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Television, the Hamer Way: Father-son tandem of Dave Hamer and Roger Hamer own combined 76 years in the TV news industry 


Television, the Hamer Way

Father-son tandem of Dave Hamer and Roger Hamer own combined 76 years in the TV news industry 

 

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the June 2019 edition of the New Horizons

Outside of Mike and Chris Wallace, there may not be another father-son tandem in broadcast journalism history with the pedigree and longevity of Omaha’s own Dave and Roger Hamer.

Retired television newsman Dave Hamer. 89. enjoyed a 1953 to 1991 career distinguished by many firsts. He was the first journalist to work at all three major Omaha network affiliates. He was America’s first local TV journalist to file stories from Vietnam. He was the first civilian reporter to fly a mission with the U.S. Air Force’s airborne command and control center, Looking Glass.

He covered the horror and hysteria of the Starkweather murder spree. As a street reporter-photographer, he  covered storms, accidents, riots, political rallies and athletic events. He wrote-produced newscasts and documentaries, He captured the return to Omaha Beach of a Heartland veteran who survived D-Day. He gave back to his profession as president of the Omaha Press Club, the Nebraska News Photographers Association and the National Press Photographers Association. He taught TV news at UNO and co-chaired the annual News Video Workshop at the University of Oklahoma.

He’s been honored for his contributions to the field as an inductee in the Omaha Press Club’s Journalists of Excellence Hall of Fame and the Nebraska Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.

Roger Hamer, 61, never intended following the family trade yet his 38-year TV news career now equals that of his father, Roger creates packages that see him do photography, reporting, editing. He also produces. He succeeded his father as a teacher at UNO. He, too..has earned much peer recognition for his work, including an Edward R. Murrow Award. He is well on his way to joining his father as a lifetime achievement honoree.

They have a combined 76 years in the business. Their professional paths formally intersected once, in 1991, when Roger, who began at KMTV, joined WOWT, where Dave worked his final decade. Roger is still there today.

“I kind of backed into the business. He never pressured me,” Roger said of his father.

“I don’t think I ever tried to talk you out of it either,” Dave told hm. “No, you never did,” Roger replied.

“i’ve been fortunate to always be surrounded by smart people very good at what they do. Of course, this guy,” Roger said, indicating his father, “helped me a lot when I was starting out. We would have lunch breaks in the edit booths at 3 (KMTV) and 6 (WOWT). I’d show him tapes and he’d critique them. We’d talk how to do stories. I learned a lot that way. He let me pick his brain. He was always generous in dealing with me.”

Then there came the workshop his father put on for newcomers and veterans.

“You don’t know how you’re going to act when your dad pops your videotape in and plays it in front of all these people and comments on it,” Roger recalled. “I hoped he was going to be as nice as he was when we were alone in the edit booths. But it was something along the lines of, ‘If this guy came in and wanted a job, I’d tell him to sell shoes,’ It was like the air in a balloon going out.

“But that was the best thing that could have happened because you need a kick in the pants now and then. The effort wasn’t there that he expected and that inspired me. It gave me a clue I could do better.”

 

Image result for dave hamer

 

By the time Roger established himself, TV technology transitioned from film to video. It’s since gone to satellite uplinks and digital streaming.

“Now he’s shooting live shots alone with a tiny camera,” Dave marveled.

“No truck, no cables, no nothing,” Roger confirmed.

“As long as you’re in range of a cell tower, you can send a live picture anywhere,” Dave said, “It staggers my imagination.”

“There’s an app on my phone called TVU Anywhere,” Roger said. “All I have to do is to call into the station. They pull me up – and we’re on. It’s instantaneous.”

“I try to avoid saying, I wish we had that back when I was in TV,” Dave said, “but I do wish we had that. But what goes along with this is that you’re under more pressure.”

“Yeah,” Roger said, “the technology is phenomenal, but it’s a blessing and a curse. The blessing is you can be live in a moment. The curse is the technology far exceeds our human capability of gathering information.”

Then there’s the rabbit hole of Google search results.

“With this avalanche of information you have access to, it can be overwhelming,” Roger said. “You have to determine when to stop because information overload can set in. There comes a point when you have to pull back and say, Okay, I know what I need to know.”

Roger’s grateful to have learned from a master like his father. “He’s a pioneer.”

A Wayne, Nebraska native, Dave Hamer segued from taking still photos in his hometown to stringing for KVTV in Sioux City. The eye he developed for composing portraits helped him transition to moving images.

A generation later his son Roger went from taking photos for the UNO Gateway and Papillion Times to breaking in at KMTV.

“The difficult part of going into motion (photography) was coming up with a closer,” Dave said. “You’ve told the story, but you have to have something at the end to cap it. You need the exclamation point.”

“Even now I struggle with closes.” Roger acknowledged.

They both love storytelling

“Every story’s got to have a beginning, middle and end. That’s utmost in television news,” Dave said. “You don’t just leave it hanging out there. I don’t think anybody ever told me how to do that. I just naturally fell into it.”

Both learned to cut in the camera.

Telling a story you pitched is preferred. “I had, and I think Roger has, the freedom to go to the front office and say, ‘Hey, this is a helluva story, We ought to do it.'”

Any excuse to get out of the newsroom.

“The daily routines never appealed that much to me,” Dave said. Same for Roger, who likes being “free from a desk” and “someone looking over my shoulder.”

Creativity and ineginuity come in handy on assignment.

