Media Gave Conway a Free Pass

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962) This is a story about how a variety of media organizations...

‘Statesman’ offers buyouts to 200 employees and shutters its Spanish language edition

GateHouse paid $47.5 million for paper in April with big noise about commitment This April Fool’s joke had a delayed punchline. And it’s a bad...

Statesman Acquires The Austin Bulldog

 Statesman Acquires The Austin Bulldog

Surprise announcement comes on fifth
anniversary of launching the Bulldog

© The Austin Bulldog
Posted Wednesday April 1, 2015 1pm

Ken MartinKen Martin, founder, editor and publisher of The Austin Bulldog launched its website April 1, 2010, saying, “We don’t take ourselves too seriously but we take our reporting very seriously.”

On the fifth anniversary of the organization that has relentlessly pursued investigative reporting in the public interest as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit focusing on holding local government accountable, comes the news that the Austin American-Statesman will expand its reach into local government coverage by pushing into the areas covered by the Bulldog.

Debbie Hiott“We have the resources to expand the Bulldog’s focus and give local government agencies the same bruising coverage afforded to unlucky state agencies that have wandered into our crosshairs,” said Statesman Editor Debbie Hiott.

The Statesman came out on top after a bidding war broke out among the New York Times, NPR, Fox News, AlJazeera America, and The Guardian. The Chinese People’s Daily also wanted to bid but was excluded by U.S. trade regulations. “We just wanted to keep local control to the extent possible,” Martin said.

The Statesman recently swept up most of the major awards in statewide journalism competition—including on March 29 being named Newspaper of the Year for the second consecutive year. Statesman reporter J. David McSwane won the large newspaper division for Star Investigative Report of the Year.

A long strange trip

2014 in the Rearview Mirror

2014 in the Rearview Mirror

A review of ‘The Austin Bulldog’s unique
coverage and its impact on the community

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Monday January 5, 2015 10:36am

The structure of journalism has changed dramatically. The dominance of electronic media provides free and open access to massive amounts of information delivered immediately via the Internet. But it provides no qualifying filter and trusted sources of news and commentary are found side by side with the misguided and misleading.

Yet news itself hasn’t changed. Human nature hasn’t changed. We still have crooks, thieves, power abusers, and the inept. Cover-ups will exist as long as humans exist. To keep dishonesty at bay requires watchdogs—investigative reporters who are willing and able to dig beneath the surface, examine the details, and bring the truth to light. It is more important than ever to identify and support the news sources that have proved themselves worthy of your trust. The Austin Bulldog strives to be such a source.

Election coverage

The year 2014 ushered in an historic shift in political power. The system of electing council members from 10 geographic districts broke the Westside grip and allowed suburban sprawl to overtake City Hall. For the first time women will make up a majority of the City Council—a super majority of seven in fact. Hispanics finally gained representation close to their share of the population and the first Latina will take a seat on the dais. Republicans not only broke the Democratic stranglehold but will hold three of the 10 District council seats.

The Austin Bulldog’s reporting played an important role in helping voters to decide which candidates deserved donations, volunteer efforts, and votes.

Steve AdlerThe next mayor—We provided in-depth coverage of Steve Adler, the man who will lead a council of nine newly minted members and only one holdover. Early articles covered Adler’s achievements as chief of staff to a state senator and as a leader of several important local nonprofits. These were followed by articles critical of his role as an attorney for property owners who were able to avoid compliance with current environmental regulations. The final installment detailed how he personally profited from not having to comply with the Save Our Springs Ordinance for development of a tract in Oak Hill. While Adler won a landslide victory in the mayoral runoff he did so no endorsements from the environmental community and will have to work harder to overcome distrust by protecting our environment.

Candidate Lost Custody Over Abuse

Candidate Lost Custody Over Abuse

District 6 Council candidate Don Zimmerman
injured, alienated daughter, court records state

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2014
Posted Thursday October 9, 2014 3:10pm
Updated Wednesday October 15, 2014 7:42pm

Editor’s note: Don Zimmerman, through his attorney Stephen Casey, on October 10, 2014, sent a letter to The Austin Bulldog stating this article published October 9 subjected Zimmerman to defamation and demanded retraction. There is no reason for The Austin Bulldog to retract its report about the judicial proceeding that Zimmerman was involved in earlier this year.

The Austin Bulldog does listen to criticism of its reports, in this case, like all others. Therefore, in the interest of making this report the best possible fair, true, and impartial account of information contained in court records, we have updated it with additions (shown in underlined text) and deletions (shown in text with strikethroughs).

The update also includes a link to the Docket Sheet, which is the Travis County District Clerk’s official record of every action taken in this District Court case. Examination of the Docket Sheet, along with the records already linked to this report, reflects the fact that The Austin Bulldog had already published and made accessible to readers every substantive court filing made this year, starting with Casey’s filing for client Zimmerman of the Respondent’s Motion to Enter Final Order on March 10, 2014. All of the remaining court records and orders that were the basis of the story are included in the links below.

