Mike Lewis, VP/GM of Fox’s Austin O&O KTBC, got his start on the sales side of local TV, but it was news and community engagement that helped shape his work in Texas.
“I always wanted to be in marketing and advertising. When I got in the business in 1994, a local television station was the pinnacle,” said Lewis. “Once I started to rise in the ranks through sales, I took a serious interest in news and how I could help my local community. That became a very important topic for me.”
That drive to help his community has manifested itself at KTBC in the form of veterans’ issues.
“The young men and women who serve our country risk their lives every day to give us the freedoms that we enjoy,” Lewis says. “It’s the least we could do to highlight the issues and challenges they face on a daily basis.”
Lewis and his staff have a partnership with Patriot PAWS, which provides service dogs to veterans at no charge. “To raise awareness for this group, we became one of their puppy-raisers,” Lewis says. “We have Tommy [a black Labrador retriever] that we’re training to become a service dog.”
The veteran push has extended into the station’s news coverage as well. Anchor Rebecca Thomas has covered a local veteran’s struggle with the Veterans Administration. The veteran was denied coverage for a kidney transplant through the Veterans Choice Program. “The VA said that because the living donor was not a veteran, he was unable to receive coverage from the VA,” Lewis notes.
KTBC worked with Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. “We let him know about this story, and he has said the VA was wrong in their analysis,” Lewis says. This led to Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) introducing the Veterans Transplant Coverage Act of 2016 to close loopholes.
Under Lewis, the station has excelled in getting the veterans stories out via social media. Lewis sees it as the “quickest and easiest” way to get KTBC’s content out and credits everyone with buying in and using social media.
“Our team has been very successful with it because we embrace it as an entire staff. This wasn’t just a station initiative where our station brand was the lead dog,” said Lewis. “It really was everybody working in unison, from the talent through the behind-the-scenes staff as well.”
Moving forward, it doesn’t look like Lewis and the station will slow down in their efforts for veterans. “Our main focus here at our station is veterans’ issues,” said Lewis. “It’s those type of stories, and there’s a million more like them, that we will continue to focus on in 2017.”