Nearly a third of the Tribune’s web traffic no longer comes from someone sitting at a computer; instead, it comes from mobile devices. The website has recently been reconfigured using “responsive design,” to make it run more smoothly on mobile devices. Next up is making the experience more personalized—using geo-location to allow a user to explore, say, a particular chart or data set about public schools that is automatically limited to her local district. Three years from now it will all be about mobile, Gibbs continues, and it will all be about sharing. Making information more shareable by making it “atomized,” says Gibbs, “is true to our mission.”
But some of the interesting twists in the Tribune’s trajectory relate to a more traditional type of content-sharing. At 550,000 unique users per month and 40,000 email addresses, the Tribune still seems a little light on market share, particularly in an expanding market that now numbers over 26 million people—perhaps an indicator that while the Tribune has succeeded in creating a community of politically active people, the clubhouse that doesn’t yet encompass a big segment of the public. (The Dallas Morning News may have scaled back its ambitions and news staffing from the go-go 1990s but its site still gets nearly 4 million unique users each month—though of course, the Morning News gets to cover Texas football). And while the Tribune offers its content for republication, the state’s leading newspapers, particularly the Morning News and The Austin American Statesman, have largely passed on it.
But the Trib’s coverage has been embraced by smaller outlets across the state and in second-tier markets, such as El Paso and Corpus Christi. And increasingly, content flows both ways: from television and radio outlets, like Austin’s KUT, to the Tribune, not just from the Tribune to them. The Tribune already devotes a valuable chunk of its home page real estate to the Tribwire, a compilation of links to other news organizations stories from around the state. There are also editorial partnerships, from a 2010 report with the Houston Chronicle on a “fight club” in state homes for adolescents to a brand-new niche email newsletter on water coproduced with a research center at a state university. And then there is The New York Times; the Tribune functions essentially as an outsourced Texas bureau and is on the hook, says Ramshaw, for six stories a week—including a recent one where both got the scoop on anti-abortion legislation that would limit legal abortions to as few as six or seven medical facilities, this in a state that is smaller only than Alaska.
If the Tribune’s arrival has been a prod to competition among the news organizations covering state politics, it has also signaled an era of increasing cooperation. “We hang separately,” Smith says about the current media landscape, “or survive together.”
Which brings us back to the story boiling over in Houston, the Tribune’s collaboration of the day. The raid is still either not started or still underway. “Text or call when we can publish,” Ramshaw says as the hours tick by.
Finally, in the afternoon, investigators down in the Houston area give the all-clear. The raid is over. Tribune reporter Alana Rocha pushes the button: State Rep. Ron Reynolds, a Missouri City Democrat, has got an arrest warrant with his name on it for barratry—a fancy way of saying ambulance-chasing, which, in Texas, is a third degree felony that could earn him up to 10 years in prison.
True to the terms of the arrangement with the television station, Rocha cites KHOU, not her original reporting: “According to KHOU-TV in Houston, the Montgomery County district attorney has issued arrest warrants for Reynolds and seven other Houston-area attorneys on barratry charges connected to an alleged quarter-million-dollar kickback scheme.” So far, no luck getting Reynolds to comment.