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Celebrating Joyce Slocum's public radio leadership and legacy

TPR President and CEO Joyce Slocum and Dan Katz, TPR Vice President of News
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Joyce Slocum with Dan Katz, TPR vice president of news

Joyce Slocum, who led both NPR and Texas Public Radio into a new era for public media, died Sunday, March 3, from complications of colon cancer. She was 66. The lawyer and media executive used her intelligence and principles as a moral force to shepherd both NPR and TPR through turbulent times. On this edition of 'Weekend Insight' TPR's Jerry Clayton talks with TPR Vice President of News Dan Katz about Slocum's legacy.

Clayton: Tell me about how you first came into contact with Joyce.

Katz: The way I came to know Joyce is she recruited me about seven years ago now when I was the news director at WSHU in Connecticut. At the time, I was actually the youngest news director in the country. I was still in my 20s. And she liked the fact that we were a small, hungry team that took responsibility for covering breaking news and that we were able to grow and fund one of the most successful internship programs in the country.

She said to me, "I’d like you to do that in San Antonio." I came to learn later that she interviewed some of the most accomplished people in the field, in public radio and in other kinds of media — news leaders who had decades of experience from places like [Washington] D.C. and New York and Boston. But, as many of our listeners are well aware of, salaries are not the same in San Antonio as they are in the Northeast.

So, when she realized she couldn't get that kind of experience to lead the newsroom, she realized she needed to find the next news leader who had the potential to be great. I was honored that that was me. When I got to visit San Antonio the first time and meet with the journalists here who are really hungry to take their work to the next level, and I got to meet with Joyce in her office and meet her dog, Belle — I knew that something really special could happen here, and it did.

Please join friends and family as we celebrate the life and legacy of Joyce Slocum.

Clayton: Joyce led NPR and certainly TPR through some very turbulent times. What did she teach us all about leadership?

Katz: She was guided by her principles. What is the right thing to do in the moment? At her legal career she was known for being a tough but fair negotiator, and she certainly was here at TPR, too. She really treated everybody in the organization like family, and that resulted in some transformational leadership where we were able to nurture people's passion projects, where we were able to help people expand their reporting beats and move into new beats.

She understood journalism. She understood the life of a journalist. She made sure to make connections wherever she could to bring people together and to have a very flexible approach to news coverage and being able to support a flexible environment, as opposed to a lot of the commercial media outlets that would have story quotas from people. We didn't do that. We were able to pivot when we needed to, when we needed to cover a certain story because it was the right thing to do.

Joyce Slocum, who led both NPR and Texas Public Radio into a new era for public media, died Sunday from complications of colon cancer.

Clayton: How critical do you think Joyce would be of her tenure at TPR? Would you say that she left things unfinished or unrealized?

Katz: Joyce had extremely grand ambitions for TPR, and I'm proud to say that we accomplished all of them. We nurtured a newsroom that makes our community proud. We became a premier source for news in San Antonio and South Texas.

We were able to launch a number of new initiatives — podcasts with a national following. We started a Spanish language news service, and we grew our border and immigration desks. Those were things she was extremely proud of and extremely invested in.

Her last priority toward the end was growing our endowment to make sure that those desks and those initiatives are funded in perpetuity. That was her legacy.

Texas has lost a champion for press freedom and a leader at Texas Public Radio.Joyce Slocum died this week from complications from colon cancer. We are going to take some time to remember and celebrate Joyce who told us to dare to listen, be civil in our discourse and to be inclusive.
TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.

Jerry Clayton can be reached at jerry@tpr.org or on Twitter at @jerryclayton.