Investigative reporter Paula Woodward, who confirmed this week that she's leaving Channel 9, has learned a few things during her 32 years on the job about how not to provide information -- or at least not any more of it than she'd like. When asked, for example, if the current economic difficulties at TV stations, which have led to the departures of numerous veteran correspondents or anchors (not always by their choice), had an impact on her decision, she answers, "No." Then, after a brief pause, she asks, in a cheeky tone of voice, "How did you like that?"
Not any more than she liked one-word answers from story subjects, I'll bet. But she's certainly earned the right to characterize her exit from 9News however she'd prefer -- and she's opting to keep the sunny side up.
"I can't really discuss the terms of my leaving, but this was my decision -- when, how and why," she emphasizes, contradicting an April 9 item on the Denver PR blog, which suggested that she was about to be dumped. "I've got some opportunities that, if I don't do, I will never do -- and yet I can't do them without leaving 9."
What opportunities? Woodward won't say beyond noting that nothing is imminent; it could take six months to a year for these prospects to bear fruit. Still, she concedes that "it took a lot of soul searching" before she took the plunge. According to her, "I love the people I work with and I love being a journalist. We have access to so many remarkable people, and it's always so encouraging when people would contact me about stories -- like when someone mailed me a copy of the CU grand jury report [about the so-called recruiting scandal at the university], because they felt it should get out. I still don't know who did that, but I admire the courage it took."
Woodward also garnered attention for reports about slacking city workers, a jailhouse interview with Willie Clark, who's been accused of murdering Denver Broncos standout Darrent Williams, and, of course, the investigation into the slaying of JonBenét Ramsey. She took plenty of heat over the course of the decade-plus the latter case has made headlines, with critics such as KHOW's Peter Boyles suggesting that she's been in the pocket of John Ramsey and the rest of his family since early on -- hence, her large number of exclusive interviews with them over the years. But she takes great pride in her approach.
"At the very beginning of that story, Patti Dennis, our news director, and I set up rules for covering it -- and one of our rules was that we had to get a source from each side," she recalls. "On that story, it was very difficult to do -- and other news media was not a source. But we made sure that we had to do our double-sourcing, and we went way beyond that. So I've always been very comfortable that we covered the story in a very neutral, very thorough manner. We went over and over every story to make sure that what we were putting out was as accurate as we could make it." She adds that when Boulder District Attorney Mary Keenan decided last year to essentially remove any of the Ramseys from the list of suspects, she saw it as "a culmination of having worked on the story for twelve years."
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These days, a good many TV stations across the country are cutting back on the sort of long-term investigations in which Woodward specialized to cut costs. Even so, Woodward insists that such problems haven't afflicted 9News. "Channel 9 is owned by Gannett, and the president of the news division, Dave Lougee, was a former news director at Channel 9 -- and he really believes in investigative reporting," she maintains. "At a staff meeting some time in the last year, he said he felt investigative reporting made a big difference in keeping people reading and watching. The management at 9 has been very supportive of investigative journalism, too. In fact, I think Denver is very fortunate in the investigative journalism it has."
Not that Woodward has spent much time watching the stuff churned out by her rivals at other stations. She says she's too competitive to do so: "It drives me nuts that I didn't get the story," she admits -- and she's not sure if her departure from Channel 9 will change that. She stresses that she isn't retired, and she can imagine returning to the airwaves at some point in the future. As for now, though, "I'm stepping out of my safety zone" to pursue those unnamed opportunities.
Which she won't reveal anything more about until she's good and ready.