A Guy Accuses The Texas Tribune of “Destroying Journalism,” I Disagree

A couple of days ago the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists, featured a blogger named Stephen Robert Morse’s post in which he claims that a.) The Texas Tribune is destroying journalism and b.) Reporters are soft on donors. Some excerpts:

“It never dawned on me until I had a chance conversation with a reporter from The Austin Chronicle at South by Southwest who accused “The Trib,” as he called it, of creating an unfair playing field for journalists who work at for-profit news organizations in Texas … A TT insider, whose anonymity I will protect here, told me that because it is important for The Trib to maintain positive relations with donors, the organization rarely takes strong stances on issues.”

I left Morse a comment yesterday afternoon but it’s nearly 11am the next morning and it still awaits approval, so I’ll just share it here.
Continue reading “A Guy Accuses The Texas Tribune of “Destroying Journalism,” I Disagree”

Change is Hard, I Should Know

“Ten decisions shape your life,
you’ll be aware of five about…”
-The Strokes

I get to (finally) make it official. We are moving to Washington D.C., a.k.a. the great nemesis of Governor Rick Perry,  home of the lamestream media, and the land of taxation without representation. (That poor congresswoman doesn’t get a vote! WTF?!)

This means, of course,  I’m leaving the proudest professional project of my 28 years, The Texas Tribune — and Texas, for that matter — just before Valentine’s Day.

One more twist came at the end of 2010, the year I thought would never end. In mid-December, I got an unsolicited call from NPR in DC. They had “done some research” on me and had a job for which they thought I would “be an interesting choice.” A few days later I was at the DC HQ, meeting smart people who cared about journalism, and I wound up accepting the job, which calls for leading the digital side of NPR’s new StateImpact, or the project formerly known as the “Impact of Government.” (There will be someone else heading up the radio side, and I recently learned that the broadcast counterpart is Ken Rudin, longtime NPR Political Director and the original “Political Junkie” blogger.)

IOG will aim to expand state government coverage by eventually hiring 100 reporters, two in each state, devoted to reporting the multi-year effects of government decisions. (The first eight pilot states will be announced in the coming weeks.) Taking on this project means working from Washington, conceptualizing the digital platforms, creating new story forms, helping stations hire and train reporters, etc.

After getting the offer, I spent days talking myself out of and then back into and back out of the opportunity. I would have never been able to stretch and grow across platforms without the vision of John Thornton, the friendship of Ross Ramsey and the trust of Evan Smith, who’s basically the George Clooney character in the “Ocean’s 11” of journalists who came together. I feel a deep, deep attachment to what we’re building here. After all, this is born of our actual sweat and tears. (Many, many tears, in my case. Ask my multimedia partners-in-crime Todd or Justin.)

I wasn’t (and am still not fully) ready to leave our baby, or my real-life friends that helped build it, or the city that quickly became my home. I prefer Austin’s four seasons – mildly hot, medium hot, sauna hot and surface-of-sun hot – over actual seasons. But I decided to take this leap into another public media unknown because I’m sold on what a special opportunity this is to grow and learn, and on NPR’s commitment to being on the cutting edge of web journalism, which is of highest importance to me.*

So off I go. I’m counting on you to bring me a case of Shiner, and if you’re a really good friend, some Tito’s, when you visit. Both are nearly impossible to find inside the Beltway.

*That’s the official line, anyway. I was really most swayed when my soon-to-be boss said that if I went to DC, Nina Totenberg and I “could be BFFs”.


Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes (July 2009)

Emerging from the Hole (November 2009)


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?

Support the Tribune

Thank you, thank you, thank you.



Stay Classy, KVUE

Emerging from the Hole