Monday, November 29, 2010

Benz There. Done That.

News Ate

Another “Big J” broadcast journalist is exiting an Austin news channel. Kevin Benz was at Time Warner Cable’s (TWC) News 8 from the beginning. In less than a year, he ascended from assistant news director to news director.

“Twelve years is a long time,” Benz says. “I am leaving a great company, a great TV station, and an even greater bunch of people. I am so proud to say I worked with them. Launching a TV station is not for the faint of heart but that's what we did in 1999 and the result is something I am most proud of.”

“I can’t say that it was my idea [leaving News 8], but the timing was right,” Benz told me. Benz’s departure was a mutual decision, sources say.

There was a meeting of “corporate brass” this morning [Monday, November 29, 2010] with Steve Paulus, TWC’s senior vice president of news of News 1 in New York City which now oversees News 8. Benz was not invited. Shortly after the meeting, Benz left. The staff was notified in an afternoon meeting.

Newsroom sources say Benz departure can be viewed as news philosophical differences going in opposite directions.

Benz showed class as the News 8 door closed.

“Early next year News 8 will change its name to YNN, [“Your News Now”]. It seems like the right time for me to turn over the leadership reins to someone else and as good a time as any to take on something new. I will rooting for the station from the stands now as it makes its transition,” Benz said. “I’m very comfortable with the outcome.”

Benz, of course, had made News 8 a go-to news medium in many Austin viewers’ minds as a local 24/7 news/weather/sports operation. It was the first of its kind in Austin, and Benz put his hard-core, “Big J” Journalism brand on it. Recognition followed.

“In a very short time News 8 won a National Murrow Award, two Sigma Delta Chi Awards for Journalistic Excellence, three National Walter Cronkite Awards for Excellence in Political Reporting, and was a Finalist for a DuPont - Columbia Award. Our democracy needs more stations like News 8, and journalism needs more dedicated people like those working there, Benz says.

While the other broadcast news departments in Austin chose to cover so-called routine news events with a pool camera, Benz stood his ground, refusing to join. Thereby, News 8 photojournalists had a different take on local news events if for no other reason they shot their own video. Yes, it could have resulted in cost savings, but Benz wouldn’t have it.

News 8 also relies on the one-man-band approach to TV news—a reporter who shoots, writes, and edits content. Call it “Doing more with less” as I have, but at least one Austin broadcast station is moving in that direction. If you hear the phrase “multi-platform”, think one-man-band. Those “platforms” nowadays are many, including posting stories to the Internet and social media.

During the past year, News 8 has been without a general manager, and Benz had been acting GM as well as news director. Also, however, during the past year since the beginning of the oversight of News 1, Austin’s News 8 has been under scrutiny.

In the meantime, the news channel recently completed major upgrades to its facilities just north of the State Capitol, something Benz oversaw with pride. Benz insists that the upgrades are evidence that journalistic excellence will continue.

“News 8 matters,” Benz declares. “It matters to Central Texas and it matters to journalism and Time Warner Cable gets it. They understand the importance of doing relevant, responsible journalism that improves our community, and I honor them for that.”

Michael Pearson is the interim News Director.

For his part Benz says journalism is still a huge part of his life.

“As Chair-elect of RTDNA (The Radio, Television, Digital News Association) I am charged with leading the planning for the National Excellence in Journalism Convention next year. I also serve on the Board and do training for the Carole Kneeland Project for Responsible Journalism which is based here in Austin. Those projects will begin taking up significant amounts of time for me and I'm excited about them.” Benz says.

Benz says this is the third time that he has re-invented himself, and each re-invention has been better than the last.

The TV news business is like that. Change. Constant change or eventual change. That’s probably applicable to life in general.

© Jim McNabb, 2010

1 comment:

Erin said...

Wow Jim. I'm humbled by your awesome account of a great man. Thank you. I worked for Kevin before he came to News 8 and he earned my respect immediately as a tough, fair and intuitive newsman. I have no doubt doors will open and Kevin's most difficult choice will be choosing among them.