“You run into situations you didn’t expect,” Dave said, “and you have to think on your feet, improvise and go with the flow. We always used to say, Have in mind where the story’s going to go but don’t be locked in because things will change. You’ll find better stuff than you imagined.”

When revisiting perennials, such as the winter’s first snowfall or spring flooding, Roger said, “the challenge is to make it  different from the story before or different from what your competition’s doing.”

“That’s the fun part of it.”

Then there’s following your instincts and, as Dave said, “making your own luck” by being where the action’s at and seeing-capturing what’s happening around you.

The year Roger was born, 1957, his father helped launch Omaha’s KETV on the air.

“I had been there only a week,” Dave said. “There were only four of us in the news department. Six days a week were the norm. Sometimes Sunday, too, It was a challenge and great responsibility, but also fun. You had to do everything – shoot it, write it, maybe voice it.”

He left KETV for KMTV, where he worked the bulk of his career and where his colleagues included future network stars Floyd Kalber and Tom Brokaw.

“What his generation did set the groundwork for what we do today,” Roger said admiringly. “The whole idea of visual storytelling – of stories that are concise, make sense, have impact, elicit emotion and are accurate.

“Today, I think we’ve lost a little bit of that desire to find out as much as we can and make it as accurate as possible. In the rush to get things on the air NOW, we don’t always have the information to back it up exactly.”

“That’s a helluva challenge.” said Dave.

Adding to it is an ever more competitive environment.

“Now,” Roger said, “it’s Channel 7 tweeted this or Channel 3 tweeted that. Personally, I don’t care because I live by what I learned from old pros Steve Murphy and Mark Gautier – ‘I don’t care about being first, I care about being right.’ That doesn’t seem to exist like it used to.

“It’s a matter of feeding the beast” – otherwise known as the 24/7 news cycle. “You have to do all this social media stuff my father’s generation didn’t have to worry about or deal with.”

When Dave Hamer started, there were just two newscasts per day. “and even with that and the technology being so much slower,” he recalled, “we were still pressed for time.” “I wrote for nine years the six and ten o’clock newscasts on Channel 3. You barely got six o’clock on the air before you started writing the ten o’clock. You were always up to the wire.”

Early news pioneers didn’t have access to the vast amounts of video-on-demand content Roger Hamer and his colleagues have at the ready on devices.

“It would take us three or four days,” Dave said.

Today’s constant content demands and deadlines can be exhausting.

“You just don’t have the longevity of people in the field   anymore,” Roger said. “People get burned out.”

Professionals with his equivalent experience in the biz, are “getting fewer and fewer,” he said, “and it bothers me because I don’t see the next wave of lifers coming up – and I wonder about that.”

Image result for roger hamer wowt

 

Oddities and happy accidents are bound to happen over careers as long as the Hamers. Once. Roger shot news footage of a pileup on an ice-covered section of Leavenworth Street south of downtown. “We sent it out to NBC,” he said. A couple weeks later the video showed up in an SNL skit.

“‘They pirated my video for entertainment purposes. It took a couple months, but I got 750 bucks out of them and gave them a tongue-lashing. How do you know people didn’t die in that crash? That blurring of the line between entertainment and news shouldn’t happen. Once you send video somewhere you don’t have any control over what happens to it. But even if i don’t send it, somebody else will. Many different people have access to my video than ever before.”

Standard protocol is for networks to ask local affiliates to provide video.

“Sometimes it was a bother because I’d be working on my piece for the six o’clock and they’d want something right now,” Dave said. “You would do everything you could to get it there.”

“It just may not be right now,” Roger said. “I’m not going to send it to them until we air it. My obligation is to my station first.”

Dave once fielded an NBC request for footage of a blizzard raging in Nebraska. They needed about a minute’s worth. He dutifully shot the storm.

“The network’s Huntley-Brinkley newscast switched to Omaha live. I was on the phone with the producer from New York. He told us when to roll the film. We’d built it logically to show the storm getting worse and worse. Well, the last shot came up and the film broke. We were on live coast-to-coast and I was like, Oh, my God. The producer comes on and says, ‘Great job, Omaha, Man. what a storm I couldn’t see anything in that last shot.’ We never told him.”

Memorably, Dave Hamer scooped the networks with his 1962 Vietnam reporting.

“The French had been kicked out in 1954. There was very little American involvement until about ’61 when we sent military advisers over. In April ’62 the first Nebraskan was killed in Vietnam – Army Special Forces Sergeant Wayne Marchand from Plattsmouth. He was wounded and captured in a firelight with the Viet Cong, then taken off and killed.

“We ran the wire story on the air. That was all we knew. Our general manager said, ‘What the hell was that all about? How come we’ve got people in – where is that place again? Within a month I was there because the front office said this is a story that should be told.”

Hamer and writer-producer Bob Fuller went as a two-man team.

“We did Marchand’s story, but while we were there we covered everything else we could find. We even did stories on Vietnam’s agricultural economy.”

The reporters stuck to a strategy.

“The first thing we did when we got in Saigon was check the overnight police reports for bombings, rocket fire at the airport and such to know what the hell was going on.

“We carried Department of Defense clearance paperwork that we never had to show. We had orders that allowed us to travel on military transport. If we couldn’t get military transport, we did what we could, even going by pedicab for God’s sake. Several times we hired a car with a driver. Sometimes we hired an interpreter. We could go anywhere we wanted. We checked in with the press office in Saigon when we got there and checked out when we left, They didn’t know where we were those three weeks. We were all over the country enmeshed in what was going on every day.”

