An Inside Look Into Investigative Reporting
by Jonathan Gutierrez, photo by David Vaughn
Becoming a faculty member at Texas Tech University is not something Pete Brewton thought his life would entail when he received his bachelor’s degree in 1973 in philosophy from Rice University.
Brewton, the Hutcheson Professor of Professional Practice, who teaches reporting and advanced reporting courses in the Texas Tech College of Media & Communication, said he was clueless as to what he wanted to do for a long time when it came to a potential career.
“After finishing my undergraduate work at Rice, I got a job working as a paralegal assistant at a big law firm in Houston,” Brewton said. “After about eight months of that, I wanted to go out into the desert and study astronomy, so I did. I went to New Mexico State at Las Cruces, and I studied astronomy for a couple years, but then decided I wanted to do something different.”
Somehow the idea to become a foreign diplomat and get involved in international business was something that really interested him at that point in his life, Brewton said. He then made the decision to enroll at the Thunderbird School of International Management in Glendale, Ariz., to pursue a master’s degree in business.
While he was there, his best friend was the editor of the school newspaper, and she talked him into writing for the paper. He started writing, he said, and got the bug.
Through doing some work for his friend at the school newspaper, Brewton realized he wanted to start a career in journalism.
After finishing graduate school in Arizona, Brewton said he wrote 40 letters to 40 of the biggest newspapers and magazines in the country. To his disappointment, he received 40 form rejection letters in return.
“I realized that I was going to have to go knocking on doors,” he said. “From there I went back to Texas, and I just started knocking on the door of every newspaper in the state. That’s what it takes. Immediately, I got four or five job offers, and the best one, I thought, was the business editor opening at the San Angelo Standard-Times.”
The business editor job at the Standard-Times was good and required him to do a bit of everything, Brewton said.
“I had to make up the page, take the pictures, write the cutlines, write the headlines, write all the stories–I had to learn in a hurry,” he said.
Brewton spent a year at the Standard-Times before leaving for a job opportunity at the Houston Chronicle, an opportunity he said he considers himself lucky to have gotten.
“It was only a one year’s experience at the Standard-Times before I was asked to come work at the Chronicle,” he said. “Most papers of that size required a minimum of two years experience, but I met someone when I had interviewed there right out of graduate school,” Brewton said.
“I had met the assistant managing editor, and I had kept in touch with him and continued to send him all of my clips. When an opening came up there, he just kind of thought of me and hired me. I was very fortunate—I didn’t know it at the time, and the pay was terrible, but it got better.”
In Houston, Brewton gained some of his most valuable journalistic experiences.
“I did everything for the Chronicle,” he said. “I covered cops, courts, city hall, and then I moved over to the Houston Post as an investigative reporter. While there, I worked on government, medical and hospital investigations, organized crime, and I also looked at private foundations and the savings and loan scandal. With the savings and loan scandal, the stories we did got national attention.”
After being contacted by Simon & Schuster publishing company, Brewton decided to leave the Houston Post and worked on a book about the savings and loan scandal while he attended law school at the University of Texas at Austin. The publisher contacted Brewton after being impressed with his work on the savings and loan scandal for the Houston Post.
The book was eventually published by another book publisher, and Brewton graduated from law school. He moved back to Houston to practice law and also to start writing a novel about the savings and loan scandal.
“I decided I wanted to set my novel on the South Plains,” Brewton said. “It really hadn’t been written about much. It’s kind of an unknown part of the country and it’s a quite unique place. I thought it would be kind of cool to do that, so I came out to Lubbock to make sure I remembered it right. I found that living was so easy here in Lubbock that I might as well move here. So, I did and I finished the novel in 2002.”
Brewton finished the novel and started looking for something new to do in Lubbock. He emailed Jerry Hudson, founding dean of the College of Media & Communication. Hudson asked Brewton to come in for an interview, and from there Brewton became a part of the faculty at Texas Tech and has been teaching for 10 years now.
Brewton recently started an endowed scholarship in the College of Media & Communication. He said he wanted to make a contribution to the college and this was one idea that came about.
“I had a little extra money and instead of spending it on myself, I thought I would start an endowed scholarship,” he said. “It is specifically intended for students who are interested in investigative reporting. I’m trying to get my brothers to contribute to it right now. I went to Dean Hudson and said that I wanted to make a big contribution to the college and I needed to know where was the greatest need. Hudson said the need was for scholarships, so that’s one reason I went ahead and did that. I’m really hoping we will have more students develop aspirations to do investigative reporting.”
With some of his best students graduating, Brewton said he hopes some of the new students that are enrolling in his classes develop an interest in investigative reporting.
“It’s the kind of reporting that gets you noticed,” he said. “It gets you promotions in your job, it gets you better jobs, and it wins awards and contests. It leads to book contracts and all sorts of things,” Brewton said. “You don’t get that kind of exposure only covering events. I’m trying to teach students here at Texas Tech in my advanced reporting course how to do that kind of thing.”
Brewton said he thinks graduating students must realize that they need to be willing to take chances when it comes to their journalism careers after college.
“You need to have guts,” he said. “You’ve got to knock on doors. You can’t get a great job by just sending out cover letters and resumes. You’ve got to go see people and be aggressive and pushy because that’s what it takes to be a good reporter,” Brewton said.
“Editors know this and they want gutsy people. You need to be gutsy. Once you get a job, you need to be gutsy there and push the envelope. Don’t just go out there and rewrite press releases. You need to do stories that no one has done before. Investigate places and people that no one has investigated before.” mc
Jonathan Gutierrez is a senior journalism major from San Antonio, Texas.
David Vaughn is a junior university studies major from Spur, Texas.