Posts Tagged ‘Jim Swift’
As my subscribers know because of an inadvertent early post of a rough draft last week, after much consideration your humble proprietor has decided to close down the Listening Post. It’s been fun and I’m happy that some of you liked it and found it worthwhile, but it’s time to move on.
Writing the blog has become too much like a job, an unpaid job at that. To do this blog right means spending way too many hours in research, handling technical problems, developing relationships and writing several posts a week, not to mention watching lots of local TV news. I’ll do that anyway, but I would rather be free to watch what I want, when I want.
One of the reasons I started the blog was my belief that the Austin American-Statesman was not doing a very good job covering Austin TV news. Its media reporter/blogger has his hands more than full covering radio, retail and various and sundry other business and city desk stories. I know times are tough in newspapering, but I hope his editors will give the guy time to do some original reporting and in-depth analysis on the local TV news scene. I haven’t even been trying to compete with the Statesman, but I have consistently beaten them to stories they should have had. That’s no great credit to me, but it should be a concern to the Statesman. I fear it is not.
With that, I thank all of you who have read this blog regularly over the past 17 months and wish you news junkies happy viewing. I’m sure I’ll continue to have some thoughts on the local TV news scene on Twitter, so please follow me @billrr.
Ranking the Newscasts and On-Air Professionals
Before I go, a number of you have asked me from time to time to offer my opinion on Austin’s best newscast, best anchors, reporters, etc. I have refrained from doing so because I felt it would taint various stories I might write. I did not want to appear to be coming down on the side of those I had identified as my favorites or criticizing those I had left off my lists. Now, with no future stories to write and with 2013 upon us, it seems like the appropriate time to do a report card.
These choices are just my personal opinion, based on what I have seen on the air. I have no axes to grind or personal vendettas or anything like that to influence these choices. Almost everyone in Austin TV has treated me wonderfully and I am truly grateful.
For all of you who did not make my lists, I am in no way saying you are bad or that I do not like your work. I simply chose my favorites and in many cases it was a very close call between making the list and just missing.
Judging TV newscasts and TV news talent is a very subjective topic, and I’m sure most of you would choose differently if you put together similar lists. No rights or wrongs here, just differences of opinion. I’ll leave the site up for awhile so that those of you who feel strongly can comment on this post and make your case for why anchor “X” or weatherperson “Y” should have made my list. Please, no obscenities, especially about me.
I based my opinion purely on journalism and on-air performance over the long haul–those I think have the best chances for success in TV news for the foreseeable future.
Best Overall News Coverage
1. KVUE (Tie)
1. KXAN (Tie)
Comment–OK, I punted on the big one. Sorry, couldn’t choose between them.
Best on-set team
1. Tyler Sieswerda, Terri Gruca, Mark Murray, Mike Barnes, KVUE Prime Time
2. Robert Hadlock, Leslie Rhode, Jim Spencer, Roger Wallace, KXAN Prime Time
3. Bryan Mays, Yvonne Nava, Albert Ramon, KVUE Mornings
4. Brian Sanders, Sally Hernandez, Mark Monstrola, Amanda Dugan, KXAN Mornings
5. Greg Kerr, Katherine Kisiel, Keri Bellacosa, Zach Shields, FOX 7 Mornings
Comment–These are the teams that both deliver professional newscasts while also seeming to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. They are comfortable with each other and as a result, we are comfortable watching them.
Best Male Anchor
1. Tyler Sieswerda, KVUE Prime Time
2. Robert Hadlock, KXAN Prime Time
3. David Scott, KXAN Weekends
4. Mike Warren, FOX 7 Prime Time
5. Robert Maxwell, KXAN/KNVA Prime Time
Comment—While for me, Sieswerda is the best, KXAN seems to have cornered the market on male anchors. I could have added that station’s Brian Sanders, but I elected to put him on my top up-and-comers list (below) as he begins new duties on the KXAN weekday morning team.
Best Female Anchor
1. Katherine Stolp, KEYE Weekends
2. Sally Hernandez, KXAN Mornings
3. Yvonne Nava, KVUE Mornings
4. Terri Gruca, KVUE Prime Time
5. Leslie Rhode, KXAN Prime Time
6. Shannon Wolfson, KXAN/KNVA Prime Time
Comment–I have ranked three “secondary” anchors ahead of the prime time stars. For me, Stolp, Hernandez and Nava are essentially tied for first. Because of families and ties to Austin, I’m assuming Hernandez, Nava, Gruca and Rhode will be around for awhile, which is good. Wolfson has already announced she will be leaving in March in search of greener pastures and I fully expect Stolp to land a better job in a bigger market at some point, if she chooses. Still, this is her hometown, so we may keep her, too.
1. Jim Spencer, KXAN Prime Time
2. Mark Murray, KVUE Prime Time
3. Scott Fisher, FOX 7 Prime Time
4. Burton Fitzsimmons, YNN Mornings
5. Zach Shields, FOX 7 Mornings
Comment–Spencer and Murray are tied for first in my opinion, and obviously Troy Kimmel would have made it a three-way tie had he remained at KEYE. This is probably Austin’s strongest category and we will be blessed indeed if these gentlemen continue in their roles.
1. Dave Cody, FOX 7
2. Roger Wallace, KXAN
3. Bob Ballou, KEYE
4. Mike Barnes, KVUE
5. Ricky Doyle, YNN
Comment–Again, tough call. Veterans all who seem to love Austin sports. We are the winners.
