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Gavin's Underground

Chris Vanocur

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2013-05-02 - Roughly six months ago, as part of a company-wide layoff at ABC 4, Chris Vanocur was let go by the station's new ownership, Nexstar -- just in time for Christmas, no less. Since that time, Vanocur has become the subject of heavy debate about the company's decision making, and has watched his local celebrity status elevate both as a frequent guest on media programs and a heavily watched reporter (and City Weekly Best Of Utah winner), as people wonder what the award-winning journalist will end up doing next.
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Well, it turns out Vanocur has launched his own website with the title Vaniloquence, set up to give himself a voice in an ever-changing media landscape, where traditional broadcast media is slowly fading into the online ether. What plans does he have for this new website? Today, I chat with him about that, as well as his departure from television (and learn why he's earned the reputation of being the News Vulcan) and other projects he has happening in the wings, along with his thoughts on local media. (Photos courtesy Chris Vanocur.)

Chris Vanocur
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Gavin: Hey, Chris. First thing, tell us a bit about yourself.

Chris: One question I get asked a lot is, how did you end up in Utah? Well, during a college summer break, I had the awesome experience of working at Many Glacier National Park in Montana. I fell in love with the West, and and that love affair continues to this day.

Gavin: Getting right to it, we'll skip to the more recent parts of your career. You had been at ABC 4 for several years. How had things been going for you there during the last five or so years?

Chris: Ironically, I thought my reporting was better than it had ever been. Last year, I had the double honor of winning Utah's SPJ award for best TV reporter and being named the best Utah TV reporter by the astute readers of the City Weekly. My reward for this good work is something I expect we will get to in about three more questions.
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Gavin: Even though KTVX was in fourth place, you were still getting tons of attention for your field work and special reports. To what did you attribute that popularity to?

Chris: I've always believed the best reporters are kind of loners or outsiders, ones with chips on their shoulders. So, being in last or fourth place didn't phase me. If anything, I kind of used that as a motivating tool. I embraced being the underdog. Sometimes this led me to pose tough questions to people in power. I think viewers responded to this and appreciated it.

Gavin: During the last year, before Nexstar came in, what was your experience like in the newsroom as far as morale and how people were dealing with the day-to-day?

Chris: Years ago, City Weekly wrote, "Every day, Vanocur puts his pants on one leg at a time and heads out to cover Salt Lake City much the same way Wyatt Earp covered Dodge." Not only did I love that but I thought it was also spot on. Every day, I would go after stories with a singular focus and intensity. In so doing, I didn't worry too much about what was going on at the station. I worried only about the things I could control. In the end, though, I lost the last shootout at the ABC 4 corral.
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Gavin: I know you probably can't go into great detail, but what happened when Nexstar came in and fired you?

Chris: Suffice it to say, my position was eliminated.

Gavin: After leaving KTVX, what were your immediate thoughts on your termination and the lost jobs of everyone else fired by Nexstar?

Chris: I felt immense sadness for everyone who was let go.
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Gavin: Despite stories such as yours and others, ranging from producers to the receptionist, the image of ABC 4 and Nexstar have been tarnished, but the company doesn't seem to care. What's your take on the fallout and how it has responded as a company to the criticism?

Chris: In my opinion, what happened to the receptionist was particularly shameful.

Gavin: Once you were let go, what did you do over the course of the past five months?

Chris: What helped immeasurably was the outpouring from hundreds and hundreds of friends and viewers. The support I received, especially on Facebook, was unexpected, overwhelming and very comforting. They seem to recognize what a mistake it was for ABC 4 to do what it did. In fact, if you gave truth serum to the station's new news director and assistant news director, they would probably admit it was a mistake, too.
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Gavin: You've said that even though you're not with a media outlet anymore, you're still getting e-mails and texts with news tips and stories. How do you view that kind of response, where people who know you're not with a station still turn to you first before going to anyone else?

Chris: It has been a real eye-opener. While there are still some great reporters out there, like the Tribune's Robert Gehrke, there aren't as many as there used to be. So, sources turn to people they know and trust. The one day I went up to the Capitol during the legislative session, I had three good stories within about five minutes.

