

I had an opportunity to go and write a book, a true-life book.  Like I said, back to crime, all through my career anytime a crime story comes up I kinda jump at it because I feel like I’m good at it and I know what to ask and how to take care of police. I want to help police.

I want to solve problems and also make sure somebody’s not railroaded.  I feel a lot of innocent people out there who may be taken advantage of and I always feel like in the newspaper we’re the people’s advocate and stand up for people, the little guy.

Anyway, there was this man who was accused of a mass murder. He was accused of killing three people with poison and almost getting a fourth one. At that time, the books by Ann Rule were very popular in the Pacific Northwest on mass murders and so I thought well okay, this will be a commercial opportunity probably, always looking for a way to make money.  So with my background in crime I thought I could do a book but a very different book with poisoning.  So I did that for the next year and by that time I kinda ran out of money so it was time to go back to work.

So the trial’s and everything finished, a long process, I had…One of the reasons I wanted to write this book because you… I had covered crime but I had never really followed it from the beginning to the end.  I’d covered the beginning, I’d cover the end and everything in-between but never all in one piece like I had the opportunity to do here.  So I covered the beginning until the trial’s and everything was over.

Well it wasn’t over in a year, so I had an opportunity to go to work at the Pecos Enterprise.

It’s a small daily paper out in West Texas and again, it was, I think, you know the Good Lord has directed me in most everything I’ve done.  I think He called me to Pecos because the Hispanics were not being treated too well out there and I, like I say, I like to be a champion for the underdog. I appreciate Hispanics and all people, it doesn’t matter, I treat… I try to treat everybody the same regardless of who they are.  That’s how I feel like I’ve always been able to get along with the prince or the pauper.

That’s what one man who interviewed me for that job in Pecos told me.  “That impressed me,” he said, “you can get along with the rich guys or the poor guys, it doesn’t matter.” And I feel like that’s right because I’ve dealt with extremely rich people and covered all the movie stars and all the presidents and the man on the street who’s homeless.  And I’ve always treated them all the same because I feel like everybody’s a human being created by God.

So, but anyway, the Hispanics at the time in Pecos was having a lot of trouble because Pecos had gotten to be about 90-95 Hispanic at that time.  And so I came in and restored the reputation of the paper with the Hispanic community, even at one point starting a…When I found the right personnel and I went to a lot seminars about this and it’s still a subject for controversy.  Do you print it in Spanish?   What do you do to cover the Hispanic population?  I started a Hispanic section of the newspaper and I hired a lady from Mexico to do it.  A tremendous lady.  She did me a really good job.  Did that for about four years until her husband got transferred and then I started looking for somebody else to do it, which the talent pool was very shallow because everybody wanted that talent.

And finally the Hispanic community came to me in a very poignant moment and said, “Mac. we appreciate what you’ve done but we don’t want your Spanish paper. We want to read English. We can’t even read Spanish, but you have let us know that you appreciate us and you know we’re here.”

So as a PR thing it worked, although that wasn’t my intent.  I wanted to cover the Spanish news.  The Hispanic population you know, still does not trust the media and will not give us their news like the very colorful information, great information.

While I was in Pecos, one of the things I did was to try to find print customers, you know you try to do everything you can to survive in a business by revenue avenues.  I was printing at least four papers at one time from Mexico and I got to know the people who did those from Ojinaga and in that area.  And so I felt I reached an understanding and they had some really good stories and what journalists go through in Mexico, the rich opportunities we have here.

One guy in particular called me in the middle of the night.  He had been kidnapped previously and he was, he had printed, that day we had printed a story in for him that showed one of the governor candidates with a drug lord and they saw the paper before it was distributed and they said if you want to survive you’d better reprint that paper.  He called me at midnight and wanted to come back up and rework his paper, reprint it, so we did.  And saved his life.  He’d already been kidnapped and beaten up before.  So that was a tough life.  You know we have freedom of the press although it’s a struggle we have to continually fight for.

There’s one session going on (at the TPA convention) about freedom of information.  I’m constantly having to challenge people we have a new… the privacy acts that are challenging what information we can get and some people abuse that privilege.

After Pecos, I got to where I, my daughter was getting, my youngest daughter was getting up into,  older and I wanted to go to another place to have another opportunity in journalism and so I was looking for a job after 10 years in Pecos and found a job at Media News Group at Fort Morgan, Colorado.

Again I was lucky because that was another great opportunity.  I had. I’ll digress here.

I had started, I think one of the first newspapers on the web in 1995, and I was one of the first to do that.  Everybody wondered, “Why are you doing that?” and I said I didn’t know why but I felt like it was something I needed to do to get my foot in the door and one of these days it would offer opportunities.  And of course it has and it’s growing and we’re learning more about it all the time.

Anyway, they hired me up at Fort Morgan, Colorado, Media News, part of Dean Singleton’s group to come up and be publisher and also it was to develop a web page for them and give them a web presence, which I did.

I was up there for four years and I really enjoyed it. It was a wonderful experience again and I learned a lot. I learned to really appreciate the Texas Press Association because we’d been more active and able to get more laws that have teeth. Colorado has not been that active and they don’t have, they’ve got laws but they have no teeth as far as freedom of information and open records and so forth. And it’s a real shame.  Fortunately they have, they’ve had very honest people in office, although I think there’s some people who have been unscrupulous and gotten away with things.  But it was a, when I had to challenge that when I was there it was very difficult.  I would have to depend on using a means of exposing them rather than actually using the law to get the right information.

