My man, Evan. He’s at it again. Bending the rules and making even the cynics cringe. I know he’s doing it for us, though. Saving journalism for the little people with his innovation. And the money rules that apply to politicians and lobbyists just don’t mean a thing to Evan Smith, editor magnifique of the Texas Tribune.
The Trib, for those of you joining our program in progress, is Austin’s answer to the financial malaise affecting journalism as the Internet steals the wallet of traditional reporting. Evan’s idea is to go to the people and corporations his organization might write about and ask them for money to support their journalism. Evan and his legions call it “nonpartisan and citizen-supported,” but a hell of a lot of people view it as a protection racket.
Which is precisely what it is.
“And if I don’t donate, should I be worried if your reporters come calling? Or if I do donate, will y’all just leave us alone?”
I’ve already written extensively about the Texas Tribune and its rank hypocrisy in a multi-part series. And if anyone wants to take them seriously as a credible news source, I don’t care. I think they are a fine form of entertainment. But I’d like not to think about them ever again. And wouldn’t. Except my man Evan just has no quit in him when it comes to stinking up the joint. And my olfactory nerves are touchy.
The Trib has more money than you. And most other journalism shops in Texas. But not enough!! So my man Evan is celebrating their fifth year anniversary by hittin’ up the big boys for more cash. He has sent around an email solicitation to previous donors inviting them to a big ol’ birthday bash.
“We haven’t announced it publicly yet, but I want you to be among the first to know that we’ll be hosting a fifth anniversary party on Friday, January 16, 2015, right at the beginning of the next legislative session.”
(No, I’m not a donor; a friend sent me the email.)
That last clause in my man Evan’s inclusive sentence is the killer. I bet you’d jump at the chance to be one of his insiders at the Texas capitol, and go to the party “right at the beginning of the next legislative session.” The timing is what’s creepy, almost as disgusting as the solicitation of rich folks and corporations to pay big dollars to be in the room with the Texas Tribune and my man Evan.
“I’d like to respectfully invite you to reserve a table for 10 at one of the following levels $25,000, $15,000, $10,000 or $5,000.”
He might ask for your money respectfully, but he’s ignoring an ethical approach to journalism, blatantly. Three days after the 2015 legislative session convenes to order, my man Evan is asking the lobbyists, office holders, public interest groups, and corporations, to gather so he can hit them up for money. They are all of the people and entities that his team of reporters will be covering on a daily basis.
I guess it’s all supposed to be subtle. But I’m assuming the good folks of Acme Amazing Nuclear Waste will get out the check book when they see the posse of Trib reporters at the party and think about them writing unflattering stories regarding irradiated ground water in the Ogallala Aquifer. I’m also assuming my man Evan will have his reporters sidle up to the CEO of Acme Amazing Nuclear Waste, chat him up, let him know that it’s great they haven’t had any problems and, “We sure hope none pop up.” Implicit message, “A touch of cash and we won’t even look.”
It’s the Tony Soprano approach to raising money. “Nice little sandwich shop you have here, Santini. Hate to see anything bad happen to it.”
The fund-raising game the Trib is playing is so disgustingly unseemly in advance of a lawmaking session that it is against the law for officeholders, lobbyists, and corporations, and is strictly forbidden to them in the Texas Election Code.
“During the period beginning on the 30th day before the date a regular legislative session convenes and continuing through the 20th day after the date of final adjournment, a person may not knowingly make a political contribution to a statewide officeholder, a member of the legislature, or a specific-purpose committee for supporting, opposing, or assisting a statewide officeholder or member of the legislature. A statewide officeholder, a member of the legislature, or a specific-purpose committee for supporting, opposing, or assisting a statewide officeholder or member of the legislature may not knowingly accept a political contribution, and shall refuse a political contribution that is received, during this period.”
The rationale behind this regulation is so obvious as to not need stating. Except for my man Evan. It might be wrong for lobbyists to give money, and politicians to raise it close to a legislative session because it could provide favor on killing or passing laws, but the Tribune sees no problem financially twerking around with the people they claim to hold accountable even as the whack of the opening gavel is still echoing through the air.
And yes, I know, there are numerous non-profit publications that raise money to stay afloat. But they do not target donations from the people and institutions they cover. They might write about their donors at some point but the fund raising is not aimed at news sources or public figures. Which means those Texas Observer folks just aren’t as smart as my man Evan.
Nor are they as hip.
“Just as the Tribune is not your average news organization, this event will not be your average fancy-hotel-ballroom-plated-chicken-dinner bash. We’re holding it at Brazos Hall, the hip, loft-like space in downtown Austin, and we’re serving barbecue. No fancy dress and no tediously long program…”
Happy birthday, Trib. Don’t choke on the cash. And don’t try to convince anyone you are doing journalism. Not sure what it is.
But it ain’t that.