AUSTIN, TEXAS — The Texas Tribune, which writer Jake Batsell profiled for CJR in July 2010, focuses on state politics, government, and investigative reporting, and prides itself on finding innovative ways of presenting the news to an increasingly expanding audience. The nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization has helped redefine online journalism and extended its goals of civic engagement far beyond the Internet.
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Leading the charge for the Tribune is a bright, decorated staff of twenty-one journalists. The young group of reporters and writers include Elise Hu, former local TV reporter and blogger, Emily Ramshaw, 2009 Texas Star Reporter of the Year, and Pulitzer Prize winner Brian Thevenot. This talented stable allows the Tribune to produce unique content about, among other topics, environment news, education, and Texas-Mexico border issues.
One of the unique aspects of the Tribune’s web design is that although its front page employs standard headline-photo-text layouts, the topics portion of the site does away with this convention and instead chronologically lists the site’s reporting by subject matter—the Texas Supreme Court, for example. The resulting effect is one of a publication that’s as dedicated to accumulating knowledge as it is to breaking news.
To wit, one of the Tribune’s most popular features is its data library, which compiles huge amounts of information on everything from Texas politicians’ conflicts of interest to the number of concealed handgun licenses issued in each county. Reporter Matt Stiles insists that the database is an important journalistic tool, as “it aligns with our strategy of adding knowledge and context to traditional reporting, and it helps you and us to hold public officials accountable. “
Although innovators on the web, one of the most notable features of the Tribune is the site’s offline presence. The outlet holds events featuring local and national politicians almost weekly, and members of the public are encouraged to attend, ask tough questions, and gain a more intimate understanding of their leaders and government. The site hopes that these events (in addition to occasional documentary screenings) allow it to pursue a journalistic mission outside the traditional confines of journalism. The Tribune earns revenue from corporate sponsorships of the events, and, in keeping with the site’s consistently abundant online offerings, events are filmed and uploaded to video on the website.
Though the Tribune has few inexpensive aspirations, it has found enough capital to create and sustain the startup. Co-founders John Thornton and Evan Smith raised more than $4 million for the Tribune with contributions from the Houston Endowment, T. Boone Pickens and the Knight Foundation, and continued to rake in another $600,000 through mid-2010. Sources of revenue include donations from supporters and other corporate sponsorships.
Branching out from its new media roots, the Tribune partners with The New York Times to create a print version for the gray lady’s local editions venture. Smith believes that outlets of all stripes need to cooperate in order to withstand the financial winds buffeting the industry. “This is not A or B. It’s additive. It’s A and B,” he says. “We can either hang separately or survive together.”
The Texas Tribune Data
Name: The Texas Tribune
Principal Staff: Evan Smith, CEO and editor-in-chief; Ross Ramsey, managing editor.
Affiliations: Houston Endowment; T. Boone Pickens; content sharing with The New York Times and the Houston Chronicle
CJR on The Texas Tribune:
09/29/10: ONA Award Finalists: Digitech Innovators - Lauren Kirchner
07/06/10: Lone Star Trailblazer Video - A look inside the Texas Tribune - Jake Batsell
07/01/10: Lone Star Trailblazer - Will the Texas Tribune transform Texas journalism? - Jake Batsell