T-Squared: The Texas Tribune needs you more than ever

The Texas Tribune staff at the Tribune's office in downtown Austin on Nov. 15, 2021. (Jordan Vonderhaar/The Texas Tribune, Jordan Vonderhaar/The Texas Tribune)

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Three months ago, I drove from Los Angeles to Austin to take up my new job as The Texas Tribune’s editor-in-chief. Along the way, I spent the night in El Paso and Marfa, at Big Bend National Park and in Marathon. Like so many who visit West Texas for the first time, I was enchanted by its rugged intensity, the enormity of the vista and the sky.

At the Tribune, I’ve been equally impressed by the immensity of the Texas story. No other state is gaining two seats in Congress. No state is seeing breakneck growth on the scale Texas is experiencing, from Round Rock and Frisco to Sugar Land and Midland. No state is more essential to America’s energy future and to the debate over how to respond to climate change.

Superlatives come easy when talking about Texas, but even for a state with a rich sense of place and history, these times seem unusually momentous. From climate change and technological disruption to demographic changes and debates over civil rights, Texas is both the center of America and a lens into its future.

I couldn’t be more proud to have joined a newsroom that works tirelessly to meet this moment. From the February winter storm to the three extraordinary special sessions of the Legislature to charged debates over abortion and voting rights, Tribune journalists have risen to the occasion, providing accurate, insightful and fair coverage.

While we remain resolutely nonpartisan, we are deeply proud of our work informing, empowering and engaging Texans so that they can contribute to and participate in their democracy. While misinformation and conspiracy theories have become common, we stand for facts — verifiable, empirical truths, backed by data and expertise. While many online commentators ridicule or vilify their opponents, we stand for civility and for a society in which people can air profound and even vehement disagreements, but peacefully and under the rule of law, recognizing each other’s humanity. While cable news obsesses over Washington, we keep our lens focused on Texas, recognizing that state and local issues have a greater impact on most Texans’ day-to-day lives.

Journalism and democracy are deeply intertwined. Scholars have documented how the loss of regional and local journalism is associated with diminishing trust, voter disengagement, greater polarization and increased corruption. Sixty percent of Texas’ 254 counties are down to one or zero local newspapers.

The Tribune has been a leader in bucking these trends, and we are encouraged by other nonprofit newsrooms in Texas, including San Antonio Report, El Paso Matters and Fort Worth Report, along with public media collaborations like Texas Standard. We plan to do even more in 2022 to cover underserved areas throughout the state, complementing the work of local journalists.

I trust that Texas Tribune supporters follow the news closely. So in looking back on 2021, I want to highlight work that you might have missed. I’m proud of our revelatory reporting on the deadly effects of carbon monoxide poisoning during the winter storm, the pandemic’s toll on the mental health of young people, plus the controversy over books in school libraries and public libraries. I’m proud that we looked beyond partisan talking points to write with depth and nuance on race and the teaching of history, the wrenching struggle over voting rights and on the growing homeless population in Austin and other cities.

And I’m proud that we tried to tell the stories of individuals (a rancher and farmer in the Panhandle who died of COVID), communities (the cultural revival among the Karankawa people) and small towns (Mount Pleasant in Northeast Texas, which has had notable success in getting its residents vaccinated).

Revelatory, deep and empathetic reporting takes time — and money. I want the Tribune to send more journalists on the road in 2022, to travel the length and breadth of the state as it heads toward midterm, gubernatorial and statewide elections. I want to see our journalists interacting more with regular Texans and examining the state’s challenges and opportunities through their eyes. Of course, we will also need to continue covering the toll of a pandemic that’s entering its third year.

The support members give now will sustain this crucial newsgathering next year. Please join the community of readers who donate to keep our reporting going if you’re not already a Tribune member. Even better, our friends at Texas Monthly will match monthly and yearly gifts before year’s end. Help us unlock $10,000 in matching funds when you give monthly or yearly now.

I encourage you to help us improve by emailing me with suggestions, feedback, criticisms and story ideas. Please take a minute to get in touch.

Meanwhile, I wish you and your families a healthy, safe and peaceful holiday season and new year.