Texas Observer founding editor shares insight on investigative journalism

By Caitlin Clark and Kolten Parker

A veteran of Texas politics visited with members of the student newspaper Thursday before offering his advice to a large group of mass communication students.

Ronnie Dugger, founding editor of The Texas Observer, visited with Texas State students as a part of Mass Communication Week to give insight into what he learned in more than 50 years of reporting on Texas politics. The Texas Observer is a nonprofit news magazine specializing in investigative, political and social-justice reporting.

Dugger met with a handful of students at The University Star office to share a few of the stories he has collected from years of experience in the journalism industry before one of his scheduled talks Thursday afternoon.

Dugger shared anecdotes from campaign trails in the 1950s and 1960s, small Texas towns battling racism and the state legislature. Dugger recalled a visit he had with Lyndon Baines Johnson, former President of the United States and Texas State alumnus.

Dugger said Johnson was “playing a very conservative game” in order to get the support of the state of Texas as he ran for president. Johnson also tried to gain the support of Dugger and The Texas Observer, he said.

“(Johnson) said ‘Ronnie, what’s your circulation?’” Dugger said. “I said ‘About 6,000, senator.’ He then said ‘Stick with me and we’ll make it 60 (thousand).’”

Hollie O’Connor, journalism senior and trends editor for the Star, said it was interesting to hear Dugger speak about the reporting he has done over the decades.

“Lots of panelists at Mass Comm Week had ideas about journalism’s future, but Dugger gave excellent insight about where journalism has come from,” O’Connor said.

Nancy Young, public relations senior and news reporter for the Star, said she felt lucky to have Dugger visit the student newspaper’s newsroom.

“I really enjoyed listening to (Dugger),” Young said. “As an expert in the field, he has really great insight on the different aspects of journalism.”

Dugger spoke to full room of mass communication students later in the afternoon about his experiences with investigative journalism. Dugger said he made a deal with “honest liberals and conservatives” in order to find the truth of what was happening in Texas politics.

“I would tell them ‘I won’t give your name, I won’t say where you’re from and I’ll go to jail before I tell who you are — now tell me about bribery in the legislature,’ and they did,” Dugger said.

Dugger said a person needs to be informed, interested and unafraid to find the truth in order to be an investigative journalist. He said investigative journalists can’t be afraid to ask sources tough questions.

“You can’t flinch,” Dugger said. “If you flinch, you fail. I flinched once, I knew it, and the story was gone. I had failed. I’ll never flinch again.”

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