Ten years is a long time to be doing anything, but it can go by in the blink of an eye. The earliest days of The Texas Tribune — the launch and the prelaunch — feel like yesterday. Our first office was a pit, but we could afford it. The day our lease began, our ragtag band of 17 caravanned to OfficeMax to buy pens and paper clips and take shopping cart rides in the parking lot. We had no idea how to build a business.
We were all so young. We were all so scared. Had we made the worst professional decisions of our lives, leaving good jobs at an admittedly precarious moment for our employers and our industry, but for this? Untested, unchaperoned, unlikely to succeed. A startup digital news org devoted to covering politics and policy? Zzzzzz. Get real. Over dinner at the end of a blindingly stressful day that first week, my wife asked how it was going. “I think I’m gonna have to get an actual job,” I told her.
We survived those first few months on good will and good luck and hard work. We kept our heads down. News happened and we reported it. We broke a few stories and more than a few rules about how to do this. A database of salaries of everyone who works in government? Yeah, sure. A shooting just up the street at Fort Hood? Nah, not for us. Quickly we figured out what we were and who we were and how we could best serve the public interest.
An aha moment for me personally was the day, in the first few months, when I realized this was not about journalism. It was about giving people all around us the information they need to be more thoughtful and productive citizens — the means to participate in this participatory democracy of ours. It was about something bigger. It still is.
As of today, we’ve been at this for a decade. On Nov. 3, 2009, we flipped the switch on texastribune.org, but more than a website was born. We gave life and vitality to the idea that this stuff matters. That searching for the truth and telling people what you find matters. That holding elected and appointed officials — regardless of party, partisanship or ideology — and taxpayer-funded institutions accountable matters. That teeing up for people in their busy lives the things important enough for them to stop and pay attention to matters. That civic engagement matters.
From the first day to today, we’ve been guided by our public-service mission. From the first day to today, we’ve been committed to publishing news (beat reporting, breaking and daily news reporting, political reporting, watchdog and investigative reporting), making data widely accessible and producing dozens of on-the-record events each year. From the first day to today, we’ve believed that truly nonpartisan journalism is the antidote to life in the United States of Confirmation Bias.
Facts, not spin. Real balance, not false equivalency. Fair, thorough and accurate. No endorsing candidates or campaigns, no editorializing on issues, no thumbs on the scale.
Ten years in, we’re at about 80 employees full and part time, including — for some number of consecutive years — the most journalists at a state capital of any news org, for-profit or nonprofit, in the country. This year, our seventh year in the black, we’ll take in more than $10 million against $9.7 million in expenses; our total haul to date is nearly $76 million, with a couple million stashed in the bank as our own personal rainy day fund (no need for a two-thirds vote before we can spend it).
We’re now reaching more than 2 million people per month across our various platforms. Our journalism consistently wins the biggest awards in competition with the best of our peers. The 2019 Texas Tribune Festival, our ninth annual ideas weekend, had nearly 9,000 people registered to attend and generated $2.3 million in revenue.
Ten years in, we still give away everything we create for free to anyone who wants to republish, re-air or repost it. Today, all across the state, from the Valley to the Panhandle, from the Gulf Coast to Big Bend, our fellow Texans are better aware of what government is doing for them and to them — of the fights being waged in their names and the stakes they have in the outcomes of those fights — because of Tribune stories in their local papers and on their local TV and radio stations. I hope our members and donors in cities and towns all over Texas realize the impact they’re having at home: By supporting the Tribune, they’re supporting their communities.
Ten years in, we still consult at no cost with any wide-eyed, big-hearted social entrepreneurs who want advice and insight on how to create an operation like ours from scratch. Today, all across America and around the world, news organizations are starting up with our help — availing themselves of the best practices we’ve honed, learning from the mistakes we’ve made and warned them to avoid, and tweaking in ways that make sense, for their specific circumstances, the nonprofit economic model that has propelled us through our first decade and on to a sustainable future. I hope our foundation and corporate donors at the national level realize their impact, too: By helping us to solve our news desert problem in Texas, they’re indirectly solving everyone else’s news desert problem.
The success of any entity is shared, and that’s especially true at the Tribune. No one person gets the credit for these 10 years and what comes next. Our amazing team, present and past, is responsible for what we’ve accomplished. That includes staff members from top to bottom, board members, close friends — all believers in the power of serious journalism.
But really, that credit extends to you. If you’re seeing this, you’re probably one of those decent souls who reads, gives, attends, amplifies. You put your faith and trust in us to help you navigate the sometimes choppy waters of Texas. You should know that you’ve been in our mind’s eye at every one of our key moments since launch. Everything we do is for you. We would not and could not have done it without you, and going forward we won’t and can’t do it without you. No amount of thanks is adequate. We are so honored to do this work.
So happy birthday to you. It’s been 10 great years of an audacious experiment in reviving the idea of journalism as a public good — in strengthening our democracy. And happy birthday to us. Here’s to the next 10.
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