New Model for Journalism

by Ashley Penner


Evan Smtih and T. Boone Pickens



Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief and CEO Evan Smith described a new model for journalism at the Cathryn Anne Hansen Buesseler Distinguished Lectureship in Print Media on April 13.

Smith is co-founder of The Texas Tribune, a non-profit, non-partisan public media organization that publishes online only. The Tribune’s Web site, texastribune.org, was launched November 3, 2009, exactly 23 weeks before Smith spoke at Texas Tech.

As part of his presentation, Smith talked about how The Tribune is different from any project that has been attempted because it is a non-profit organization designed to run like a for-profit business.

“For-profit models simply will not pay for public-interest journalism,” Smith said. “Public-interest journalism is not sexy. It is not easy to monetize the way we can monetize other subject matter.”

Since The Tribune is classified as non-profit, the organization runs on donations and sponsorships. Smith said he had hoped to raise $3.5 million from September 2009 to the end of 2009. He said the organization raised more than $4 million.

Smith said the staff had set a goal to exceed 150,000 readers by the end of 2010. Since November, the Web site has received 3.8 million page views, with 40 percent of the traffic coming from outside of Texas.

Smith said nonpartisanship is a very important part of The Tribune, describing most current media outlets as tending to polarize their audiences, becoming little more than echo chambers.

“We want to go out and find information, not to take one side or another,” Smith said, “but to provide you with the information you need to make up your own opinion. We believe that being a nonpartisan source of information is a way to help further the cause of engagement and education in the state.”

Tony Privett, who operates High Plains Research in Lubbock, said he supports The Tribune and was interested to hear about the ideas behind the publication.

“It’s a fantastic publication,” Privett said. “It was good to get a little more background into Evan’s business model as well as his philosophical ideals.”

In addition to the luncheon, The Texas Tribune hosted a daylong program on campus for the first stop of its college tour. Tanya Erlach, the director of events for The Tribune, said the reason Tech was the first stop for their tour was because Smith knew Jerry Hudson, the dean of the College of Mass Communication.

“It was a great place to launch our college tour,” Erlach said.

Erlach, who planned similar nationwide tours for The New Yorker, said that the college tour would continue in the fall with stops at Southern Methodist University, Rice University and Trinity University.

The Buesseler lecture series is named after Cathryn Buesseler, a former professor who taught magazine writing and magazine production in the Texas Tech School (now College) of Mass Communications from 1971-1981. The series is to provide opportunities for students and faculty to meet nationally known print media professionals. Previous guests include Ben Sargent, winner of the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, and Phil J. Record, a retired ombudsman from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Smith said because the Tribune is among the first of its kind, some issues still need to be resolved. He said that working at The Tribune has taught him a lesson in sustainability.

“We are in this to win this,” Smith said. “We don’t pretend to have the answers. But we have to work together to get those answers.” mc



Ashley Penner is a sophomore human development and family studies major from Seminole, Texas.