AUSTIN – Nov. 3, 2011 – On Tuesday, the Statesman named Debbie Hiott editor of the newspaper. Hiott began her career at the Statesman as a reporting intern in 1990 while a student at Southwest Texas State University. Since then, Hiott has served in suburban and city reporting roles and in editing positions as state editor, metro editor, assistant managing editor and, most recently, managing editor.
“Debbie is a hard-hitting and homegrown newswoman whose brilliant career at the Statesman has seen her rise from entry-level reporter to the top journalism job in the building,” Statesman Publisher Jane Williams said Tuesday.
“I’m looking forward to leading the paper at a challenging time, because we’re facing so much change in the industry,” Hiott said. “We have to figure out how to reach more readers online and in other platforms, but we can’t lose sight of what’s most important to those readers: good, strong journalism. That has to continue to be at the core of what we do, no matter where we do it.”
As a reporter covering public safety, Hays and Travis counties, and Austin City Hall, Hiott built a reputation for persistent, accurate, in-depth reporting. Her work on major public works projects such as Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and major governmental agencies such as Capital Metro not only informed readers but often provided new information that changed public understanding of events and issues and, ultimately, influenced the public agenda.
As a transportation reporter in the late 1990s, Hiott and reporting colleague Laylan Copelin broke stories about wasteful spending, fraud and cronyism at Capital Metro, exemplifying the impact that this type of journalism can have. Following their coverage, the state Legislature dismantled and reconfigured the transit agency’s board of directors. Meanwhile, the FBI investigated and brought federal charges against two of the key figures, who ultimately went to prison.
Hiott, who was promoted to managing editor in June 2008, said she has strived to develop a newsroom staff that works with the same sense of purpose, tenacity, immediacy and fairness and focuses on “accountability reporting — digging beneath the surface of an issue to see what’s really going on and, especially where taxpayer dollars are involved, exposing the answer for readers.”
During her term as managing editor, the Statesman has been judged by the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors association as the best newspaper and the best news website in the state. “I’m fortunate because our staff has embraced the Web, and we’re reaching new readers who might never pick up the paper,” she said.
Hiott, 41, has been interim editor since Fred Zipp resigned in September. She is a member of the board of the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors and is on the advisory board for the Texas State student newspaper, University Star. Recently, she was a Pulitzer Prize juror.
Hiott is the latest in a line of editors dating back to John Cardwell, who was the first editor of The Democratic Statesman in July 1871.
She lives in Northwest Austin with her husband, Jason Merlo, a software engineer; their daughter, Violet, 3; and their son, Jasper, 1.
About the Austin American-Statesman:
The Austin American-Statesman is part of a multimedia company that includes print, digital, delivery, commercial printing and packaging. The Statesman is the leading medium in Central Texas, reaching more than 800,000 readers every week. In print and online, Statesman brands are Central Texas’ top news, entertainment, shopping and information sources. Along with the Statesman, the Statesman family of print brands includes publications in communities across Central Texas and publications such as ¡ahora sí! and Glossy, which serve many diverse markets. The Austin American-Statesman is a Cox Media Group company.
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