Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Political Reporters Bound for Austin

New or Traditional?

Labor Day is the unofficial start of the political season, and as sure as there is another Texas blue “norther” on the way, new journalists are making their journey to Austin to join with others in the Constitutional commitment of covering the capitol. Statistics show that there seem to be fewer members of the fourth estate as the years go by.

KVUE TV (ABC) News Director Frank Volpicella confirmed this afternoon that their new capitol reporter will be arriving in a few days. Martin Bartlett is coming to KVUE from El Paso ABC affiliate KVIA TV where he was a reporter and weekend morning anchor. Bartlett will replace Elise Hu who moved over to the Texas Trubune, a soon-to-be-launched news portal on the web covering politics and public policy.

Bartlett graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2005. CNN’s Kyra Phillips referred to Bartlett as “… our go-to-guy” when he was doing a live shot for them on the drug cartels operating across the border in Juarez.

Also leaving El Paso to cover the capital here in Austin is The El Paso Times education reporter Zahira Torres. Ms. Torres is a rarity. More and more, media outside of Austin rely on local reporters to cover here. If the story is big enough, an out-of-town crew may make the trip. The crews may use facilities at local news media to send the stories back home. If it as legislative story, television crews may shoot a ton of video and interview a host of people to keep “in the can” for possible use later.

More often than not in these lean days, the burden falls on Austin media to cover the stories. If the out-of-town media wants something the local media isn’t covering, they may hire free-lancers to get what they want.

Is that coverage, however? Or is it something that looks, tastes, feels, and smells like news. It is probably only what I call shallow “sound-bite” reporting of little value.

Politics matters in Austin. Close to 20-percent of Austinites work for the government. When the legislature is in session, those working in the service industries are directly affected. That’s why most media have beat reporters for the capitol and politics. Jenny Hoff at KXAN TV (NBC) probably has the longest tenure. News 8 has a brand new capitol reporter.
Karina Kling was the Williamson County bureau chief for News 8. Kevin Benz, News 8 news director, says Kling covered state capitol politics in Lincoln, Nebraska before coming to News 8.
News 8 also calls on Capitol pundit Harvey Kronberg for analysis. Rudy Koski at Fox 7 has been around long enough to know the ropes. Alexis Patterson covered the capitol for KEYE TV (CBS) during the last session. She is no longer with the station.

According to the office of the Speaker of the House, for the past three sessions there has been a steady decline in the number of journalists requesting credentials. The high water mark was set in 2003 for the 78th session of the legislature, when 864 journalists were credentials. In 2005 it dropped to 647. It fell further in 2007 to 551. The last session saw only 447 credentials issued. Those numbers may seem high, but the credentials may have been for one day, and the crew packed up and went home.

Robert Wood, capitol bureau chief for Texas State Network, is witnessing a change. Wood has been covering the capitol since 1992. “There are definitely fewer bureaus and reporters these days,” Wood says. “If you look just ten years ago there were television bureaus from Dallas and Houston. The [Houston] Chronicle and San Antonio Express/News were separate and both had staffs. The Dallas Morning News bureau was much larger.”

Some longtime traditional news services remain like Long News Service and the Associated Press, but Wood sees growth in the non-traditional news. New media. “I think you are seeing a far different dynamic starting to emerge in the press corps,” Wood says. “If you went up to the House and Senate galleries during the session, you saw a lot of laptops and that's because there were a lot of bloggers hanging out writing about what was going on. Of course, you also have main-streamers blogging too with better access to elected officials during the session since we have floor access.”

“I think one question that will have to be asked pretty quick is when will the bloggers get the same kind of access that the traditional media gets. I don't think it will happen next session but it will happen, probably when the audience for those publications grows. Right now the traditional media and myself have a far larger reach than do any on-line only blog or publication,” Wood says.

With the Texas Tribune “going live” online November 3rd, floor access may come sooner than later. That’s more than a year away. There are plenty of political games to be played between now and then.

