Born into the business

Family put Scot Stinnett in the newspaper business, and inadvertently kept him from trying his craft at a bigger newspaper. One week after receiving a New Mexico reporter's highest honor, the Portales native insists that family put him there, too.

The 1974 Portales High graduate, who got his start at the Portales News-Tribune before he was a teenager and has run the De Baca County News for the last 20 years, was inducted Oct. 27 into the New Mexico Press Association Hall of Fame.

Stinnett

Publishes the De Baca County News

Stinnett, 56, joins grandfather M.M. Stinnett and great-uncle Gordon Greaves in the hall, with specific mention to his aggressive pursuits of government transparency.

The path that brought Stinnett to a career in newspapers dates nearly a half-century before he was even born, when great-grandfather J.G. Greaves homesteaded near Elida in 1907. Greaves moved from Texas to New Mexico to farm, and took newspaper jobs to make ends meet when Mother Nature wouldn't cooperate with rain.

In 1921, he took over the weekly Portales Valley News, which became the Portales Daily News in 1943.

In 1957, when Stinnett was about a year old, the paper merged with the Portales Tribune. It was only 10 more years before Scot Stinnett got his first job there as an 11-year-old substitute paper carrier; carriers had to be 12 to own their own route, but substitutes could be younger.

He worked in the circulation department at age 15, the darkroom at age 16, and was covering sports by the time he was 17.

"I covered Floyd and somebody," Stinnett said of his first assignment. "The reason I remember is Lynn Cooper, the Cooper twins' dad, he played at Floyd along with Scott Washburn and his older brother Curtis and Lonnie Best. All of those guys played for Floyd."

The Cooper twins, Jordyn and Jaylyn, are in their freshman year at Eastern New Mexico University.

With the exception of a two-year period working with the Quay County Sun in the late 1970s, Stinnett worked at the News-Tribune with his father Marshall until the end of 1991. He was usually working while attending Eastern New Mexico University, spending about a dozen years on a business degree he's three credits from completing and still mulls finishing.

He mulls slightly less about his most memorable time covering something.

"There was a fire, along half a block of buildings in Portales," Stinnett said. "It was during a state basketball tournament. We used to have a lot of sweet potato sheds where C&S Oil is. One of those caught on fire, and it was one of those days when the wind from the west was blowing hard. That movie theater burned down along with five or six buildings running north from there. "They weren't sure they could get the fire stopped; they evacuated everybody on the square.

"They evacuated the jail, which at that time was in the basement of the (Roosevelt County) courthouse. There's a picture of all of the prisoners handcuffed together around the sign pole. There was mutual aid from all over the place. I think people came from as far as Lovington, Hobbs and Roswell."

But Scot was busy outside of Portales too, as he dedicated plenty of time to membership in the New Mexico Press Association.

"My dad made these opportunities available to me; he allowed me to be a member of the New Mexico press board," Stinnett said. "That was something the Portales News Tribune had to support. If he hadn't done that, given me the time off to go and paid my expenses through the newspaper, I couldn't have done it."

Stinnett strives for open government records in his newspapers, to the point that he prints his own name in the public record whenever he gets a speeding ticket; it's sometimes how he meets new officers in Fort Sumner. Much of Stinnett's history includes fighting for that same level of government transparency, as records and meetings were kept secret with little recourse.

"If somebody didn't want to give you public records," Stinnett said, "they just said, 'I'm not giving them to you.' Why? 'Because I said so.' That was always the excuse governmental people gave us: 'Because I said so.'"

For years, the press association worked to get things changed in the Legislature, and often ran into legislators who weren't supportive; Stinnett will never forget Manny Aragon saying the matter was a press problem and not a public problem.

But Kent Walz, part of the Foundation for Open Government and the current editor of the Albuquerque Journal, said Stinnett still found a way to get the legislation through.

