The Rivard Report celebrates its fourth anniversary today, and with our recent transformation to a member-supported nonprofit, this seems like a good time to take a look back and then introduce our growing staff. Four years have streamed by in a flash, yet our beginnings seem so long ago. Our story:
Monika Maeckle, my partner of 34 years, and I launched the Rivard Report after long media careers, mine working for five different Texas newspapers and Newsweek, and Monika working as a vice president for Business Wire, where she got the digital jump on me, embracing the web world and social media from the outset. That came in handy when we launched the Rivard Report.
Our focus was urban life in San Antonio, and we quickly attracted others who had their own San Antonio stories and commentaries to share. I felt like Tom Sawyer whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence as more and more people in the “neighborhood” lined up to contribute.
We started to hear from people and organizations that wanted us to tell their story. I was back where I started 35 years earlier, on the street with a reporter’s notebook. The more stories we published, the more requests for coverage came streaming into our little startup at Geekdom.
Our offices were in Geekdom, which was located in the Weston Centre for its first few years. I tried to convince a few of the young programmers and app developers that they were natural-born story tellers and ought to write for the Rivard Report. We had a few takers, but as a strategy, it didn’t work out so well. A lot of people in that world are introverted. Writing code was one thing. Words? They weren’t interested.
We were helped enormously by our first two college interns, Don Dimick, a tech savvy Trinity University junior who wanted to work as a videographer at Rackspace some day, and Carolina Canizales, a DREAMer born in Mexico and raised in Alamo Heights where her single mother cleaned houses.
Carolina was a UTSA Honors College graduate caught between her small family apartment in ’09, her heritage south of the border, and the rising tide of anti-immigration sentiment. We had to reserve her wages in escrow because it was illegal to pay her — until President Obama signed an executive order protecting DREAMers and allowing them to work.
Don and Carolina were like family, but he was heading into his senior year at Trinity, and thanks to Pres. Obama’s executive order, Carolina collected her pay and headed to Washington D.C. Don now works as a news photographer and newscast editor at KABB/WOAI-TV. Carolina is the national deportation defense coordinator with United We Dream.
We needed someone who had studied journalism, who had some photography skills, who could help us manage our Word Press site. We posted a “help wanted” ad on our home page seeking a paid summer intern with journalism experience.
Iris Dimmick graduated from Central Washington University in December 2011 with a multimedia journalism degree, and then followed the footsteps of her best friend to San Antonio, who moved here to work as a software engineer at USAA. Iris soon found herself living in Southtown and waiting tables at the Liberty Bar.
Our audience was much smaller back then, but Iris read the help wanted posting and applied. Monika gets all the credit for interviewing Iris and knowing the second they met that “she was the one.” Today, Iris is the Rivard Report’s managing editor, someone who does it all: reports, writes, edits photographs, produces the site, supervises freelance contributors, etc.
After Monika left to join CPS Energy, where she still works as a consultant, it was just Iris and me, a growing family of freelance contributors and people from all walks of life who wanted to post a commentary or tell their story. Monika continued to contribute on the urban nature beat. With the San Antonio River Improvement Project in full bloom, there was plenty to write about, and she was developing her own national following with the Texas Butterfly Ranch blog.
As we turned one year old and our audience continued to grow, several small businesses asked to advertise on the site. Jaime Solis, a Rockport native and UTSA grad, had worked on the staff of U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez and then state Rep. Joe Farias and decided politics was not his calling. We hired him as our advertising and marketing director, a position he still holds. Read more: Jaime Solis: From Rockport to the Rivard Report.
Clothesline Cleaners in Southtown was our very first advertiser. Liberty Bar, Iris’ former employer, wasn’t far behind. Centro Properties, MBS Fitness, and ARTS SA followed. Then came Geekdom, H-E-B, the Majestic and Empire Theaters and others. Jaime has since taken us into the world of events, small and large, from intimate Rivard Report dinners at local restaurants that showcase emerging chefs, to sellout crowds at the Pearl Stable and Alamo Brewery, where audiences have enjoyed a moderate mix of craft brew and cocktails while exploring local issues of interest and importance.
Our small staff has grown considerably from the trio of Iris, Jaime and me. We’d like to introduce you to each member of our team in the order of their arrival.
Scott Ball, Photo Editor
I’ve worked with amazing photographers over the course of my career. Scott is the equal of the very best. His visual work has transformed the Rivard Report, and his eye for a story has added a new dimension to our storytelling, whether he is chasing firefighters in Big Bend, spending time with Central Texas flood victims, or hanging out at a charreada on the Southside. Scott’s childhood and family life in San Antonio was complicated, something that connected us. Read more: Understanding Life Through a Viewfinder. Scott joined us in 2014 and it was his photography and his development of a freelance network that allowed us to present higher quality visuals and more frequent curated slide shows.
Lea Thompson, Reporter and Assistant Editor
Lea was working at the Spanish-language La Prensa when we first met in 2014, and she started to augment that work with freelance assignments with the Rivard Report. We didn’t learn until much later that she actually majored in photojournalism. Like many of us, Lea started writing when she was a pre-teen. Unlike the rest of us, she actually won an award for something she wrote when she was 10 years old that was published in the Houston Chronicle. We were pretty sure we were going to grow enough in 2015 to hire Lea full-time, but we probably erred by telling her that ahead of time. I’m sure she began to wonder as the months passed, but we barely made it, hiring her at the end of the year. She covers Bexar County and a range of general interest topics. Read more: Lea Thompson: Finding the Life Behind the Story.