© Jim McNabb, 2009


Anonymous said...

New KVUE reporter is cute!!!

Anonymous said...


While you point out that Austin will be getting a couple of new reporters from El Paso to cover doings at the state Capitol, media broadcast companies are also getting some new faces when it comes to investors – foreign money.

Take, for example, NewsCorp. the parent company of Austin's Fox 7 and the Fox News Channel.

The nephew of the Saudi King, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Alsaud, owns 56.2 million (56,237,915) shares of News Corporation Class B stock through Kingdom Holding Company (KHC), a Saudi Arabian company. The prince is the majority stockholder in the company

The prince disclosed his big investment in News Corporation in this filing with the FCC. Forbes describes the prince as the 22nd most wealthy person in the world at $13.3 billion.

The prince's disclose:

Faced with sagging revenues, broadcast companies will welcome foreign investors, keeping in mind that federal law limits foreign investment in broadcast companies to 25% subject to a public interest waiver.

News Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdock is busy wooing foreign investment.

Last week, Murdoch was in Beijing, urging the Chinese Government to take full advantage of the country’s creative potential by opening the door to media competition. Translation: Murdock wants to establish business partnerships with Chinese companies.

Murdock said, “China will ultimately decide its own fate, but unless the digital door is opened, opportunities will be lost and potential will not be realized. There is real reason for confidence in the ability of Chinese companies to compete if that door is opened.”

Broadcast companies could ask the FCC for a waiver to allow foreign investors to hold more than 25% interest in their businesses. The FCC has sometimes relaxed its alien ownership restrictions.

Should broadcast companies starving for new investors seek more foreign investors?

Anonymous said...

Big doings at CBS and Viacom today.

Movie theater chain operator National Amusements Inc., the owner of CBS Corp. and VIACOM Inc., is selling $945 million of its stock in the two companies.

National Amusements insists it will retain 75% of the voting control in each company after the offerings.

What will National Amusements do with the $945 million? Pay off all the debt on National Amusements.

National Amusements is owned by media Sumner Redstone and his family.

Why pay off National Amusements debt?

National Amusements was facing a $500 million debt payment due later this month. The goal was to repay the money by selling National Amusements' chain of movie theaters. The sale never happened.

A problem was that the major theater chains viewed as potential buyers - Regal Entertainment Group's (RGC) Regal Cinemas, AMC Theaters and Cinemark Holdings Inc. (CNK) - are saddled with their own debt loads.

Anonymous said...

After reading the Austin Statesman's story about 101.5 FM co-hosts Jason and Deb being suspended for a week without pay after using a phrase that listeners confused with wet back, I think what's really needed is for on-air personalities to use common sense.

The Statesman said all on-air employees of parent company Emmis Austin Radio and its six local stations will be required to take cultural sensitivity and diversity training, in light of the on-air blunder.

Training is fine, but unless DJs have some common sense, nothing will change and there will be another on-air mistake.

DJs ad-lib, but with common sense, they should be able to avoid an on-air boo-boo. And even if they do screw up, common sense should kick in quickly and result in an immediate on-air apology, which, in most cases, would stop a major uproar.

Anonymous said...


What's happening with newspapers is a message for TV stations wanting to broaden their revenue base.

In a report released today, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's parent company, McClatchy, reported that its total newspaper advertising revenues were down 28% percent in the third quarter, while online advertising revenues grew 3.1%.

McClatchy says online advertising revenues constituted nearly 18% of total advertising revenues compared to 12% of total advertising revenues in the third quarter of 2008.

McClatchy says, "“Our transition to a successful hybrid print and online company continues to advance. Our online audiences are growing strongly. Average monthly unique visitors to our websites were up 14.7% in the third quarter and were up 23.4% through the first nine months of 2009. We continue to be among the leaders in our industry in online advertising revenue performance and online advertising as a percentage of total advertising.

Austin TV stations need to think much like McClatchy -- find ways to bring more people to their Web sites to help counter the drop in TV ad revenues.