I spent nine months scrutinizing the Tribune’s business strategies and editorial work, attending its events, talking to its reporters, and listening to the Texas journalism and political communities size up the new kid on the block. And while it is too early to make sweeping judgments about the Tribune, I came away mostly impressed with what I saw. It is clear and serious about its journalism, but it also has a sense of humor and is willing to try new things, fail, and try again—two qualities in painfully short supply at most traditional media outlets. But make no mistake, this is an experiment, and its success is hardly guaranteed. The Tribune has shown a remarkable ability to raise startup cash, but no one is certain where the long-term money will come from. It has drawn a lot of readers, but a huge portion come for the interactive databases of public information that, while undeniably a boon to government transparency, remain unproven in their concrete journalistic benefits. But more on that later. The Tribune is exciting. It has shaken up the state’s journalism establishment. And it is trying to be something at once familiar and altogether new.
Batsell found a key point about the Tribune — it’s sparking excitement about journalism. Part of that excitement is caused by the charisma of Evan Smith, who was a great cheerleader for Texas Monthly before he became a great cheerleader for the Texas Tribune.
But there’s something else at work here besides Evan’s enthusiasm.
The philanthropic nature of the Tribune sends a message that journalism matters more than corporate profit margins. Instead of dismantling newsrooms, the Tribune is building a new one in fresh ways. I think the Tribune’s donors and its 10,474 Facebook fans appreciate that.