Jon Mark Beilue: A journalist’s joy in telling stories about everyday people

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Jon Mark Beilue retired in 2018 after 37 years with the Amarillo Globe-News. He is a deacon at First Baptist Church in Amarillo. From deep in the heart of one Texan, he shares his background and thoughts on being a Christian in the marketplace. To suggest a Baptist General Convention of Texas-affiliated leader to be featured in this column, or to apply to be featured yourself, click here.

Background

What are you doing in retirement?

Since retiring, I have finished one book—the second one on a collection of columns—am working on another book on the career of a longtime attorney in Amarillo, and hope to finish another book soon on just-retired Canyon High School girls basketball coach Joe Lombard. With 1,379 wins and 19 state titles, he is the most successful high school girls basketball coach in history and also a strong Christian. I also write weekly feature stories on campus life for West Texas A&M University in Canyon.

Where did you grow up?

From second grade on, I grew up in the farm community of Groom, 45 miles east of Amarillo. My stepfather returned to his roots to farm with his brother and father eight miles east of Groom. My mother was a high school English teacher.



I was a child of the 1960s and ’70s, living a full life on Route 66 where you often had to make your own fun. Groom was a great place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit there.

How did you come to faith in Christ?

One of the blessings of my life, not realized until much later, was to grow up with two strong Christian parents. My mother was the church pianist, and my dad later led the singing at First Baptist Church in Groom.

I was 8 years old in 1966. I had felt the tug of Jesus in my heart. I met with our pastor James Coffman as he went over salvation and profession of faith with me. During a revival very soon after, I came forward. My mother quit playing “Just As I Am” to join me and the pastor. She was crying. I thought: “Why is she crying? I thought she’d be happy?”



Later in high school, I was at a youth rally in Hereford. Dr. Gerald Mann preached one of the nights we were there. There were times I wondered if I truly came to faith in Christ or if I just was scared about an eternity away from God. I rededicated my life that night in Hereford.

Where were you educated, and what degrees did you receive?

I graduated from Texas Tech in 1981 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism and a minor in history. I changed my major about three times but ended up coming back to my original major—journalism.

Life in journalism

How did you get started in journalism?

I began with the Globe-News in 1981, right out of college as a sportswriter on a 12-person staff. In 1989, I was named sports editor, a position I held for the next 17 years, the longest tenure ever in that position at the newspaper.


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In 2006, management created the position of general columnist and asked if I wanted the change. I did, and wrote about 1,700 columns over the next 12 years. Through all of that, I met my wife Sandy in the singles department at First Baptist Church in Amarillo.

I thought I would be at the Globe-News for two years and then head off to greener pastures. I had a number of opportunities to leave, and agonized over several, but ultimately chose just to water the grass where I was. In the clear reflection after my career, there was no doubt it was God’s voice directing me for the plans he had where I was.

Why do you feel called into journalism?

We all have certain talents. Mine was not math. But I do think I was gifted with some writing talent and a knack for getting people to open up to me.



How does being a Christian influence your decisions in journalism?

Later in my career, my columns often had a Christian message through the words, thoughts and deeds of others. Just as God has called the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary, I often looked for great stories in the person next door, and there were many of those.

What is your favorite aspect of journalism? Why?

Just to be able to tell the public something they may not know or to convey something familiar in a different way. The old line, “Hey, I got a story for you,” always was appealing to me.

What one aspect of journalism gives you the greatest joy?

Just being a storyteller was what I enjoyed. People enjoy reading about people, and what they really enjoy is reading about people like them. I wrote my share about newsmakers, which is an important part of the job, but newsmakers often bored me. The craftsman son building a handmade casket at the request of his terminally ill father was more captivating to me.



What one aspect of journalism would you like to change?

Journalism—especially print and digital journalism—is almost dead. I suppose much of it was inevitable, but some of it was corporate greed, too. We’re poorer for it.

Gone is the watchdog of local government and that gathering place that helped hold communities together through good times and bad. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, but it would be nice to have something like that again, even if a different format.

How do you expect journalism to change in the next 10 to 20 years?

Local journalism likely won’t exist, and if it does, its impact will be diminished greatly. Social media platforms or short videos will provide most of the quick-hit information to a public that will become more insular and less community-oriented.

If you could launch any new venture, what would it be? Why?

Maybe the perfect online regional newspaper that would incorporate the best of the old and the best of the new.

Name the three most significant challenges and/or influences facing journalism.

