Legendary Associated Press correspondent Mike Cochran was inducted into the Texas Newspaper Foundation Hall of Fame in ceremonies Friday night at Texas Press Association’s midwinter convention and trade show in Galveston.
For more than 44 years — first for the Associated Press, then the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Cochran recorded Texas history in the making — the Kennedy assassination, the Sharpstown scandal, the trials of Cullen Davis and Billie Sol Estes, the Gemini and Apollo space flights, the University of Texas sniper and Southwest Conference football.
“He was everywhere that news happened,” said Larry Jackson, president of the Texas Newspaper Foundation, an affiliate of Texas Press Association, based in Austin.
“He just had the ability to be there and come up with the greatest stories imaginable,” Jackson said. “He was a master storyteller.”
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Cochran began his career as sports editor for the Denton Record-Chronicle before graduating from North Texas State University in 1958. He was a sportswriter at the Abilene Reporter-News before joining the AP in 1960. He opened the Fort Worth bureau of the Associated Press in 1961 and evolved into the AP’s West Texas correspondent in the mid-1960s.
Cochran was with the Associated Press for 39 years and came out of retirement to write for the Star-Telegram another five.
For the last 12 years, the Texas Newspaper Foundation has honored up to four publishers, editors, writers and other newspaper people into the Hall of Fame each year.
Amon Carter, legendary publisher of the Star-Telegram, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008. Other well-known inductees include former lieutenant governor and Houston Post publisher William P. Hobby, MediaNews Group founder Dean Singleton, offset press inventor Staley McBrayer and Wise County Messenger publisher Roy Eaton.
Also inducted this year were Dolph Tillotson, longtime publisher of the Galveston County Daily News and president of Southern Newspapers Inc.; the late John C. Taylor Jr., owner and publisher of the Seguin Gazette; and the late Victor B. Fain, longtime Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel editor and publisher.
He is best known for zeroing in on the human angle and getting down to the bones of stories, especially Texas crime stories.
Newsmakers told him things after midnight that they wouldn’t confess to their priests — and he scribbled them down on a cocktail napkin or a cardboard coaster, damp with the sweat of a frosty beer mug.
“Late at night people get reflective and mellow,” Cochran said of the legendary interviews that he’s done in smoke-filled bars, where everyone is treated with respect, but nothing is sacred.
He was planning to be a big-time AP sportswriter because, he said, “Sports people party well.” Then suddenly President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, and Cochran, who had caroused with Secret Service agents in Fort Worth the night before, found himself privy to inside information and a pallbearer at the funeral of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who killed Kennedy.
In covering the president’s assassination, Oswald’s killing and the trial of Jack Ruby, the neophyte AP correspondent and would-be sportswriter was thrust into the middle of some of the best writers and television reporters in the world, working on the biggest stories of the decade.
It changed forever his goal of being the AP’s top sportswriter.
Cochran traveled a lot of risky roads over his almost career of nearly 45 years chasing tornadoes, politicians and criminals and POWs returning home from Vietnam as well as the rich, the famous, the eccentric and the just interesting.
He made legends of some small-town characters and espoused as buffoons some important businessmen and crooked legislators involved in deals like the Sharpstown scandal, the bank and stock-fraud case that wrecked the political careers of some big-time Texas Democrats in 1971.
In addition to thousands of newspaper stories, he wrote several books, including “Texas vs. Davis,” based on his high-profile coverage of the Cullen Davis murder cases; “And Deliver Us From Evil: A Trilogy of Murder, Ministers and Millionaires,” three true stories, including the first hardback account of the defrocked Methodist minister Walker Railey; “Claytie: The Roller-Coaster Life of a Texas Wildcatter”; and “The Godfather of Poker: The Doyle Brunson Story.”
Carolyn Poirot is a former Star-Telegram reporter.