Kathryn Boyd-Batstone, Photographer and Videographer
Kathryn, a Southern California native, was our first out-of-market hire. She responded to an ad we placed on the Facebook page of a photojournalism group. Scott saw her still photography and video work as a University of Oregon student and San Francisco Chronicle intern and knew in an instant that “she was the one.” Kathryn and her father drove from California to Texas over the Christmas holiday, arriving in time for her to cover the Alamo Bowl on her first day of work. I took her to a gun show the same week, so she had a good, solid introduction to San Antonio. Her video work, starting with the MLK Day March this year, is adding another new dimension to our site. Read more about her life and work with the camera here: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone: Life Through a Lens.
Camille Garcia, Reporter
Camille Garcia also arrived in San Antonio Christmas week, only for her it was a homecoming. A graduate of the School of Journalism at UT-Austin, Camille had won post-graduate admission to an international program that sent her to Buenos Aires and then on to a small town in Argentina to teach English. When that opportunity came to a close, she came home and began to look for work. She didn’t have to look far or for very long. The San Antonio that Camille knew was not the San Antonio she found upon her return. We recently published a story by Trinity University graduate Jonathan Hernandez about the angst of landing a job after graduation. Camille’s job search lasted about one week. She was working here by early January, and already has covered everything from the city’s annual census of homeless people to opening day at the rodeo and stock show. Read more: Camille Garcia: Finding Adventure in My Hometown.
Scott Gustafson, Business Manager
We’ve known Scott since he was on the staff of then-District 2 Councilwoman Ivy Taylor in 2011-13. Scott and his wife, Megan Dodge, who worked at the time in the City Manager’s office, moved back to Kansas City to be near extended family after the birth of their first child, Abraham in 2013. We stayed in touch, and when the Rivard Report published a series of stories looking at streetcar systems in other cities, Scott wrote the story about the streetcar system under construction in Kansas City. After one year they decided they preferred San Antonio. Scott went to work for Centro SA, and Megan returned to work for the City. When the Newman Foundation made its transformative contribution to the Rivard Report in 2015, we asked Scott to join our team. His challenge as Business Manager, we explained, was simple: Bring order to chaos, and when you get that done, let’s focus on growth. He seems to have both well in hand. What he didn’t know is that the job also entailed duties like building desks in his home garage for our growing editorial staff. Welcome to a startup, where everyone does everything. Scott’s personal story will be published next week.
Bekah McNeel, Education Reporter
When we first met Bekah, a widely-traveled San Antonio native, she had this exotic job working remotely for Ker & Downey, a specialty tour operator in Houston that plans luxury adventure vacations for those who can afford such travel. Bekah had to know her stuff in order to plan other people’s getaways, so over time she was dispatched to visit the Galapagos Islands, to hike Machu Pichu in Peru, travel down the Amazon, and wander south to the glaciers in Patagonia. One assignment required her to endure spa treatments in Reykjavík, Iceland.
For such a traveler, Bekah has a great passion for community, her Dignowity Hill neighborhood, and schools and education. She began covering education for us as a sideline in between her travels, which the rest of us enjoyed vicariously.
Bekah and her husband Lewis, an architect at Lake/Flato, had their first child, Moira in 2014. Slowly but surely, visiting schools in San Antonio and writing stories became more practical than planning other people’s high-end journeys. Lewis and Bekah did take Moira to Patagonia last year, but Bekah left her job at the end of 2015 and agreed to work as an education reporter here while awaiting the arrival of their second child this summer. We wish her a blissful summer at home bonding with the new baby and cross our fingers that she will be back at work in time for the new school year.
Mike Monroe, Spurs Reporter
You don’t often get to hire people twice, but I was fortunate enough to hire Mike 12 years ago when he was working at the Denver Post and joined the Express-News as the paper’s NBA reporter. Mike joined the newsroom exodus in December and wrote his first game story for us on Christmas Day. We eagerly welcomed him to the Rivard Report. The challenge now is to recruit some of the companies that sponsor the Spurs to support our Spurs coverage so we can send Mike on the road with the team. Right now he covers homes games in person and reports away games via the broadcast. We are considering a Kickstarter campaign to fund his on-scene coverage of the playoffs, an assignment we hope extends into June.
Trivia question: What do Mike, Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich and Rivard Report Board Chairman Richard Schlosberg III have in common? Answer: All three attended the U.S. Air Force Academy. Dick and Pop made it all the way through and served with distinction in the Air Force. Mike flunked the vision test for pilots and transferred to the University of Colorado in Boulder. He and Dick then crossed paths at the Denver Post, where Schlosberg served as publisher before assuming that position at the Los Angeles Times. Now they are under the same masthead again. Small world. Read more: Mike Monroe: Longtime NBA Writer Still in the Game
Featured image: Team Rivard Report: Scott Ball, Camille Garcia, Bekah McNeel, Jaime Solis, Robert Rivard, Iris Dimmick, Lea Thompson, Mike Monroe, Kathryn Boyd-Batstone, and Scott Gustafson. Photo by Josh Huskin.