“Spirit of Clay” lives on at Hearst Austin news bureau

Back in the early days of both Chronically Biased and then blogHOUSTON, one of our recurring topics was the Houston Chronicle Austin bureau, which allowed its bureau chief Clay Robison to preside over the news “objectively” six days per week as bureau chief and provide a reliably lefty editorial screed one day per week.

In private conversation, a Chronicle reader representative (not the current person who holds the title; the Chron seems no longer to have a use for the position) told me that we were absolutely right to question the arrangement.

At some point, Clay Robison left the newspaper, and that was that (for quite a while, anyway).

The Hearst Austin Bureau (the combined effort of Hearst newspapers based in San Antonio and Houston) seems determined to bring back the Spirit of Clay.

In the last week alone, Hearst Austin has run with “commentary” pieces from both Peggy Fikac (seemingly “overrepresenting” opposition to a Perry appointee since only one critic, a Dem, was named) and new addition Patricia Kilday Hart (who formerly broke some news and opined for Texas Monthly). Even before, Fikac’s commentary column had shown signs of disproportionately covering the issues and personalities of the Left. And even the Hearst Austin blog too often seems to be a vehicle for injecting the author’s opinion rather than covering news (contrast items three and four in Top Stories).

This isn’t to say we don’t like a good opinion columnist, or that a good opinion columnist can’t break news (the great example of the genre was the old Evans and Novak column). But for some reason, Hearst Austin seems to think its journos ought just to switch back and forth between reporter and editorial mode (apparently never getting the two confused because they’re superhuman *wink*), whereas most news organizations at least pretend to prefer a cleaner “division between the opinion pages and the news pages” (ironically, that last is from a Chronicle editor). While Hearst Austin’s “Spirit of Clay” approach is, at times, revealing, we’re not so sure it’s the best way to cover statehouse politics.