My friend Trent Seibert died earlier this week.
He was 47.
Trent was a journalist who, despite the ongoing decline and downsizing in the profession, actually managed to make a decent living doing what he loved: Exposing public corruption and bad behavior by the powerful. Our mutual friend Steve Miller has written an absolutely beautiful note about Trent at the Texas Monitor, the investigative journalism site Trent founded. I’ve posted a note for the audience at blogHOUSTON, many of whom knew Trent well.
This is a more personal note.
Trent came to Houston roughly ten years ago. I started getting emails from him in July 2008, because I ran a local blog that was known for rabble-rousing and had some notoriety at the time (journalists and members of city council followed the thing, along with some highly rated talk radio folks). Trent wanted to make contact with anyone and everyone he thought could tell him about his new town and assignment (his new assignment, incidentally, was that he had convinced some folks that they really ought to fund a startup investigative journalism outfit in Texas, and he was the guy to do it. Crazy, right? He made it work. Twice). As I would learn, that was really Trent’s approach to journalism: figure out people who seem to know about what he is investigating, talk to them, and leverage their knowledge and their network of people while pulling them in and giving them a feeling of having a bit of skin in the game. I don’t think that’s taught in J-School — that’s just how Trent learned to DO journalism, from some great editors.
I’ll ‘fess up. I ignored the first email from a newly arrived Trent Seibert. Maybe even the second or third. I wasn’t all that interested in talking to some guy who claimed to be a journalist, but was funded by non-journalists, who professed he had moved to Houston to do watchdog journalism. I mean, seriously? That story seemed a bit sketchy.
But he was persistent. At some point, he convinced me (translation: would not stop emailing!) we really should go have a drink and chat at a place of my choosing. And so we went off to the Stag’s Head pub, and we had a few drinks (some sort of beer for me, Vodka Tonics for Trent, always). He won me over to his project, or at least to the notion I should give it a chance. And, of course, the journalism that followed ultimately won me over. This wasn’t an InfoWars or WorldNutDaily type, but a passionate, committed pro who had worked with other real pros over his career and had convinced some of them to follow him to Houston.
Before long, we became fast friends. We were roughly the same age. A little geeky (in a good, bookish sense). I analyzed international politics; Trent had covered some of the world’s trouble spots before moving into more of a watchdog journalism beat. We had similar senses of humor — that is to say, we liked to laugh at people who were overly self-important and at absurdities. We had shared views that watchdog journalism in the Houston area (with rare exceptions *waving at Wayne Dolcefino, the king*) was mostly lacking and that the local alt-press wasn’t very alt (note: now it has generally collapsed in the nation’s fourth largest city). Neither of us was opposed to a drink or two combined with some people-watching. And we had quite a few conversations about Houston’s quirks — me as someone who had been around Houston for a while, Trent as someone who had been around a lot of places and had seen a lot of quirks and seemed really to appreciate Houston’s (and maybe mine).
I searched on his name in my gmail archives today, and it returned some 2,000 emails. We *ahem* emailed a lot about stories he was working on. And stuff I thought he should work on. Books and articles we liked. Stupidity and Nonsense. Dinner and/or drink plans. 2,000+. That’s a lot.
I also searched his name on twitter, and saw all the nice tweets and remembrances. Trent seemed to have the same impact on many others as he had on me, judging from twitter.
I’m thankful for the ten years that I was able to call Trent my friend, but I’m really going to miss the guy.
UPDATE: Information on memorial services can be found here.