Tracy Rowlett: "We're Not Chumps Jumping Into the PR Side."

Late yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing Tracy Rowlett say the word "vajayjay." And, no, he wasn't using it as a pejorative. We were talking about the changing face, or something, of news and how it's all one big commercial nowadays anyway. "Anything who's accusing me of selling out hasn't looked at their own product," he says. "I mean, when they're doing a piece about tightening a woman's vajayjay ..." He laughs. "Well, I'd rather look at the Shale."

And by "Shale," of course, he means the Barnett Shale -- which you probably know if you were playing along yesterday. Let's jump for the rest of what Rowlett has to say about his decision to leave KTVT-Channel 11 for Shale.TV, Chesapeake Energy's online channel due to launch in September. After all, today will be Rowlett's final day on the air.

So, from the tone in your voice, I can already tell you're stunned by the reaction you've received from folks here and elsewhere concerning your decision to work for Chesapeake.

I am catching hell, but the unfortunate truth is most of what the bloggers are saying isn't true. Just give us an opportunity to do what we're going to do and just judge us based on what we'll do. You gotta remember, every program I've done had a sponsor. And I wouldn't kill a negative story about a sponsor. We've got what I'd like to think are three premier journalists -- including Olive Talley and Jon Sparks -- and they don't come any better than that. John broke the SMU scandal, and Olive was a Pulitzer finalist. We're not chumps jumping into the PR side.

Think about it for a moment. Chesapeake has a huge PR arm. Why would they want us to do that? By the way, we don't work for Chesapeake. We work for Branded News. You can go to their Web site and see more about this, but I think it's cutting-edge stuff. This is the way of mass communications.

I think a lot of folks fear that this will be an all-good-news situation -- that you guys won't report on things that aren't beneficial for the Barnett Shale or Chesapeake.

Our mandate is be good journalists and tell stories not just about the Barnett Shale but all the shales -- hell, we might be do a piece on the shale they just discovered in Canada. We can talk about things like alternative fuels, for God's sakes. Boone Pickens had his big announcement the other day, and I am not saying he's 100 percent right, but he's on target. And we need to consider the consequences of OPEC providing the fuel for all of our energy needs.

What if there's bad news involving the Shale -- something about, oh, toxins bleeding into the drinking water or kids getting sick or people growing 12 eyes or Tommy Lee Jones going crazy?

If it's a hell of a great story and we can cover it, we will. We're a start-up. We don't have the reporters a Channel 11 or the Dallas Morning News have. We will be limited, but if we can cover a story like that, we will. And I promise folks we will most assuredly give them a forum where they can ask questions and airs their grievances. Think of it as an amalgam of Larry King, CSPAN and Nightline with Ted Kopel. Maybe Jonn and Olive will do a big piece on something and it might be negative -- and we're not saying what we'll cover before we cover it -- but we'd have people from both sides, not just Chesapeake but all the gas companies, the leader of a neighborhood group protesting about what's happening, like toxic waste or the loss of groundwater or the noise from all those big trucks rumbling in and out of their neighborhoods as they bring in those big pipelines. I know there are complaints, and we will address those as well.

You and I both know the news business isn't what it was when we started. The fact is, we're not covering Shale issues. There's no TV camera in sight. Nobody is covering these issues, and the Shale is the most important thing to hit here since cattle. It's that kind of an economic issue. It'll be a full discussion program. Folks keep thinking we'll be shills for Chesapeake, and that's not what this is.

You've been talking to Chesapeake for a month about this, is that right?

They called about a month of go, yeah. I talked to my boss here, because I had signed a new contract that was scheduled to kick in in August, and he was kind enough to say, "If that's what you want to pursue, pursue it. I don't think I am going to be sorry, but I have been frustrated by TV news for a while. And you never know how long this will last. Maybe my next job will be at the Observer.

I doubt you'll ever fall that far.

TV news is all about chasing demographics -- women in their 30s and 40s, especially. And this won't be concerned with demographics.

As far as the skepticism goes, don't you think you might feel the same way about this if, oh, John McCaa said he was leaving WFAA and going to work for an oil company's online TV network?

Probably. And, look, I am not asking anyone to give up their skepticism, but when it comes to condemnation, wait till you see the Web site, and judge us then. I think they will be pleasantly surprised. --Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky