I just passed my one-year mark at the nonprofit news outfit The Texas Tribune, an experiment born from a simple idea: there’s no lack of good material to cover in Texas government, but fewer reporters keeping an eye on the action. A small team of us journalists from various news outlets jumped ship around the same time last fall, leaping into a newsroom environment we had to design and create from scratch. As I wrote last year, what sold me was that we would dedicate ourselves to civic engagement, explanatory and enterprise reporting, and using the tools of the social web to allow our users to be active in the ongoing political conversation in Texas.
We have survived – nay, thrived – and I couldn’t be more proud. My generous and indefatigable boss Evan knows much more about the metrics of our success. All I know is this year has felt like the longest of my life, but also the most journalistically rewarding.
I left my comfortable spot in a traditional television newsroom because I didn’t feel like I was growing to enter a place where I must constantly learn and re-learn and teach and stretch and reconfigure my previous paradigms and expectations. It hasn’t always been easy; there was the matter of having to run off in the middle of all of this to wed one of my formidable coworkers, and I’ve felt painfully lonely on occasion. No one else in the newsroom comes from a television background, and the melding of the species has felt quite extreme to me sometimes. But since we aren’t a newspaper, the old print models my ink-stained colleagues know well don’t exist here, either. I think we’ve managed to find that weird spot at the nexus of print and technology and broadcast to exist as we do today.
Since it’s an anniversary, it’s worth revisiting our mission to be “a non-profit, nonpartisan public media organization” that aims to “promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government, and other matters of statewide concern.” This is why I believed in journalism in the first place. Since launching, I’ve been afforded the time and resources to innovate by creating entirely new story forms to engage audiences, but also to do the traditional kind of shoe leather journalism that prompted legislative hearings and sparked state audits and inquiries. And even better, we’re now getting a lot of Texas voices to emerge from middle-management or the bowels of state agencies to tell their stories; they want to help expose inefficiencies or injustices to make Texas work better.
I don’t downplay the importance of what I was doing in TV or the work I continue to do for the Tribune’s 11 television station partners. But I realize that getting weighty, complicated stories that matter on the airwaves is a tough task, as resources continue getting cut back and allegiance to ratings mean we often play to the lowest common denominator.
Which brings me back to the non-profit part. The Tribune, unlike the places I used to work, is supported by readers and viewers like you. We’re non-profit by choice; we don’t want our stock value to influence the size of our staff or the kind of journalism we do. Non-profit news is not the only model in our ever fragmenting news ecosystem. But it is one path, and if you, like me, believe in journalism in its oldest tradition – as a important function of democracy – and in its newest tradition – ever-changing with the way people communicate – please consider renewing your membership in the Tribune, or joining as a member for the first time. For students, it’s just $10 (and comes with a free t-shirt!). For you grownups, will you do it in the name of the greater good?
Thank you, thank you, thank you.