Veteran journalist Donnis Baggett, former publisher of the Waco Tribune-Herald, joined the Texas Press Association staff as executive vice president this week. He will head up TPA’s lobbying efforts for government transparency at the Capitol and call on newspapers across the state to find out how the association can better serve its membership.
“I’ve been involved with newspapers my entire adult life, and I have a deep passion for the First Amendment and for the value of good civic journalism, so to me this is an extension of what I’ve been doing for the past 40 years,” Baggett said. “I’m just doing it from a slightly different angle now.
“Rather than being involved with a particular newspaper, I now have the luxury of being involved with virtually every Texas newspaper,” he explained. “That feels really good.”
A lifelong Texan, Baggett grew up in Livingston. He received a communications degree with an emphasis in journalism from Stephen F. Austin State University in 1973. After college, he returned home to work for a small weekly paper, the now-defunct East Texas Eye.
It was during his time at the Livingston paper that Baggett first got involved with TPA. He attended his first TPA convention in the summer of 1974, when he drove to Arlington to accept the paper’s sweepstakes award at the Texas Better Newspaper Contest awards ceremony.
“That was a very big moment and a very fond memory,” he said. “I’ll never forget how proud I was to accept that award on behalf of the paper. So I’ve been involved with TPA for about 38 years, I guess, in one way, shape, form or fashion.”
Baggett worked for the Longview News-Journal before joining The Dallas Morning News, where he spent nearly two decades building statewide coverage. He started as a reporter in 1976 and rose through the ranks to become assistant city editor, assistant state editor and state editor.
After more than a decade directing the paper’s coverage of state government and other news in Texas and the adjoining states, he was promoted to assistant managing editor and spent the next two years overseeing the Sunday edition of The Dallas Morning News.
When the Belo Corp., the parent company of The Morning News, purchased The Bryan-College Station Eagle in 1995, Baggett was appointed publisher and editor. He was named editor-in-chief in 2007 and served in that capacity until he became publisher of the Waco Tribune-Herald in 2010.
Over the years, Baggett has built a reputation as a staunch advocate of open government. He served on the board of directors for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, as well as TPA. He has been an active member of TPA’s Legislative Advisory Committee for more than a decade and chaired the committee for two legislative sessions.
“Donnis is just as comfortable sitting across from the speaker of the house as he is from the publisher of the Houston Chronicle or The Eldorado Success,” said Mike Hodges, executive director of TPA. “Best of all, he’s one of us. He speaks the language of the newspaper industry and will be a strong advocate for our issues.”
Baggett and his wife, Beverly, have two grown children, David and Valerie. The couple splits their time between their home in Waco and their home on the range, a bison ranch near Bryan.
“We take great joy in our bison herd,” Baggett said. “We have about 50 animals. It’s not a big herd, but I guess it’s a big herd by Texas standards because there aren’t many bison herds in Texas.”
In his new role with TPA, Baggett will often be on the road, but he said there’s no question in his mind that the most enjoyable aspect of his job will be the opportunity to visit Texas newspapers.
“I’ve been on the road a fair amount this week and it has been very interesting,” he said. “I’m seeing a lot of enthusiasm on the part of newspaper publishers about getting involved in TPA and becoming more involved in our legislative efforts … and that’s a lot of fun.”