sg, Hill Country journalism review Austin Greg Olds has resigned as editor of The Highlander, a weekly newspaper published in Marble Falls. Olds, who edited the Observer from 1967 to 1970, had been with the hill country paper for four years, and had been editor since February. The Highlander has become one of the state’s best weeklies in recent years. Under Olds’ predecessor as editor, Bill Anderson \(who left the paper this spring, first to handle the press for Sissy Farenthold’s campaign and subsequently to teach at the did what everyone except the Navy considered a bang-up job of covering Project Sanguine. Publisher Bill Bray sounds more like a fire-breathing journalist than the attorney-accountant he is when he talks about the paper: “I’ve seen this paper develop some pretty sensitive issues in this area … I don’t know of another weekly that’s had to go through what we’ve gone through, but people are learning that we’re going to treat all people and all institutions alike. When problems come up I think everybody in the community should know about them, whether they like the stories or not.” IT IS ironic, then, that Olds’ departure from the paper was precipitated by a disagreement with Bray over treatment of a controversial story. In late August, David Crowder reported on the Highlander’s front page that Burnet County Sheriff Wallace Riddell was holding in the county jail a man who had already been sentenced to two years at Huntsville. The sentence had been handed down in May, but Riddell had never arranged the prisoner’s transfer to the Texas 12 The Texas Observer Department of Corrections. The prisoner, Crowder said, was serving as “cook, errand boy, and chauffeur” for the sheriff. Crowder closed his story by relating that Riddell had threatened to ” ‘put [his] ass in jail” while Crowder was working on the story. The following week, Bray had Olds print a “PubliSher’s Statement” in the space usually used for editorials. Bray began by saying that the story had “stirred possibly more controversy, bitterness, divisiveness and bred more misconceptions” than any other in the paper’s history, and that it was therefore “deserving of comment.” He called the story “very thoroughly researched” in its description of the jail situation, but took exception to its failure to explain the “reason these circumstances existed, the WHY of the news story.” And he concluded that “to the extent these relevant circumstances were not fully developed in last week’s’ news story, The Highlander failed to meet its news reporting responsibilities.” Bray devoted about half of his statement to explaining the “relevant circumstances” namely, the illness of the sheriff’s wife, who had been accustomed to “buying and preparing all the food, serving three meals a day to all inmates, taking care of the laundry, and cleaning and maintaining the jail facilities.” The sheriff, Bray said, was simply using the prisoner to perform necessary tasks that given the jail’s budget and Riddell’s reluctance to ask the county commissioners for help would not have gotten performed otherwise. And Bray pointed out that Crowder had used only one sentence to explain Riddell’s reasons. BRAY ALSO took Crowder and Olds to task for publishing the account of Riddell’s hostility toward the reporter, both because it had “no relevance or bearing on the subject matter” and because “many people . . . often say things in anger they really do not mean or believe in.” The publisher closed by pledging that “anything of general significance or relevance to part or all of the Highland Lakes community will receive news treatment,” and that no consideration would be given to the popularity of news items. But that was after he had said it was unfortunate that Riddell’s threat had been published, since the quote had “clouded” the paper in “an unreasonable emotional reaction fraught with resentment.” That satisfied neither Olds nor Crowder: each took issue with Bray in columns on the facing page. Olds said, “Bray’s apology erodes the confidence that our readers can have that this newspaper will continue in the future to call them as it sees them,” as well as undercutting reporters’ ability to write without “looking over their shoulders.” Crowder called the apology “an insult to the intelligence and perceptiveness of our readers,” and “subversive of the principles of journalism and destructive of the reputations and morale” of reporters. And the reporter specifically questioned Bray’s news judgment in the matters of Riddell’s threat and the “why” of the story. Olds referred pointedly to a story he had done in 1971 on the belief of area poor folks that they could not receive hospital treatment because they were poor. At the time, Olds said, he was called down on the front page of the Highlander by Bray’s father, the former publisher who still writes for the paper. But this summer, he said, he was vindicated when “Bill Bray .. . reported that a woman almost literally had a baby on the steps of the Burnet [County] Courthouse ‘because she mistakenly believed she would not be admitted to Sheppard Memorial Hospital.’ ” Now he was being challenged again, Olds said: “My publisher has made it difficult, and perhaps impossible, for me to remain any longer on the staff of this newspaper that I love.” Two weeks later, Olds resigned. He told the Observer that his tenure as editor had been a “continual tug-of-war” with ‘Bray for control of the news columns. “I think it was a personality conflict,” he said, “but at the bottom is a principle.” To Olds, the principle an editor’s control over the paper, free from the fear of public chastizing by the publisher was worth resigning over. Bray says the only pressure he put on Olds was to keep the paper moving during a reorganization early this year. “There were more meetings between myself and the news staff in that period of time than in the history of the paper,” the publisher said. His involvement in the news columns, he says, consists of the advice he has given three times since he bought the paper in 1969 to reporters who have come to him asking for it. Asked about his willingness to back up reporters on controversial stories, Bray responded, “I’ll stand behind them as long as they meet minimum Highlander news reporting standards.” But he also volunteered the opinion that Olds did not exercise sufficient control over material: “We had stories going straight on back [to be set in type] .” In particular, Bray said, Olds failed to “help out new staff members” like Crowder, who is the “most energetic” reporter he’s ever seen but has a “lack of experience in the area.” No one knows exactly where the Highlander will go from here. Crowder is still on the staff, as is Pauline Edwards, the associate editor and reporter who wrote a fond farewell to Olds. John Moore, the third “new” staffer who came aboard with Olds, is now editor. In his first column, editor Moore told readers, “Before taking this position, I asked and received from Bray assurances of independence for this newspaper’s editorial functions and a guarantee of final authority on questions concerning the practice of journalism. I intend to exercise these prerogatives.” J.F.