A story you won’t read in tomorrow’s Star-Telegram

Laid-off Fort Worth Star-Telegram Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber won two top prizes at Friday night’s 2013 First Amendment Awards Dinner from the Society of Professional Journalists/Fort Worth chapter.

Columnist Lieber, who lost his job after 20 years in January, was the only Star-Telegram staffer who won the contest. SPJ is America’s oldest journalism organization, founded 104 years ago.

press hat small version

Lieber says he’s not ready to give up on newspapers — or his readers.

Other winners came from Fort Worth Weekly, The Oklahoman, San Antonio Current, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Texas Watchdog, The Ellis County Press, Texas Public Radio and WFAA-TV, Channel 8.

Lieber won first place in the Opinion/Commentary category for his piece called “Texas Insurance Department has made disciplinary information harder to find.” Lieber revealed that the state agency had hidden information from the public about disciplinary actions against members of the insurance industry. He asked the public to complain to the state about this coverup.

Apparently, enough did.  After the column appeared, the policy, initiated by Texas Insurance Commissioner Eleanor Kirtzman, was reversed a few days later and the public information was once again made available. That helped Texas consumers learn whom to avoid in the insurance industry.

Judges from the Indiana chapter of SPJ stated, “A very good example of what a columnist who serves as government watchdog should do – raise enough hell to shame public officials into acting on the public’s behalf.”

Accepting the award, Lieber, who founded consumer rights movement WatchdogNation, told the audience, “I like raising hell.”


Lieber also won first place for Opening the Books for a story that uses business or public records to report on corporate practices. His winning column – “One DFW travel business takes on another” – traced the secret owners of Oasis Getaway, a Southlake, Texas travel club that charged excessive fees for helping consumers plan trips. The company closed its offices after the column appeared.

The judges said, “It was easy to see the digging involved with specific records cited.”

Accepting the award, Lieber cried out with a smile, “I need a job.”

Last year, Lieber won national, state and local journalism awards for his columns. (Read more here.)

In addition, one of Lieber’s heroes, the late Betty Brink of Fort Worth Weekly, was honored posthumously with the Open Doors Award for lifetime achievement. (Read Lieber’s letter to the newspaper when Brink passed away here.)

When Lieber was laid off in January for economic reasons, readers of the newspaper were never informed. Lieber says he still receives letters, emails and phone calls from readers almost every day asking what happened to him. (Read Fort Worth Weekly’s take here.)

For instance, on the day of the April 19, 2013 SPJ banquet, Lieber received this note from a senior engineer at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics: “I’ve always enjoyed your reporting. I kept clicking on the Star-Telegram link, week after week, thinking you must be on an important assignment and would eventually return. It slowly dawned on me you weren’t there anymore. That’s when I started looking for you. If they’d informed me you’d departed, I’d have looked much sooner. That must be why the Dave Lieber button is still there – it keeps us from suspecting anything and turning our attention away from ST.”

And maybe that’s why you won’t read about Lieber’s latest awards in tomorrow’s Star-Telegram.

Final note: Lieber’s winning pieces were edited by his former editor Lois Norder, now the investigations editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Norder was laid off from the Star-Telegram in August 2012, five months before her columnist. (Read “Lois Norder, One of America’s Best Newspaper Editors.”)

One of America's top journalists

Lois Norder


Lois Norder One of America’s Best Newspaper Editors

By Dave Lieber/Founder, Watchdog Nation

When one of my journalistic heroes, the irascible Jimmy Breslin, columnist of New York City, won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1986, he said to everyone in his cheering newsroom these words about his editor:

“This award actually goes to Sharon Rosenhause, but I’m not speaking to her.”

As I celebrate the 19th anniversary of my stay at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as metro columnist, I say almost the same about my editor:

“This award actually goes to Lois Norder, and I AM speaking to her.”

This year, a year for which I will be forever grateful, my Watchdog column won local, state and national awards.

Nowhere on the awards, though, does the name Lois Norder appear alongside mine. A terrible oversight. One that needs to be corrected. Have you heard of Lois Norder? Probably not. Yet she’s one of America’s top newspaperwomen.

One of America's top journalists

Lois Norder, Managing Editor/News & Investigations

I know this because I have worked for her for 19 years. How many can say they’ve had the same boss for two decades? And not just any boss, but a boss who lifts you up and helps you see the big picture, the vision you must deliver to your readers week in and week out to stay vital in their busy lives. Simply put, unlike anyone I know, I’ve worked for the same great boss for 19 years. And that made all the difference.

Texas is, more than anything else, a place to find your dreams. And so I had come to Texas to pursue my Breslinesque dream of writing columns that helped people live better lives. I left a newspaper with a paid Sunday circulation 10 times larger than the circulation of the edition at my new job at the Star-Telegram. In retrospect, it’s a good thing circulation wasn’t larger. I was no good.

How could I be? I was making a leap of faith that things would work out in this strange new place of Texas, far, far from my hometown of Manhattan. At first, though, nothing worked. I was a tepid Yankee writer struggling in “Foat Worth” — where the West begins.