Hamer and Fuller quickly learned U.S. involvement was larger than reported.

“There were 5,000 Americans in-country.. We went on helicopter support missions. Americans were flying planes and helicopters carrying South Vietnamese troops. The rule was fire only if fired upon,”

The entire western press corps in Vietnam then, he said, consisted of New York Times, AP and UPI correspondents, “and two guys from Omaha.”

“We had the whole story to ourselves. We did four half-hour documentary segments.”

The series was cited for special commendation by the Radio Television Council.

Fast forward three decades when Dave’s last major assignment took him to another war zone to cover Nebraska military personnel in Saudi Arabia.

Over time, he had offers to join the network in  Washington DC, New York and Paris, but he and his wife Verla deferred each time. They liked Omaha.

Roger Hamer “tested the waters” in other markets but stayed put.

Father and son “competed” when Dave was at WOWT and Roger at KMTV. They were briefly at WOWT at the same time but never covered a story together.

Roger said there’s much they share in common. “One thing we share is we’re not the story – the people are the story. Nobody wants to see us. They want to see the people living the experience.” They each derive satisfaction, he said, “just knowing that we did a good job and put a good story together.” “You get those four, five, six stories a year where you go, I nailed it. That’s what keeps you going.”

“We show up with a camera and people stop what they’re doing because they know you’re going to tell their story. It’s important to them,” Dave said.

“You have to be genuinely curious and caring and want to be involved in your community, and in telling the stories of its people,” said Roger, who, like his father, is grateful for the many fine collaborators he’s worked with. “It’s wonderful to work with people as passionate as you are and who are dedicated to their craft.”

A love for teaching is something else they share. “I found teaching very rewarding,” Dave said. “The satisfaction of sharing what you know and seeing the light bulb go off is a big part of it,” Roger said.

Not to be forgotten, Roger added, “We’ve both been blessed being married to very strong, supportive women that understood what we do and tolerated it.”

Dave and his late wife Verla were married 61 years. “Verla was interested in what we did and was our best promoter,” he said. The couple lost their other son, Dennis, to a coronary occlusion in 2002.

The quiet-spoken, TV news trailblazer gets choked up talking about family. “I’m very proud of this guy,” he said, clasping Roger’s knee. “Roger is his own man, has made his own reputation. and lives it every day on every story. He earned the Edward R. Murrow Award. I was never even close.”

Roger appreciates what his father’s given him – from leading Scouts canoe trips to being “a great mentor.” “He taught me that if I’m not trying, if I’m not pushing myself, if I’m not putting product out I’m happy with, then it’s time to walk away.”

There may not be a third-generation Hamer in the field  “Never say never,” cautioned Dave, a grandfather of two. Meanwhile, Dave writes a newsletter, Window on 53rd Street. he shares with family and friends. Like the man, it’s a warm, witty, sincere, humble take on a life         well-lived and a career well-earned.

Though louder and more outspoken than his father, Roger is a mensch among newsmen just like his old man. A passing of the torch has occurred in another way. Where Roger used to be asked, Are you any relation to Dave Hamer?, now Dave is asked, Are you related to Roger Hamer?

“Roger and me reversed roles.” Dave said. “I’m very proud to be asked if I’m related to Roger.”

“I’ve always been proud of my dad, ” Roger said. “He’s my hero.”

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

A Man for All Reasons: Legacy Omaha Investor John Webster Was a Go-To Guy for The Reader

March 10, 2019 Leave a comment

The Reader newspaper is celebrating 25 years with a special anniversary March 2019 issue. This is one of two articles I have in that milestone edition. In commemorating the paper’s quarter century serving the community, we’re noting some behind the scenes figures and events that helped get the paper this far. This piece profiles legacy Omaha investor John Webster, whose capital allowed publisher John Heaston to reacquire the paper and whose money and advice helped Heaston stabilize the operation through the economic downturn and the changing landscape for print media. Another Omaha investor who stepped up at the same time as Webster to aid The Reader was John Blazek, a social entrepreneur I profile in the second article. It takes a lot of talents and resources to put out a paper and it’s good to recognize some of the untold stories and unsung heroes who have a hand in making it reality. I didn’t know of Webster until I got the assignment to interview him. His role was eye-opening to me and I personally appreciate the way he assisted Heaston and bailed out the paper because I have been a Reader contributing writer for 23 of its 25 years. The bulk of my wide-ranging work as a journalist has been with the publication, where I have had something like a thousand or so pieces appear in its pages, including hundreds of cover stories. It’s been an eventful marriage filled with highs, lows, opportunities, adventures and all the usual stuff that attends a relationship that long-standing. I am glad to have some presence in this landmark edition and I look forward to being part of The Reader reaching new milestones over time.

 

A Man for All Reasons

Legacy Omaha Investor John Webster Was a Go-To Guy for The Reader

by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereaer.com)

 

Being from a legacy family carries expectations. Retired broadcaster John Webster, 70, grew up knowing he was part of a historical line. Even though making his own mark as a Webster was expected, it wasn’t a given.

“I’m a fifth generation in Omaha on my dad’s side and sixth generation on my mother’s, so we’ve been around for a while. I come from a great family. It’s one thing to come out of a good family, but if you don’t have the desire to do something with yourself, it’s just not going to happen,” said Webster, whose family was successful in investments and transportation.