Don ZimmermanDistrict 6 candidate Donald Shelly “Don” Zimmerman, founder of the Travis County Taxpayers Union, is an aggressive leader who as president of a municipal utility district brought two lawsuits, one of which resulted in winning a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

But aggression in disciplining his then 12-year-old daughter, Marina Zimmerman, resulted in documented physical and emotional damage and permanent loss of parental rights through civil court action. Although by court order he remains a “parent possessory conservator,” with rights to certain information about his daughter, the order explicitly states that Don Zimmerman “shall have no possession of or access to” the minor child, who is now 15 years of age. Absent Zimmerman obtaining a new court order, such denial of access is permanent while the order is in effect.

The petition that led to the court order states, “Respondent (Zimmerman) has a history and pattern of physical and emotional abuse directed against M.Z. (daughter Marina Zimmerman).”

In response to the petition, an Agreed Order issued by the court June 16, 2014, states, “The Court finds that the material allegations in the petition to modify are true and the requested modification is in the best interest of the child. IT IS ORDERED that the requested modification is GRANTED.”

The court records of the proceedings in 2014 contain no evidence that Zimmerman contested the allegations of having a history and pattern of physical and emotional abuse of his daughter. In fact, Zimmerman signed the Agreed Order beneath this statement: “APPROVED AND CONSENTED TO AS TO BOTH FORM AND SUBSTANCE.”

Yet in an interview for this story as originally published Zimmerman repeatedly characterized the allegations as lies. His protestations are left intact in this update so that readers can judge the facts for themselves.

Three documented incidents

The Austin Bulldog’s Reporting Produces Results

The Austin Bulldog’s Reporting Produces Results

Our High-Impact Reporting Was Made
Possible by Strong Community Support

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2012
Posted Tuesday April 3, 2012, 2:05pm

Like baseball Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean said, “It ain't bragging if you done it.”

The Austin Bulldog has been able to hold elected officials and governmental bodies accountable, thanks in large part to nearly 200 people who have contributed money to finance our work over the past two years. Our investigative reporting has resulted in numerous reforms to provide more open and transparent government to the citizens of Austin and Travis County.

Individual donations in 2011 to support this important work totaled $33,045. The Kirk Mitchell Public Interest Investigative Reporting Fund donated $15,000 through December, for total funding of $48,045.

Our expenses totaled $39,242. For details on how we used this crucial funding, you can review our Profit and Loss Statement for 2011.

Marking our second anniversary is a good time to report to those whose financial backing made this work possible, as well as other readers, and take a quick look at some of our major accomplishments.

Brief overview of what public support made possible

Austin American-Statesman Pruning Payroll

Posted Friday, June 10, 2011 1:54pm
‘Austin American-Statesman’ Cutting Staff Again

Voluntary Job Buyouts Offered to 167 Employees

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog

The ever shrinking monopoly daily newspaper that serves Austin and Central Texas is once again reducing its workforce. While the final results won’t be final for a week, some 40 or more employees in the newsroom were among those who got early buyout offers and could be leaving.

This cutback comes more than two years after the Austin American-Statesman offered a voluntary retirement program to 130 employees in January 2009. At that time the Statesman employed 906 full-time and part-time workers. A dozen people in the editorial department took that offer—including Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Ben Sargent and journalists with up to 44 years of experience. That loss was sorely lamented by Editor Fred Zipp in a March 15, 2009 column, which indicated 71 people retired from the company.

This latest reduction in force would leave the paper with about 700 employees, a drawdown of about 22 percent since 2009, and a reduction of about five percent from the current workforce of 740.

Fred ZippZipp told The Austin Bulldog that employees who got the offers had until 5pm today to apply and the company has a week to review the applications. The company has reserved the right to limit departures in areas thought to be critical, he said.

“It's not the huge talent exodus that I had feared,” Zipp said. “I hate to lose anybody and we are losing some good people here,” he added. “It’s regrettable but necessary as we find the right size while the business stabilizes.”

The latest announcement was buried in the bottom left corner of the June 2, 2011 business page.

Jane WilliamsJane Williams—who took the job as Statesman publisher in January—said in that article the voluntary separation program offers up to a year’s severance pay for employees at or near retirement age. Williams said the Statesman is making the offers to reduce costs at a time revenues are drifting lower.

Employees may retire at age 55, Chief Financial Officer Eddie Burns told The Austin Bulldog. Burns predicted about 20 percent would take the offer, and said the results “are pretty close to that number, based on the feedback I'm getting.”

Burns said about 25 percent of the early buyout offers went to employees in the newsroom, which makes up about the same percentage of the newspaper’s workforce.

The early buyout offer is apparently being applied throughout the Cox-owned local newspapers, including the 10 community newspapers. Editor Ed Allen of the Westlake Picayune said he received the offer, too, but does not intend to take it.

Newspaper industry in distress

‘Austin American-Statesman’ Cutting Staff Again

Voluntary Job Buyouts Offered to 167 Employees The ever shrinking monopoly daily newspaper that serves Austin and Central Texas is once again reducing its workforce....