In the nine long months after political reporter Eli Stokols left Fox 31 Denver, it looked like the local TV station's surprising reputation as a go-to source for political news, cultivated by over a decade of obsessive work by Stokols, was going to be completely lost.
Serious politics coverage at Fox 31 essentially vanished overnight. It was an unbelievable fall, and depressing. (Not to say Fox 31 didn't have some good pieces and journalists, but the unfilled hole was huge.) But on the positive side, it showed the impact one talented reporter can have on a news outlet, especially a TV station, and on an entire state.
That's why it's great that Fox 31 has hired a reporter, Joe St. George, to take over Stokols' political beat, showing that the station's commitment to politics coverage didn't start and stop with Stokols--as can be the case at local TV outlets.
Joe St. George arrived at the station last month after covering politics in Virginia for over three years and, before that, for a stint in Iowa. So he's got nothing comparable to Stokols' experience, but he seems to be hard-working and, jeez, all of the people of Colorado are glad to see him given the chance, though they don't know it.
"Joe's passion is in political reporting," said Fox 31 News Director Holly Gauntt. "He did a lot of good political reporting at his former station and has a good reputation there. It's rare. He's one of those guys who breathes, eats, lives, sleeps politics, so I snatched him up as soon as I found out about him."
Gauntt says it will be tough for St. George to replace Stokols, whom she described as "the best political reporter in the state.
St. George's "number one priority" will be politics, including, eventually, the type of in-the-weeds blogging produced by Stokols. St. George will do that once he develops the contacts and knowledge required, said Gauntt
"I think politics is hugely important," said Gauntt in response to my saying that Fox 31 deserves a ton of credit for hiring a new political reporter and giving Stokols the space to focus on politics when he was here -- because many local TV outlets don't have any political reporters at all. "Some of it's not for broadcast. You can't get too far into the weeds, but that's the beauty of websites and blogs and all of that."
For his part, St. George says he's "very lucky" to be covering politics for a local TV station in his third swing state.
"I would never have left Virginia if I didn't have an equally exciting opportunity to cover politics in a state like Colorado," he said.
St. George has "followed Eli's work for years" and hopes to work on multiple platforms like Stokols did.
"While not every politics story is a great TV story, it has a place online if it doesn't have a place on television," said St. George, who hopes to start blogging soon. "I consider myself not just a TV journalist but a multi-screen journalist."
Stokols hoped his former station wouldn't drop serious political reporting after his departure.
"I'm glad to see that Fox31 remains committed to covering Colorado politics and policy debates in its newscast and across additional platforms," wrote Stokols when asked for a comment about St. George's hire. "I look forward to following Joe's coverage from afar."
Toward the end of his run in Denver, Stokols started an interview show that aired some of the most dramatic TV news video of the 2014 election in Colorado. Gauntt has no immediate plans to launch such a show (which would compete with interview-type shows aired by local TV news competitors 9News and, now, Channel 7). But she's open to the possibility down the road, she said.