Blessed with creative and enterprising genes, he made his biggest imprint as owner of Omaha radio station KEFM. He was also a director of Ash Grove Cement Company, a cement and cement kiln dust provider to the construction industry. Additionally, he’s served on numerous community boards and committees.

“I was heavily involved in the masonic organizations in Omaha. I got to meet people from all walks of life. That was a big part of how I formed myself.”

When Reader publisher John Heaston needed capital to buy back the paper and stabilize it in this disruptive media space, Webster became an investor. He kept a low profile doing it, which is the Webster way.

“My grandfather and father were big influences on me. As a family we’ve always been pretty private and quiet as to what we do with investments or philanthropy. I’ve followed suit.”

Webster attended Shattuck, a private boarding school in Faribault, Minnesota, when it was a military academy. He earned a business administration degree from Menlo College in Menlo Park, California. His interest in the radio business was stoked visiting a West Coast station.

“I became fascinated with the broadcast side of things. I thought it was terribly creative.”

Back in Omaha, the licenses of radio stations KEFM and KOIL were suspended after owner Don Burden ran afoul of the FCC in 1976.

“When the properties came up I thought this would be a thing I would enjoy doing for a living and I might be pretty good at,” Webster said. “My father and I and Joe Baker formed a small company to go after the licenses.

We thought nobody would want to file against us but

11 other groups did. We went through a seven-year comparative hearing process I wouldn’t wish on anybody. We thought we could serve the community as well as anyone else given our strong Omaha history.

“After seven years the FCC finally decided the same thing. We went on the air officially in 1983. We started from scratch and we built it. Joe Baker left and my father and I continued on and I basically ran the thing.”

He said a lesson he learned is that “you can’t be a broadcaster and be thin-skinned.”

After a nearly two-decade run as a local independent, Webster saw the competitive landscape change when the FCC opened ownership to unlimited stations and markets.

“I could see the writing on the wall that I wasn’t going to be able to compete with somebody that had many more stations and resources. I called a friend of mine who was a license station broker and said, ‘It’s time for me to get out.’ And I got out at the right time.”

Webster made a cool $10 million selling his profitable stations to Clear Channel.

“I think if I had waited six months it would have been a totally different game.”

He added, “If the FCC hadn’t changed things, I’d probably still be in broadcasting.”

He misses it, especially the people.

“When it’s all gone, there’s a vacuum.”

Other business opportunities have popped up, he said,

“but broadcasting was my bread and butter,” adding, “Being in the business and being able to grow the business through creativity and drive meant a lot to me.”

He served as president of the Nebraska Broadcasters Association and was instrumental in creating its charitable foundation. In 2001, he was inducted into the association’s Hall of Fame.

Besides owning his own specialty advertising company, his only other media foray was The Reader.

“I met John Heaston and I liked him, and I liked what he was doing. John Blazek and I got involved as investors.

It was interesting.”

Webster appreciates the publisher’s entrepreneurial zeal. “I think a lot of John Heaston. He’s creative. He has worthwhile ideas. He pursues stories that maybe mainstream publishers wouldn’t lay a hand on. I think there’s something to be said for an alternative newspaper. It adds a different viewpoint.

“The Reader may not be the biggest operation, but I think it serves a very vital part in providing information to the Omaha community.”

Webster and Blazek’s infusion of cash helped The Reader through some tough times.

“It hasn’t been an easy road. It’s been a real struggle. It’s a real compliment to John Heaston that he stuck with it.”

Webster’s been there himself.

“When you own your own business the buck always stops at your desk,” he said. “You can’t blame it on anybody else.”

Satisfaction, he said, comes in direct proportion “to the degree that you can work things out and solve problems and continue to grow.”

Webster, who’s married with three adult children (a fourth died in 2015), keeps a wintertime residence in South Carolina, but Omaha remains home.

“I’ve always loved Omaha. I don’t think I could ever really cut my ties with the city or Nebraska.”

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

More Bang for His Buck: Social Entrepreneur John Blazek Helped Reset The Reader’s Course

March 10, 2019 Leave a comment

The Reader newspaper is celebrating 25 years with a special anniversary March 2019 issue. This is one of two articles I have in that milestone edition. In commemorating the paper’s quarter century serving the community, we’re noting some behind the scenes figures and events that helped get the paper this far. This piece profiles social entrepreneur John Blazek, an Omaha investor whose capital allowed publisher John Heaston to reacquire the paper and whose money and advice helped Heaston stabilize the operation through the economic downturn and the changing landscape for print media. Another Omaha investor who stepped up at the same time as Blazek to aid The Reader was John Webster, a former broadcast radio owner I profile in the second article. It takes a lot of talents and resources to put out a paper and it’s good to recognize some of the untold stories and unsung heroes who have a hand in making it reality. I didn’t know of Blazek until I got the assignment to interview him. His role was eye-opening to me and I personally appreciate the way he assisted Heaston and bailed out the paper because I have been a Reader contributing writer for 23 of its 25 years. The bulk of my wide-ranging work as a journalist has been with the publication, where I have had something like a thousand or so pieces appear in its pages, including hundreds of cover stories. It’s been an eventful marriage filled with highs, lows, opportunities, adventures and all the usual stuff that attends a relationship that long-standing. I am glad to have some presence in this landmark edition and I look forward to being part of The Reader reaching new milestones over time.