Best Male Reporter—Non-Regular Anchor
1. Chris Willis, KXAN
2. Chris Sadeghi, KXAN
3. Mark Wiggins, KVUE
4. Rudi Koski, FOX 7
5. Jim Swift, KXAN
6. Shelton Green, KVUE
Comment–For day-to-day, on-the-street coverage of any story, Sadeghi is the best in this market. You can argue that Willis does not belong here since he was a long time anchor and still fills occasionally on the desk, but as KXAN’s chief investigative reporter, he has assumed that role as his main job. He has become the face of KXAN’s branding efforts with frequent on-air promotions. You can also argue that Swift is more a story teller than a regular news reporter, but that’s quibbling. I love his work and it’s my blog.
Best Female Reporter—Non-Anchor
1. Heather Kovar, KVUE
2. Jessica Holloway, KVUE
3. Noelle Newton, FOX 7
4. Erin Cargile, KXAN
5. Jessica Vess, KVUE
6. Karen Kiley, KEYE
Comment–These women all do a good job. Kovar’s experience shows. Holloway has brought a real skill to sensitive interviews.
Up and Comers to Keep an Eye On
1. Brian Sanders, KXAN anchor
2. Mark Monstrola, KXAN meteorologist
3. Angie Beavin, KXAN reporter
4. Amanda Dugan, KXAN traffic
5. Shawn Clynch, KVUE sportscaster
6. Adam Bennett, KEYE reporter
Comment–I guess there’s not too much doubt about which station I think has a bright future.
Swift, 63, says the late CBS News correspondent Charles Kuralt “paved the road on which I would embark.” For those of you old enough to remember Kuralt, who died in 1997, the storytelling similarities are striking.
Swift is listed on the KXAN website as a reporter/photographer. When he began at KTVV (now KXAN) in 1977, the station had no photographers. Swift and another reporter/photographer would go out together, first shooting a story with Swift running camera and the other reporting, then on to another location where they switched roles.
“When I moved to TV from KOKE radio, they taught me how to shoot film,” Swift said. “When they did finally hire photographers, I insisted on continuing to shoot the “B” roll pictures, while the photographer shot the interviews and stand-ups. I didn’t want to have to look at someone else’s video. The camera is an extension of myself. The viewer gets to see what I see.”
Fairly early in his career, Swift starting moving more toward the feature stories for which he is now famous. He says with Austin being such a small town, breaking news was not always available. Swift asked for a car and a camera and simply started driving around until he found something or someone interesting, who he then quizzed about what they were doing.
“This was a lot more fun than covering wrecks and county commissioners,” Swift said. “People seemed to respond to it, so after a few years, news management suggested I do only these kinds of stories. Except for one year when management changed and I went back to hard news, I’ve always done features, which we now call ‘in-depth.’”
The station used to end the 10 p.m. news with Swift’s features. KXAN’s news consultants wanted him to give the segment a name. He rejected their suggestion, “The Swift Kick,” pointing out the obvious conflict that would occur when he did a serious or sad feature story. Instead, he suggested, “On the Porch,” in a tribute to Kuralt’s “On the Road.”
“In those early days, everyone used to go out on the porch, talk to neighbors and tell stories, so it fit,” Swift said.
Later, management dropped the label and moved Swift to a daily mixed beat with an emphasis on South Austin, where the majority of his stories were still features.
“Our present general manager and news director, Eric Lassberg and Michael Fabac, are much more amenable to my arguments,” Swift said. “Now, my features can run on any show.”
Swift used to turn out five feature stories a week. Fabac asks for just three, but also has Swift repackaging his stories for Sunday news shows and for the station’s website.
“I objected at first, but then I realized it’s more exposure for my work,” Swift said.
The Georgetown native and Southwestern University graduate says his story ideas come from many sources, but most from viewers and others outside the station. Swift claims he has become more “topical” in his story selection, tying into the news and trends of the day.
“I’m much more attuned to the assignment desk and they to me,” Swift said.
Around the station, you are likely to hear Swift called “Jake,” rather than his given name. And, he’s just as likely to call you Jake. He says it all goes back many years to an Austin TV type who used to say, “Let me get as much out of life as I can while simultaneously contributing as little as possible.” Over the years, Swift says, it became a term for anyone who was loafing, then morphed into a term of endearment, rather than a slur.
You might expect a 34-year veteran to long for the good old days, but that is not the case with Swift. He says local TV news is “incalculably better now” than it was when he started.
“We were pretty green and nobody came with training,” Swift said. “We were professional, but not as thorough as we are today.”
Swift points to the arrival of the Internet and the presence of the station on the Web as important advancements. Now, he says, he writes a longer web story, takes still pictures in the field for the web, and engages on Twitter and Facebook, all in the same eight hours he used to use for TV stories.
“I resisted furiously, but now I realize it’s fantastic,” Swift said. “There is so much more material to use after I cut my two-and-a-half minute TV story, so I put the extra footage on the Web with no time limit. It’s challenging, it’s more intense and there’s no time for lollygagging, but it’s fun.”
Swift lives with his third wife, artist Katy Nail, in the Cuernavaca neighborhood southwest of Austin. They’ve been married for six years and live in what Swift calls an “incredible house—four green concrete structures that resemble upside down bowls.”
“It’s great, a large lot on top of a hill among live oaks, a gorgeous garden, full of food all the time, chickens,” Swift said.
Swift has two children from his first marriage, Marine Corps Major Nathan Swift, now serving in Afghanistan after four tours in Iraq and daughter Shayla, a graduate student at the University of Nebraska.
Swift’s current plan is to retire when his present contract expires at the end of September 2013 when he will be 65.
“The economy has things up in the air, and the powers that be said I don’t have to retire at 65,” Swift said. “We’ll just have to see.”
After 34 years of watching Swift’s unique story-telling abilities, Austin news viewers will be the poorer when he finally decides to fade from the TV scene.