Gavin: During your time away, you got the nickname News Vulcan from Kerry Jackson, made from the observation that you don't open up a lot to other media and keep a large part of your life private. Have you always been a private person, or is it more an attitude you've maintained in media and the public eye, and you're very different in person?

Chris: I find that question highly illogical.
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Gavin: How did the idea come about for you to start your own website after so many months went by?

Chris: It was a combination of things. Some of my very smart friends convinced me I was my own "brand" and should take advantage of that. Also, with story tips still coming my way, I needed an outlet.

Gavin: You've barely launched the website with a couple of stories and a video. What do you intend to cover on the website and what topics are you hoping to draw attention to?

Chris: As far as the blogs and vlogs go, basically, it's whatever interests me. For example, I find the new and rising voice of women (here in Utah and around the world) to be a fascinating story. I have already written about that and will continue to do so. There will also likely be more traditional news stories, as well, plus a few off-the-wall videos with my loyal and handsome dog, Scoop. But one of the things I really like about my website, ChrisVanocur.com, is the Twitter feed on the side. I read a lot of articles online and like to tweet links to some of the more interesting ones. Recently, I have been tweeting a lot about the social media. So, even if I haven't posted a new blog/vlog, there's always fresh material on the site. A lot of it is stuff you won't see elsewhere. One tweet I put out, which people quite liked, was a YouTube clip of Cyndi Lauper singing "Try A Little Tenderness." It's a cover of the old Otis Redding song. Lauper did it at the White House and just crushed it. You should check out the president's reaction.
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Gavin: You mention in your video that you have written a book. What details can you give us about it?

Chris: Thanks for asking. Last summer, I wrote a cover story for City Weekly called "Mitt, the Mormons and Me." It was so well received, I have expanded it into a book. Basically, it's about my time in Utah, the Olympic scandal and how that led to Mitt Romney's run for the presidency. There's some juicy stuff in it.

Gavin: Website aside, considering your availability and experience, why has no television or radio station picked you up yet?

Chris: There have been some overtures, but I have not been in a rush. I strongly believe there's a danger in grabbing something too quickly or unwisely. Fortunately, I am in a position where I can be a little choosy. As a friend of mine often reminds me, "Remember, Chris, you're the catch!"
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Gavin: Going local, what's your take on the current news media in Utah, both good and bad?

Chris: I read a fascinating piece a few weeks ago about the state of the media. On the good side, if you want to find out more about a national or an international story, there is a wealth information on the Internet. What's scary, though, is there seems to be less and less information about what's going on in our own backyard. You know things are getting bad when even Utah lobbyists are privately complaining about the scandalous behavior that is now going unreported.

Gavin: Considering the shift over the past three years between KUTV and KSL in ratings, in content, in personnel, what does this say about the way the audience has changed?

Chris: I may be the worst person to ask about this. I rarely watch TV news. When covering stories, I read as much as I can get my hands on or, more likely, I talk directly to sources. Oddly enough, I always believed one of my strengths as a TV reporter was that I don't really watch a lot of TV.
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Gavin: Even though the ratings are changing, they're considerably lower than where they all were just five years ago. How much do you attribute that to the web and how much to just people not interested in watching it?

Chris: People are still watching a lot of TV -- they're just not necessarily watching it on their TVs.

Gavin: Where do you see local broadcast media headed in the next five years? Do you believe they'll reinvent and gain back ground in new areas, or stick with what they have and ride it out as long as they can?

Chris: One of my favorite movie lines is from the Coen brothers fantastic remake of True Grit. In it, there is this cinematic gem: "I do not entertain hypotheticals. The world, as it is, is vexing enough." You are asking me to predict where the media will be in five years. I am not even sure I could explain where it is now.
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Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?

Chris: If the last few months have taught me anything, it is to expect the unexpected.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Chris: Yes. The website, again, and my Twitter. Thanks for letting me be part of your "Underground" movement.


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