 

More Bang for His Buck

Social Entrepreneur John Blazek Helped Reset The Reader’s Course

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

Omaha investor John Blazek likes getting “a two-fer” when putting his money to work.

“I always figured why do something for just one reason when you can do things for more than one reason. It’s what I really enjoy. That’s why I’ve done everything I have in my career,” he said.

“I’m a really big believer that to whom much is given, much is required. You’ve got an obligation to try to help the other guy. That’s what makes life enriching.”

As a social entrepreneur, he’s started, acquired and sold businesses with this two-for-one goal in play. At some critical junctures in its history, even The Reader benefited from his strategy, as Blazek infused capital that allowed the paper to remain a viable alternative voice while netting him a return on investment.

“I like to leverage the things I do so it’s not just about me but also provides service to others.”

The Creighton University graduate is Entrepreneur in Residence at his alma mater, where he teaches entrepreneurship and real estate.

His multi-faceted career has encompassed being a pharmacist, executive, educator, real estate developer, philanthropist and mayoral cabinet member.

He served patients as a Kohll’s and Clarkson Hospital pharmacist. He created jobs as a home (Total HomeCare) and workplace healthcare provider (Wellcom). His Old Market and downtown real estate projects have reactivated old buildings, He, Mark Keffeler and Mike Moylan redeveloped the historic Paxton Hotel. Blazek’s an investor in The Jewell jazz club in Moylan’s Capitol District and a partner in the Prairie Hills residential-commercial real estate development.

Reared in a midtown Omaha working-class family, he learned early about leveraging resources. His World War II veteran father was a Union Pacific machinist. His homemaker mother worked part time as a Walgreens cashier. His immigrant grandparents laid a foundation anchored in high aspirations and strong values.

“I think every generation wants the next generation to better themselves,” he said, “but maintain the same values. I think lots of times as people better themselves, they lose some of those core values, which are what got them there.

“Probably the biggest thing I took from my growing upwas a really good work ethic. There’s plenty of people way smarter than me, but I will outwork anyone.”

This practicing Catholic’s faith is central to his life.

“I served as board president of Skutt Catholic High School and Catholic Charities. My wife and I sent our three daughters to Catholic grade schools, high schools and colleges.”

Blazek champions Omaha and its many opportunities.

“It’s all here. You’ve just got to roll up your sleeves and go after it.”

In the late 1990s, then-Omaha Mayor Hal Daub appointed Blazek to the city planning board. Later, as director of economic development, Blazek led the city’s charge to demolish the old Asarco lead refinery plant, whose decades of contamination resulted in East Omaha being declared a Superfund site. A public bond issue paved the way for construction of the convention center-arena and the creation of the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority (MECA), which he served on the first board of directors.

“That was a great experience,” Blazek said. “The convention center-arena has been a game-changer for the city in the entertainment and development it’s generated.”

An encounter with Reader publisher John Heaston, who was investigating the Asarco site, forged a bond.

“I thought he did a good job and was a fair journalist,” Blazek said of Heaston. “I gained a lot of respect for him and I enjoyed our relationship.”

By the early 2000s, Heaston, who had been bought out, was looking to buy The Reader back from then-owner Alan Baer. Heaston approached Blazek and another local investor, John Webster, to assist him.

“We put up the capital in order for John to do that,” Blazek said.

The investors also helped Heaston acquire El Perico newspaper.

In The Reader, Blazek saw an opportunity to make a profit and stabilize a struggling media entity.

“I thought the survival of the paper was important to the community. Certain things would not be covered if not for The Reader. It often brings up a social-justice voice that I think is healthy. If it were gone, I do think there would be a void.”

His estimation of Heaston has only grown.

“We all know the pressures on print media but John’s a survivor. He works his tail off. He’s a trencher who hung in there through the tough times. He added a digital imprint. He downsized the paper to a monthly. He changed as the times changed. Yet he’s kept the same journalistic principles in place.”

Blazek’s ownership interest was “more from a board-seat standpoint” offering “business advice and mentorship.” Despite the paper not always reflecting his views, he kept involved.

“John and I certainly didn’t agree on everything. I disagreed with a lot of the positions the paper took. But I never interfered with any editorial content.”

All along, the idea was to let Heaston eventually have the paper again all to himself.

“We negotiated an exit strategy where John acquired our interests back. We sold it back to him on an installment basis. John’s done a great job and we wanted to see him continue to do that. It’s kept the paper going and allowed him to stay on as publisher.”

The paper fully became Heaston’s again in 2017.

“I think John had a good year last year,” Blazek said, “so mission accomplished as far as I’m concerned.”

As for Blazek, he intends to finish a self-help book he’s writing and to pursue a doctorate in education.

“I’m open to other ventures as long as they support my direction of moving from ambition to meaning.”

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

An Omaha Star: Phyllis Hicks – The Publisher & the Newspaper She Never Meant to Run

March 10, 2019 Leave a comment

An Omaha Star: Phyllis Hicks

The Publisher & the Newspaper She Never Meant to Run

by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the March-April 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com/articles/an-omaha-star-phyllis-hicks/)

 

 

 

 

When the story of the city’s longest-running African-American-owned newspaper, The Omaha Star, is written, three women will dominate its 80-year narrative.

Founding publisher Mildred Brown ran the ship from 1938 until her death in 1989. Her niece Marguerita Washington (a career educator), who spent time working for her aunt growing up, succeeded her. Phyllis Hicks joined the paper in 2005 and took over more and more of its operations after Washington fell ill. Upon Washington’s 2016 death, Hicks officially became publisher and managing editor; in truth, she had been running things for some time.

