February 03, 2004
Fleck leaves Press

This is a damn shame: Political writer Tim Fleck has apparently left the Houston Press.

Citing a severance agreement that stipulated he not discuss the circumstances of his departure, Fleck isn't saying much.

Press Editor Margaret Downing was equally tight-lipped.

"All I can say is, he's left the Press," she said last week.

That's bad, but this is worse:

Before signing the agreement, Fleck reportedly told friends he was pushed out because the alternative weekly wanted to "move in a different direction" and appeal to a younger readership.

Downing, who joined the Press after serving as managing editor at the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger and the Houston Post, said it hasn't yet been decided whether the Press will continue to offer the sort of hard-edged political commentary for which Fleck was known. "We're going to try to keep our balance," she said.

But at least some readers may look elsewhere.

"There's no reason for me to pick the Press up if his stories aren't in there," political consultant Dave Walden said.

I won't stop reading the Press if Fleck isn't there, but its value to me will definitely plummet. If Fleck's musings about a "younger readership" is true, then I think it's completely misguided. The bulk of the Press in any given week is devoted to the music/club/arts/singles scene, and last I checked that all skewed pretty young (younger than me, that's for sure). Speaking as one of those non-younger readers, what will be left for me if there's no Insider or Insider-like column?

Fleck, a Houston native who graduated from the University of Houston, has been around the local journalism scene for decades, specializing in political and investigative reporting.

He joined the Press when it was founded in 1989. He left in 1993, returning in August 1994, after it was purchased by New Times, a Phoenix-based chain of alternative weeklies.

In between, Fleck had published a political newsletter, the Houston Insider, and he began a weekly column, The Insider, in addition to handling other writing responsibilities at the Press.

The Insider was filled with acerbic wit, including this take on Anthony Hall, just named as Mayor Bill White's chief administrative officer. "After the Insider congratulated Hall for his survivability, Hall responded somewhat defensively that he could have gone into the private sector and made millions of dollars. There are those who might have been willing to pay him more than that to leave."

But Fleck has been known to overstay a welcome himself.

Walden recalls a fund-raiser for former Mayor Bob Lanier held in a hotel ballroom. The media wasn't invited, but Fleck walked in anyway.

Walden asked him to leave. Fleck said no. "I said, `OK, I'll just have you thrown out.' He said, `I'll do a Gandhi on you and lie on the floor, and you'll have to carry me out.'

"So I let him stay."

Walden laughs now, "But it wasn't so funny at the time."

As for Fleck, he said he is setting up a home office. "I'll wait and see what comes over the transom, and I'll act on it."

I know what he should be doing. It starts with the letter "b" and rhymes with "logging". Can't say it'll bring you fame and fortune, Tim, but it'll keep your name out there and ought to help you land some freelance gigs. Those of us who think the Press is making a big mistake will be happy to read you wherever you publish.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 03, 2004 to Local politics | TrackBack

I've always thought "Corporate Alternative Weekly Newspaper" was an oxymoron, and my opinion of the charming Ms. Dowling and her paper has fewer syllables than that.

I can get better music coverage on-line, I can find goofier personals on-line, and they're getting rid of Tim Fleck, where they really did have a competitive advantage over other Houston news sources? Oh, that's brilliant.

If there is any lamenting for the death of The Press, it'll happen long before they stop publishing it.

Posted by: Michael on February 3, 2004 9:02 AM

I hope Fleck does take up blogging. He was the only thing about the Press I missed.

Two words sum up the quality of the rest of the Press for me: Cecil's Muse.

Posted by: Ginger on February 3, 2004 9:12 AM

Fleck was the only reason I picked up the Press. That's a real shame.

Posted by: Another Rice Grad on February 3, 2004 10:39 AM

Wendy Grossman left as well. Went freelance.

No reason to read the Press anymore.

Posted by: Jost on February 3, 2004 11:28 AM

I for one will not miss Mr. Fleck. Now and then he was interesting, but he was never, ever fair. I am open minded enough to believe that there are good and bad conservatives, and good and bad liberals, and that Fleck could have been ten times more effective had he realized that simple fact, and acted on it. Actually, anyone who is totally idealogical all the time is rather sad.

Posted by: Ricardo on February 20, 2004 10:41 PM

There isn't a replacement for Tim Fleck -- we haven't seen anyone elese will the knowledge and willingness to report the inside government scene. Tim was willing to open the door, where others apparently don't want to tangle with some powerful establishment figures.

Posted by: LBS on August 3, 2004 5:36 PM

Where can I find Tim's recent work. Very sad he is no longer with the HOUTON PRESS. I now only read the NYT. No local source.

Posted by: David Sherman on December 1, 2004 1:45 PM

I've surely missed Fleck's column. Perhaps that's why I rarely bother to look for a copy of the Press these days. Has Tim found no forum willing to publish an Insider column? I realize full well that his willingness to alienate potential advertisers for traditional printed media probably rendered it pragmatically expedient for the timid to find reason to send him packing; e.g., one of my favorites, chronicling the truth regarding the raging, irrascible James McIngvale of Gallery: www.houstonpress.com/issues/2002-09-05/news/insider.html

Posted by: Craig on July 10, 2005 1:33 PM

Tim Fleck is now an editorial writer for the Houston Chronicle.

Posted by: LBS on October 8, 2005 1:31 PM