Well, one reason is that expectations can and should continue to rise. In that Texas Monthly piece, Smith wrote, “The technology that has been so disruptive to the economic and content models of many papers is pointing the way to a new era of, yes, quality and ambition.” Smith’s own creation is more adept with technology than most newsrooms, and the Tribune has momentum. But what Minutaglio wrote in 2011 is still true: there’s room for the Trib to set its sights higher, too.

The Tribune has found firm financial footing; mastered its own fast-paced, data-heavy approach to politics and policy coverage; and established itself as a key player in Texas’s information ecosystem. It’s been exciting to watch, even if the course wasn’t always as planned. It will be even more exciting if the Tribune now moves to expand its mission—to tackle hard-hitting investigations and big sweeping stories, and to broaden both its subject matter and its understanding of its community. Among the things to watch for:

How pointed will Bidness as Usual really be? Will there be other investigations?

What will the Tribune do about Washington coverage? Texas is one of the largest recipients of federal dollars, after all, and Texas lawmakers wield plenty of influence inside the Beltway.

Setting sights even higher—what about global coverage? No island unto itself, Texas is one of the top 20 economies in the whole world, and its global trade will only rise as the Panama Canal is widened and more shipping moves from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast.

Years ago, Lone Star Beer was dubbed “The National Beer of Texas.” Smith’s former publication, Texas Monthly, earned the nickname of “The National Magazine of Texas.” No longer consumed with survival, the Tribune could become—by original design or not—what all the big papers hoped to be back in the 1990s, until the Internet came along: “The National News of Texas,” in part because no one else is poised to do it.

Well, we’ll see.

Holly Regan contributed research to this article.

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Richard Parker is CJR's Texas correspondent. A regular contributor to the Op-Ed section of The New York Times, his columns on national and international affairs are syndicated by McClatchy-Tribune. He has also twice been appointed the visiting professional in journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. Follow him on Twitter @Richard85Parker.