Hicks—the last survivor of this troika of black women journalists—never intended getting so deeply involved with the paper. Brown was only an acquaintance and Hicks’ association with the Star was limited to reading and submitting news items to it. She only joined the staff as a favor to her mother, who was close to Washington. Hicks studied journalism in school, but besides writing occasional press releases for her work in the public and private sectors (including her coaching of the Stepping Saints drill team), she had nothing to do with the Fourth Estate.

Fate had other plans, and thus Hicks, like Brown and Washington before her, became the matriarchal face of the paper. She did it her way, too. Lacking the entrepreneurial and sartorial flair of Brown, Hicks nevertheless managed attracting enough advertisers to keep the Star afloat through troubled economic times and declining ad revenues and subscriptions. Without the publishing and academic background of Washington, Hicks still found ways to keep the paper relevant for today’s readers.

After more than a decade with the paper, Hicks—who turns 76 on March 7—is looking to step away from the paper due to her own declining health. She broke her ankle in 2017, and then, last year went to the hospital to be treated for pneumonia; she was discharged with a dysfunctional kidney requiring dialysis.

She is eager for someone to carry the Star torch forward. As this issue of Omaha Magazine went to press, a management transition involving the Mildred D. Brown Memorial Study Center was in progress.

Whatever the paper’s future, Hicks is glad to have been part of its legacy of strong black women. That legacy extends to her late mother, aunts, and grandmother (Emma Lee Agee-Sullivan)—all independent achievers from whom she drew much inspiration.

When Agee-Sullivan was young, she was a member of the church pastored by the Rev. Earl Little (Malcolm X’s father). Agee-Sullivan was with the Little family when a lynch mob came looking for Earl Little. The family hid him and covered for him, and the Littles fled Nebraska the next day. As an adult, Hicks says, Agee-Sullivan was active in the Baptist church and started the state’s first licensed, black-owned home daycare.

Hicks had aunts who worked in finance and another who was a championship golfer (who would have gone professional “if she had come at another time”), she says, adding that her paternal grandfather, the Rev. J. P. Mosley Sr., led a demonstration to integrate swimming pools in Chillicothe, Missouri, in 1954, and “built Mount Nebo Baptist Church from the ground up” in Omaha.

When the challenge of the Star or anything else presented itself, she was ready. “I just did it because it had to be done,” Hicks says.

She followed the path laid out by other “black women taking the leadership role.”

At a time when few black women owned businesses, Brown launched the Star only a year after moving to town. She originally worked for the city’s other African-American paper, The Guide. She left its employment for her startup, which competed against The Guide for advertisers and readers. The Star soon won out thanks to her entrepreneurial savvy and not-taking-no-for-an-answer grit. The publisher made her paper a bastion for civil rights and community pride.

Following Brown’s death in 1989, Washington took command. By the early 2000s, the
paper struggled.

Meanwhile, Hicks’ mother, Juanita, befriended Washington. When Juanita fell ill, Washington helped care for her to allow Hicks to manage the Stepping Saints. Then, when Juanita’s house got flooded, she stayed with Washington for six weeks.

“They kind of adopted each other and threw me in the mix,” Hicks says.

Hicks was retired but, at the urging of her mother, she offered to assist Washington at the Star. Hicks soon took on editorial and business duties.

“I went to do a little marketing for Marguerita, and I’ve been there ever since,” she says. “I discovered there was a lot of help she needed. The paper was in dire straits. And I just started doing some of everything.”

Along the way, Hicks and Washington grew close. “It was a growing relationship that became more of a personal one than a business one,” she says.

Together, they formed the Mildred D. Brown Memorial Study Center as a fundraising and scholarship vehicle.

As Washington’s health failed, Hicks became her caregiver and eventually power of attorney. By the time Washington died of multiple malignant brain tumors in 2016, Hicks transitioned the paper from a weekly to a biweekly as a cost-savings move. She also got the paper’s archives digitized online.

Hicks continued running the paper, she says, because “I just felt an obligation. When I take on something, I try to see it through.”

Woodcut of Phyllis Hicks by Watie White

The Star is believed to be the nation’s oldest African-American paper owned and operated by women. Through the Great Depression, the late ’60s riots, the 2008 economic collapse, the death of publishers, and declining print ad revenue, it has never ceased publication.

Hicks admires how Washington took up the mantle after Mildred Brown died.

“She wanted the paper to go on as a legacy to Mildred because Mildred put her all into the paper. Plus, Marguerita felt the paper needed to be in the community to allow the black community a voice. She felt the newspaper was another way to educate people.

“She made the ultimate sacrifice and put her life on hold to keep somebody else’s dream alive,” Hicks says.

With Washington and Brown as her models, she ensured the Star’s survival.

“I take satisfaction in knowing I kept it from going under because it was close to going under,” she says. “With some personal sacrifices, I’ve been able to keep the doors open and pay people’s salaries. I paid off allThe Omaha Star bills. There were several years of back taxes. All that’s been caught up to date.”

Hicks came to believe, as Brown and Washington did, the Star serves an important role in its “ability to tell it like it is in the community, without it having to be politically correct.”

Just don’t expect crime reporting.

