Kathleen JohnstonWe used to play this little game in the hotel bar during the annual conference of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE). We’d watch people stream into the restaurant/bar with their lanyards and their name tags and we’d say to each other: “Print or TV?” With me, it could have gone either way. They always said I had a face for radio and a voice for print. Very funny.

But here’s the thing. Kathleen Johnston has worked in both print and TV at the highest levels. Don’t ever judge her at first glance. And don’t ever underestimate her abilities as a world class journalist. She started in print, the daughter of working class Irish parents in Gary, Indiana who subscribed to THREE newspapers (two from Chicago and one local) and READ them daily. They’d start with the obituaries, which they referred to as the “Irish sports page.” A little bleak Irish humor there.

At her first TV gig a year or so into an investigative producing role at WTHR in Indianapolis, Kathleen and her partner Jerry Lanosga won maybe the highest award in broadcast journalism (no not the Emmy), the duPont-Columbia baton. It’s an actual hunk of sterling silver hand crafted in Williamsburg and presented in the same dome at Columbia University where they hand out the Pulitzers.

The Pulitzers are so chauvinistic that they have never included radio or television, hence the need for the duPonts. So I don’t care if you’re NPR or PBS or 60 fucking Minutes, you can’t win a Pulitzer. But that’s my own petty resentment.

The reason I’m telling you this is because when they told Kathleen Johnston she had won the duPont she turned to the producer next to her and said, “What’s a duPont?” Nobody says that about the Pulitzers. Or the regional Emmys, either, which they hand out roughly like kids’ soccer trophies. Stick around long enough and you’ll get one just for participating.

Kathleen and I sat down at the IRE conference the last time we could actually sit down at a conference and talked to one another, swapping great stories. I learned a lot about her. I’ve always admired her and respected her. She’s a pal. I’ve seen her go from that newsroom in Indy to CNN, CBS and now back to her alma mater at Indiana University to start their own center for investigative reporting to train up a new generation of champions for democratic values.

We need her.

We need a legion of others like her.

Thank you for your service Kathleen.


Hear Kathleen Johnston @ManListening #podcast Thursday, November 5 AFTER YOU GET OUT AND VOTE!!!