I first met Mary Jo Pitzl when she was covering transportation for the Arizona Republic in the mid ‘80s and the Phoenix Transit System was an HMA client. We then served together on the Society of Professional Journalists Valley of the Sun Chapter’s local board, where we held board meetings in her living room. Some 30 years later – we’re both still working for the same place! She recently changed assignments, going from the Republic’s legislative and government reporter at the State Capitol to covering child-welfare issues.
Mary Jo, time to share:
I have been a journalist since…..high school, when my co-editor and I had to fight our principal over her objection to one of our editorials. A spark was lit! (It also helped that back in the pre-digital days, we got a pass to leave school and take the paper’s proofs to the printer’s shop….and the donut shop was along the way!)
I came to The Republic soon after I graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. And here I remain, after (as Scott so kindly points out) nearly 40 years. Actually, it is 37 this month. And I was 12 when I started!
I am one of what you might call the more-tenured staffers here. How have I remained, after waves of layoffs, buyouts, mergers (remember the Phoenix Gazette, our “marriage” with Channel 12)? I could say it’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to hang out in the Capitol bureau, far away from an editor’s gaze. But I hope it has a lot to do with providing non-hysterical, straight up coverage of the news, as well as prying out information that isn’t so readily shared with the public.
That includes four years covering the first term of Gov. Fife Symington, which was an epic time and, I think, a period where I did some of my best work.
I helped change state law when I dug into the Board of Regents’ ASU presidential search. I got lucky when pulling a weekend shift and got to cover Mother Teresa when she travelled to northwestern New Mexico to open a convent. And I led our coverage of the state-budget meltdown when the recession hit – including the sale of state buildings, Gov. Jan Brewer’s standoff with lawmakers over a penny tax increase, and the rise of the tea party. Crazy times. Or, as my editor at the time said, “a fertile news environment.”
That environment is why I keep doing what I do. I am now digging into child-welfare issues, exploring why Arizona has so many kids removed from their parents compared to almost every other state. It promises to be an interesting and challenging assignment.
Our work is, at its core, the same thing we’ve been doing for decades: Talk to people, read documents, be skeptical, challenge authority, observe, burn some shoe leather. But the way we deliver the news has evolved so much and, since the internet, so quickly.
Today I still report and write, but I also tweet, take photos and videos, do live standups in our studio, participate in our Gaggle podcasts (find us on iTunes, Stitcher) do television and radio spots, work on breaking news and long-term enterprise. And we do it with fewer staffers, and lots more technology.