“I’ve tried to keep the paper in the light that Marguerita and Mildred did in positive news,” she says. “We don’t report who got killed, we don’t report crime, we don’t report any of that, because there’s a mess of that being reported already. What we try to do is paint a bright picture of what’s going on in the community—people’s accomplishments. We try to put information out there that builds the community up as well as inspires the community.”

The Star’s long been home to strong voices—from Charlie Washington and Preston Love Sr. to Ernie Chambers and Walter Brooks—calling for change. For many black Omahans, including those living elsewhere, it remains a main conduit to their shared community.

Hicks wishes more young people used the paper as a resource and recognized its role in fighting injustice and championing black self-determination.

“It’s a legacy for them,” she says. “It’s a part of this community’s history, and it’s a vehicle for them to tell their stories. We invite young people to submit stories.”

The Star intersects with young people through internships it offers students and scholarships granted by the Study Center. Engaging with community youth has been a priority for Hicks for years.

Long before joining the Star, Hicks made her community mark as co-founder and director of the Salem Baptist Church Stepping Saints drill team. The team was originally organized in 1966 to perform at a single event. But Saints dancers and drummers wanted something permanent, so the group became a fixture in area parades and at Disneyland, Disney World, Knott’s Berry Farm, and many other attractions across the nation.

Hicks says, the last time she counted, the Saints had performed in 38 states and some 2,000 youths had cycled through the team’s ranks over time. Some veteran Saints have seen their children and grandkids participate, making it a multigenerational tradition.

The Saints celebrated 50 years in 2017. The team is still going strong. Even though Hicks no longer takes an active hand in things, she’s still the matriarch.

Just as she never meant for the Saints to be a long-term commitment, her Omaha Star gig turned into one. Her promise-keeping may be her enduring legacy.

“If I say I’m going to do something, then I’m going to try to see it to the end,” she says.

Hicks wants the paper to remain black-owned and managed and based in North Omaha, where its red brick building (at 2216 N. 24th St.) has landmark status on the National Register of Historic Places.


Visit theomahastar.com for more information.

This article first appeared in the March/April 2019 edition of 60PLUS in Omaha MagazineTo receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Commemorating Black History Month – Links to North Omaha stories (Part IV of four-part series)


Commemorating Black History Month

Links to North Omaha stories from 1998 through 2018

 

 
Articles on social justice, civil rights, race, history, faith, family, community, business, politics. education, art, music, theater, film, culture, et cetera

A weekly four-part series

Final week: Part IV – Soul food and soul sports

 

https://leoadambiga.com/2019/01/16/the-long-road-to…ear-as-a-bluejay

Charles Hall’s Fair Deal Cafe | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

 
https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/10/onepeachof-a-pitcherpeaches…
 

 

The Little Blog That Could


Being Jack Moskovitz, Grizzled Former Civil Servant and DJ, Now Actor and Fiction Author, Still Waiting to be Discovered

 

The Little Blog That Could

Eight years ago saw the full launch of this writer’s blog, Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories. In the span of that time this blog, whose link is https://leoadambiga.com. has received more than 750,000 views. Not bad for a non-monetized site that doesn’t utilize any SEO tools or analytics. For the most part, it’s just me posting my previously published journalism, though in recent years I have created some original content for the blog with my Hot Movie Takes and Hot Husker Takes.

My blog has more than 1,100 followers. I appreciate the interest and support from these followers. If you’re not among them, then I invite you to become one.

The simple idea behind the blog is to share my diverse work with wider audiences than the folks who might ordinarily see it in print or online.

The blog serves an important function by adding to my brand as a writer – “I write about people, their passions and their magnificent obsessions” – and creating an archive of my work. Just give it a visit and you’ll see within seconds, certainly minutes, how that tagline of passions and obsessions gets expressed in the stories posted there. The blog is heavy in arts, entertainment, culture. social justice, community and history subjects. There are lots of personality profiles.

The stories extend from the 1990s right on through today.

I also maintain a companion Facebook page, My Inside Stories (https://www.facebook.com/LeoAdamBiga), that features the same content and some unique content of its own. That Facebook page has more than 1,200 followers. Once again, I appreciate the interest and support and if you’re not among those followers, then please join in on the fun.

The blog and the page are best enjoyed by people who enjoy the written word and are looking for alternative content outside the mainstream.

The blog and page also highlight some of my activities as a film educator, presenter, programmer and as a book author.

On the business side, the sites provide work samplers for anyone in the market for written content. I am a writer for hire to produce everything from press releases, newsletters and scripts to articles, white papers and books. If you like what you read on the blog and the page, then let’s connect and talk about what project needs I can fulfill for you.

Contact me here, via email at leo32158@cox.net or by phone at 402-445-4666.

Let me share your passion or magnificent obsession with the world. Everyone has a story: Let me tell yours.

