by James C. Moore
Since we are entering into the season of giving, one of the more predictable annual traditions is for the overpaid CEO of the Texas Tribune to come around with his hand out. Of course, Evan Smith doesn’t ask of us for himself; it’s for our benefit that he is seeking even more financial support for his pseudo-journalistic online political boudoir.
But really, li’l Evan wants a reporter for Christmas this year.
Ever sensitive to the trends that define our age, Smith has decided he needs a reporter to “listen to the people.” Smith and the Tribune, funded by millions in corporate donations, appear to have taken note of the fact that it bends its ear mostly to lobbyists and C-suite execs instead of regular folk.
Of course, if he’d ever bothered to look at his sponsorship page during his Trib Fest, he might’ve noticed the little guy was not well represented. Hell, Smith even changed the color palette of the Trib’s website to the blue and yellow of their main festival sponsor Walmart. Be sure to look for an upcoming investigation into how Walmart underpays employees and forces them to get health care and food stamps paid for by federal taxpayers! But what about those low, low prices?
Fortunately for Texans who cannot afford to donate millions to the Texas Tribune, Smith and his merry band or corporatists have decided to “do better at hearing the voices not heard by the press and political establishment.” Seriously, he said so on Twitter. Must be true. Smith’s level of naïveté does, however, rival his gall. Isn’t listening to Texans the job of Texas journalism? What the hell has the Trib been doing?
Wait. I know.
Apparently, taking money from corporations and lobbyists they are supposed to be reporting about is different than listening to Texas voices. Smith wants you, dear fellow Texan, to “crowd fund” another reporter for his staff by sending him $25,000.
“The new position,” Smith writes, “will ensure that the voices of more Texans from more places inform our coverage. This reporter’s beat will be ‘Texans.’” What in the hell is everyone else’s beat? New Mexicans or Oklahomans? How many years has this protection racket of his existed and Smith is just now throwing out this phony trope about wanting to listen to Texans?
Maybe the most offensive thing about Smith’s “ask” is that it ignores the history of reporters from the capital and at every media outlet who have been wearing out shoe leather for decades running back and forth across this state to gather information and make it accessible to readers, viewers, and listeners. He acts like he just came across the concept of journalism and realized it actually is not about sucking up to lobbyists, politicians, and corporate donors and he wants to give that new approach a try. Shall we all help Evan with his problem?
Won’t you send in just five dollars to give Evan a reporter this holiday season?
If Smith really gave a damn about journalism and educating the public about the way their government works, he wouldn’t piss away hundreds of thousands on intellectual masturbatoriums like the Tribune Festival, designed to stroke the egos of politicians and donors, (as well as Smith’s), and he would instead pay good salaries to experienced journalists and have them question authority instead of coddling it.
When was the last time the Texas Tribune did the type of quality reporting on state government like Brian Rosenthal of the Houston Chronicle? Rosenthal, of that paper’s Austin Bureau, has singled-handedly taken on the Texas Agriculture Commissioner’s Office for absurd taxpayer-funded travel to rodeos and medical quackery by the sitting commissioner, and he exposed the phony pay bonus scam being used by the latest Bush heir in the Land Commissioner’s office, which was a waste of tax money to get Bush flunkies into jobs.
But nary a peep out of the Texas Tribune.
Hard to investigate the officeholders who got elected on funds contributed to them by the same people who make donations to run the Texas Tribune. Rosenthal’s latest work on how the state is failing to provide services to children with disabilities also seems a natural topic for the Trib, given they’ve argued they are now the state’s largest news organization in terms of staff size so they can do a better job of being a watchdog and covering the news. Instead, they ignore any issue that might piss off an officeholder who was given money by one of the Trib’s donor lobbyists. This is why, not arguably, but demonstrably, the Texas Tribune is a sophisticated protection racket.
And get a lobbyist with enough good whiskey in his belly at the Quorum Club and they will tell you the same thing. Being lobbyists, they just don’t have the stones to tell it to Evan.
But now Evan Smith and the Texas Tribune are “pivoting” to listen to the people! Let us all exult in his wisdom. One reporter to cover the state. Send money. Make checks payable to. He only wants you to raise $25,000, which is considerably less than Evan earns in a month. But don’t expect him to take a pay reduction. If “we the people” want to be heard, we have to fund it.
It is, after all, the season of giving.