You've probably heard by now that political reporter Adam Schrager is leaving 9News Feb. 9 to take a job at Wisconsin Public Television, as first reported on ColoradoPols.
Schrager came to 9News in 1999, after working for CBS News in London and three TV stations in Wisconsin. He attended the prestigious journalism school at Northwestern University, and he's won numerous journalism awards.
Schrager is also producer/host of YourShow, an innovative public affairs program on Channel 20 that solicits show topics, questions, and guest suggestions from viewers.
Once in a Rocky column evaluating public affairs shows in Denver, I gave Schrager's YourShow a grade of "B" because I thought it was too serious. Schrager matter-of-factly pointed out that for years I'd been criticizing local TV news for its excessive fluffy content. I regretted the column but appreciated Schrager and YourShow all the more.
I thought Schager's many admirers would like to know more about why he's leaving and his reflections about journalism and his job here as he departs. So I asked Schrager to answer a few questions, which he kindly answered below:
J: Why are you leaving?
A: It's been hard raising kids away from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and now, we have some health issues with my dad which are only going to get worse. Hopefully not for a while, but we figured since both sets of our parents are in their 70's, if we're being honest, we needed to get back soon if we wanted our kids to have those relationships. We love Colorado but sadly could not convince everyone else to come out here.
J: Did you see a dim future for your style of political reporting at 9News?
J: Were you being pressured more often to do things at 9News that you did not want to do?
J: Why are you leaving the local TV news biz? Do you think your style of serious political reporting is going out of favor in the industry?
A: Honestly, I am fortunate to be able to stay in the industry but I was prepared to get out if that's what I needed to do to get back to the Midwest. We just had to get back ASAP for family reasons. I've been doing this 20 years now and I'm a bit tired. As I think you can discern from your conversations with me the last few years, I've been testier and a little more on edge as the volume surrounding what we do ramps up and the anger associated with politics rises. That's just not my personality and it hasn't been nearly as much fun as it's been in the past. I'm very much looking forward to doing long-form journalism and reconnecting with my craft in a way I haven't been able to do over the last few years. That's just a result of an industry becoming more and more driven by the immediate as that's what the public seems to want. Maybe I'm old-school, but I like to think a little bit more than I'm afforded the opportunity to in life these days. I always like to cover the Capitol outside the Capitol and I used to be able to go find the people, places and things affected by the policy being proposed. It kind of morphed into me asking those folks questions to policy-makers, but I didn't get out into the field as much as I would have selfishly liked to. The Wisconsin Public TV folks are part of the longest-running civic journalism project in the country, We The People Wisconsin, which teams up with Public Radio, the CBS affiliate in Madison, the Wisconsin State Journal and the leading on-line political news site in the state. They want to expand it, to do much of what we have done at 9NEWS (i.e. teach people how to do truth tests, ask voters' questions to candidates, etc.) and I'd imagine I'll be a part of that.
J: Do you have doubts about giving up your big audience for the relatively small number of people who watch public TV in Wisconsin?
A: No doubts at all. I don't look at ratings now, haven't in the past, and don't imagine I ever will in the future. I can't do anything about them so why worry about it? I can control what I can control and that's to produce the best stories I can. If more people watch them, that's great, but it doesn't define whether I've been successful or not.
J: Would you advise a young journalist who cares about politics to pursue a career in local TV news? What would you suggest he or she do?
A: You've heard me quote my dad before on this. He likes to say you're a lot happier in life if you associate with people who speak in commas and question marks than periods and exclamation points. Sadly, politics has become all about the latter. If a young person wishes to focus on the former, they can make a great difference in the process. If they decide to pursue the latter path, I'd argue they need to hold their breaths because there are a lot of blowhards out there who are going to be talking in front of them.
J: Is there any chance that Wisconsin political reporting will be as interesting as what we have here?
A: I worked in Wisconsin for eight years before moving out here, covering their State Capitol and federal delegation. It's a fascinating state, rife with the same kind of apparent historical contradictions that Colorado has. The same state that brought us Robert LaFollette and the progressive movement produced Joseph McCarthy. People there vote people before party, just like Colorado, which will always make the elections fascinating and of national interest.
J: Do you have plans to write about the progressive infrastructure in Wisconsin? How about the Wisconsin conservative infrastructure?
A: Haven't thought about it. Just finished an epilogue to The Blueprint called "The Western Firewall" that chronicles how the progressive infrastructure helped John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet and Harry Reid withstand the Republican tidal wave of November. As for future book projects, I have two in mind and neither are directly political in nature. As I mentioned earlier, I need a bit of a break mentally from the political grind.
J: Will you continue writing about Colorado Politics?
A: One of my book projects involves Colorado history which inevitably includes politics, but if you're asking if I intend to become a blogger, columnist or some type of advocate, I can tell you I don't intend to do that. I need to spend more time with my kids, not less. More time with my family, not less. More time with my friends, not less.
J: Will YourShow continue? Truth Tests?
A: Hope so on both accounts.
J: Who will do political reporting at 9News?
A: For the short-term, my colleague Chris Vanderveen will be handling the General Assembly when I leave. Another colleague, Matt Flener, will be the point person on the Mayoral race.
J: What are a couple of your favorite moments during your career here?
A: My favorite moments are not at all political in nature, unless you think being inspired by the triple amputee who comes down to the Capitol to lobby for other amputees. I have been so moved by so many, it's hard to narrow it down to just a few great moments. I think you know I love what Gov. Carr did. I'm happy to have met him in the figurative sense and more importantly, to have been able to share the story of Japanese American internment to an audience that sadly doesn't know anything about it. I could really just ramble here about person after person who's moved me, but that would be dull to your readers and take me way past my bedtime which is early these days since our 16-month-old son still has trouble sleeping through the night.
J: Anything else?
A: Thanks for your interest in what we've tried to do.