Tanji Patton is sitting in front of her MacbookPro, concentrating on the screen, slightly disturbed. “I can never figure out how to connect my Facebook to my Twitter,” she declares with a ‘hmph.’
Multimedia is the buzzword that just won’t quit in newsrooms everywhere, but this former News 4 anchor and host of San Antonio Living has made the internet her main squeeze. On her website, “Good Taste with Tanji,” she presents wine, food, and travel ideas from around Texas. She produces cooking segments in her own kitchen (most famously with Italian demigoddess Lidia Bastianich) and blogs. As the head and star of her fledgling multimedia empire, she’s got total creative control, but the new medium has demanded a new education.
“I feel like I’ve gone back to college and gotten another degree,” Tanji said over coffee at Timo’s Coffee House on San Pedro. The first coffee shop we tried to meet at, suggested by a commenter on her blog, was unexpectedly closed. So we relocated, and now the owner of Timo’s is bringing Tanji (whom he addresses like an old friend) selections from the pastry bar and a signature Aztec mocha. Such is the life of a local celeb.
“How do you spell, ‘mocha’?” Tanji asks as she snaps a picture with her iPhone and proceeds to tweet. In addition to constantly updating her social networks, Tanji writes, films, and even edits her own segments.
“People at the station would freak out if they heard that,” she said, grinning.
Within old-school media, there’s a reigning notion that, to put it bluntly, you can’t teach an old reporter new tricks. The newsroom 20-somethings are considered to have the upper hand with social networks like Facebook and Twitter. But Patton has fearlessly stepped out of her traditional media shoes to try her hand in the interactive world, and her story is inspiring to anyone who’s facing the prospect of a career change.
“I think Tanji has an exuberant personality, so whatever she puts her mind to doing is going to be a success. She has that type of zeal and that type of commitment,” said Diane Gottsman, the etiquette expert on San Antonio Living, the show Tanji co-created with Patti Tanner.
The Living show was where Tanji learned to become herself onscreen, but the ordeal of daily hair and makeup was tiring. There were other problems, too. Though Tanji is too polite, or too image savvy, to divulge much, it’s clear that the scene wasn’t always rosy.
“Budget limitations, staffing limitations … ” she trailed off. “When something broke in news, they would take staff from our show to help with the newsroom,” Tanji said with a sniff.
But Patton was unconsciously preparing for “Good Taste” even before she left WOAI. “A couple of years before I left that station I knew I wanted to do something else,” she said. “And I called it ‘next,’ and I kept a file in my desk called ‘next.’” She collected tidbits and story ideas and bided her time.
When the station let her go, she immediately got to work writing, organizing, and selling a new project. Her goal was to have a television show about life’s simple pleasures, and Tanji used her business savvy, earned during her days as a real-estate agent and publicist, to score financial backing for the pilot.
The “Good Taste” website was created as a tool to promote the pilot, but it took an unexpected twist. “What happened was, the website took off so quickly that it was evident early on that we had something special,” she said. Even while she was producing the pilot, there were reasons to question the broadcast path. “We had people along the pilot production line going, don’t waste your time with TV; do it online.” As recently as November Patton turned down an offer from a group out of New York (she wouldn’t name names) who wanted to produce her show. “I didn’t want to sign over the rights to it,” Tanji said.
While certainly not everyone who comes to hard ends (let’s be honest: the station, not Tanji, chose to terminate her contract) can cash in on a well-known persona to do something totally new, Tanji’s perseverance in the face of a brave new media world should inspire all of us. Her progress has been methodical, and the secret is that she is not afraid or too proud to screw up.
After 17 years in the hectic world of television, Tanji says she is relishing more time for doing things she and her husband always dreamed of: learning about vineyards and traveling, primarily. But the deadline mindset is hard to shake she says, even when you work for yourself. “I’ll be stressing out at my computer, trying to get my blog done, and then I’ll say, wait a minute, whose deadline are you trying to meet?” •