The obituaries on Jim Rogers, the Channel 3 owner and former Nevada System of Higher Education chancellor who died on June 14, conveyed that he was opinionated and committed to education. But there’s another way in which Rogers mattered to our past and present: He was part of a disappearing Nevada journalistic tradition. Rogers may have been the last of the personal bosses who left their imprint on coverage in an increasingly corporate and impersonal terrain.
Recently, Rogers converted KSNV to almost all news, except for NBC’s programming and some shows he was contractually bound to keep showing. But his often-idiosyncratic legacy goes back decades: Since he and his then-partners took over the station in 1979, Rogers made moves that helped change the business.
In those more regulatory days, television stations were supposed to editorialize only now and then. Most general managers took this to mean endorsing things like Christmas and motherhood. But Rogers delivered editorials that pulled no punches. He tried to influence outcomes: In 1992, he was determined to defeat Miriam Shearing and elect Charles Thompson to the Nevada Supreme Court. Both were local district judges, and Rogers had been closer to Thompson. He editorialized for Thompson and against Shearing, and had to give equal time to Shearing’s campaign. Shearing won, but the larger journalistic message was that Rogers had his views and he was going to express them, whatever the consequences.
In that way, Rogers was reminiscent of some Las Vegans who came before him. Charles P. “Pop” Squires edited the Las Vegas Age for nearly 40 years, promoting Republican politics and the community, not necessarily in that order. The Cahlan brothers, Al and John, dominated the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 1926 to 1960, making it a Democratic and conservative organ. They were closely allied with Senator Pat McCarran; if he ever did anything wrong, the Cahlans didn’t want you to read about it. They felt similarly about Las Vegas, promoting and excusing it as needed.
The Cahlans faced competition in the 1950s from the Las Vegas Sun and Hank Greenspun, probably the newspaper figure to whom Rogers was most comparable. Greenspun went after Senators McCarran and Joe McCarthy, and didn’t believe in subtlety. He felt just as strongly in later years about defending U.S. District Judge Harry Claiborne and criticizing FBI agent-in-charge Joe Yablonsky and the IRS.
Another of Rogers’ peers in personalized journalism was Bob Brown, publisher of The Valley Times. Brown didn’t want it to be “his” paper in the way many saw the Sun as an extension of Greenspun, but in many ways it was. Brown’s editorials and connections were central to the paper, as was his willingness to give reporters like Ned Day the freedom to dig. Sadly, the paper—where I first dipped my toes into the world of marginally gainful employment—died in 1984, two weeks after Brown did.
Television station owners don’t seem to fit in the same category as these charismatic newspapermen. Until recently, radio and television political news (though not political advertising, which is a whole other discussion) had less influence on the community and the political process than newspapers did. Jim Rogers, though, was an exception to this broadcasting rule.
Even toward the end of his life, he was still appearing on his station, getting his points across. In his 70s, he was using Facebook and Twitter and other social media to influence the public conversation, and he would take on all comers—including me! Historically, he fit simultaneously two patterns—one of increasing editorial voice in mainstream TV; another in the inexorable disappearance of owners with a personal touch. The combination made him one of a kind.