T-Squared: María Méndez is joining The Texas Tribune as service and engagement reporter

Mara Mndez has reported from Austin, Dallas and Laredo. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman)

We have thrilling news to share: María Méndez will join us next month as The Texas Tribune’s service and engagement reporter on our audience team.

María inspired us with her vision for the new position she is taking on at the Tribune. “I want to listen to Texans, connect people with resources, demystify politics and public policy and look for ways to reach those whose questions may often go unheard,” she told us. “In addition to connecting people with resources during natural disasters or crises, I want to help people tackle the red tape and confusion that can stand in the way of the help they need such as COVID tests, housing assistance, food stamps, tax credits or aid from FEMA. I want to ensure people know their rights as Texas workers and residents.”

María believes deeply that journalists must share critical information with people who may not have the time, language skills or wherewithal to get answers from the government or even to seek aid. She plans to write in-depth explanatory articles and also to expand the Tribune’s use of text messaging to reach readers — a tool that the Tribune used to surface critical services during the February 2021 storms and blackout.

María joins us from the Austin American-Statesman, where she has been the paper’s public education reporter since April 2021. As our own reporters can attest, it’s been a busy time to cover schools. María has covered COVID-19 protocols in Austin schools and helped parents understand how to use local case trackers, how teachers responded to new laws limiting how they could discuss race, and much more. In earlier roles at Texas Public Radio and The Dallas Morning News, María published resource guides and closely covered the economic hardships immigrant communities faced at the beginning of the pandemic.

If you’re seeing a trend line in María’s work, you aren’t imagining it. Her reporting has always centered on serving the communities she’s covering. As a Texas Tribune fellow in 2019, María helped launch and run a callout around teacher pay, which netted more than 800 responses from people all over the state. Her work fueled our reporting during the 2019 legislative session while also surfacing new story ideas.

María was born in Guanajuato, Mexico, and grew up in Austin. She received degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Texas at Austin. When María is not serving the great readers of Texas, she likes to run and enjoy public parks with her dog, Peaches. Please join us in welcoming her back to the Tribune. She starts April 18.