I learned long ago that writers need to be careful about using superlatives, a lesson often ignored in this breathless age of digital, instant communications, where opinions and assessments can change about as often as Apple upgrades its “must have” devices.
But I don’t hesitate in saying that the Texas Capitol press corps lost one of its best and most respected education reporters when Terry Stutz retired last week from The Dallas Morning News. For most of his 30-plus years on the statehouse beat, I was a competitor who didn’t relish chasing some of his stories but nevertheless appreciated his skills and insight.
More recently, as a would-be communicator for the Texas State Teachers Association, I also came to appreciate his even-handedness and institutional memory in covering a crucial, complex subject at a time when public schools were coming under constant attack from budget-cutters and self-styled education “reformers” promoting a privatization agenda at the expense of educators and school children.
Terry covered the privateers – that was his job – and he balanced out their unproven schemes with well-written, factual accounts of the damge those budget cuts were inflicting on our neighborhood classrooms.
One of the last stories Terry wrote for The News was the recent Texas Supreme Court hearing over the latest school finance lawsuit, an issue that Terry covered during his entire Austin career. After a series of lawsuits – Terry could tell you exactly how many – our elected officials still haven’t gotten school funding right.
As Terry wrote in his final blog for the Dallas newspaper, “In most cases, our teachers and schools are doing the best they can, but they need more support from their legislators and the state.”
Terry always got his stories right, and he deserves a great retirement. But I will miss his work.
I also learned as a writer to be careful about singling out people.
Many very capable, dedicated journalists, including personal friends and former colleagues, have left the Capitol press corps in recent years, and the transformation continues. Christy Hoppe, The Dallas Morning News’ Austin bureau chief, also retired last week. I will miss her work, as I miss the work of Wayne Slater, R.G. Ratcliffe and Gary Scharrer, other former statehouse reporters who have moved on in recent years.
They also got their stories right. I wish I could say the same thing about how well some of the politicians they covered at the Capitol have performed their jobs.