in Houston, Texas
A sad day for Texas Watchdog, a good day for journalism. Our Jennifer Peebles leaving Watchdog for Washington Examiner investigative team
Thursday, Mar 22, 2012, 10:10AM CST
By Trent Seibert
jp

Before she makes the move to the viper pit that is Washington, D.C. I’d like to say a few words about what Jennifer Peebles has meant to Texas Watchdog.

JP -- and I can assure you no one calls her Jennifer except her family -- has called our move to Houston from Tennessee one of the greatest leaps of faith she ever made.

It WAS a leap, for JP, for all of us. A high dive out of a newspaper business we loved and out of a state we knew well. Now we know how Stephen F. Austin and the Old 300 felt.

Like those first Texas settlers, we couldn’t be sure what was ahead, but we knew we couldn’t stay put. Our business model -- a non-profit, online news operation -- was a leap of faith. Our conviction in the future of journalism wasn’t.

As JP wrote at the time of our launch in 2008, in her simple and direct prose, “We’re launching this service because the owners of newspapers and television news teams have, in too many cases, cut back on investigating government and chipped away at their ability to be a watchdog for the voter and the taxpayer.

“We also want to be a place where residents can learn more about how to make their city halls and school systems more transparent –- and to keep public officials honest.”

For the past three-and-a-half years JP has embodied that mission. As frontier women go, think of her as a cross between Melissa Gilbert on Little House on the Prairie and Chuck Connors on the Rifleman. Kind and thoughtful, resolute and a little deadly.

Simply put, we wouldn’t have been nearly as successful without her.

She led some of our most important and far-reaching enterprise journalism.

Indeed, Texas Watchdog’s first big splash came in the fall of 2008 when we decided to publish all of the state legislators’ ethics forms, which made them easy to access for all Texans. Previously you could only get these forms -- which detail where lawmakers get their income, what property they own and other information -- from the Ethics Commission in Austin.

JP was the driving force behind the effort, not only writing the story, but making the legislature more transparent for all Texans by putting the forms in an easy-to-use interactive map. Editorial pages across the state lauded the effort.

JP also led our coverage into the Houston Airport System and the Houston Independent School District. She dug into legislators’ conflicts of interest and pried open the closed doors of government with her expert use of open records requests.

She won journalism awards, like the John Aubuchon Freedom of Information Award from Capitolbeat and the Open Doors Award given by the Fort Worth Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. In our first year of operation, JP not only proved that our business model could work but that it demanded respect.

Journalism has returned that respect. The Society of Professional Journalists in Houston made her their president. The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas installed her on its board. And a year ago the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of California-Berkeley made her a fellow.

Pardon me for saying so, but  Washington Examiner Editor Stephen G. Smith’s announcement that JP would be the data editor for a special investigative news team sounds like it might have been lifted from the mission statement JP helped write for us.

“The paper has been eager to do hard-hitting, enterprise reporting,” Smith said. “It is especially important today because so many news organizations have cut back on their investigative efforts.”

The Examiner has made an excellent choice.

JP says she is sad to go, but no one is sadder than me.

“I have had an incredible time working and living here in Houston, and I'm sad to leave,” JP told me. “I'm incredibly proud of what we've accomplished here, and I'm grateful for the friends we've made and the loyal readers who have told us how much they appreciate what we do. But this is a unique opportunity, and one that puts me closer to my family in Georgia, and I just couldn't turn it down.”

And while we lose a pioneer, it speaks to what JP has helped Texas Watchdog become that the Examiner was so eager to get her.

I think they understand what we have always known about JP, that a belief in freedom of the press, in whatever form it takes, is no leap of faith.

We wish you the best, JP.

***
Contact Trent Seibert at 832-316-4994 or trent@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @trentseibert or@texaswatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us onTwitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, and tumblr.

Texas Watchdog Austin Bureau Chief Mark Lisheron contributed to this report.

Photo of Jennifer Peebles at her desk.

Comments
Stan Burton
Thursday, 03/22/2012 - 10:45AM

JP, I'm sorry to see you go, and you'll probably find the 2A issues there frightful as well, knowing your reverence for that particular bit of the constitution, but if you MUST go, I am glad it is to the examiner. Holler before you pack up, I'd like to buy you a round of your favorite adult beverage before you ship out.

Fred King
Thursday, 03/22/2012 - 11:31AM

You made a difference here. Hope you do up there, too!

Marcia Kushner
Friday, 03/23/2012 - 07:03AM

I have followed Jennifer's stories for quite a while and had the opportunity to meet her for the first time last year. Jennifer, you truly are a lady of distinction. You always gave us the "rest of the story." I so appreciate your work, the time you gave digging deeper so we the public would have all the facts. We will miss you. You are an inspiration for others to follow. Good luck in your new endeavor.

Susan Ihne
Friday, 03/23/2012 - 10:06AM

You've made a big difference in Texas, JP. Now take on the country in DC! We need you up there looking into everything. Thank you for taking the leap of faith to help start up Texas Watchdog.

L.Lane
Tuesday, 03/27/2012 - 08:35PM

Well JP, we haven't met over a beverage, but I wish you the best...certainly enjoyed your stuff

ps, this captcha thing is brutal on my eyes

Bien Pia
Friday, 11/30/2012 - 06:06PM

Patriotic US Citizens must be Vigilant !!! https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4972827882516&set=a.1254313681985.2039749.1353847448&type=1& theater photo.php

ELECTION OF THE CENTURY is Over? https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4991553270639&set=a.1254313681985.2039749.1353847448&type=1&theater

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