"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Reflections on the honors of friendships and Oklahoma journalism

The overwhelmed old professor's dazed look.
It's been a week since the Oklahoma Press Association honored me with the H. Milt Phillips award and I've found myself reflecting on what made that possible. I'd written about it earlier, Walking with Giants.
I used some of those comments in my brief speech last Saturday night, somewhat stunned by the respect of a standing ovation, the comments of OPA President Robby Trammell, and the well-wishes of many friends. 
Wth OPA Prez Robby Trammell.
And since then, I've sort of been overwhelmed by the comments on social media from other press people, and from generations of current and former students at both UCO and OSU, and from emails from academic colleagues at UCO.
I wanted to write about it, without sounding too narcissistic,  and if it does, just excuse me for thanking so many people. I also wanted a digital record of this event on my blog, which is sort of a diary, a history. 
There's a humbling sense of satisfaction in having touched, and been touched, by so many wonderful people.
With friend Ray Lokey
What really sunk in  this week is that friendships, professional and personal, are treasured honors. I've been fortunate to work in both journalism and as a professor, combining two great careers. My wife Susan summed it up, I think, on Facebook: "...TC has dedicated his career to newspapers, journalism students, and the advancement of his field in the state of Oklahoma." Among those friends was Ray Lokey, publisher of the Johnston County Capital Democrat at Tishomingo.
Following is what my long time friend and fellow journalist Steve Booher wrote, which was adapted for Trammell's introduction.  Steve is kind, and embellishes the facts a little like every great storyteller,  so he actually makes me sound good.  I'm thankful.
Two older newspaper friends
"Terry and I go way back… before cell phones, before the Internet, and we both experienced the not-so-good old days when hot and cold referred to water faucets, not the method used to print newspapers. But it would be a mistake to equate Terry's decades of experience with his physical age. He's always been young at heart; that's why he relates so well with those of us in the AARP age bracket as well as those we label today's millennials.
    "My first encounter with the younger Mr. Clark came when I took a job with the Duncan Banner in the summer of 1974. I'd spent about five years honing my craft at a Kansas daily and an Oklahoma weekly, and was grateful for an opportunity to work for Harrington Wimberly, his son-in-law Al Hruby, and legendary editor Callaway Buckley at the Banner. What I didn't know was that I was replacing a young man who couldn't be replaced. Terry spent his time at the Banner developing contacts throughout southern Oklahoma; contacts that eventually led to his partnership with Donald Morrison in owning and operating the little country weekly a few miles south of Duncan, the Waurika News-Democrat.
   "It didn't take me long to realize that I couldn't clone myself into a thinner and more personable Terry Clark. But luckily, I was smart enough to stop by Waurika and get to know the guy who had endeared himself to Banner readers north-south from Rush Springs to the Red River, and east-west from tiny Loco, Okla. to Lawton. He welcomed me, not only giving me advice on who I needed to know in order to service readers in an unfamiliar territory, but also much-needed information on how to keep his former bosses at the Banner – now my employers – placated. He didn't have to do that, but those of you who have met Terry, either personally or through his column in The Publisher, know that practically nothing is off limits when it comes to his sharing of insight into the newspaper industry. Although the Banner's circulation dwarfed that at Waurika, Terry was secure in knowing that the new kid on the block stood no chance of stealing away readers from the News-Democrat.
Steve is a consummate storyteller
  "We found ourselves coming together on Friday nights in the Fall of '74. We both knew that coverage of Oklahoma high school football was essential to developing and keeping small-town newspaper subscribers. After a couple of games, I began asking Terry which game he planned to cover. Had I been a little more experienced, I would have made sure to pick an area team where Terry wouldn't be on the sidelines. But it was too much fun meeting each other 30 minutes or so before game time, so we could share our weekly newspaper gossip.
   "Today, when greeting each other at OPA functions, we still bring up the days we spent covering high school football. At some point, we'll have to discuss and correct each other about which southern Oklahoma teams – Marlow, Comanche, Rush Springs or Waurika – were playing each other the night that the temperature was near zero, the wind was howling at 30 miles per hour, 55-gallon drums of burning wood were placed along the sidelines to warm players, and one school chose to drive its bus onto the center of the frozen field and unload players just in time for the kickoff… hoping to gain an advantage.

  "Terry was one of the first to arrive at my retirement reception a couple of years ago and one of the last to leave. Always on the lookout for a story, he jumped at the chance to mention the reception cake, designed as the front page of the Cherokee newspaper, in his next Publisher column. Like you, I always turn to Terry's column when the Publisher arrives each month. We all treasure a mention from Terry about one of our headlines, a particularly well written lead, or a new design improvement. We want his acceptance, knowing that it comes without prejudice, with only the goal of striving to make us better journalists.
     "Newspapers – particularly rural Oklahoma newspapers – have a friend watching over them as they struggle from day-to-day and week-to-week to produce a quality product. Thank goodness his advice is always free. He would tell you that's about what it's worth. Not true, Terry, and by the way, I think it was Comanche vs. Marlow that cold November night in 1974."

Susan and I celebrating with H. Milt Phillips
And for the record, here's a version of what I said that night. It was briefer and not as eloquent as Steve's, Robby's or Beachy Musselman award- winner Andy Rieger's.  I'm blessed to walk with these people.
   "An ancient journalist got the greatest scoop--the one on one interview of all time.
    "The old journalist was Moses, who interviewed God. He wrote a beautiful 10-word lead, and he turned it into a little book you've probably all heard  of-- 'Genesis'.
    "In that little book he writes, 'There were giants in the earth in those days.' King James Version translation is 'people of renown, power, influence.'
    "When I look at all the people who have been honored with the Milt Phillips awards, I know there are still giants in the earth.
    I never dreamed. I'm humbled and dumbfounded to be included with this giants--I'm proud to have known and to know about 25 of them, and you, and count you as friends.
    I'm especially aware that only two other non-active newspaper people have been selected. Ben Blackstock, and the only other professor, Dr. Harry Heath, my friend and last mentor. They forgot more about journalism than I know. Wow. Giants.
    "Mark Thomas told me yesterday that I still didn't have the award. I guess I was the "presumptive" award winner. Who thought up that word? "Assumptive" would better fit our anatomy.
    "It's a long way from the Waurika News-Democrat grad school of journalism, interning by walking the sidelines in rain with huge battery back and plastic over the flash along with Steve Booher. Then I'd go back in the darkroom pushing Tri-x film for a grainy image.
    "My wife Susan jokes that I refer to you as "my people. " It occurs to me that I first attended an OPA  convention 40 years ago, when we won our first Sweepstakes award. I'm still proud to be a newspaper man, most at home here and with students. I have a great job, working with newspapers, but not having to make deadline, and working with students.
    "No honor is awarded to a single individual. There are too many to thank, but I have to mention Waurika partner Don Morrison. I thank OPA, each of you, about 3000 students, my families, my children and wife for putting up with me.
    "You made me what I am…it's your fault, as another doctor once wrote, by the name of Seuss:
    'Look what we found in the park in the dark. We will take him, home. We will call him Clark.'
    "A father in law once quipped, 'Don't park in the dark with Clark.' Too late.
    "Thank you so much. This is a treasure."


  1. This column is a treasure, Dr. Terry Clark. Congratulations on your H. Milt Phillips Award that is so well deserved.