Today's Star-Telegram carried news I've dreaded -- an obituary about the death of a Fort Worth newspaper giant, Phil Record. Phil was 81 and had lived a full life blessed with loving family, admiring colleagues and many honors during his long journalism career.
Phil's legacy will go on for centuries, maybe forever. His resume on TCU's website provides far more perspective than today's story could offer. It's worth reading and contemplating. Thanks to TCU's skiffvideo, there are two interviews with Phil that are on YouTube. There he is in his Notre Dame sweatshirt (he was a proud alum), talking about his career. As compelling as ever. The interviews are here and here.
No one loved journalism and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram more than Phil. I was amazed at the level of S-T ownership he felt. He was known literally around the world in newspaper circles as a champion of ethical practices. He was a lead player in the Society of Professional Journalists' development of an SPJ code of ethics and was one of the primary writers. He was a leading voice as well in the Organization of News Ombudsmen (ONO).
I'd always heard of Phil wherever I worked -- Dallas, Denver, St. Pete, etc. But I never got to meet him until I began work at the S-T in 2000. That was three years after he had retired, but nothing kept Phil out of the newsroom for long. He maintained a close relationship with the paper. And what a delight he was to meet. Jovial, charismatic, sharing questions and thoughts with a contagious laugh. Several times a day every day, S-T editors gather in the Phil Record Conference Room just off the newsroom to go over the news budgets and decide content for the next day's paper and the online product.
I like to think I had a special bond with him. Phil and I each had 7-year tenures as Star-Telegram ombudsman. He was the paper’s first (1990-1997). I was the paper’s last (2001-2008). In between were Paul Harral (the last fulltime ombudsman) and Lance Murray. Phil gave me plenty of advice, much of which is included in this column he wrote in 1996.
My memories of Phil are a massive jumble –- like the piles of odds and ends in every drawer of the huge old wooden desk that all of we ombuddies had used. Phil was always generous in his response whenever I needed guidance, ideas or encouragement.
We shared deep concern about the toxic erosion of news media credibility and some newspaper organizations' lack of response. We shared concern about newspapers' selling out to soft entertainment news and pop culture at the expense of giving strongly focused attention to hard-news coverage.
We shared the same view of the ombuddy role: it’s a ministry. It’s aimed at caring about people and trying to help them. Humility is essential. You check your ego at the door.
We had the same practice: we would pray for strength before and throughout the workday, and we would pray for the intolerant souls we had to deal with, a problem that increased markedly during my tenure as civility in political dialogue vanished and strident denunciation of the free press increased.
Phil was a man of faith. One spring day in 2001 not long after I’d stepped into the ombudsman role, I was cleaning out a bookcase in the ombudsman office and came across a Bible that was Phil’s, according to the filled-in “This Bible belongs to” line.
I called Phil to see if he wanted me to mail it to him. “Keep it,” he said. “You’ll need it.” And remember, he added (I don’t recall his exact words, but I remember his point): Jesus listened. So do good ombuddies.
Got a memory of Phil you'd like to share? Or a complaint or commendation about today's journalism?