The Texas Tribune
Austin, Texas, U.S.
The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit media organization in Texas. Headquartered in Austin, Texas, it aims to promote civic engagement through original, explanatory journalism and public events. Its website and content in various delivery platforms serves as an alternative news source for Texas, with a goal of supplementing mainstream media sources.
In addition to journalism posted online at its site, and in the pages and on the sites of its distribution partners, the Tribune hosts various events and conferences. Of these, the annual TribFest has a reputation for attracting national journalists and politicians for interviews and forums.
The foundation was created in 2009 by venture capitalist John Thornton and veteran journalists Evan Smith and Ross Ramsey. The idea for the organization originated with Thornton, who spent much of 2008 and 2009 promoting public interest in the concept of journalism as a public good. Thornton wrote, in July 2009:
In Micro 101, we learn that such "public goods" as clean air and national defense will not be produced in sufficient supply exclusively by market forces. Allow for the sake of argument that what I'll call "capital J" Journalism – journalism that takes on serious, complex issues and puts them in the context of how citizens interact with their government – is such a good.
Thornton and his wife, Julie seeded the venture with $1 million of their own money, to fund the organization's nascent operations and began to raise money from around the state and around the country from individuals, corporations, and foundations.
An additional $2.5 million donated by various foundations and Texas philanthropists including former Democratic Lt. Governor Ben Barnes, financier T. Boone Pickens and businessman Red McCombs. Pickens in particular donated $150,000. Foundations donated about $1.1 million, including a total of $750,000 in grants from the Houston Endowment. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation donated $250,000 in late 2009, and their subsequent donations totaled $2 million by December 2016. That month, they announced that they would match up to $25,000 in gifts of $1,000 or less pledged to the Tribune between then and January 19, 2017. Most of the 68 corporate sponsors made a $2,500 commitment as co-founders of the publication. Thornton stated in January 2010, "In the coming months, we intend to become far more sophisticated in the way we market corporate sponsorships of both our site and our events series, TribLive."
Thornton hired Smith, the longtime editor of Texas Monthly, to be CEO and editor-in-chief of the Tribune, and the two recruited Ramsey, the longtime editor and owner of Texas Weekly, to be managing editor. Smith and Ramsey subsequently hired several well-known members of the Capitol press corps to join the team: Matt Stiles, of the Houston Chronicle; Emily Ramshaw, of the Dallas Morning News; Brandi Grissom, of the El Paso Times; Elise Hu, of KVUE-TV; and Reeve Hamilton, who covered the Texas Legislature for The Texas Observer. Morgan Smith, formerly of Slate, started writing for the Tribune in January 2010.
Thornton raised more than US $2 million before the project was made public in July 2009. By the time The Texas Tribune debuted on November 3, 2009, it had raised $3.6 million from more than 1,000 individual donors and at least fifty corporate sponsors.
The Texas Tribune has been actively developing an open source publishing platform along with The Bay Citizen, specifically tailored for nonprofit news organizations like itself. The system, named Armstrong, was funded through a $975,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It is based on technology the Tribune has been using since 2009.
Current staff includes Evan Smith CEO and co-founder, Emily Ramshaw, Editor-in-Chief, Terry Quinn, Chief Development Officer, Ayan Mittra, Editor, Rodney Gibbs, Chief Product Officer, April Hinkle, Chief Revenue Officer, Amanda Zamora, Chief Audience Officer and Jacob Villanueva, Creative Director. Evan Smith was Texas Monthly's editor between 2000 and 2008.
Brian Thevenot, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who was formerly special projects editor for The Times Picayune of New Orleans, joined the staff in October 2009. He has since left the Tribune, and is now business editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Elise Hu and Matt Stiles departed in 2011 to join NPR in Washington, D.C.
In May 2011, the Tribune announced the hiring of the twice named AP Staff Writer of the Year, Jay Root, formerly of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
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