Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Ben Sargent and Diane Holloway Leaving


This Friday when husband and wife, Pulitzer-prize winning editorial cartoonist and Ben Sargent and TV writer Diane Holloway, walk away from the Austin American-Statesman, they take a cumulative 65 years of goodwill, contacts, and experience with them. They are accepting a buy-out from the newspaper.

“Like every other newspaper in the country, the Statesman is facing challenges, and trying very hard to do the right thing by its people as expenses have to be cut,” said Holloway. “The fact that we were offered buy-outs and early retirement is pretty amazing in the current climate.” Holloway has been at the newspaper for 30 years. Sargent has been there for 35 years. “Ben and I feel relatively fortunate that we are leaving the way we are—although it's painful to leave at all. We really hadn't planned to retire for a few more years.”

Ben Sargent was in the Statesman’s capitol bureau when he first doodled drawings on a reporter’s pade that became editorial cartoons. “I grew up around a newspaper, got a journalism education, went into reporting and the occasional copy editing, and assumed I'd be a reporter (a political reporter, I hoped) for my whole career,” Sargent says. “I just sort of fell into cartooning, but in the long run, it probably suited my talents better than reporting.” What readers may not know is that he has contributed to written editorials over the years too.

His 1982 Pulitzer Prize, he says, was a surprise. “Never had any idea I'd get a Pulitzer, and my first reaction was stunned surprise,” Sargent says. “Maybe they were just looking for a new face beyond the usual big-name guys, maybe they were looking for somebody from the Sunbelt, but whatever....I'm not giving it back.” Sargent was a finalist in 2001 and 2002.

Diane Holloway’s last TV column appears in the Tuesday, March 10, 2009 edition of the paper. In it she reflects on TV over the past three important decades.

For TV news the three game-changers in my mind are these:

1. KTBC TV, the only VHF station in town, finds itself on a level playing field in the early 1970s when Capital Cable, also owned by the family of Lyndon Johnson, made Austin one of the most cabled cities.
2. KVUE-TV changed the game in the early 1980s with new technology—the ability to be live on location , plus the first helicopter. Channel 24 enjoyed audience shares that will never be seen again.
3. The 1995 affiliation switch between KTBC and, then, KBVO, now KEYE when KTBC became Fox and KEYE became CBS. That, coupled with KXAN’s new full-power TV station in the Hill Country, KXAM, enabled Channel 36 to ascend to #1.

Holloway agrees that the 1995 switch was huge. There has been an amazing constant, however. “A long-standing trademark of Austin TV news has been the relative stability of the market, with lots of major players changing stations from time to time but remaining in the market. Ron Oliveira and Judy Maggio (KEYE), Robert Hadlock and Jim Spencer (KXAN), and Dave Cody (KTBC) have been here almost as long as I've been covering the market. That's unusual ... and it's good to have people who really know the city,” she says.

Looking forward, Holloway and Sargent say traditional media must survive.

“These, in my mind, have got to survive,” Sargent says. Why? “Because they [traditional media] are the only "socializing" media—they gather all their readers, listeners and viewers around the same campfire, and that experience of sharing the same information is very different from the experience of ‘fragmenting’ media such as the Internet, where the consumers of the information have no way of knowing its reliability or who else might be listening.

"’Traditional media’," for that reason, are essential to a democratic society, and so they need to find a business model that can support the kind of journalism they are constitutionally obligated to practice. I don't have a big enough brain to know what that business model will be, or what the platform for delivering the information will be like, but the work of delivering commonly shared information that is reliable, accurate, nuanced and deep must go on.”

Holloway agrees. “There is still a large audience for the networks' evening newscasts, even though the ratings are nowhere near what they were before cable news. If the most recent election was any indication (and I think it was), political coverage is likely to find its largest audience on cable. The broadcast networks ceded much of the campaigns, conventions and election coverage to cable.

“I think the phrase ‘hyper-local’ will be the new mantra ... for TV and newspapers,” Holloway continues. “People can get their national news online and on cable, but local media can still draw a crowd with deep local coverage. I have a hard time believing good journalism—that exposes corruption and does what the Constitution prescribes that we do—will go away. Our profession is the only one protected by the Constitution. We should always be proud of that ... and do it justice,” Holloway says.

Change in the news business is constant with every new innovation or adaption of technology. Sargent and Holloway both understand that. It is part of the evolution of the media, “but there continues to be great need for serious journalism. Online skills are a must,” Holloway says. Part of that change is doing more with less. Holloway laments the loss experienced, seasoned reporters in the market such as former TV capitol reporter Keith Eilkins and Statesman reporter Laylan Copelin. “Institutional memory counts for something, and context counts for everything. The situations are somewhat similar.”

Not only is this “brain-drain” a loss to the media, it is major loss to the public the media serves.

What will Sargent and Holloway miss?

“Being there is still a great and thrilling experience, especially when important news is rolling in,” Sargent says. “I love the companionship and camaraderie of newspaper men and women, and I'll miss the daily dose of that. (But I'll never lose the habit of wondering where that fire engine is going.)”

And for Holloway it is “The people and the process. I'll miss the excitement and buzz when news breaks. I'll miss the wisecracks and dark humor, the smart people and thoughtful discussions. I'll miss everything about it,” she says.

Their comments remind me of some blank verse:

“The tired silence when at last the presses were running

Too loud for talk when the college paper was yours

And you knew every word in type in the forms by heart.

O God, you say, that was all good, and it was good.”

—John Holmes, “Map of My Country”


So, what are Holloway and Sargent going to do next?

“Right now, I have no idea. I'm going to take some time to mourn the end of a wonderful career in newspapers, one that I was privileged to have. And then I'm going to figure out what's next,” Holloway said.

“Lots of ideas, though no definite plans as of yet,” Sargent said.

Interviewed separately, but leave no doubt that they will continue the work they were called to do in some form or fashion. That philosophy is evident in Holloway’s advise to those who still toil in “the business”: “Keep the faith, stay positive ... but have a Plan B! You may think you know what's next, but you never really do.”

© Jim McNabb, 2009

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