"He could, 'Aw, shucks,' his way right through the Roundhouse," Walz said in Stinnett's induction video. "He did it in a very civil way. I don't recall anybody saying they considered him an enemy. He was very effective, and for many years on many issues, Scot was the association's most effective lobbyist, even though that wasn't really his job."

The members eventually talked Gary Robbins into a bill that started an open records task force, which somehow passed and created legislation for open records. Gary King carried the legislation unsuccessfully in 1991, but most of the bill made its way into what would be the New Mexico Public Records Act two years later.

"No longer could they say, 'This guy's from the media; he's got a personal problem,'" Stinnett said. "We had members of (the Foundation for Open Government) from all walks of life. It was certainly a bipartisan thing. People don't remember what it was like when somebody decided to close a meeting because they wanted to. You couldn't do a thing about it."

Years before, when Eastern New Mexico University named Earl Diddle men's basketball coach, the News-Tribune sued to get resumes from the finalists. Judge Bill Bonem made what Stinnett considered a landmark ruling; that once a resume leaves a selection committee and references are checked, it's a public record.

Eventually, the Portales News-Tribune was sold. The buyer was Southern Newspapers, and they did things differently.

"I was working for my dad, and I was a little hard-headed … I was real hard-headed, and he was too. The changes he was forced to make, I didn't agree with. At some point, he got sick of me arguing with him and said we've got to do something different. I said he was right."

A job at the Albuquerque Journal was waiting for him, but he and wife Lisa had an 18-month old son, Berry. At the same time, the De Baca County News was available, and the decision was made that Fort Sumner would be a better place to raise Berry. It was for Berry, and after him Sara — ironically, now playing basketball for Earl Diddle at Howard College.

Fort Sumner, Stinnett said, has just enough citizens to support a small newspaper, and is far enough away from Clovis and Albuquerque that bigger papers wouldn't make the financial risk to capture the market.

"The best thing about Fort Sumner is there's not many people. That's also the most challenging thing about trying to make a living. If we were closer to Clovis like Melrose, we wouldn't have a newspaper."

The community understands the value of the newspaper. Mark Sena, a 1996 graduate of Fort Sumner High School, said the Stinnetts' involvement with the De Baca County News played a role in support for the athletic teams.

"He helps out tremendously," said Sena, now the school's athletic director. "He does a great job of covering all of our kids' activities, and that includes our junior high. He does a great job of promoting our athletic teams in other areas. He works pretty well with the people in Clovis.

"He's always covered Fort Sumner sports as if his kids were playing. You really couldn't tell the difference when his kids were playing as opposed to when they weren't."

Berry Stinnett, a current ENMU student and volunteer coach for the Foxes, said having a newspaper publisher for a father didn't get him fame. That never bugged Berry, because he grew up knowing about how newspapers have to avoid that type of conflict of interest.

"My picture didn't get in the paper that much, to be honest," Berry said. "He really didn't want people to think he was playing favorites."

Scot Stinnett said the sports are what gets noticed, but it's really just about covering a school.

"In a small town," Stinnett said, "and I think you'll find this just about anywhere, when you don't have a huge amount of people, the central part becomes the school because everybody's kids and grandkids are there. Any function is at the school. That becomes the central focus of your community.

"Growing up in Portales, what you learned was that most of the older people in Portales who were your readers either had family or had migrated in from one of the other communities. When you covered schools and covered sports in the little communities, you were appealing to the readers in Portales because their families were participating in those sports."

While Stinnett is now part of a family legacy in the NMPA hall of fame, family still drives the newspaper. Scot does the writing and the photos, and doesn't bother with bylines because everybody in Fort Sumner knows its him. Lisa does much of the other work, and his mother picks up the papers every Wednesday morning from the printer in Clovis.

"My dad made it happen for me, and my wife," he said. "We had an infant son, and I was always heading out of town to testify or go to meetings or hearings. She kind of got stuck raising Berry for the first year-and-a-half of his life, the hard part."

Speak Your Mind

*