Keep Austin Weird

Dia de los MuertosDia de los Muertos characters on the streets of Austin. Photo by James Towney.

By James Towney

The beautiful city of Austin, Texas thrives on strange personalities. Nothing could prepare the Journalism Club for the topless woman asking for money on 6th Street or the homeless man with a sign that read “Fuck Obama and his momma,” while screaming “trademarked” and pointing at the sign. Things were weird in general. I slept on a wet hotel floor and woke up in the morning to Texas-shaped waffles. I drank bad coffee everyday, ate too much barbecue and was asked for a cigarette every time I left the hotel room. The weirdness was easy to embrace.

The reason we were in Austin was for the National College Media Convention. On Halloween morning, Cathy Conley presented a workshop called The DNA of an American Journalist: How to Survive and Thrive in a World of Deadlines, Death and Destruction. Conley is an established Austin newspaper reporter, radio personality and television newscaster. At the workshop, Conley told a crowded room how to avoid liability while maintaining credibility.

“Never trade integrity for celebrity,” Conley said. “Never in any case is it better to be first that it is to be right.”

To a young journalist, these words have a powerful meaning. Conley was the first journalist to break the news that mega-country star George Strait’s daughter died in a car accident. The Sheriff’s Office told Conley that Strait’s daughter was in a car with other teenagers and had been instantly killed. Before she spoke to the sheriff, Conley knew that it was likely to be true, but she had to treat the news as “untrue” until she had confirmation. Conley said she would rather risk getting scooped by the competition on the story than the integrity of her job.

Austin was an experience. The events that made the days weird, however, are personal memories that I will keep to myself. Keep Austin Weird.

 

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