Burning Shoe Leather

The Chron's Marshall is out there reporting, dammit

Houston Chronicle editor Jeff Cohen has told his columnists he wants them out on the streets and on the phones being reporters (see "Column Calamity," July 11).

Among those getting nudged was the paper's most high-profile columnist, the Metro section's Thom Marshall. He's obviously taken matters to heart, if this month's output is any indication:

"I called Tom Russell, a law professor at the University of Denver," he wrote July 24. "I talked to Cicely Wynne, who is an aide to Annise Parker and who said she is computer literate," he informed us July 13.

"When I went out on Wednesday afternoon to the corner of Westpark and Tanglewilde, the store's padlocked door bore a couple of bunches of flowers and a hand-lettered sign that said, sorry, we're closed," he wrote a day earlier, adding, "At another convenience store a couple of blocks away, I pulled up just as a couple of cops returned to their patrol car with sodas and snacks."

A few days before that, he said a friend had complained that men's health issues get more attention than women's, noting the abandoned test of a hormone-replacement drug called Prempro. Six million women had taken the drug in the study before it was found to be dangerous. "I relayed that comment to a couple of sources within the health care system," Marshall let us know.

We get it, we get it. You're a regular Johnny Deadline.

Two of the health care sources Marshall called in that last column, by the way, turned out to be spokespersons for the National Institutes of Health, both of whom pooh-poohed any concerns.

"Fact is," Marshall's column ended, "both men and women can expect to live longer than their parents and grandparents, and medical research, despite its flaws and inequities, has played a role in that."

Couple that bold ending with the opening of that July 24 column -- which actually began "Houston, we have a problem," a phrase that should have been retired from Houston journalism decades ago -- and you can see Thom still has a ways to go.

But at least he's out there trying. And telling us all about it.

Sharing Too Much

Many television news outlets, eager to foster the we're-all-family feeling so you'll invite them into your living room, litter their Web sites with biographies of their staffers.

These are usually boilerplate recaps of career moves, a listing of the awards that journalism hands out like Christmas cookies, and perhaps some sort of vague indication that the staffer is really, truly happy to cap his or her career by making it to Houston. Just as they were happy to cap their career in the city where they previously worked.

Then there's Johnathon Walton at KHOU, the frenetically wacky host of morning segments called "Walton's World" that are supposed to be funny, whether they involve singing dogs or the unathletic Walton trying martial arts or firewalking.

Don't think that's zany enough? Try his bio: "He grew up on that island paradise [of Jamaica] under the austerity of perpetual ridicule; he was mocked and chided everywhere he went. 'Big, fat, sour white boy!' was the colorful phrase locals shouted to herald his close proximity," the bio reads. "Johnathon was raised in Jamaica for the first part of his lackluster, ridicule-laden, overweight, couldn't-get-a-girlfriend, borderline miserable childhood."

His second-grade teacher, we're informed, "actually told Johnathon's mother that she feared her son was mentally retarded." (Not to worry: Tests show "he actually had an IQ bordering on the genius level," the bio modestly states.)

It wraps up with Walton's saying now is "the most happy and fulfilling time in his otherwise pathetic, forlorn, lamentable existence."

Hey, we're all for self-deprecation and spoofing tired formulas. But save some of this for the analyst's coach, willya?

Now They Tell Us

The June edition of American Journalism Review had a photo memorializing the passing of the torch from Chronicle editor Jack Loftis, who had held the post since shortly after the Hearst Corporation purchased the paper in 1987, to his successor, Cohen.

The accompanying caption paraphrased a couple of comments from Loftis that were interesting. "One thing he'd like to do over: the Enron story, where the paper reacted too slowly," the note read.

Chron execs have been issuing mea culpas to the national press for their Enron noncoverage for months now, so Loftis's admission wasn't all that unusual. But then there was this: "He says he's proud of having transformed [the Chronicle] into a 'more objective' source of news than it had been under the previous owner."

Admitting the Chron was a house organ for the Houston establishment for most of its existence? Do tell.

And let the discussion begin on just how much of a transformation has taken place.

 
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