This is a story I never thought I’d write.
I’m leaving Tulsa.
After 30 years doing the job I love in this city I love, I’ve accepted an offer to become a senior editor at The Center for Investigative Reporting in the Bay area.
I know this news will be greeted by some people with great joy. You know who you are.
Other people may be sad to see me go, because they appreciate the kind of journalism I am known for producing. Maybe they even benefitted from it.
Some of you may be wondering, who is Ziva Branstetter anyway to think it’s a big deal she has taken a new job out of state? And what is The Center for Investigative Reporting? (More about that later.)
Wherever you fall on that spectrum, I feel I owe the city and especially the growing number of readers of The Frontier a sincere explanation.
The truth is I never thought I’d leave Tulsa.
It was 1988 when I walked into The Tulsa Tribune and told Windsor Ridenour I wanted to be an investigative reporter.
Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable would have to wait until I had more experience. The editors pointed me to a police scanner and an empty desk of a reporter they’d just fired. Talk about intimidating.
The next five years at The Trib had everything to do with the journalist I am today.
The editors — especially Mary Hargrove, Pearl Wittkopp and Rose Mary Mercer — were demanding, pushy, critical and passionate. Mary Hargrove’s tenacity and fearlessness inspired me like no other journalist and she remains one of my dearest friends today.
When The Tribune closed in 1992, I was heartbroken.
I spent a fun two years after that at The Philadelphia Daily News but I was in the features department and it just wasn’t where I wanted to be. When my husband Doug and I had the chance to return to Tulsa so I could work for the Tulsa World, I jumped at it.
I spent the next two decades at the World, and I will always be deeply grateful for the experience.
I learned how thrilling it feels to expose a corrupt politician and how quickly the public’s angry reaction can bring change. I learned how satisfying it feels to painstakingly build a database out of public records and reveal a broken government system.
I posted a story to the web for the first time and learned the power of this digital medium to reach new audiences. I also couldn’t wait to get to work so I could hear people like Rod Walton and Manny Gamallo crack jokes all day.
Covering the Oklahoma City federal building bombing and the Joplin tornado, I learned it’s OK to let your feelings show while interviewing good people caught up in devastating stories.
I developed a deep respect for the talented staff at the World. Editors like Joe Worley, Susan Ellerbach and Debbie Jackson taught me how to be a leader and how to inspire reporters to do their best work under the most challenging conditions.
When Bobby Lorton came to me two and a half years ago and pitched the idea of starting a local investigative news site, I thought it sounded like the riskiest career move I could possibly make. Actually, it turned out to be the smartest.
I have to credit my friend and former reporting partner Cary Aspinwall with giving me the courage to take Bobby up on the offer. (Fittingly, Cary and I were driving to cover an execution that went wrong when we discussed the idea.)
We needed two self-starters who were also brand name journalists to join us. Dylan Goforth and Kevin Canfield were the perfect choices.
I got to know Dylan at the World when he and I broke the Robert Bates story. That story thrust both of us into the national spotlight at the same time we were making the move from the World to The Frontier.
The Frontier owes a large part of its early success to Dylan’s hard work, whether that was editing video, shooting photos, writing a soul-baring column or breaking a news story. It seems there’s nothing Dylan Goforth isn’t good at.
As The Frontier’s new editor in chief, Dylan brings an incredible versatility and creativity to this role. I can think of no better choice to lead The Frontier as our site continues to grow both in size and in scope. Plus Dylan is the best storyteller I know.
The way Kevin Canfield has embraced this new digital world is beyond impressive.
I confess I had my doubts in the early days of The Frontier, when Cary and Dylan had to remind him more than once about the difference between # and @ on Twitter. He has since surpassed the ability of many younger journalists to find unique ways to tell stories and take advantage of all this digital medium has to offer.
Kevin is usually the first to suggest a video platform instead of a more traditional presentation for stories. His ideas are ambitious and he puts in the work to pull them off. He’s also a genuinely good person and has taught me so much about how to develop sources by just listening and caring about people.
Kevin’s talent and dedication to reporting on local government and the issues of the day will continue to benefit this city.
We added Kassie McClung to our staff after her internship proved what a great fit she was for our unconventional team. She has proven herself repeatedly with the ability to juggle complex, long-term projects such as our Unguarded series while turning out quick-hit stories on a wide range of issues.
Kassie is a self-starter with an innate talent for recognizing a good news story others have overlooked.
I would be remiss if I didn’t thank Bobby Lorton from the bottom of my heart for bringing this all together and trusting me to lead The Frontier. After the stellar public service his family provided by running the Tulsa World for more than a century, he had nothing to prove.
Bobby has a sincere belief in the power of journalism, especially local investigative journalism, to improve society. His enthusiasm for the concept of The Frontier was contagious. Tulsa is truly fortunate to have citizens such as Bobby Lorton who know that fearless local journalism is an essential part of any thriving community.
When I received the offer to become a senior editor at the Center for Investigative Reporting, I wrestled with the notion that I would be leaving Tulsa and the important work we have done here behind. But I realized that The Frontier will be fine without me and is in the best possible hands.
CIR is a nonprofit investigative news organization dedicated to exposing government fraud and waste, human rights violations, environmental degradation, threats to public safety and holding the powerful accountable. The staff is producing some of the most innovative work in journalism around and I’m honored to be joining them.
I’m also very proud of what we accomplished during my time at The Frontier.
Our reporting on the scandal at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office had a huge impact on the ultimate outcome and will not stop until the corruption is eliminated.
We have contributed to public understanding of many important state and local issues and exposed wrongdoing that other media outlets either did not care to report or were afraid to take on. We’ve made a name for ourselves nationally within a short time and built a brand that people trust.
Some who don’t share our philosophy about the importance of local investigative journalism may hope The Frontier doesn’t survive without me. I assure you, The Frontier will not only survive, it will thrive.
We’ve added Clifton Adcock to our staff, a top-notch investigative reporter who has worked in Oklahoma journalism for more than 10 years.
For those celebrating my departure, don’t think you’re off the hook. The staff of The Frontier isn’t going anywhere. They’re just getting started.