Friday, July 17, 2009

The Texas Tribune

Reported earlier today by the Quorum and Burnt Orange Reports ...

The longtime editor of Texas Monthly magazine will team with an Austin venture capitalist to form a nonprofit news Web site devoted to government and politics in the Lone Star state.

With a large bankroll, a staff at the outset of about eight journalists, and the cachet of Evan Smith, the Texas Monthly editor, the new venture, called the Texas Tribune, hopes to be an immediate force on the state’s political landscape, much as Politico became two years ago in national politics. Many local news organizations have cut back on statehouse coverage, and the creators of the Texas Tribune plan not only to post news on their own site, but also to supply it to newspapers around the state.

“This is not about horse race politics, primarily,” Mr. Smith, who will have the title of chief executive, said in an interview. “It’s going to be a lot of deep-dive policy stuff. We have the lowest voting turnout in the country. We have a number of major issues that get no attention or insufficient attention by the people we elect.”

The corporate media has reduced coverage of the Lege due to financial hardships -- closed bureaus, senior reporters let go. Though Kuffner, BOR, and Capitol Annex along with my other brother and sister blogs of the Texas Progressive Alliance do a terrific job, we can't cover the beat full-time. And the Texas Observer -- rest in peace, Molly -- has started publishing op-eds from Dan Patrick. Beyond the bite-sized pieces from Paul Burka and Harvey Kronberg, this concept fills a perceptible void. Something with some meat in it, produced by some of the state's recently unemployed journalistic talent, could be a real winner. There's also a very interesting reveal about the money behind it:

The chairman of Texas Tribune is John Thornton, general partner of Austin Ventures, a venture capital firm, who said he has given $1 million to the project and has raised $2.2 million, and plans to raise $4 million from individuals and foundations by the time it begins, possibly in November. Other nonprofit local news sites in places like the Twin Cities, San Diego, St. Louis and Chicago started with significantly less money behind them.

“We want to have at least two years’ runway, even if there’s no additional revenue, and preferably three,” he said.

An active supporter of Texas Democrats, Mr. Thornton, 44, who is based in Austin, said he is giving up partisan politics for the sake of the Texas Tribune. He said the new venture has quietly approached reporters and editors about joining, and that with many journalists unemployed, and others worried that their employers will keep shrinking, “talent ain’t the issue.”

And the climate forecast is improving:

Texas newspapers and people who follow the state’s politics will have to take Texas Tribune seriously, said Rich Oppel, who retired last year as the top editor of the Austin American-Statesman. “I think this is significant,” he said. “Evan Smith has been an excellent editor of Texas Monthly, which may be the best regional magazine in the country. He’s drawn talent.”

The timing plays into what promises to be a fertile period in the state’s politics. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison may challenge Governor Rick Perry in the Republican primary next year, in what political analysts predict would be the hottest race the state has seen in years.

This is a media development worth watching closely.

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