And here I was, with a new wife and a baby on the way, and I was jumping right in.
The reason I felt confident enough to do that was because I knew Ziva Branstetter was going to be there.
It had been my goal to work with her for a few years, but the actual opportunity to do so had always eluded me. The closest I’d gotten was collaborating with her on a few projects.
There are a few reasons I was so determined to work with her. There’s a renewed interest in investigative journalism, but there are very few investigative journalists. And across Oklahoma, a state you could argue needs investigative journalism as much as any, there are only a handful.
And maybe none have her drive and work ethic. If you don’t believe me, feel free to look at my email inbox and texts and laugh at all of the 4 a.m. messages.
You might remember our first story as The Frontier — it came before we even had a website ready to publish.
Ziva and I had begun covering the Robert Bates saga at the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office during our final month and the Tulsa World, and had carried the story with us when we left. During our first week as reporters at The Frontier, we got a TCSO Internal Affairs report that validated all of our previous coverage on the Bates case and the Eric Harris shooting.
It was midnight when we were provided with the report, and we excitedly rushed to a nearby 24-hour restaurant to write. We divvied the report up and started writing. After an hour or two we finished writing and then realized that since our website wouldn’t be complete for a week, we had nowhere to publish our story.
So, at 2 a.m., next to empty plates, we had to start scouring the Internet for a place to display our hard work. Over the next week or two we published several stories that way. It was perhaps not the most ideal beginning, but our coverage during that time period was unlike anything anyone else was doing, and it immediately legitimized us in the eyes of the public.
We’ve done our best over the last 24 months to continue earning that trust.
I knew that being around Ziva every day would rub off on me. I’ve always done best when I’ve been forced to sink or swim, and working next to her seemed like jumping into a very deep pond.
The reality is that I knew one day Ziva would no longer be here. She’d retire, or she’d take a job elsewhere, and someone had to carry on in her spirit.
Like I said, there are some very good investigative journalists across Oklahoma, but I doubt any of them would deny that Ziva’s style is unique. Someone has to sue the governor (and the sheriff)! Someone has to threaten state leaders in open records emails (I’ve seen it happen).
And someone has to be willing to wage battles on social media with trolls and public information officers (maybe I’ll skip this part).
The last two years here have been a whirlwind, and they’ve been worth it. I’ve grown by leaps and bounds as a journalist, and I owe much of it to Ziva. Sitting next to her and working with her on stories and projects has been an invaluable experience — one for which she could probably charge a fee.
And I’ve been lucky enough to learn from her for free.
While we’re obviously sad to see her go, we’re excited to see what her team at Reveal is going to accomplish. And we’re really excited to see what Cliff Adcock, our new hire, is going to bring to the table at The Frontier.
Cliff is joining our team with more than a decade of investigative journalism experience in his background, and his experience in covering tribal affairs and doing environmental reporting is going to help us branch out into new areas of reporting.
Ziva’s last day here will be around mid-April, so that gives everyone plenty of time to wish her well, or to thank her for getting the hell out of the state.
So good luck, Ziva, and good luck to the public officials she encounters in her new gig.
For everyone in Oklahoma breathing a sigh of relief that she’s gone, there should be 10 across the nation that are stressed out that her scope has widened.
Good luck everyone, she’s your problem now.