T-Squared: Trib Transparency, Continued

Over the last few months, Trib watchers and watchdogs alike have wondered out loud (some louder than others) how we keep our journalism separate from our business operations — how we raise money to support the good and important work we do without giving corporate sponsors, donors, foundations or members any say over what we report and how we report it.

The answer, for us and for every other media organization out there, nonprofit or otherwise, is a shared belief — held by both our journalists and our business team — that if we don’t ensure our reporting is completely free of outside influence, we’ve got nothing.

But we can’t expect our readers to take our word for it, which is why we’re big advocates for disclosure. When you’re asking for people’s trust, being as transparent as possible is always the right thing to do — whether you’re an elected official or a public media organization. They say sunlight is the best disinfectant, and we’ve shined a lot of rays on the inner workings of the Trib so everyone can see not just the work we produce but who pays our bills.

We have long published lists of every person and every institution, charitable or corporate, that supports us. In the case of individuals and foundations, we’ve disclosed amounts of their donations in real time or close to it. For corporate sponsors, we’ve published a comprehensive list of every entity that has contributed to us. We’ve also posted the Form 990s we file annually with the IRS, which, per federal regulations, include the specific amounts of those sponsors that have given at least $5,000. We upload those to our site as soon as they’re completed and routinely post our audited financials, too. This degree of transparency has allowed readers to see for themselves why we are worthy of their trust — and what we’re doing do maintain it.

At the same time, there are always ways to improve — and some of the best ideas have come from our toughest critics. Since the beginning of the year, we’ve been talking to stakeholders who care about the future of the Trib, seeking feedback on ways to make ourselves and our work even more transparent. In January, we published a formal ethics policy and created a stand-alone corrections page. Today we take the next steps toward more robust disclosure:

  • We’ve posted on our site the specific dollar amounts associated with all corporate sponsors, regardless of the size of their contributions, by year and over time, broken down by type of revenue (cash or in-kind) and whether the funding was for digital sponsorship or for events.
  • We’ve provided details on our donor page on whether foundations helped support specific areas of editorial coverage.
  • Going forward, we’re reverting to our previous policy of appending disclosures to every story indicating whether specific subjects or institutions named within are Texas Tribune donors or corporate sponsors; we'll list anyone who has contributed $1,000 or more. In May 2012, we began publishing a blanket disclosure paragraph at the bottom of stories referring readers to our disclosure pages. The idea was to keep the details of our business out of our newsroom while still providing readers a way to see for themselves whether potential conflicts might exist. But that paragraph didn’t follow our copy when our stories were picked up by other news organizations, and even for readers of Tribune stories on the Trib’s own site, we were not making it as easy as it could be to ferret out funders on the page — so it’s back to the future.
  • We’ve added language into our event descriptions stating what has always been true: that sponsors do not have any role in selecting topics, panels or panelists. And we’re making sure that any financial relationships between the Trib and panelists on given programs are disclosed.

We’re not done. There are other tweaks to our disclosure policies that we’re contemplating, so stay tuned. And we’re always actively pursuing good ideas and suggestions aimed at improving transparency. We’ll continue to evaluate our policies and consider other efforts to shine still more rays of sunlight on our operations and our work.

We hope these new standards, on top of what we've already been doing, will make us the most transparently funded news organization in the country.

We’re proud of The Texas Tribune. We’re producing innovative, ambitious, aggressive and — best of all — independent public interest journalism. We’re honored by your trust and support, and we will always strive to be good custodians of it.