Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

The Hole

October 28, 2009

Decided to title this post “The Hole” since it is both the multimedia room where I stow myself away and the vortex in the time-space continuum many of us at The Texas Tribune have disappeared into as we make our final push toward next Tuesday’s launch. Whoa. Next Tuesday is November 3rd. Conceptually, it’s tough to wrap my exhausted and excited mind around.

It’s a significant date because it’s launch day… the unveiling of the first iteration of what will be many versions of The Texas Tribune.  The goal is a rich, satisfying site full of context – which our founder will explain much, much better on day one.

I’ve never worked on a campaign. But a lot of commenters on our Facebook site have made that comparison. I guess we’re working for a cause (public service, the reason why we wanted to be journos in the first place) and toward a certain drop dead date (the aforementioned November 3rd), but perhaps the most apt similarities are the frenetic pace, sleeplessness of staff and piling up of food containers everywhere.  I took a picture of a typical end-of-a-working-weekend trash pile yesterday, but decided it was too gross to put up, even in this personal blog space.

I haven’t seen or talked to many of my closest friends in the past few weeks. So I’m really sorry, and I miss you. Also, a huge thank you to the friends who have already supported or are planning to support The Tribune in one way or another. This is a non-profit organization dependent on support from ‘viewers like you’, so it means a lot. Until we can come up for air, I’ll make better use of this cyberhole to communicate. Much, much more to come.

Thanks @austinchronicle!

September 3, 2009

The long-awaited Austin Chronicle Best of Austin 2009 awards are out, and I’m amused and honored to win in a category for tweeting. (Love me some co-winners Reagan and Flener, too. Rock on with your social media selves, boys.) And thank you, Austin Chronicle critics!

Best Televised Tweeters: Matt Flener, Reagan Hackleman, and Elise Hu
Twitter offers endless opportunities for info, elucidation, and, yes, embarrassment. But three local TV journalists have embraced the format wholeheartedly: city-beat reporters Matt Flener and Reagan Hackleman and Lege watchdog Elise Hu. KXAN’s Flener can be found on Twitter teasing stories and sussing out interviews; News 8’s Hackleman expertly balances his personal and professional Tweets; and we’re looking forward to tons more 140-character dispatches from Hu as she leaves KVUE for the new journalism nonprofit Texas Tribune.;;

Paneling It

August 25, 2009

Spoke for the first time at Social Media Breakfast Austin this morning. While 7:30am is too early for my taste, good discussion, smart people and Torchy’s Tacos made it worth it.

SMB Austin 9

SMB Austin 9

We got questions about whether PR professionals should use Twitter to communicate with reporters (yes, but not obsessively), how media can monetize social media (it probably can’t) and what the future of journalism looks like (Google Wave, wikis, context).

The most interesting question we’ve all confronted in journalism panels of late is this idea that there’s a vast ‘sewage pipe’ of information out there, and it is difficult for consumers to sort the waste from the valuable pieces of information. How should we best help people find the news they need? Curation/aggregation is a good start, so long as the readers grant the curator or the news organization credibility. I’m also interested in advanced, dynamic tagging. But let’s have a conversation about this… reliable information is hard to measure and hard to find. What’s the best way journalism organizations can get it to the people who want it?

Stay Classy, KVUE

August 21, 2009

“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 save  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.”


August 1, 2009

Being at work yesterday sans-the internets felt as if I’d gotten a pair of male anatomical features cut off. (Not that I would really know, but it was an apt hyperbole.) We’re still in the midst of an ongoing company-wide internet meltdown. Started at 2am Friday morning and it continues, affecting The Dallas Morning News and something like twenty television stations in markets across the country. Awesome.

The incident makes me feel relieved to be headed to an organization that’s not so… corporate. My current company is dominant in the media world (and I’m proud of that), but also a behemoth whose many technologies and systems are inextricably linked. In this modern news age, when organizations need to be nimble to change with a smarter, more engaged and choosier audience, the behemoth structure gives individual stations very little control over what their web sites look like, which features can be offered (or not offered), where ads can be placed, etc. And it goes without saying that when something goes wrong, it affects everyone.

Internet or not, I’m sad to be leaving in two weeks. But after a trying and distracting day (I embarrassingly stood someone up at Starbucks), it was reassuring to find a post on Media Bullseye featuring my thoughts on Texas Tribune and going ‘beyond broadcast’. Mainly, it was nice to think about moving forward.

Texas Tribune Startup Team Finalized

July 23, 2009

Finally, FINALLY, the whole founding team of the new Texas Tribune is official. Here’s the press release.

Ross Ramsey, a veteran capitol journalist who has headed political newsletter Texas Weekly, will join as our managing editor. Previously, Ramsey worked at the Houston Chronicle and Dallas Times-Herald.

Texas Weekly will be absorbed into Texas Tribune.

To review: Evan Smith is CEO, Ramsey is Managing Editor, reporters are Emily Ramshaw, Matt Stiles, Brandi Grissom, myself and Abby Rapaport is our junior reporter/editorial assistant.

We’re excited about everything ahead. The Austin Chronicle posted a quick blurb on it this morning.

“It’s really all about me,” says Evan Smith, explaining why after almost 18 years he is leaving Texas Monthly to helm a new media venture. Cutbacks at the magazine, forced by parent company Emmis Communications, “played no role,” said Smith, who was promoted to president last year. “It’s all about where I am and the fact that I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’m ready to do something else.” That “something else” is the Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, public issues journalism organization founded by Austin Ventures general partner John Thornton. Smith has been consulting with Thornton for the past year to help develop the project, which will “promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government, and other matters of statewide interest,” according to a press release. Initial hires include KVUE reporter Elise Hu, former Houston Chronicle reporter Matt Stiles, and Emily Ramshaw of The Dallas Morning News. Texas Tribune is expected to formally launch later this year and plans to host events to help spur dialogue and revenue.

Also, I talked about the project this morning with Bryan Person for Media Bullseye. We’ll link to that video when it is up.


July 21, 2009

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.