When Mike James began work at a small Idaho radio station in the mid-1960s, he saw broadcasting as a way to better connect people with the issues that affect their communities.
But these days, James says he sees his profession straying more and more from that ideal, as local TV news coverage increasingly emphasizes breaking news over issue-oriented journalism.
So the 33-year veteran reporter and TV news anchor announced yesterday that he's leaving his position as weekend anchor for KIRO-TV. In an interview, James said he feels modern TV news is "not as engaged in the discourse of the community."
"In a game where the competition is not two or three channels, but a hundred or more, breaking events will always trump issue and political talk," he wrote in a memo to KIRO staffers.
On top of his broadcasting career, James, 58, also had a brief foray into politics, running unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 1994.
His last broadcast was Sunday, and his last day in the office was yesterday. He had been weekend anchor at KIRO since 1995, but has spent most of his 33-year career as a reporter and anchor at KING-TV, where his longtime co-anchor was Jean Enersen.
"Mike is a terrific journalist," Enersen said yesterday. "He's got a really great brain and a warm heart."
KIRO news director Bill Lord said James is an "extreme talent. . . . I can't think of any other broadcast journalist who has had a greater impact on a community than Mike has."
Lord said James will continue to work for KIRO on special free-lance projects.
James, who was born in England but grew up in Spokane, leaves for a 10-day vacation in London later this week. He said he'll explore career options upon his return.
While James said he doesn't have specific ideas about his professional future, he plans to stay in Seattle.
"What would be important to me is to feel engaged in some way with community life," he said. "It's a good time for me. I still have 10 good working years in me, and I know this area well."
Ancil Payne, retired president of King Broadcasting, said James always has been a dogged and conscientious reporter who knew how to "follow a single strand of spaghetti through the stack."
"He always took a genuine concern about local events," Payne said. "He was one of the best city reporters we ever had."
Lord said James' weekend anchor slot will be filled by noon anchor Brian Wood.
Jake Batsell's phone message number is 206-464-2595. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org