Stay Classy, KVUE

“I found what I wanted. It was the aspiration to become a political news journalist. Let’s examine the facts.

a.) I love politics. I find it interesting and feel it is a field that takes a lot of work and critical thinking. I also like it because of the involvement of the people in the field.

b.) I love news and current events.

c.) I like to write about the news. Actually, I like to write about any interesting topic, and the news is constantly changing so I think it would be very interesting to write about.”

–Me, Mrs. Blackmore’s 7th grade Language Arts class, Age 12

Even after all these years, the a, b, and c remain the same. But I won’t be writing for broadcast anymore, at least not with the same regularity. After spending my entire adult life in television news, it’s my last day at an organization with “-TV” at the end of its name. It’s kinda weird to think about.

The strength of friendships forged in the field between TV reporters and photographers is unmatched, largely because we rely so heavily on one another to turn our news products. So I’ll miss my photographer friends the most, but hope that they will teach me as I start shooting and editing in my new capacity as a multi-platform journalist at Texas Tribune. My friend (and TV reporter idol) Otis put it well when he said, “The thing about TV news is that it is not nearly as glamorous as you might think. The pay stinks, the hours suck, and, more often than not, the reward for work well done is more work.”

A goodbye wave to TV News
A goodbye wave to TV News (photo by JL Watkins)

Still, I’m generally hopeful about television news’ future. I’m not leaving because there’s ‘no way to saveĀ  TV’. I just think it needs a serious gut check. My own experience at big broadcast companies has led me to worry these corporate behemoths might be systemically crippled from making the kinds of innovative and agile changes necessary to compete in this Web 2.0 world. In many ways they run like battleships, and the thing about battleships is that they take awhile to turn.

My hope is that leaders in the industry think beyond the next few years and consider the best ways to distribute a product for a smarter, more engaged and more discerning ‘next generation’ of news consumers. In the meantime, I’m grateful for ideas like Texas Tribune, which will dedicate itself to civic engagement, explanatory and enterprise reporting, and using the tools of the social web to allow our users to be active in the ongoing political conversation in Texas. As we consider the future, the Tribune model is as worthy as any other idea in trying to keep journalism alive.

My favorite mentor, Marty Haag, died in 2003 before he could see what’s happened to the world of television journalism in which he was a titan. I hope my decision to leave TV, but not leave journalism, won’t let him down. As he liked to say to his sons, who passed this on to me: “Just make a decision and move forward.”

Onward

If you’re wondering what this blog space is about, some clarity.

In the spirit of social media, I thought it best to have a place to link to after I came out of the secret job closet yesterday. Down the road I imagine there will be plenty more personal adventures to chronicle.

I also take some random pictures on my iPhone nearly everyday. So I think I will start a series called, PhonePhoto, which I will post here.

So if you want to come back, I put a subscribe button on the bottom right corner of this page.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

I’m coming out of the secret job closet. This fall, I’ll be joining Evan Smith at the all-new Texas Tribune, a non-profit investigative journalism outfit that could launch as early as November.

The decision means leaving KVUE-TV in late August. I gave notice yesterday with a heavy heart.

In 2006, I leaped at the opportunity to come home to Texas and cover state politics for the leading television station in town. It married the two goals I laid out as a child — television news and political journalism. In my time at KVUE, I got the honor of witnessing moments of sheer brilliance and true degeneracy. And being here in Austin has led to the richest relationships, most fulfilling work and fondest memories of my adult life.

Like the time mutiny broke out in the Texas House. Or the time I interviewed Barack Obama in a bathroom. Or that one time a political consultant chewed me out for being racist against Asian-Americans. (True story).

I never imagined doing anything else besides television news. Countless friends and mentors helped me along the way. The stations that employed me also shaped me — taught me how to tell compelling stories, challenged me to be a better journalist.

But news as we know it is changing. Has changed. Will change more. I feel that those of us who trade in information; who work in a field where information is our currency, must lead in using new forms of media to continue our trade. To enliven it. To enhance it. To keep it from going away.

So I’m joining my great friends, mentors, former competitors and, (as a total coincidence) the man I’m going to marry, in pioneering the new landscape of civic-minded, investigative, multi-platform political journalism. Texas Monthly president/executive editor Evan ‘Almighty’ Smith made the resignation heard ’round the journoworld when he stepped down to lead this new venture last week. It will allow me to continue doing what I love, but in all kinds of new and interesting ways.

The most salient lesson I’ve learned during this time of true uncertainty is this: journalism is no longer a lecture from the vaunted few who get to be gatekeepers. Journalism today is a conversation. The best thing news organizations can do is moderate the ongoing conversation and maintain our highest calling — being stewards of the truth, acting as the people’s watchdog. I am confident the team assembled will loyally serve our first and most important purposes.

Taking this leap requires some risk and a paradigm shift. But times of great upheaval can come with even greater opportunity. And I’m proud to say I don’t have to abandon journalism.