1. Creating a niche in a sea of information.
2. Having the manpower to inform the public in the way that’s necessary.
3. Corporate ownership with the willingness to invest in professionally informing the public.

What do you wish more people knew about journalism?

That the “media” is not one large entity with an agenda against your political and cultural leanings.

The overwhelming majority of those in the media live and raise families, attend church and shop, and their children go to school in the same community they cover. They cover the community but also are part of it. There may be tough stories and uncomfortable coverage, but they are not out to get anyone.

What is the impact of journalism on your family?

When our two adult sons were young, I often had some odd hours and workdays. I missed some of their events because of that. Too often, my wife was “Mr. Mom.” As a columnist, sometimes I took an unpopular stand. That sometimes made my wife uncomfortable, because she is averse to conflict.

What did you learn on the job you wish you learned elsewhere?

When criticism comes along, especially from the public, don’t be so defensive. Don’t listen so much to the words—people often don’t express themselves well—but listen to why they are upset. There’s often a middle ground to meet, and most just appreciate the opportunity to vent.

If you could get one “do over” in journalism, what would it be, and why?

There was an elderly and poor African American woman in Amarillo who had one hand amputated as the result of a terribly botched surgery by a questionable doctor out in the area. She couldn’t get justice and wanted her story out there. I interviewed her during a busy time, meant to circle back to her and others for a complete story. But by then, she had moved, and I could not locate her. I remember her tears when she spoke to me. In journalism, you’re supposed to afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted. I failed her. That bothered me for a long time.

About Baptists

Why are you Baptist?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say covered-dish meals have something to do with it.

Growing up, there was no choice. I come from a long line of Baptists from both sides of the family—cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. As I grew older and could make my own decisions, the Baptist doctrine I knew—soul competency, salvation by faith, once saved, always saved, priesthood of the believer—seemed to align with all I knew the Bible said.

What are the key issues facing Baptists—denominationally and/or congregationally?

This is nothing exclusive to Baptists, but most denominations today face the question of how to be in the world but not of the world.

How do Baptists find a niche in today’s culture while also being apart from much of the culture by staying true to the teachings of Jesus? When looking at the demographics of those in their early 20s, the “nones”—those listing no religious affiliation—are growing rapidly. That should give pause to all church leaders and members. That group is going to grow to be people of influence, and what of those who come after them?

What would you change about the Baptist denomination—state, nation or local?

There is no question that many Baptist leaders have blurred the lines in the separation of church and state. I’m proud to say First Baptist Church in Amarillo is not one of those.

By taking a public political stance, some church leaders are doing irreparable harm to their witness and, in turn, are turning off the young crowd Baptists need to reach most.

About Jon Mark

Who were/are your mentors, and how did/do they influence you?

Garet von Netzer: He hired me at the Globe-News and later rose to publisher. He impressed upon all of us that ours was a job of public service, that we were fulfilling a constitutionally guaranteed right to inform the public fairly and accurately, and we better take that seriously.

Dr. Howie Batson: He’s been pastor at First Baptist Church in Amarillo for more than 25 years. I’ve been influenced by his wisdom, insight, work ethic and consistent level of excellence in the pulpit. His words at memorial services are legend. I regret I won’t get to hear mine.

Other than the Bible, name some of your favorite books or authors, and explain why.

Max Lucado: It often seemed like he was writing straight at me, lifting me out of the doldrums with his own stories and the words of the Bible.

John Grisham: His legal thrillers are captivating, and the underdog always wins at the end.

Malcolm Gladwell: I like his out-of-the-box thinking.

David Maraniss: A great writer of biographies.

Laura Hillenbrand: Unbroken may be my favorite book. It was tremendous.

What is your favorite Bible verse or passage? Why?

I have a number, but Hebrews 13:5-6 always has resonated: “Don’t love money. Be satisfied with what you have. For God has said: ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.’ So we can say with confidence: ‘The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’”

It speaks to contentment and assurance.

Who is your favorite person in the Bible, other than Jesus? Why?

I suppose I should say John Mark, but I will go with his friend, Paul. He showed what one man totally in the hands of the Lord can accomplish, and he did so through trials and tribulations we can only imagine.

Name something about you that would surprise people who know you.

I have run six marathons, including the Boston Marathon twice. I doubt there will be a seventh.

Outside of the importance of a faith in Jesus, what is one thing your parents instilled in you?

“Work hard, and laugh while doing it.”


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