But I’ve always, I’ve been a kind of an in-your-face person.  I’m loud. I’m a little boisterous at times and I believe in being very aggressive in getting news and advertising and so I go about getting the news I want by being very pointed to the point that you owe this to the public.  It’s not me, I wasn’t gonna, I wasn’t from Colorado, I wasn’t going to stay in Colorado long, but you owe it to the public I’m serving and that you serve too, to get the information.  And we worked on that, but Colorado and a lot of other states still have a lot of work to do with their laws regarding information.

Anyway, in 2002 my mother was still living in Dublin, Texas, and her health began to fail and the paper came up for sale in Dublin. And as I mentioned earlier, the Good Lord’s always great to me and I think it was time for me to come home.

And so I came home and again the community has been very good to me. You can go home again, young man. And I did and it’s been very rewarding, personally and as well as financially and every other way. So my youngest daughter has been Miss Dublin and everything and it’s been a great pleasure and all my old friends are there. So we’re having, we’re enjoying it and everybody likes what I’ve done in Dublin and it’s, it’s just a lot of fun.

And that’s kinda been my, you know, my career like I say I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of great influences in my life as far as training and direction and continue to have that, you know.

I’m hoping you grow and learn every step of the way.  If I quit learning it’s time to give it up.  But I’m very fortunate in that regard.

Wanda Cash:  What about the future of journalism, Mac?

MM:         The future of journalism is very bright.  I don’t, you know, people feel challenged by, they’re challenged by radio, they’re challenged by TV, now challenged by the Internet, blogs, all that. I think journalism is, it’s alive and healthy. People like what we do.

I’m a real big history nut, as you can gather by everything I’ve said.  And I stress that Dublin’s a very historical town, one of the first towns established in Central Texas, and so I do a great deal about history and about the people who made Dublin and Central Texas what it is.

You know a lot of things dealing with people and the legends that they’ve left us of the way of life they’ve left for us to continue on.  And so, and people eat it up, they read it. And I’m a little discouraged that people don’t have enough time to read like they should. I’m a little discouraged that some people can’t read very well. And our literacy rate is, I believe, going down. And that’s too bad. We need to work on that. I’ve pushed that, I’ve always pushed newspaper and education programs everywhere I’ve been. I think it’s important to get papers in the school to train kids from an early date to read newspapers. I learned from an early age to read newspapers and I think it’s important.

There’s things you get in newspapers that you can no longer, you can’t get anywhere else. I mean like here at the hotel we’re given, you know, copies of the New York Times every morning at our door.  And in spite of the fact that it’s, they’re certainly not my line of politics, the New York Times does a wonderful job covering the news all over the world. And most newspapers do.

I’m a little distressed by chain newspapers because there’s too much emphasis on the bottom line and that bothers me because I’ve always stressed and my staff, my management style has been to be aggressive, to go out there and get it and the bottom line will take care of itself on that. I’ve been really fortunate that the bottom line has always taken care of itself because I go do the job the public wants me to do. Some newspapers and chains are afraid to do that. I was always encouraged at one chain to cut, cut, cut and I don’t do cutting. I do growth. And my growth has always proven to be, to work. It grows the bottom line. Now you can’t do that in all markets when you’re in a really bad market. I know that. You have to use sensible management skills and, you know, you can’t overspend.  But I’ve always tried to make profits grow and do changes and any innovations I can to try to, you know, use labor, use equipment to substitute for labor whenever possible to save money and improve quality.

I talked earlier about the changes in my career since I got started has been I went from hot type to cold type and all things in-between. The first paper I bought in Colorado City, we had to punch the headlines out on a Kodak Carousel, one letter at a time.  We had Justowriters that you would punch the stories in on a tape and then run the tape through another and it would strike them onto the thing then we’d paste them on the paper.  And that was always interesting because basically the Justowriters sometimes would get hot and they would start throwing characters everywhere.

And then later we finally got into the CompuGraphic, that was a great thing in the industry. They introduced these machines you could type and do the stories on photo paper. Of course that was very expensive and, photo paper was, but it was great.

And then some other people came along with LaserWriters and at first on plain paper and I was real hesitant at first about that LaserWriter because I just didn’t, I’ve always been insistent on quality and if it cost more I’d pay it. I wanted the quality of my papers for reproduction purposes.  But later I learned that, hey, there’s nothing wrong with that quality so I went to the laser printers.

Of course now we’re into the digital age, which is wonderful.  I love digital, I’m a, I’ve always taken a lot of pictures, I love to take pictures and I kinda think I’m pretty good at it.  But the digital thing is so forgiving. It kinda spoils you, but where are we going next?  I don’t know.  It’s amazing what we can do with pagination now and you can do a lot more work now and a lot more productive than we ever could before put out a lot better quality.  We can do color. Printer operators tried to do color back in the 70s even, it was terribly expensive. It would cost, I’d have to send off to get separation, cost me $220 and it would cost another about $200 to run the color on the press. Now all you pay for is, you know, you automatically separate it on the computer and it just cost you the extra cost on printing and that’s a lot, that’s a fraction of what it was at one time.

So those kinds of changes have happened and of course with the Internet and the things that we can do with photography and it’s the digital world is wonderful.

I sometimes miss pasting up. You could play with things, you know, move things around and do things, but you can do that on a computer, too.

Sometimes when you’re old, you fight it. I haven’t fought many things, but I do like to play with a little paste-up so I kinda miss that. But pagination is wonderful. It’s fast, very efficient and it’s clean. So you put out a nice clean paper. That’s what I’ve always pushed is, make it clean.

And that’s another thing that I’ve really enjoyed about the business is the progress we’ve made to keep pace with the industry.  I think people need to advertise and reach the customers and the newspaper does a job that nobody else can do.

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