My No. 1 boss struggled, too, with my style, my writer’s voice, my choice of story ideas. She was unhappy with me. Nobody liked my work, including me. The No. 2 editor in the office was quieter, more nurturing and smart as hell. She took an opposite tact. She worked with me, slowly and carefully, building my confidence. Then she did what every writer in the world needs to succeed. She began to talk me up. Told anyone who’d listen that I wasn’t nearly as bad as No. 1 and everyone else, including me, believed. She saw something that nobody else did. Lois Norder was my first Texas defender.

When she was promoted to the No. 1 job and became my direct supervisor, she taught me how to pursue a higher level of story, looking into the reasons why problems happened, and what can be done to fix and change them for the better. That quest to look at problems in different ways, more than anything else, allows our partnership to thrive in an industry that as a whole isn’t doing so well. We’re not here to tell the public how to think, but give them information so they can decide for themselves.

In 2005, Norder and Executive Editor Jim Witt created a different kind of column. They called it The Watchdog. Then they cut my leash and told me to run. Woof!

The first house ads in the paper promised readers: “Finally, you’ve got somebody in your corner.” The universal scope of The Watchdog was laid out for all: “If you feel stonewalled at City Hall or need help holding businesses to their promises, count on The Watchdog to be in your corner. Dave Lieber will let readers know what needs to be fixed in our community, and who’s responsible. But he’ll also offer stories about governments, businesses and organizations which do things right, along with consumer alerts and ways to protect your interests.”

Dave Lieber, award-winning investigative columnist

And that’s what we did together. Since March 18, 2005 with a debut story about a travel club that promised free airline tickets but never delivered, a hundred times a year, each year, my boss and I are here to help. Whether a city hall tipster wants the boss’ extravagances exposed, or an elderly woman can’t get $4,000 that an insurance company owes her, The Watchdog swoops in and lives a comic-book fantasy.

Here’s a short video showing the boss and I that Star-Telegram Managing Editor/Digital News Kathy Vetter made for the 2012 Texas Associated Press Managing Editors’ conference. It’s called Rescuing Mr. Benson.

A few years ago, I compiled everything I learned from both Norder and from the stories we worked on together and created a philosophy of self-protection and self-preservation called Watchdog Nation. The accompanying book was dedicated to “Lois Norder – Editor, mentor and friend.” The book won a couple of national indie book awards for social change. (The newly-released 2012 edition made its debut on TV.)

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong


There’s a picture of us inside, with me dressed in a Revolutionary War uniform.

She doesn’t get her name on my stories, or on the awards. But her influence hangs over each word. In a world of bad bosses, everyone deserves at least one great one in their life. I’m luckier than most. So that’s why these awards go to Lois Norder of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and most definitely, I am speaking to her.

# # #

Dave and Lois shared these awards in 2012.

Local: The Fort Worth Society of Professional Journalists, 1st place for First Amendment Awards for reporting on open government.

State: The Texas Associated Press Managing Editors, honorable mention for community service.

National: The National Society of Newspaper Columnists, 2nd place in general-interest columns for large metro newspapers.

The judge in that contest, Tom Ferrick Jr., former metro columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, writes: “If I were a government official in Texas and picked up the phone to hear, ‘This is Dave Lieber,’ my heart would skip a beat. And not from joy. Lieber is a classic watchdog journalist, looking out for the little guy – and he gets results. While it’s admirable that he is an ombudsman, it’s his flair and skill as a writer that earn him this award.”

Read the web version of some of the prize-winning Watchdog columns:

160 constituents make a difference with bill on North Texas Tollway Authority

Fort Worth Official resigns after boss finds backlog of open-records requests

Investors in Bless 7 financial program start complaining

# # #

The Watchdog appears regularly in the Star-Telegram here.

VIDEO: Watchdog Nation visits Southlake Library on Oct. 27, 2011

In this fun James Bond-spoof, Star-Telegram Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber – founder of Watchdog Nation – invites the public to a free public workshop at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011 at Southlake Public Library, 1400 Main Street. Fight back and win against the scoundrels. Learn how to save time, money and aggravation for the rest of your life!

VIDEO: Too much fun at the Fort Worth Parade of Lights 2010!

What do The Watchdog and Santa have in common?

Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Dave Lieber and his son Austin were honored to represent the newspaper in the 2010 Fort Worth Parade of Lights in downtown Fort Worth. Here’s coverage of the float and its 10,000 lights on KTXA-Channel 21.

“Santa’s Office” is the name of the float, and it contains a “Naughty & Nice” list and also giant bags of letters to Santa.

The Watchdog notes the similarities. He’s got a “Naughty & Nice” list, too. And each week brings bags of mail from folks who aren’t asking The Watchdog for toys. They want some HELP.

TV anchor Karen Borta says in her commentary, “Dave Lieber’s busy and Santa’s busy this time of year, you know it!”

“Most definitely,” co-anchor Keith Garvin says.

Here’s the video:

Follow Austin Lieber on Twitter at lieb011

Watchdog & Son

Dave Lieber, The Watchdog columnist for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, is the founder of Watchdog Nation. The new 2010 edition of his book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, is out. Revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards in 2009 for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

Dave Lieber book that won two national awards for social change.