OLD Media Moves

Texas Tribune celebrates 10th anniversary

November 5, 2019

Posted by Mariam Ahmed

Evan Smith

The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, celebrated its 10th anniversary of covering Texas politics and public policy.

At the Tribune’s 10th anniversary, Evan Smith, CEO and co-founder, wrote, “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.”

Initially, the company started off with 17 reporters and now has come to employ more than 70 journalists with bureaus in Washington, D.C., on the Texas-Mexico border, and in Dallas. The Tribune produces dozens of on-the-record events each year, including the Texas Tribune Festival, which launched in 2011.

Smith became the Tribune’s most public face after nearly 18 years at Texas Monthly, stepping down in August 2009 as the magazine’s president and editor in chief. He had previously served as editor for more than eight years, during which Texas Monthly was nominated for sixteen National Magazine Awards and twice was awarded the National Magazine Award for General Excellence.

Here are three takeaway points from the podcast, in which Any Langer, host, is in conversation with Smith.

Smith says he’s surprised—but also not surprised—that former Texas governor and U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry may have played a pivotal role in the Ukraine controversy at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

“It’s kind of amazing. It’s delicious. It’s also why there’s a Texas Monthly and why there’s a Texas Tribune, because there’s always a Texas connection to everything, right? Even our big scandals nationally that could completely unmake a presidency have a Texas connection at the center on them. I was probably more amazed that he had managed to get through the first three years with his head down. He was possibly the least scandalous cabinet member, the guy least in the news, but he made up for lost time, didn’t he? But I always liked him. He was really fun to know when he was here. I have the luxury of not having to care about the politics of it. The tip of my spear is blunted as far, as partisanship and liking people or not liking people on the issues or on the merits. I enjoyed knowing him. He was always game. I haven’t interviewed Greg Abbott one time since he was elected governor in 2014. I think he probably doesn’t like me and doesn’t like the media. I have lost exactly zero minutes of sleep over it. Let me be very clear about that. Perry was always much more willing to engage.”

Reflecting on the Tribune’s ten-year run, Smith doesn’t deny that a 2013 Livestream from the Texas Capitol of Sen. Wendy Davis’s eleven-hour filibuster of abortion legislation was a pivotal turning point for the site. By the end of the night, close to two hundred thousand people from more than 187 countries were up past midnight watching the coverage.

“We’d been livestreaming the legislature for a couple of different sessions. The 2011 session came and went. We livestreamed it, and nobody cared about that. We livestreamed the 2013 session and largely nobody cares until the filibuster. And then all of a sudden, we outdraw MSNBC in the ratings that night globally. More people were on our site than watching them. There have been moments over the ten years—four or five moments—where it was like, ‘Oh, okay. That was big.’ What happens is we spike, and then it resets. But the plateau it resets to is a higher plateau, and that’s how the business has grown because there’s this extraordinary interest all of a sudden. But when we reset to a normal pace, the more normal pace is higher. We pick up people, we pick up donors, our visibility out in the world is that much greater. But the Davis one was certainly one where we just happened to be the right place at the right time. And we were the only ones doing that. And then President Obama, or Obama for America, tweeted that night that something special is happening in Texas. It was a crazy night, and it was a defining moment for us, but we’ve fortunately had a lot of defining moments.”

Is Sen. John Cornyn’s 2020 reelection bid likely to become a big national story like 2018’s Cruz/O’Rourke matchup? Smith says a year out is far too early to make predictions, but he’s got theories.

“My theory of the case, this far out, is that Cornyn’s fate is entirely tied to the Republican party’s fate nationally. If the whole thing comes down around everybody’s ankles, Cornyn is going to be a casualty of that. But failing a complete collapse, Cornyn probably wins by a narrower margin. Cornyn ran for reelection last time in 2014 and won by 26 points. Typically, over the last 25 years since the last time a Democrat was elected statewide in 1994, the margin has been fifteen to twenty points. Cornyn way over-performed relative to the average margin, Republican or Democrat.”

To learn more, you can listen to the podcast here.

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