Commemorating Black History Month – Links to North Omaha stories (Part III of four-part series)

February 26, 2019 Leave a comment

Commemorating Black History Month

Links to North Omaha stories from 1998 to 2019

 

Articles on social justice, civil rights, race, history, faith, family, community, business, politics. education, art, music, theater, film, culture, et cetera

A weekly four-part series

This week: Part III – History, art, music, theater, film, culture, entertainment, society

 

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/11/25/cathy-hughes-for…g-the-status-quo

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/12/12/as-screen-vetera…-big-career-move

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/11/berthas-battle/ ‎

Burden of Dreams: The Trials of Omaha’s Black Museum | Leo Adam …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/burden-of-dreams-the-trials-of-omaha’s-black museum/

Great Plains Black History Museum Asks for Public Input on its …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/great-plains-black-history-museum-asks-for- public-input-on-its-latest-evolution/‎

Long and Winding Saga of the Great Plains Black History Museum …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/long-and-winding-saga-of-the-great-plains-black- history-museum-takes-a-new-turn-2/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/30/omahas-sweet-six…master-battalion

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/the-tuskegee-airmen/

https://leoadambiga.com/2019/02/09/omahas-jazz-past…ge-at-the-jewell/

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/11/25/funny-yet-seriou…ber-ruffin-story

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/12/08/putting-it-on-th…in-late-night-tv/

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/04/30/north-omaha-rupt…f-playfest-drama/

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/04/24/stage-screen-sta…e-omaha-symphony

soul sisters – The Reader

http://thereader.com/visual-art/soul_sisters/

Camille Metoyer Moten | Omaha Magazine

http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/camille-metoyer-moten/

Camille Metoyer Moten: With a song in her heart | Leo Adam …

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/12/26/camille-metoyer-moten-with-a

Art imitates life as themes in play cut closely for its stars – The Reader

http://thereader.com/visual-art/art_imitates_life_as_themes_in_play_cut_closely_for_its_stars/

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/02/18/blacks-of-distinction-2/

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/01/blacks-of-distinction-ii/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/05/after-night-of-v…s-venue’s-future/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/11/20/finding-forefath…limpse-of-future/

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/09/actor-kelcey-wat…es-of-separation/

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/04/22/john-beasley-living-his-dream/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/06/john-beasley-making-his-stand

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/02/01/john-beasley-act…nt-believability

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/03/john-beasley-and…kshop-and-beyond

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/30/tired-of-being-t…-beasley-theater

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/get-your-jitney-on

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/29/polishing-gem-be…gem-of-the-ocean

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/14/what-happens-to-…aisin-in-the-sun

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/10/04/michael-beasley-…-steel-magnolias/

Life comes full circle for singer Carol Rogers | Leo Adam …

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/08/28/life-comes-full-circle-for

Sisters of song: Kathy Tyree connects with Ella Fitzgerald …

http://thereader.com/visual-art/sisters_of_song_kathy_tyree_connects_with_ella_fitzgerald/

Black Women in Music | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/11/black-women-in-music

Now Wasn’t That a Time? Helen Jones Woods and the …

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/17

Kia Corthron | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/category/kia-corthron

Bomb Girl Zedeka Poindexter Draws on Family, Food and …

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/11/zedeka-poindexter-draws-on..

Lit Fest Brings Author Carleen Brice Back Home Flush with …

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/02/lit-fest-brings-author-carleen

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/26/novel’s-mother-d…it-to-the-screen

Wanda Ewing Exhibit: Bougie is as Bougie Does | Leo Adam …

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/12/08/wanda-ewing-exhibit-bougie-is

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/17/color-me-black-a…ications-of-race/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/22/frederick-browns…ing-on-of-legacy

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/28/artist-bernard-s…-revival-worship/

Jana Murrell: Working Towards a New Standard of Beauty …

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/04/jana-murrell-working-towards-a

Gospel Playwright Llana Smith Enjoys Her Big Mama’s Time

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/07/gospel-playwright-llana-smith

Quiana Smith’s Dream Time Takes Her to Regional, Off …

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/01/23/quiana-smiths-dream-time-2

Jill Scott Interview | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/08/interview-with-jill-scott

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/05/a-woman-under-the-influence/

Crowns | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/tag/crowns/‎

Tiffany White-Welchen delivers memorable performance in …

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/14/tiffany-white-welchen-delivers

Enchantress “LadyMac” Gets Down | Leo Adam Biga’s My …

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/enchantress-ladymac-gets-down

Preston Love, His Voice Will Not Be Stilled | Leo Adam Biga’s My …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/preston-love-his-voice-will-not-be-stilled/‎

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/05/preston-love-a-t…late-hepcat-king/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/mr-saturday-night

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/omaha-blues-and-…end-preston-love

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/preston-love-192…ed-at-everything

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/01/hard-times-ring-…uthor-laura-love/

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/04/27/laura-love-omaha…r-gal-comes-home/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/19/preston-love-jr-…e-man-chautauqua

Cool Cat Billy and the Sportin’ Life | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/01/sportin-life/‎

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/puttin-on-the-ritz/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/28/soon-come-nevill…hing-north-omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/12/27/gabrielle-union-…-from-the-camera

Gabrielle Union having it all between her own series, new …

http://thereader.com/news/gabrielle_union_having_it_all_between_her_own_series_new_film_producing_mar/

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/09/29/gabrielle-union-…ary-half-the-sky/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/21/the-gabrielle-union-chronicles

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/21/gabrielle-union-a-star-is-born

Dope actress Yolonda Ross is nothing but versatile – from …

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/10/18/dope-actress-yolonda-ross-is

Yolonda Ross adds writer-director to actress credits – The …

http://thereader.com/visual-art/yolonda_ross_adds_writer-director_to_actress_credits/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/yolonda-ross-takes-it-to-the-limit

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/09/13/tim-christian-ch…film-in-nebraska

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/11/29/vincent-alstons-…nd-love-all-over

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/09/master-of-many-m…ms-jason-fischer/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/01/an-inner-city-ex…range-of-stories/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/01/art-from-the-streets/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/20/omowale-akintund…new-cinema-voice/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/21/deconstructing-w…ost-racial-world

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