For a weathercaster, it’s a tornado. For a sports reporter, it’s the Super Bowl. But for a local TV news political reporter, it’s a year like this one that gets the juices flowing.
With presidential, senatorial, mayoral and a slew of other races making news, KVUE-TV’s Mark Wiggins, 29, and KXAN-TV’s Josh Hinkle, 31, are relishing every minute. As their stations’ political reporters, they must stay on top of happenings on the political scene.
Mark Wiggins traces his interest in politics to his childhood visiting his grandparents’ Beaumont house where his large extended family, sometimes 30 people, crammed into the kitchen.
“We had a family of outspoken people, engaged in the community,” Wiggins said. “I spent a significant part of my life listening to them chewing the fat and talking politics.”
Wiggins says an aunt used to work at the Beaumont Enterprise and a neighbor across the street was a columnist, lending a lot of journalistic influence to the scene.
After several family moves, Wiggins graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School in the Houston suburb of Fort Bend and then earned a journalism degree from the University of Houston. He interned at Houston’s KTRK-TV one semester and failing to land a TV job after his 2005 college graduation began a radio career at several Houston stations, including co-hosting the morning show at KKRW classic rock.
“It wasn’t news, but it taught me the powerful role of media and the importance of the personal connection between broadcaster and audience,” Wiggins said.
In 2009, he landed his first TV job at KRHD-TV in College Station where he covered the contentious race between Bill Flores and Chet Edwards for Texas’ 17th Congressional District seat.
He then moved on in 2010 to KXXV-TV, Waco, where he anchored the weekend Texas Report and covered everything from commissioners courts in 17 counties to the Texas Legislature.
“I saw that the things I was covering affected everyone, even people who didn’t know they were affected,” Wiggins said. “That’s where the hook really set and I realized politics is what I want to do.”
When the political reporter slot opened up at KVUE last year, Wiggins says he resolved to do everything he could to win the job. Win it he did, moving down from Waco in September 2011.
Aside from a big story or a staffing emergency, Wiggins covers politics fulltime for KVUE and he says he reflects a lot on his stories and whether he could have done them better.
“Covering politics is like covering sports with a win or lose motif,” Wiggins said. “But this is not a game. These are real issues with real effects on people. It is incumbent on us to get out of play-by-play and talk about the issues.”
Wiggins calls Austin a great city for politics and says people are really into this year’s election, especially the presidential race.
“They are paying attention and that makes it exciting to cover,” Wiggins said. “Our coverage has to meet their expectations.”
Wiggins says he is “fierce” about making sure that his personal views stay out of his stories.
“The most important thing each day is making sure what we are doing adds value,” Wiggins said. “Every day, our viewers give me two minutes of their time. I want to make a positive impact on their understanding.”
Wiggins praises both the commitment of his station to political coverage and the cooperation among all the stations of the Belo Broadcasting chain. He traveled to New Hampshire for that state’s presidential primary, while co-anchor Tyler Sieswerda covered the Iowa caucuses and co-anchor Terry Gruca interviewed President Obama in Washington during March. KVUE and Belo also hosted the only live televised U.S. Senate debate in Texas on April 13 in Dallas, with Sieswerda as a panelist.
“Our news director, Frank Volpicella, and general manager, Patti Smith, have been very liberal providing the funds for us to travel to cover big political stories, for which I am very appreciative,” Wiggins said.
KXAN’s Josh Hinkle came to political reporting quite a bit later than Wiggins. The native Oklahoman took pre-law courses as an undergraduate at Oklahoma State University, but was still not sure what career to pursue.
He decided on broadcast journalism and went to the University of Missouri’s famed journalism school for his master’s degree, with an eye toward getting on the air. He became the capitol reporter for the university’s station, KOMU-TV, and also anchored and produced. He added a job as graduate teaching assistant in political radio broadcasting, working from KMOX Radio’s Capitol Bureau in Jefferson City, and on the academic side, wrote his master’s thesis on civic journalism.
After graduation, Hinkle hooked on at KCRG-TV in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where he anchored and reported. He was just in time for the 2008 Iowa caucuses where he interviewed such luminaries as Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards and was bitten by the political reporting bug.
With an uncle here in Austin and a love for the city, Hinkle landed a job at KXAN in the spring of 2009. Parent company Lin Broadcasting was experimenting with multi-platform journalists, so Hinkle became a one-man band, reporting and shooting videotape in the station’s Marble Falls-based Hill Country bureau for the first eight months of his tenure.
When capital correspondent and political reporter Jenny Hoff left KXAN in late 2010, Hinkle took over the political beat.
“During the legislative session, I devoted 100 percent of my time to politics,” Hinkle said. “I like the capitol press corps. Everybody was cordial and helpful.”
This year, Hinkle has covered the presidential runs of Governor Rick Perry and Rep. Ron Paul, traveling to Iowa to cover the caucuses.
“It was interesting to see how each week brought a new frontrunner to celebrity status, only to have them slip the following week,” Hinkle said.
With KXAN’s current reporter shortage and Governor Perry’s withdrawal from the presidential race, Hinkle is doing a bit fewer political stories.
“I’m filling in on the city beat as well until we hire someone for that position,” Hinkle said. “That’s given me a chance to cover local politics, especially campaigns and bond items, and I moderated a mayoral candidate forum for Leadership Austin.”
Hinkle is proud of his station’s heavy online reporting commitment on a special site, “OnPolitix.com,” which includes a Hinkle blog and streaming video.
“It’s impressive that so many people here at the station are interested in politics,” Hinkle said. “News Director Michael Fabac has championed political coverage. John Moritz, formerly political reporter of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is our digital executive producer. I knew him at the capitol before he came to us.”
Hinkle’s political reporting brought three Texas Associated Press Broadcasting awards to KXAN, including first place in the Reporter of the Year category, a second place in Beat Reporting (Political) and an honorable mention for Continuing Coverage (Texas House Ghost Voting).